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Stephanie had three younger siblings. Their names were Ivy, Ava and Anna. She loved them very much. They were in primary school. She was halfway through high school. She had long, wavy brown hair and hazel eyes. She had both good looks and good grades. Her siblings were like miniature versions of herself; long wavy hair, hazel eyes. 

Her father was a structural engineer. He had short brown hair, square glasses and soft hands. He was very busy at work every day. He was always stressed out with the never-ending river of tasks that gushed towards him without break. But he still made sure to come home before dinnertime so he could spend time with his kids. He was a good father.

Her mother was an author. Her day consisted of writing novels and looking after her children. She also had long, wavy brown hair, but her eyes were green. Bright green. She was a pretty lady, albeit slightly chubby from all her children.

She worked from home; unlike Mr Johnson, who drove to work early every morning. She was busy but rarely felt stressed, even with four children; Stephanie helped with some of the chores, and the three younger girls were very well-behaved. She was a content, relaxed mother who posed a good role model for the kids.

You could call them the perfect family.

Father would play board games with the four girls when he came home in the evening while Mother prepared dinner. Their favourite was Snakes and Ladders. Every time someone landed on a big ladder or a big snake, there would be a tremendous uproar of either ‘nooo’ or ‘yessss’. Father would cover his ears with both hands and groan in mock despair, “My ears are going to go deaf!” while Stephanie and her siblings rocked with hysterical laughter and Mother chuckled over her stir fry. Halfway through the game, Stephanie and Mrs Johnson would switch places so Stephanie could help cook dinner. Mother and Father and the three younger girls would play Snakes and Ladders until Stephanie announced that the food was ready.

Life was happy and carefree like this for as long as Stephanie could remember. 

But gradually, something happened to Mother.

She would spend more and more time shut up in her study writing novels and less and less time doing chores or playing with the three younger ones. She stopped speaking and her bright green eyes dulled and lost focus. Stephanie had never known her to be so distanced and distracted. 

Little everyday tasks were left undone. One day, there wasn’t any breakfast on the table. Another day, she forgot to drive the three younger ones to school and Stephanie had to walk them there herself; she was very late for class that day. Another day, she forgot to hug the children goodnight. And yet another day, she forgot to make dinner.

A cloud of gloom settled over the family. Father and the girls still played board games, but it was with a despondent air; a ritual of tradition rather than for pleasure. Stephanie began to feel stressed with her schoolwork. Before, she had been given endless encouragement by her parents and had the time in the evening playing board games to relax. Now, Mother barely spoke and the encouragement Father gave seemed empty and devoid of hope. Anxiety for her mother weighed down her heart at every turn of the day. She had never felt so down. 

One Saturday, Mother got up early in the morning without saying a word to anyone and drove her car out of the driveway. She didn’t come back until the afternoon. The same thing happened on Sunday. No amount of pestering could get her to tell the family where she had went. A few weeks passed like this. Then one Saturday, she didn’t come back.

Stephanie became the mother of the house. She did every chore that her mother used to do and looked after her siblings day and night. There was no time for Father to play board games with them anymore because he was too busy trying to earn enough money to feed the whole family; ever since Mother disappeared, her novels weren’t earning income anymore. He left early in the morning and came back late at night. Stephanie barely even saw him anymore.

Tiny cracks made their way through Stephanie’s mental state. She became more and more fragile. She tried to put up a smiley face for her siblings, but at night, surrounded by the mountains of homework that she found impossible to complete because of all the housework she had to do, she would curl up and cry. Sometimes she couldn’t even cry. Sometimes her eyes were dry, with nothing but an empty void inside her.

She found it hard to sleep. She took to wandering the hallways of the house during the night, after many hours of attempting to finish all her schoolwork and long after Ivy, Ava and Anna had gone to bed. She never turned the lights on. Her eyes got accustomed to the dark. She would look around in the dark and see little faces in every corner; in the glowing dots of light on the microwave and oven, the bundles of jackets sitting on chairs, the towering bookshelves that lined the walls of the living room. Some of them seemed to be smiling. She would smile back and whisper, “Can we be friends, please?” and reply to herself, “Yes, we can be friends. I need friends.”

One night, she decided to go outside. She padded out of her room and murmured a brief greeting to her little faces. As she treaded lightly towards the front door, careful not to wake her siblings, she saw that Father was still in the study; the sound of fingers furiously tapping at a keyboard was audible even through the closed door, and a sliver of light slipped through the bottom. She smiled woefully and mumbled to herself, “At least Father’s still here.” Then she whispered to the closed door, “I love you, Father. Please don’t leave.” She desperately wanted a hug, but Father wouldn’t appreciate being disturbed. Not at a time like this.

Stephanie opened the front door and slipped out into the night. A cool breeze ruffled her loose hair and raised goosebumps on her arms. She sat down on the front steps, legs hugged to her chest and chin snuggled between her knees. Silently, she watched the night life of the city on the street at the end of the driveway. 

A shadowy figure walked by, down on the street. Stephanie longed for it to be her mother. She imagined the person turning around and taking off its hood to reveal eyes that were bright and sparkling instead of lost and unfocused, and heading back up the driveway, back towards her, back home. She imagined her giving her a rib-crushing hug and that the next day, everything would be back to normal. But the figure passed by without turning around. It wasn’t her mother. 

She watched countless people silently walk by during her long vigil. The next one, she kept pleading. Please let the next one be my mother. Desperate longing and homesickness pulled at her heartstrings. It started to rain; a light drizzle that dampened her hair and made her shiver. But still she stayed outside. 

Please let the next one be my mother.

May 22, 2020 23:59

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1 comment

E. Christian
23:58 May 28, 2020

I loved the detail of the "Snakes and Ladders" game- it really brought the family dynamic alive! One thing that you might try in your next story is sprinkling your character descriptions throughout the story, rather than linking them all together in the beginning. That way, you can get right into the action, which helps to get the reader engaged with the story right from the start.


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