42 comments

Fiction Sad

The din of the vacuum buzzes heavily in her ears as she dusts the picture frames on the mantle, her gaze following Mark’s unpredictable course through the living room. Her husband’s sun-spotted fingers clutch the vacuum’s handle tightly. He avoids her eyes, focused on the non-existent specks of dirt on the floor. 


The house is bright, the curtains pulled open for the first time in many months. She is not sure she likes the light that eviscerates their home, exposing their sorrow to the world like a sliced-open abdomen on an operating table. All the arteries and organs of their grief on display for the passers-by.


“What time did you say he was coming?” she asks loudly, pitching her voice unnaturally high to be heard over the vacuum.


He turns the machine off. “11:00, I think.”


She nods, rearranges the faux marble coasters on the coffee table, and shuffles towards the bathroom to check that her hair looks okay. 


The hallway is filled with pictures and distant happiness. She does not look around, though she does pause in front of the room that pulls the air from her lungs with its gravity. The door is closed but she can see it all clearly: thin white curtains, a pale lavender duvet, bookshelves filled to bursting, and a small nail polish stain on the corner of the gray rug. 


Something clatters in the kitchen. She ducks into the bathroom and checks her appearance. Watery hazel eyes in wrinkled sockets, uneven lips painted with a neutral pink, the tip of her long nose a faint red. She sighs.


“This’ll have to do,” she whispers to herself.


“Ingrid?” Mark calls from the kitchen.


“Yes?” 


“Did we get lemons for the water?”


“Check the bottom drawer of the fridge, right-hand side.”


“I did,” he replies. “No luck.”


Ingrid glances once more at the mirror and tidies a strand of silver hair before rushing to the kitchen. Mark squats precariously before the open fridge, pushing takeout boxes and plastic tubs of forgotten leftovers around in search of lemons. 


She envies his collectedness, the easy facade of a button-down shirt and neatly trimmed beard. 


“Let me look,” she says, and takes his place in cool air of the fridge. 


She spies the lemons in the back corner and reaches for them, knocking a fragile paper container and its unknown contents to the floor. It hits the tile with an almost comical squelch, bursting open and spewing forth its contents.


“Shit,” she hisses. The pristine kitchen floor and the leg of her white pants are both covered in a strange-smelling reddish sauce. 


Mark rushes to find cleaning supplies. Standing, Ingrid places the lemons on the counter and surveys the mess.


The doorbell rings, a sound that seems to shake the sunlight from the room.


Ingrid and Mark catch each other’s gaze, uncertainty hanging in the dark circles beneath their eyes. The house tightens around them, its grip on their memory firm and unrelenting.


“I’ll get the door,” Mark says. “You go change.”


“But—the mess.” Ingrid gestures at the explosion of red on their floor.


“I’ve got it, don’t worry.” 


Ingrid hurries to the bedroom and changes into a dress. She leaves her pants to soak in the bathroom sink, watching the cold water turn a thin shade of pink. 


She’s only dimly aware of the muffled voices from the living room, one as familiar as her own, one completely foreign. 


Ingrid applies a bit of perfume, wishing that she and Mark hadn’t fooled themselves into thinking they were ready for this. That they had been kind enough to let themselves wallow in grief a while longer. 


Straightening, she walks confidently from the bedroom, held together with the scent of orchids and bergamot. 


Ingrid finds Mark in the kitchen, kneeling on the floor over the mess with a stranger who holds a stained paper towel. The stranger is thin, almost alarmingly so, with dark hair and a silver septum piercing hanging from his nose. 


He stands and smiles at her. 


“You must be Mrs. Pearson,” he says. His voice wavers a bit, belying his well-hidden uncertainty. 


“That’s me. It’s Seth, right?”


“Yes ma’am,” he replies, tossing the dirty paper towel into the garbage. “It’s nice to meet you.”


