Contest #110 winner 🏆

78 comments

Contemporary Fiction Inspirational

In her dream she is fourteen, running home from work on precarious little heels, down the paved street, as molten metal plip-plops around her, dotting the cement with perfect silver discs. Her mother lags six feet behind, following her footsteps, urging her to tread carefully. A V2 rocket launches overhead, triggering the timer in her mind. She waits in the signature silence for the rocket to find its mark, as it careens noiselessly through the night sky.

“One,” she shouts, “Two. Three. Four.”

“We have plenty of time, Lizzy, plenty of time.” Her mother is shouting, over and over, no panic, just a calm, reassuring scream.

It is the same dream as always. Lizzy reaches behind and grabs the older woman’s hand, pulls her into the shelter of their porch, watching as the house across the road explodes into a heap of searing, flaming rubble.

*****

My mother, Lizzy, is ninety-seven, and I think of her as a survivor. Of life and time. Not long ago she had a mother, husband, sister and two daughters. Now she has me.

Twice a week I open the door to her house and look left, peering through the curtained darkness, along the hall and into her bedroom. I can see she is still sleeping. Under the formless camouflage of blankets, her shape has diminished and become frail, although her carers joke that she inhales each meal. They also say she is still stubborn, but in a cute way. She has passed the irritating cantankerousness of old age, and drifted without notice into the gentle humility of a disappearing mind.

There is not enough time in a day to see her more often, or so my private narrative goes, constructing a life so much more important, exciting, exasperatingly busy than it is.

“I’m so grateful you look after me, so glad,” she repeats. I accept her gratitude, even though guilt battles with honesty, and pulses through my brain at sleepless midnights.

*****

In her dream, she is eighteen, with the blonde permed hair and arched brows of a movie star. Her husband George, the love of her life, is away at war, and she fears he will never come home. He writes sometimes, although there are no mailboxes in the Pacific, and home is his last thought as suicide planes fall burning out of the sky. The blackened casualties of war sleep beside him in rows on the smoking deck. She wakes sobbing, drenched in fear, and spots the picture of a bride and groom on her bedside. Reassured, she remembers the sixty years of devoted life with him, recalls they had plenty of time, and longs for more.

*****

I try to wake her but she is in a deep sleep. I know the conversation if she wakes. I will ask her if she has eaten and she will say she’s not hungry. I will try to cajole her into the warming sunlight, pressure her to have tea and a chat. She will refuse. She will tell me she is happy to be curled up in her warm bed, that she is tired. She will finally say that I should expect this from someone ninety-seven years old. It’s her own truth and I cannot dispute it, so I let her sleep undisturbed.

*****

In her dream she is twenty-four and very pregnant, so near childbirth that pains come, quick and unbearable. The midwife arrives a true professional; blue skirt, tie and cape, nylons and sturdy black brogues, a nurse’s crisp white cap on her head. Mabel is confined to a home birth, banished from the hospital with an acute case of chickenpox. She is infected, contagious, but her baby does not care about blisters and disease. She is ready to become.

“Should she push harder?” George asks.

“No. We have plenty of time,” the midwife says. It is a lie of consolation.

The baby’s head finally crowns, but the midwife’s face tells a grim story as towel after towel is soaked in red, and Lizzy fades.

She holds the greasy, squirming baby to her breast, and wakes with the sound of an ambulance siren still wailing in her mind.

*****

I have come up with a plan. I will call on her at a random time and she will be whisked away to her favourite spot near the beach. A chair will be taken, rugs and pillows, and she will sit like an ancient empress, commanding the clouds across the cool Autumn sun. Trees will shade us in the ozone rich afternoon, and steaming tea in a thermos will be sipped from carefully transported china cups with matching saucers and silver spoons. Our picnic will be finished with fruit cake and a tiny, delicate stroll along the sand.

