Sad Fiction


Mother Nature

By Laura Pamenter

I caught Andrew watching me from the kitchen window. His eyes tracked down to the pile of china plates drowning in the bubbly sink when our eyes met, terrified, as he often was now, to face me.

I suppose it was my bark—hoarse like a heavy smoker—that always trailed after he said anything to me. ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Fine,’ I’d snap. ‘Do you want to eat something?’ ‘No.’

I was aware of how bitter I’d become, turning cold like the season, crisp like the fallen leaves, and chilling like the breeze. But I resented change like I despised the changing season and the overzealous holiday season soon to be forced down my throat.

My sour attitude left me alone on my bench, watching the trees grow old, with his eyes tracing the back of my head, magnetically stuck on me. I watched the amber leaves float down as delicately as tiny fairies, moving through the clove and pumpkin-spice scented breeze. They clustered around the trees as if tucking their trunks into bed, trying to keep them warm and safe through the coming winter. 

I reached down to a fallen leaf, my fingers yearning to pick up the golden flora and spin it between my fingers to curb my boredom. But as my fingers traced the outline of the damp foliage, I noticed something squirm underneath. I brushed aside the leaf and sucked in a sharp gasp when I realized what it was; a baby chipmunk, no bigger than my thumb, curled up all soft and pink, cradled in a bed of mucky brown leaves. 

It was still moving, breathing, alive; resembling a newborn baby.

I crossed my arms and hugged my stomach, unsure of what to do. Its leg was hurt. It was red and swollen so that it was twice as large as its other hind leg. After a quick survey, I established its mother was nowhere around. It had been abandoned, left to die, motherless.

Without considering disease or an explanation to Andrew, I scooped the tiny baby into my palm and gently closed my fist around it to keep it warm. My heeled Chelsea boots click-clacked up the cobblestone path almost aggressively until I reached the front door and was blasted with tepid warmth and the smell of lavender laundry detergent. I had grown to resent the scent of our home; it was too clean, too sterile, like a hospital. But Andrew brushed it off and said lavender was calming, and that’s what I needed.

Immediately I marched through the halls of peeling floral wallpaper and warped wooden floors, past the study of oak, lined bookshelves, and to the door with a small pink piglet hand-painted in acrylic. Inside was the nursery, painted white with pale yellow curtains and a fuzzy green rug so that the whole room resembled a daisy. Past the pink cot and pyramid of stuffed farm animals was a wooden change table topped with a matching rose lining. I set out a clean diaper and nestled the baby chipmunk into it, praying that the soft cushioning would keep it warm. 

“What’s your name little one?” I whispered. It blinked its eyes at me in response. “It’s gonna be alright, baby, I’m here to take care of you.”

I stroked its fur with the tip of my finger as I examined the wounded leg further, realizing it was mostly superficial and that rest and comfort were all it should need to heal.

“You need to get your strength up so you can return to your family,” I said, glancing through the yellow curtains to the picturesque golden maple outside. “That’s what I’ll call you…” I smiled. “Maple.”

I pulled out my phone and did a quick google search for ‘what to feed abandoned baby chipmunk,’ and found a site saying Pedialyte from an eyedropper should do the trick. So, I stumbled into the bathroom—a room of ancient utilities and a wafting baby powder scent—and poked around in the medicine cabinet like a sandbox treasure hunt.

Finally, I found the two ingredients of my mischief and returned to the nursery where I successfully fed maple a few drops of the liquid. Then I turned on the radiator for warmth and dimmed the lights. Feeling accomplished, I sat back into the elephant rocking chair, swaying as I clutched my elbows. 

“Alice?” Andrew poked his head in the door. “What are you doing?” He tilted his head. I motioned towards the animal on the changing table.

“I found her, outside under a Maple leaf. I’ve named her Maple.”

“Alice, you’ve got to put her back. You can’t separate a baby chipmunk from their mother!”