She opens her mouth to say what a pleasure it is to meet him, but the words stick to her tongue like bile. Mark stands, too, the last of the mess wiped from the floor. He catches her expression and flashes Seth an excessively toothy smile.


“Let’s settle in the living room,” Mark says. “Would you like something to drink?”


“I’m okay,” Seth responds. Head down, he leads the way to the couches. 


The three of them sit in unison, hands folded demurely into laps, lips folded tightly into silence.


Seth looks around the room for a while. “You have a lovely home.”


“Thank you,” Ingrid says, glad to have found her voice again.


“We’re glad you’re here,” Mark says hollowly, and they all pause, remembering what brought him. 


A fatal accident. An unspeakable loss. A second chance, but not for her. 


“Is that her? Your daughter?” Seth asks, pointing at a picture on the mantle. 


Mark stands and picks up the photograph. It’s one of their favorites, taken at a family beach trip a little over a year ago. She’s sitting with the ocean behind her, smiling up into the sun. He passes the photo to Seth. “Yes, that’s Emma.”


“She was beautiful,” Seth whispers, running his finger along the edge of the frame. “She was in college, right? I can’t wait for college.”


Ingrid’s breath catches, ripping away her polite smile. “I’m sorry, I don’t know if I can—”


“It’s okay,” Seth says loudly, his face flushed. He stands and sets the picture down. “I shouldn’t have—I can go.”


“I’m so sorry,” she repeats, “I thought I was ready.”


“I’m sorry, too. For everything.”


Seth turns to leave, and Mark crosses the room to open the door with an apologetic smile. Through watery eyes, Ingrid watches the teenager walk out into the blinding daylight, taking something precious with him. She reaches for Emma’s picture, caressing the shape of her daughter’s cheek.


“Wait!” Ingrid calls, striding towards the door and down the steps before she can change her mind. 


Seth pauses and spins around just as she wraps him up in a tight embrace. He’s much taller than Ingrid is, and smells heavily of cheap cologne. He feels nothing like Emma, his frame skeletal and stiff. But after a moment, he relaxes into Ingrid’s arms and she can hear his heart beating.


Not his heart—Emma’s. 


Ingrid gasps, tears streaming down her cheeks. The gentle thudding of her daughter’s heart warms her entire being, her daughter who was the most selfless person she’s ever known, selfless even in death.


“She saved me,” Seth whispers.


Ingrid glances up into his face, wiping away his tears. The tapered end of dark, ropy scar sticks out beneath his shirt collar. 


Emma would have loved him. 


“Can you stay for lunch?” Ingrid offers.


Seth nods and links his arm through hers. Together, they walk back up the steps to the house, where Mark is waiting. Ingrid is suddenly glad to see the windows open, to see their home taking in breath again.


“Will you tell me about her?” Seth asks.


Ingrid smiles up at him. “I’d love to.”

May 30, 2021 02:58

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42 comments

H L Mc Quaid
08:52 Jun 01, 2021

It's a Tuesday morning and I'm tearing up...gah. Really great storytelling, and as always, the showing not telling, is so so so good. The little details, the 'shorthand' interactions between the parents. Lovely story, great job.

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Claire Lindsey
13:06 Jun 01, 2021

Sending a virtual tissue lol! Thank you 😊 Any alternate title suggestions from my favorite title person? I’m not sold on this one

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H L Mc Quaid
13:43 Jun 01, 2021

I do think "open" works, but it might be a little too vague. What about.. Open House scar tissue the beat goes on (<-- can't even believe I typed that)

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Claire Lindsey
14:52 Jun 01, 2021

Hahahaha it’s beautiful! I like the direction you’re going with Scar Tissue, I’ll have a think and a reread

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H L Mc Quaid
15:19 Jun 01, 2021

So, I went for a walk (never fails to spark ideas) and here are some other words that might work...Murmur, Memory. Murmuring/A murmured memory/a memory, a murmur/a murmur of a memory (etc etc) The other theme could be 'Reunion'

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Claire Lindsey
16:00 Jun 01, 2021

Ooh good ideas! I love murmurs, reunion, or (just came to me) open-hearted. I’ve gotten into indecisive mode hahaha, might step away for a bit and see what sticks

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Nina Chyll
09:34 Jun 05, 2021

I had bo idea what to expect but I really enjoyed the sad suspense. It was a touching and reality-grounded take on an incredibly difficult subject. I like the scene prep in this: the hoovering, the spilling, all those little things that pale out of existence the moment the boy comes in.

