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Bedtime Contemporary Coming of Age


It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. As it is accumulating as quickly as predicted, I am brought back to my childhood. For any ten-year old raised before the age of internet and social media, an abundant snowfall was a winning lottery ticket. It meant a full day off from school.  It meant a day of outdoor fun with siblings and friends. It meant building snow men and snow forts. It meant snowball fights.  It meant Gran preparing steaming mugs of hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and placing my 2 ½ year old brother's playpen directly in front of the family room sliding glass doors so that he could watch my little sister, me and our friends play. He would delightfully squeal as he watched us frolic about in our cumbersome coats, snow boots, mittens and freezer burned ski caps. Pop Pop would be situated on the sofa watching all of us per Gran’s strict instructions. Gran believed if we were outside the house, we needed to be watched because – well you never know. The backyard wasn’t safe let alone the side walked streets and local playground. I wondered if any place was truly safe for Gran.   


A substantial snowfall meant so much. It sometimes meant that my mother would visit.   


Back then, I would sit on our living room sofa looking out to the streetlight through a wide window. I knew the snow was falling from the sky, but I saw it falling best under the streetlight. Under that streetlight, I could determine the snow’s strength and speed. I would find it thrilling if the snowflakes were fat and furious or feel disappointment if they were really nothing more than a spat of glorified rain that would never amount to anything worthwhile. That anemic form of snow usually resulted in a delayed opening of school, which for some reason was far more annoying than attending a regular, routine full day. On days like that, though, there was equally as good of a chance as any that my mother would pay a visit.   


On that night, I witnessed the best of it falling from the streetlight and onto the ground. The snow grew inch by inch causing our lawn to meld with the black street to become an expansive sheet cake thickly frosted with vanilla icing.  Gran would not mind that I was up past my bedtime. No school meant no strict routines to adhere to. It meant Gran would be gathering snow shovels and bags of salt to be ready for the great digging out at the snow’s cessation. Whether or not we were effective in removing snow, I will never know. I do know that lifting heavy loads off the ground to dump into a pile meant to become a mountain was a long, wet task that we never complained about.  


Gran and Pop Pop always let my mother in when she showed up. They would give her a cup of tea and Gran would help her to shower and change into a fresh pair of pajamas. Then it was my turn to settle her in my bedroom and I was more than grateful for that.  When my mother started this sporadic routine of coming home, Pop Pop switched out my twin bed for a trundle bed. I would slide it out and make it up for my mother. I was meticulous about it.  The bottom sheet needed to be firmly tucked in, the top sheet placed perfectly over it, the quilts smoothed so that not a wrinkle buckled, and the pillows perfectly fluffed. She would sit on the chair of my compact school desk that was set up for homework and just watch. Her eyes would be sad and swollen like water balloons about to burst as she would look into mine and say, “I love you. Just know that I love you so much and I am sorry.” Tonight, she fooled around with a piece of paper she had torn out of my notebook. She was jotting something or aimlessly scribbling. I didn’t think much of it.   


She was always inordinately weak and tired – a lifeless rag doll who miraculously figured some way to move. Gran remarked pitifully to Pop Pop that she looked like death. I hated that. It was a frightening thing to say and even more frightening that when Gran first used to say such a dark thing, she would be visibly upset. Now she simply stated it in a way that made me think she did not care anymore. She did though. I know she more than did.      

Once my mother got into the bed, she would crawl herself into a tight fetal position burying her head deep into the pillows so I could only see her hair. She hardly moved at all, but when she did, it was in the form of a sudden, violent quiver. Her breathing was far from normal. It would constantly go from soft and steady to ragged and irregular. I never slept. I stroked her hair and watched over her. I worried that she might stop breathing all together. 

In the morning, I struggled to keep tears from my eyes as she gathered her two oversized tote bags with the few things she had brought and with the things that my gran and Pop Pop would give her like sandwich bags filled with snacks and bottles of Perrier water. They hesitantly gave her money, too.    


That morning was the same except that after my mother hugged me goodbye and I eventually heard the front door shut with a click that was my cue to let out all my tears, I heard the front door open again. Then my bedroom door opened, and my mother rushed in.  Before I could figure out why she was back, she dropped her bags and gave me the tightest hug I ever felt. Then she quickly left.   

This only prolonged my sadness until eventually I joined the household to help with all the things that needed to be done. Later that day, it started to snow again and continued into the night. I was overjoyed when the phone rang after dinner. I knew it was the call that would inform us that school would be closed again, and it was.   


When I went to my room, I made up the trundle bed in case my mother returned. I felt a scrap of paper as I was fluffing up the pillows. It was the page my mother tore from my notebook. It consisted of pictures she had drawn. They were a stack of small, childlike drawings. On the bottom was a little house - a nearly perfect square with two windows, a door and a triangle roof, above that was the same house with several thick weeds sprouting out from the foundation and windows, above that was a sun, above that a rainbow, and above that a bold smiley face that was much larger than all the other drawings. After a while I folded it carefully and placed it in my jewelry box. I would save it forever whatever it meant.    


The next day was much the same as the day before except my mother did not visit the night before. After I helped Gran get my baby brother and sister to bed, I had the privilege as the oldest child to stay up and hang out with my grandparents in the family room. They watched the news as I read my latest Nancy Drew novel. 


Without warning my grandmother got up to turn up the volume on the television. I put my book down to pay attention. Something must be happening in the world that was of concern to us. Something major like when Nixon resigned. I looked at the screen to see a newscaster in front of a city row house that had clearly burned down. It was a distorted figure of gray/black wreckage that seemed to smolder. I heard him say that the police believed it had been an abandoned house occupied by homeless drug users who set a fire of some sort to keep warm. The fire got out of control and the house burned leaving no survivors.   


My grandmother rose abruptly from the sofa and turned off the television. It was then that I knew that the weeds in the pictures were badly drawn flames and that my mother had said goodbye.

March 17, 2023 02:05

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4 comments

Darryl Roberts
22:32 Mar 23, 2023

I live in place that never gets snow, but your description of snow days was well done I could almost feel like I was there. A sad tale, but nicely written.

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Solomon Alderson
12:27 Mar 22, 2023

I don't have very much to say (mostly because Michelle's comment almost accurately depicts my reaction to the story) but this was really good. I like the way you didn't give us any heads up or anything like that as yo where the story might end up. I was just following the story with each sentence but then you get to the ending and you're able to link the pieces together to get the bigger picture.

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Michelle Oliver
23:30 Mar 18, 2023

This was so sad Antonia. I like the way you never explained the reason for living with grandparents, just trusted your reader to put the story together. It is what makes the story so compelling. We are drawn in with each sentence, investing our emotions into the story along slide your narrator. The child perspective is not disrupted with unnecessary information from the adult voice. Such a beautiful story of love and despair coexisting. The grandparents love the child’s mother, but feel the hopelessness of the situation. The child loves t...

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Antonia Sullivan
22:26 Mar 19, 2023

First, thank you so much for reading my story. I really do appreciate it. Your description of love and despair coexisting is what I hoped to convey but could not describe or pinpoint it myself. Thanks for that, too. All the elements of the story I drew from various aspects of my life though the story itself is made up.

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