“She’s hurt,” I snapped. “I’m fixing her. She was left to die out there in the cold. Once she’s better I’ll let her go. I promise.” He walked over to me, watching carefully like he always does nowadays.

“Okay, okay,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. 

“I’ll clean it off well, after,” I said, nodding towards the changing table. “I know that she doesn’t use it anymore, but I will clean it nonetheless.”

“It’s fine, Alice.”

“Lily won’t mind sharing with little Maple now, would she?” I said, watching the little creature drift off into sleep. “They can share a room, like sisters,” I added. Andrew nodded begrudgingly, not keen on a rodent living as luxuriously as his baby daughter. 

“I even made her a bed right beside her crib.” 

He squeezes my hand tight. “How nice.” 

I let go, knowing he doesn’t care. “You should get back to the dishes,” I said. He didn’t argue much before leaving, as if he was looking for an excuse out. 

Andrew was never a kid’s person. It was I who wanted children. It was I who said I could only marry him if he did too. He agreed as he was in love with me, but I could tell he never really cared. When I painted the nursery walls he didn’t show any interest in colour samples. When I filled the room with toys, he simply teased me. When we found out we were having a girl and I said we’d name her Lily, he didn’t even argue. I used to think it was just love and unconditional commitment, but perhaps it was indifference. 

I decided the diaper bed wasn’t warm enough for Maple and scooped her up in my palm before returning to the rocking chair. I sat with the baby curled up in my palm, swaying back and forth, rocking her to sleep. 

Andrew had been at me for months to pack up some of this baby stuff, as Lily didn’t need it anymore. But now I was glad I didn’t. Lily had a baby sister now, someone to use her hand-me-downs. 

I rocked myself to sleep along with the tiny creature, only to wake up hours later with the animal squirming out of my palm. Its leg was still red, but the Pedialyte seemed to have restored some of her energy. 

“Not yet,” I whispered, placing her into the old bassinet. “You can’t go yet.”

Once Maple was curled up inside the soft pink bed, I turned off the giraffe-neck floor lamp, and closed the nursery door tightly behind me. I tread down the squeaky floorboards to our bedroom where I slipped in beside Andrew who appeared fast asleep. But upon my presence, he moved his arm around me so that he could stroke my shoulder. It was comforting, but not enough.

When I awoke the next morning, Maple was the only thing on my mind. I leapt out of my bed just as the golden rays of daylight crept through our paisley drapes and ran back to her room. I spent the day nursing my furry friend back to health, rocking her slowly, talking to her, reading her poetry. 

I fell asleep in the nursery that night and the night after. I was seeing less of Andrew, and he appeared to be growing irritable from having the rest of our family duties left to him. But there was a new baby in the household. Maple needed a mother, so what did he expect me to do?

“You should let her go,” he said from the nursery doorway, on the fourth day. I had been reading a book of fairy tales to Maple as I rocked her in the chair. “She’s all better now, it’s not right.”

I set the book down and placed Maple in the bassinet, feeling a fight coming on. I could always tell when we were going to argue by the tired look on his face; the way his mouth drooped, and his eyes avoided mine. 

“She was abandoned. She’s part of our family now,” I said.

“It’s a chipmunk, Alice. Not a child.” I rolled my eyes. 

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” He stepped in, almost threateningly. 

“You never even wanted children,” I hissed, quietly, almost so Lily wouldn’t hear me. He paused.

“I didn’t want kids, but things changed.” He looked to his feet, perhaps trying not to cry or scowl, I could not tell. “But this animal… Maple… she’s not our child. She has a mother. She has a family. And so do you.” 

I shook my head. “You just don’t care, you never did.” 

He raised an eyebrow. “You know I cared. I cared more than you realized.” He sighed. “It nearly killed me. It still almost kills me, every time I see that heartbroken look on your face.”

“Then why are you in such a hurry to move on?” I could feel the tears gather at my eye line, threatening to spill over. My nose began to sting, and I had to turn away to mask my pinched-in face. But he took a finger and gently guided my chin back to him.