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Claire Lindsey
21:54 Jun 05, 2021

Thank you, Nina! I didn’t originally intend for it to be quite so suspenseful but this story had a mind of its own

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Ellie Yu
20:44 Jun 04, 2021

I don't know how to critique this... it's gorgeous, in every way. I especially liked the allusion to the human heart at the beginning ("all the arteries and organs of their grief"); it did help me partially brace myself for the real tearjerker moment at the end. The whole piece speaks of healing from such a tragic loss, and stitching a broken heart back together, delicate and hopeful. Love the prose, the symbolism, this line in particular - "to see their home taking in breath again" - and honestly, just the whole thing.

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Claire Lindsey
21:59 Jun 05, 2021

Your comments are always so sweet and insightful, Ellie! Thank you 💜

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Christina Marie
20:38 Jun 01, 2021

Wow, so tragic and touching. Tear-jerking and heart-lifting all in one brilliantly crafted story. Wonderful work, Claire!

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Claire Lindsey
23:46 Jun 01, 2021

Thank you Christina!

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Beth Connor
16:36 Jun 01, 2021

This is beautiful and touching (and I am grateful I closed my office door after reading the 'sad' tag! ) I love how all your work paints such a vivid picture. On another note- Heather Mcquaid being your favorite title person cracked me up, because she is mine too! lol

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Claire Lindsey
20:15 Jun 01, 2021

Heather is truly the best, isn’t she?! And thank you Beth! I don’t usually put a “sad” tag on my stories even if they’re a little on the sad side, but figured I probably should for this one haha

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A.Dot Ram
22:06 May 30, 2021

I had tears in my eyes. I enjoyed the build-up to the reveal, wondering what was going on and who the visitor would be. Definitely got the sense that someone had died. I half expected the visitor to be a realtor. Your idea is better, of course. That moment she recognized the heart! I have no idea if that's how it actually works, but that was compelling.

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Claire Lindsey
22:55 May 30, 2021

I highly doubt that’s how it works but it made for a dramatic moment, so I ran with it. Thank you for the encouragement 💜

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Shea West
05:18 May 30, 2021

I like the title, it's metaphorical for so many things in your story. Open heart surgery? Open to talk about their daughter? Open windows and doors, letting the grief out? I don't envy those that suffer such a loss, but the notion that someone else will survive because of it softens the blow. Sad story indeed. I liked how you kept her bedroom door closed, but the mother could still see inside it perfectly 😭😭😭

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Claire Lindsey
12:54 May 30, 2021

Thanks Shea! It took me forever to come up with the working title and its growing on me, especially after your comment. Looking forward to your new submission!

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Shea West
18:17 May 30, 2021

My new submission is dark, but in a different way. I look forward to hearing your thoughts <3

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Aditi Kshirsagar
14:39 Jun 06, 2021

The suspense maintained till the end was great. Loved it.

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Claire Lindsey
02:50 Jun 08, 2021

Thank you Aditi 😊

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05:02 Jun 06, 2021

The grief in this story has so many beautiful layers. The set up in the first scene had such great, build up to the point of breakdown for Ingrid. I'm not sure what else to say other than maybe the story would hold more power if we got a little insight into Emma, it's easy to fee sympathy for the parents but it's harder to feel the loss of Emma, then again, you could have solely focused on the parents grief and Seth's entrance, hence I digress. Nonetheless, it was heartfelt, presented as a floating ghost of grief, if you know what I mean. I ...