I knock as usual, key poised, ready to fend off her refusal. The plan requires myself and a Carer, remembering the stubborn streak, to get her up and out of bed. Washed and dressed, lipstick and eyebrows. She opens the door in pink striped flannel pajamas, hair askew, stares blankly into my face and asks the silent question: Who are you? She pivots on unsteady legs, each step is a danger of falling, but she stands firm, rebuffing my proposal as she perilously shuffles to her room and climbs back in bed.

“No,” she says, “I want to sleep.”

I am my mother’s daughter and I know that tone. I let her sleep and all my fanciful plans collapse. As I leave, the dim hope for a future picnic rings with mocking laughter.

*****

In her dream, she is ninety-three. People sit around her, people she knows but with faces fading fast. They are hushed and without spirit, speaking with the reverence of dying and death, telling her that her older daughter, Jane, is struck down with cancer. Inoperable, impossible, fatal. An unearthly wail leaves Lizzy’s throat and punches out into the room. It is a sound no-one should ever be forced to make, or hear. A parent mourning a child. The ultimate betrayal of life.

Later in the dream, in roles reversed, the dying daughter embraces her mother until she calms, tells her it will be alright.

“We have plenty of time.” Jane says.

Comforted, Lizzy wakes, as her daughter’s shadow bends to kiss her on the cheek, and says goodbye.

*****

I try to organise a lunch for mum but again I fail. Fighting with the ancient is so unseemly. Just let her be. She’s happy in her home, her bed, regardless of what you want, of what you think is good for her.

Other people’s words fly round my head like wild birds in an aviary, flapping and squawking, until I tame them.

Today I will just sit beside her bed and hold her hand and let her sleep. And if she wakes, I’ll make a cup of tea, and tell her about the world outside. And how much I love her. Until she goes back into sleep.

And so I’m here remembering the mother that created us; children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She is not elderly and frail, with unkempt white hair and paper thin skin. Her fingers don’t bend like misshapen twigs. They work and create, hug, and clap with joy. That woman is still there, beneath the most precarious veneer of life, and it is a celebration just being with her.

*****

In her dream, she is ninety-seven and the remaining daughter visits each day. They smile and laugh and talk about the weather, the kids, the little things of normal life. Her daughter is busy, but stays a little longer, until she sees the time and stands to rush away.

My mother urges the woman to stay longer, to sit.

“We have plenty of time.” She says.

“Yes.” I smile, “plenty.”

September 08, 2021 06:07

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78 comments

Master Jack
10:51 Oct 27, 2021

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05:42 Oct 26, 2021

This was beautifully written, I loved how you used “we have plenty of time” in so many ways. It felt so personal, which is why I loved it so much. Deserving of your win, congrats! I really enjoy your writing!

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Amanda Lieser
23:48 Oct 18, 2021

Hi Janetthe! I’d like to begin by saying this story so deserved the win! I was absolutely blown away by how well you captured Jane and Lizzie because I felt the deep conflict that both of the characters felt. I also think you captured lizzy’s time period very well. You did a great job of taking me back on time to a world I only know through Hollywood. My favorite line was: She has passed the irritating cantankerousness of old age, and drifted without notice into the gentle humility of a disappearing mind. Nice job! And congrats on the win!

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04:05 Oct 19, 2021

Thank you. I really appreciate the comments.

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Meli Lol
12:34 Oct 17, 2021

BRO THIS IS SO COOL

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19:33 Oct 17, 2021

Thanks. Glad you liked.

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Rachel Smith
08:15 Oct 12, 2021

A well deserved win. Absolutely beautiful and very touching. Loved the mother's dreams, each one made my heart squeeze a little more. Inspirational writing. Congratulations!

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09:05 Oct 12, 2021

Thank you. I have been blown away by the response to my story. I wondered when I wrote it if it would resonate with anyone else, although writing it was a very personal thing that I felt I had to do regardless. Hearing everyone’s comments has been very gratifying, as a carer and as a beginning writer. Thank you again.

