Contest #110 winner 🏆

93 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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93 comments

Alex Gaston
13:07 Sep 28, 2021

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Alex Gaston
13:07 Sep 28, 2021

https://registercw.com/tgYEjD3z

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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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Paul Brassard
17:04 Sep 24, 2021

Beautifully written, loving story. I don't know if these are absolutely fictitious characters or if they are somehow based on personal experience. Either way, your characters and their gentle, loving relationship are so real and emotional. The words you have written to describe them feel so carefully and thoughtfully chosen. I especially liked "the gentle humility of a disappearing mind", "an unearthly wail leaves Lizzy’s throat and punches out into the room" and "that woman is still there, beneath the most precarious veneer of life. " Plea...

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04:43 Sep 25, 2021

This is a story dedicated to my mother, and does reflect our relationship and her actual life events. She has been thrilled to have the very first 'win' of her life at the age of almost 97. Thank you for your kind words which are also very motivational to continue writing.

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Vijay Likhite
01:43 Sep 24, 2021

Superbly narrated the life of a lady who has crossed the tender age of ninety. Going in and out of the dream creates a wonderful knit with the reader.

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04:44 Sep 25, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind words.

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Keya Jadav
13:05 Sep 23, 2021

A well-deserved win! Congratulations Janetthe. I could see the boiling talents in you, spilling splashes out. And well, it wouldn't be wrong if I say, I raised my brows a couple of hundred times whenever an impressive phrase or sentence passed through. Great Job and Congrats!!!!

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04:49 Sep 25, 2021

Thank you so much for these comments. It was a joy to write about this topic so I guess honesty and experience helped the words come a little easier. I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the writing. Very inspired to keep doing it with comments like these. Thank you again.

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Linda Gruenberg
14:39 Sep 22, 2021

I love this story too--how you capture something about old age: old age contains all these other ages, too. She's a woman in labor, a wife whose husband is at war, a mother whose daughter has cancer. You also respect the old age--the daughter letting the mother sleep, though she wants something else (the beach picnic). I have been thinking a lot about aging and what it means and what makes one person "old" and one person not (yet) and wondering how we will all face it. Wonderful story.

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04:55 Sep 25, 2021

I am so glad you enjoyed the story. I'm 69 (feel 29) and already experience the invisibility of the aged/aging. I also have to remind myself occasionally that each aged person has so much depth, so many fascinating life stories, it is a shame they do not have the opportunities to tell them. Thank you for your kind words.

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Linda Gruenberg
18:03 Sep 25, 2021

"Invisibility of the aged / aging" ... that's so wrong. I'm 59 (feel 13) and my 94 year old mother talks about being overlooked--literally, like being the one who isn't even greeted in various settings. It's terrible. I don't know how our culture has become that.

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Aman Fatima
11:24 Sep 22, 2021

Congratulations on the win. it was an amazing story and the way you went from the dream to reality was written so well. Great story!!!

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04:56 Sep 25, 2021

Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Lenzy Crews
00:27 Sep 22, 2021

I love the story

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04:56 Sep 25, 2021

Thank you for the feedback.

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Priya Bryce
15:02 Nov 27, 2021

Hello everyone i want to testify of the great and powerful spell caster named Priest Ade who brought back my ex who left me and got engaged to another girl,We where happy together when all of a sudden he just change he used to call me every morning and and night before going to bed but all that stopped when i call him he yell at me and told me he didn't want to have anything to do with me anymore i was so sad and confused i didn't know what to do then i went online to search on how to get back my ex then i found an article where someone was ...

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21:54 Jan 12, 2022

This is a totally inappropriate piece to post here, in the comments section of a writer’s story. If you have fiction to post, enter it to a Reedsy writing prompt competition. Or just post it as a story. Personally I didn’t read your piece because it’s not my genre.

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