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Claire Lindsey
02:51 Jun 08, 2021

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Kyla!! I appreciate it 😊

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18:42 Jun 05, 2021

Brilliant.

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K. Antonio
01:53 Jun 03, 2021

I actually had read this when you posted, but I completely forgot to comment. This story made me want to write something hopeful and sad. It made me envious that I didn't come up with this premise, that I didn't think of something like this, and at the same time I just loved how we really don't get a sense of the purpose as to why these characters are visiting the main character until about half way. Then, I was like... oh... SNAP! I just love sad writing, hopeful writing, grief. I know that sounds crazy, but I love grief, I love to read a...

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Claire Lindsey
05:28 Jun 03, 2021

Aww thank you K! I always find stories about grief especially touching, too, and I love that translation

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Mubashshir Ifrad
16:24 Jun 01, 2021

I love all your works. I always read them to my girlfriend because she has a hard time sleeping without stories, thank you for all these amazing stories.

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Claire Lindsey
20:13 Jun 01, 2021

Thank you for reading 😊

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06:09 Jun 01, 2021

Claire, this is great. The mystery kept me on the edge of my seat, and I think I started to figure it out just at the right time. I love the boy- he seems so different from them and I think that's perfect. Great concept, great execution. I'm not sold on the title...but I suck at titles, so I don't have any alternate suggestions...

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Claire Lindsey
13:04 Jun 01, 2021

Thank you, glad you enjoyed the mystery! I’m also still not sold on the title haha, it’s functional but doesn’t quite feel right to me yet

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Jay Luuu
12:51 May 31, 2021

This story is so great! The emotions in this are so real I could empathize with the characters. I'll be surprised if this doesn't get at least shortlisted!

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Claire Lindsey
05:23 Jun 03, 2021

Thank you Jay 😊

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Amany Sayed
16:25 May 30, 2021

Aww, it's so touching. These prompts are so flowy, I knew you'd write something right away. I'm honestly really liking this new prompts writer. Anyway, back to the story. It's really beautiful, I think. So simple. So sweet. It happens more often than we think. Keep writing :)

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Claire Lindsey
22:58 May 30, 2021

Thanks Amany! Laura’s prompts are so amazing, aren’t they?? I’m slowly but surely catching up on reading and looking forward to your work 😊

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Thom Brodkin
18:56 Jul 10, 2021

You are a master story teller. I agree with Heather, your gift of showing not telling is magnificent. You use tiny details like the pink in the water to convey so much. Most of it hits my soul rather than my brain. One of my favorite movies in Return To Me with David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. This reminded me of that in it's melancholy sweetness. I love reading your stories on a quiet Saturday. Great job. I did just post another. I've been tweaking it based on some of the feedback I've been getting but I'd love to hear what you ...

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Des Feller
18:48 Jun 21, 2021

*sob*

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Hoor Amin
15:09 Jun 20, 2021

Aaawwwwwwwww. My hearttttt

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Daniel R. Hayes
01:12 Jun 02, 2021

This was a very sad and touching story! You always impress me with the way you write your stories. Just brilliant! This line was great: "She is not sure she likes the light that eviscerates their home, exposing their sorrow..." - This was really good ;) I liked how you ended the story with opening the windows to take in fresh air to breath again. That was really amazing. Great Job as always!! :)

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Claire Lindsey
05:24 Jun 03, 2021

Thanks Daniel!

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Prince Akatika
02:20 Jun 08, 2021

Have you guy's read THE GOAT THIEF? It's a story about ancient African cannibals!

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Prince Akatika
02:20 Jun 08, 2021

https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/96/submissions/70451/

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Prince Akatika
02:21 Jun 08, 2021

https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/96/submissions/70451/ HERE'S THE LINK TO THE CANNIBAL STORY

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