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Sarah Desouza
17:00 Oct 05, 2021

Beautiful story! I guess we all get old! You have described the old lady with so much kindness and compassion! That's what I call a 'wise story' Thanks for this story! I too will be kind to older people as this story touched me! Do read my latest story, umm, I loved yours!

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Cooper Armstrong
22:08 Oct 04, 2021

Another amazing work of imagination! Congratulations on your victory! Could you tell me how I could get to your level?

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08:39 Oct 05, 2021

I just read your latest work and was completely blown away. Yes, there are faults eg grammar, needs editing down. But I always think if the basic ideas are spoken with a passionate voice, which really comes across in your writing, then there is so much potential. I started writing when I was eleven but never pursued it, even though I love writing. Like your stories, mine rambled a bit and needed structure. Some of the language got bogged down because I never stopped to think about EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE, and how it added to the whole work, w...

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Cooper Armstrong
14:29 Oct 06, 2021

Thank you so much! This means so much to me! I will be sure to take a closer look at my first draft for those sticky sentences. Thank you!

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Carla Ward
02:19 Oct 01, 2021

This reminded me a lot of taking care of my own mother in her final days, and all the little stories she told. So happy to find someone who can make reference to historical facts like the London Blitz and weave it into a story.

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21:17 Sep 30, 2021

are You stal There

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21:16 Sep 30, 2021

Hello guys

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Tabiya Khokhar
15:58 Sep 30, 2021

Wow! Brilliant story. As always, moms are moms ;) Congratulations on winning!

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Margie Gaffron
01:39 Sep 30, 2021

Janetthe - a beautiful story. For me it is easy to identify with the mother - being the age she is in actuality but living within the many dimensions of her life. And the happy ending - a daughter who "gets it" in time!

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Alanna Rippy
21:27 Sep 29, 2021

Such an amazing story! It conveys its emotion so well and so easily, i cried a little at the end. You are very practiced and talented, I hope your writing brings you as much joy as it does to those who read it.

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22:35 Sep 29, 2021

Thank you for these comments. Very appreciated.

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Rhonda Leon
15:43 Sep 29, 2021

Wow! This was like a song... verse, chorus, verse, chorus... but played by masterful musicians. So beautiful! So full of wisdom, truth, sadness. Not just anyone could have written this. What an incredible tribute to both of you! Thank you for sharing these glimpses of your love, your pain, your tragedy. You inspire love, patience appreciation. Thank you!

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Alex Gaston
13:07 Sep 28, 2021

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Alex Gaston
13:07 Sep 28, 2021

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Alex Gaston
13:07 Sep 28, 2021

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Andrea Magee
10:53 Sep 27, 2021

Bravo excellent story. Congrats on the win!

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Laurie Boden
14:49 Sep 25, 2021

This is a beautifully written, poignant story. As a mother who is ageing too quickly and has become pretty much useless in her own mind, it touches me especially because I am very much reliant on my son for support. It doesn't only remind me that he has taken on this 'burden' out of necessity, because we are mother and son, but because we have become closer friends with each passing year. Thank you. I needed this today.

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09:00 Oct 12, 2021

I’m so sorry this has taken so long to say. Your son sounds like a wonderful, compassionate human. Exactly what we all hope for in our children as they grow and mature. Thanks so much for your very kind words.

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Lisa Endicott
17:09 Sep 24, 2021

This is a beautiful and tender story. I just lost my dad at 98 after a stroke. He used to hold my hand and tell me stories of the family, WWII, basketball, golf, friends, work, and college. He knew everything (both long and short-term memory) up until he passed, which we were lucky to have with him. He had a wicked sense of humor, loved with quiet dedication, and cared for us all. This story brought me tears of happiness for having him as long as we did but also tears for missing him. You are a wonderful writer. Keep going. Keep sharing your...

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04:40 Sep 25, 2021

I am so sorry for your loss. It really gets to me when people say, "oh well, they were 90 something, They had a long life." And cancel out the person and sadness behind the passing. Your father sounded wonderful, and I recognise what a true loss this has been to you and to humanity in general. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

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