I am sitting in the ice cream parlour, watching the marshmallows slide down the Rocky Road which has begun to melt from the summer blaze.
I think the staff members are watching me from the countertop, wondering how long I’m going to be here for. Or maybe they’re staring at the strawberry parfait opposite me that’s been reduced to nothing but slush because no one was here to eat it.
With a sigh I get up, pay with a twenty-pound note and leave without the change.
The same routine.
I plug in my earphones before stepping outside and bring up the playlist that we put together on a night when mum fell apart and stood amidst a sea of shattered ceramics.
Did you know? I’ve started to listen to my music a little louder than I did before. I needed it because I’ve started to notice a lot more than I did before too.
Everywhere I go, I hear it.
I hear the girls in class laugh in hysterics, spouting carefully woven lies from their glossed lips: “It really happened! And then she…”
The teachers who try to engage the sleeping kid in the back to no avail: “Just wait ‘til your exams, and then we’ll see…”
Or the sweet granny who tries oh-so-hard to comfort dad and I: “Pain eases with time. The sting will fade and then you’ll realise…”
It’s those words.
You would always run up to me and grab my hand, shaking me with such need and ferocity to gain my attention. And when you finally caught a flicker of it, the stories would begin to spill from your mouth.
Stories of kingdoms, tales of the hidden forest.
Fables of ancient creatures, adventures beyond the vast blue.
But all the roads that you wove never had an end. In your bursts of excitement but uncertainty of how to continue, you would desperately shout:
“And then! And then! And then!”
Most times, I was tolerable of your unfinished phrase. Of the broken story, of the ambiguity of how each of your characters’ chapters ended.
Yes, most times.
Apart from that one night, where your breath was staggered from trying to keep calm as tears slashed claw-like marks down your cheeks. When you tried so hard to keep me together by retelling me a fragmented recollection of your dream that you had the previous night.
“And then! And then! And then!” You cried.
And I grabbed you by your shoulders, blinded by the rage that I had at mum, gripped by the hate I held for dad, and I released it on you:
“And then what!?” I screamed.
Oh, how I screamed.
And I remember your face.
Your tiny, horrified face.
The way that your tiny red curls framed the delicate skin of your freckled face, how the apples of your cheeks shone from the gleam of tears.
How your eyes, a second ago so blue and full of life, became lifeless mirrors as I saw the hope seep out from you at that very moment.
“And then what?” I whispered. “Tell me, and then what?”
On that night, between the screams and shatters of the downstairs’ nightly fight, your face glowed from the moonlight that filtered through our window. And I couldn’t stop.
The sadness that welled in my heart could no longer stand the uncertainty of your phrase.
“What happens when dad decides he doesn’t want us? What happens when mum thinks she can’t live without dad? And then what, Annie? And then what?”
And you stared at me for what felt like endless moments, but in hindsight, maybe it was all but just two heartbeats.
“And then… and then…” you frowned and furrowed your eyebrows, focusing on conjuring up whatever magical fairy-tale you had stashed away in the corners of mind.
And just like that, the hopeful gleam that you always had came back to your eyes.
“And then,” you said with such a sweet smile, your cheeks still red and blotchy, “and then, Rosie, we live.”
And with that one finished phrase, I felt that my world was pulled together. Nothing was broken, nothing was happening downstairs at three o’clock in the morning, nothing else mattered.
“And then… we’ll live?” I muttered, my tears wanting to break from the barrier I had put up.
“And then we live.” You confirmed.
You, who always spoke with uncertainty and unknowingness said that we’d live with such certainty - you left no room for doubt.
And now I crank my music up a little louder, because I’m walking home without your hand in mine and the pain is settling in.
You said we’d live.
You said we’d live, so where are you?
I hear it everywhere:
“…and then I’ll go gym.”
“…and then I’ll call you.”
“…and then I’ll come home.”
But your phrase?
I’ve never heard anyone say your phrase.
That was unique to you, as you were special to me.
“and then… and then… and then, Rosie, we live.”
And now I unlock the door and wince at the sharp scent of liquor that welcomes me back ‘home’.
Did you know? Dad drinks now. Funny, he always said to mum how he hated a woman who drank. And now, as I see him lying on the couch, barely covered by the rag he used as a makeshift blanket, I realise I no longer hold the hatred for him that I once did.
I feel nothing at all.
Quietly closing the door behind me, I tip-toe upstairs to
our my room so as to not wake him.
Down the corridor, the furthest room to the left, that’s where
you I sleep [now].
And as I unload the weight of my body onto my bed, crushing my face into the pillow, I close my eyes and remember the melting strawberry parfait.
I think it’s the first time that I’ve gone back since you were gone.
The Rocky Road no longer tastes sweet, and the strawberry parfait no longer looks like heaven.
My departure without change is no longer about you wanting to "reward the ice-cream people", but because of habit.
“And then, Rosie, we live.”
I lived. You didn’t.
So now, now that I’ve finished my part in your phrase, I need you to tell me now more than ever, Annie.
And then what?
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I like your style for this story. The italics are cool, and the slashed-out words at the end are great - it is something I don't see often. If I could offer my feedback, and I just recommend just cutting out unnecessary words. The line 'I’ve started to listen to my music a little louder than I did before. I needed it because I’ve started to notice a lot more than I did before too.' is fine, but you could have it be a bit less wordy if you wrote it similar to: 'I've listened to my music...' (Just remove the 'I've started to') and 'I've not...
Wowow! Thank you so much for offering this feedback - it's super helpful and I have definitely noted it :-) Overall, I'm glad that you liked the story, and thank you for sticking by until the end, deeply appreciated!
Hi all :-) So if anyone reads this, thank you so much for reading - it really means a lot. It's my first story on here! This story was heavily inspired on a Wednesday night as I was listening to the song 'Life' by Dyathon. It's a beautiful piano piece. I feel that my story may not exactly be interpreted correctly... or if my interpretation is allowed... but I did keep the prompt in my mind the whole way through! I really wanted to keep this one to just over 1K words (1,056 words in total). You may realise that there is indeed many questio...
This was beautifully sad and emotional, with an almost poetic feel to your writing from the questions and repetition you wove in. The details in the scene where Annie recalled her dream brought the story to life. Well done!
Hi! I was also recommended to read your story and I'm glad I was. Your imagery was beautiful, from beginning to end. One particular line that stood out to me: "Apart from that one night, where your breath was staggered from trying to keep calm as tears slashed claw-like marks down your cheeks." WOW. The way it was written felt like a letter that you were trying to write to a family member. Great job. :)
There are so many ways, the innocuous phrase 'and then' could be answered in this story. Particularly sad that so few answers are forthcoming. Very poignant.
That was depressing but very well written. Why did you italicize the whole story?
Thank you so much! I italicised the story to get across the idea that everything was happening in her head. It's how I write things: when things go through characters' minds, I write in italics :-)
Oh, thank you for answering. Also, thanks for liking my story. What did you think? If you do, please write your critique under my story.
Hi there c: As previously mentioned many many times, I absolutely loved this. My favorite thing about the writing is how you left what happened to Annie, and her mother, a mystery. Personally, I automatically assumed that Annie passed from suicide. This also led me to believe that the mother was unable to cope with Annie's passing and simply ran away from everything. I look forward to reading more of your amazing work :)
;-; thank you so much for the support and interpretation. I definitely did leave it open ended - I wanted to put the reader in the shoes of Rosie, thoughts erratic and emotions high. I’m glad it reached you 😌 Your support means the world :')