“It was hard, Alice. Hard to be hopeful after what happened. It was hard to stay hopeful after what the doctors said. And now it hurts me every time I walk past this room, filled with stuff that was meant to be hers. And every time you say her name, I flinch because I’ll never get to say her name as I hold her in my arms.” 

“You’ll never know how hard it was,” I snapped.

“No, I won’t,” he agreed. “But you have to let her go.”

“I won’t let go this time. I took care of Maple…” The anger crawls from my mind to my throat, forcing my words to come out in a vicious croak. “…She’s mine and I took care of her and kept her safe, and warm, and it’s not fair that she has to go!”

The tears flew now like hurricane rain, fast and uncontrollable. I ran out of the room just as quickly so that I no longer had to face him. My feet carried me through the hall, out the door, and down the cobblestone path to my bench. I squatted into a ball, hugging my knees, hugging my empty stomach. 

It’s not fair. She was mine and I loved her. I wiped the snot from my face with a sleeve. And as I lifted my eyes over my arm, I caught a glimpse of a falling leaf, bright red, just like the stained sheets on that wretched night.

I followed the leaf to the ground and nearly jumped when I saw it; a family of chipmunks scurrying through the leaves like a colony of ants scrambling for food. They dove under crispy leaf piles and pawed at the wet ones, looking for something. No, looking for Maple. 

I tried with all my might to look away, to pretend I didn’t see it. I didn’t want to incriminate myself. But I knew what I was doing, and for all I know, they knew it too. I was taking a child from its mother; the most horrible thing that could ever be done. I had saved her, given her another chance at life, a chance that Lily did not get. And now I was taking that chance for myself. 

I rose from the bench as I had risen from the hospital bed, slowly and begrudgingly, as if waiting for someone to tell me to stop, that it was all a prank, and everything was actually fine. 

Inside I found Andrew, sitting in the nursery with his finger pushed up against his lip in a look of consideration. 

“Alice?” He asked, jumping up from the chair to hug me. I accepted his embrace and took a deep breath in, absorbing the fresh pine and coconut scent of his hair. 

“Maple has to go home,” I said. “She has a family.”

His small nod said all there was to say. 

So, we returned to the chilly outdoors with Andrew's arms still around me, as if I were a little kid and he was scared I’d run off. I cradled Maple in my hands until we were close enough to the chipmunk family, then I knelt and un-cupped them. The little critter crawled out cautiously, and after seconds long pause scurried off towards its family. 

“Bye, sweet girl,” I whispered into the breeze. “I will always miss you.”

Andrew kissed my forehead and helped me up to my feet. Then he led me to the bench where we sat together, just as we used to. 

“It’s been a rough year and we need a fresh start. I think It’s time to make some changes,” I said through a sigh. 

“Like what?” He asked softly.

“We should clean up the nursery, put the stuff away. For now, at least. It’s time to let her go.” He clutched my hand and squeezed it tightly.

“And then we try again,” he said. “When you’re ready. You’re a mother. And a mother needs a child.” I brushed his hand with my fingertips and looked into his chestnut brown eyes. 

“You mean it?” I asked. He nodded and kissed me slowly. 

December 31, 2021 20:33

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Wilma Segeren
16:26 Jan 06, 2022

Great story with fantastic imagery and description. Very well done.


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Brooke J
04:53 Jan 06, 2022

Such a beautiful depiction of displacing feelings on something else. This is romantic, the way they are working through grief together in their own very raw way


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Ivy Spade
19:22 Jan 05, 2022

I apologize for being late. But this story was so smooth, I need to comment! The description words perfectly set the mood. The story almost flows like a leaf falling from a tree! I don't know if you meant it that way though. The ending was very pleasing and satisfying! You get my follow!


Laura Pamenter
20:24 Jan 05, 2022

Oh thank you so much 😊


Ivy Spade
22:35 Jan 05, 2022

Of course!


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