As promised, I have been honing my skills. I just completed a course at the University of Iowa called, How Writers Write Fiction, Storied Women. I would like to present one of the short stories I wrote for my class; a lesson on fragmentation. It was a challenge to introduce a stream of thought within the context of the story. Nothing happens in a linear way, and this piece is introducing past and present simultaneously. I hope you enjoy my story about a woman dealing with her mother’s death and her coming to terms with the remnants of their relationships.
Lost Lifetime, Reunited
Grace was tired of looking at death. Her mother’s fragile body lying listlessly under the once bleached white sheets. They were grey now, dingy and faded from too much wear, like her mother’s face. Grace kissed her mother’s forehead and left the room.
“How is she doing?” Aunt Louise asked, seeing Grace out of the corner of her eye not without losing her concentration of her crochet loop.
“The same…lingering,” Grace replied. “I’m going to run out and get some air.”
“Do that. You look tired. Some fresh air might be good. Did you get any rest last night?”
“Rest?” Grace gave a guttural laugh. “There is no rest with mother, now that she is dying. Or ever, really.” She didn’t continue her thoughts. Her aunt knew what she meant. Her mother never let Grace rest.
Grace slept. She slept a lot. Long hours, days, months, even years had gone by sleeping. Trying to pass her life of loneliness. But rest was not a part of the equation. There was too much to think about. Too much to accomplish. Too much to live up to.
“Grace, life is so full of things to do. Don’t waste your time on dreaming. You need to finish college, get a good job.” Mama preached. “Women can do anything in America. And my baby girl will do it. You will make me proud, won’t you?”
“Yes, Mama,” Grace assured her mother. She meant it. She would never let her down.
“Why does it have to be so cold?” Grace murmured as she looked out the window at the grey sky and leafless trees.
“Go on,” her Aunt ordered. “It won’t get any warmer looking at it.”
Grace grabbed her coat, put on the multicolored hand-crocheted scarf made with left over yarn her mother gave her last Christmas, and slipped her feet in her mother’s boots. There was no need to bring her own from California. Her mother and she were the same size; they were the same shape really. When she looked in the mirror it was even her mother’s face that stared back. She was her mother’s twin now that she was a full-grown adult. Who was she kidding? She was not just a grown adult, but a single, middle-aged woman now. Any youth she had left had passed her by ten years ago. She thanked the heavenly gods for her mother’s supple skin and pretty eyes even though age had set in. White hair surfaced every four weeks to remind her of the fact. But even as her mother lay in bed dying, she was still beautiful.
“You’re always beautiful to me,” Grace whispered to no one; to herself.
There was no one prettier to Grace. Mama never went out of the house without her chestnut hair pulled back in a chignon, bright red lipstick, and an ironed dress. It didn’t matter where she was going. To the grocery store or the movie theatre. Mama said a woman should always look her best. She always did.
Men would flirt with Mama. Even before Papa died. She would politely accept the compliments but would never take them up on their offers for dinner or a cup of coffee. Grace always wondered if she was lonely without a man to spend the rest of her life.
She had asked once. “Mama, don’t you want to love another man?”
“I had all the love I needed from your father. He gave me my hearts fill with you and your brothers. I don’t need any more than I’ve got.”
Grace understood…to love someone so much no one else would do. But it was lonely all the same.
The weather had turned as soon as October ended and winter was now in full swing. It hadn’t snowed, but the temperature dropped twenty degrees, forcing Grace to drag her long wool coat out of the closet and transport it across the country to Connecticut. Back home. Back where her mother was dying.
Grace closed the door and inhaled deeply, shocking her lungs with the frigid air. She wrapped the scarf around her head to cover her ears and made a loop around her neck. Pulling up the collar of her coat, she pushed her body forward into the emptied streets ahead. The wind snapped at her body as if taunting her to retreat for cover from the chill. Grace plunged her hands into her pockets in defiance. She didn’t want to go back inside. Not yet. She wasn’t ready to return to death.
Her stride increased. She knew where she would find some reprieve. The place she always escaped since she was a little girl.
She made the sign of the cross with the holy water and genuflected at the fifth pew from the back. How many times has she sat there praying? Hoping. Dreaming most of the time. Today she would pray. Pray for the angels to come and take her mama.
“It’s time for me to go,” her mother’s voice creaked.
“Don’t say that,” Grace argued. “I will miss you too much.”
“And I will miss you,” she replied, trying hard to make her face muscles move into a smile. Even that took too much energy and her cheeks dropped never completing her attempt.
“Your father is waiting for me.” She paused for a moment and her eyelids fell shut. “I can hear his voice. It’s as if he’s standing besides me whispering in my ear.”
“What is he saying?” Grace asked, holding her breath for the answer.
“You will be okay.”
Grace wondered who the answer was for. She laid her head on her Mama’s belly like she used to as a little girl. Mama lifted her trembling hand and ran her hand down Grace’s hair.
“There, there, my little girl,” she cooed. “You have so much to do. So much still yet to accomplish. Make me proud.”
Mama always pushed. Even upon her death bed Grace had expectations to fulfill. She would never let her mama down. Becoming a successful administrator for a large California School District was no small achievement. She was now working on her doctorate in education. She wasn’t sure what more she could achieve for her mother. But whatever it was, she deserved that and more. She was good mother; a supportive mother. Grace would never have succeeded if it weren’t for her support and expectation that she could accomplish all that she wanted. Her mother was her rock and most avid cheerleader when it came to a successful career. But success didn’t include love. No, that was one area her mother had never supported her. And thus, Grace was alone.
Alone, facing her mother’s death, with no one to console her. No one to know how much this woman meant to her. No one to hold her and tell her that she will be okay.
Grace stared at the crucifix. Jesus looked emptied. Defeated. That is how she felt.
“Take good care of her,” Grace whispered, as she made the sign of the cross.
The crisp air slapped Grace across the face as she pushed the heavy doors open from the church. She squinted her eyes having been dilated from the dark confines of the old church. She blinked a few times to adjust to the brightness and started to descend the stairs. The temperature had dropped again and she brought her hands to her face to blow her hot breath to warm them. Grace felt renewed. Prayer always made her feel that way. She looked out at the street ahead of her. So many memories of the tiny town she grew up. Mr. Smiley’s son took over the meat shop. The sign now read, Smiley’s and Son. The ice cream store was still on the corner, but not as busy as it was in the summer. A grandmother holding her grandson’s hand opened the door and entered. The baby-clothing store had closed and it was now a candle shop.
How can people make money selling just candles? Grace pondered as she descended the steps of the church.
“Take these,” a man’s voice interrupted Grace’s observation. He held out his hand with a pair of black leather gloves.
Grace turned and blinked twice to make sure she was recognizing the salt and peppered haired man standing before her.
“Bobby?” she questioned, her voice surging in octave.
He smiled. The same smile she had remembered from her youth. The same smile that melted her heart so many times. The same smile she fell asleep to every night since her childhood.