Short Stories

Avalonmom727

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Yesterday morning, my mom texted me her usual good morning. Every Monday, it’s “Madison Monday,” which is just a funny way to get me through yet again another Monday. 

I have a conference in the city today. Woo, being out of the office haha, I texted her. 

She told me to give her a call later when I had a free time after the conference. She emphasised after the conference so I thought maybe something was wrong. 

Is everything ok? Is it funny or serious [emoji]? 

She just replied with not funny, but wished me luck at the conference. The day went on and after the conference I gave my mom a call before I hopped on the subway. I started blabbing to her about the conference and then I asked her what was up. She asked if I was done the conference, and if I was still needing to get back to work. I had finished the conference, I told her. 

Okay well, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t want you to still be at the conference when I told you this. I wanted to tell you that Aunt Shawn has passed away. 

I felt like I hadn’t heard her correctly. My aunt didn’t have cancer, she wasn’t diagnosed with a serious disease. She repeated it again when I asked what she said, afraid that I heard “dead” when really she meant to say “sick with something obviously curable.” I continued to walk down a street I didn’t know in Brooklyn. A taxi zoomed by me and beeped because I seemed to have crossed the street without the pedestrian signal. Where was I? It didn’t matter. I pressed my body up against a dirty building and tried to melt into the city walls. 

And so began a series of questions that I never thought I would be asking my mom about her sister. Why, how, who knows, who is upset, who cried, what’s happening, what did grandma say, what did my sisters say, what did dad say, who else knows, what about her kids, what happens to her pets. 

What I’m writing isn’t about how I feel, and I guess if you have to define it, it’s a multitude of things. I’m writing because I’m angry. I’m writing because death is all around me, and I’m being forced to face it in so many ways. I’m writing because it’s the only thing I know how to do, and I don’t know how one single picture or social media status can perfectly paint the picture of a woman, a mother, the independent-strong-minded woman that she was.

When I was younger, that was when I was the closest with my aunt. For a while we lived in different counties, but eventually my family moved back to Telford, PA so we could be with my grandfather who had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember crying, when I was first told that I had to move from Delaware County, PA to Montgomery County, PA (big difference, when you’re in third grade). I remember my mom said, but you’ll make new friends! 

I don’t WANT new friends! I screamed. But then she added, you’ll be going to school with your aunt because she works there in the cafeteria! That got me to calm down a little.

Some of the things I remember about my aunt are little memories. In all my relationships in life, both personal and in my family, I always remember the small things about people. The time my dad stayed up late with me and made me egg sandwiches, when my sister gave me her favorite top because she knew I liked it more, when my brother bought me that red coat from Macy’s. So small, but so significant. 

The little things.

 My aunt used to have a pantry filled with the best snacks in the world. It was like a tiny little Costco. Big boxes of potato chips, iced tea, Dunkaroos, cookies — all the kinds of snacks that would make our mom furious if she knew we ate them before dinner. My brother and I didn’t care. We would ride our bikes up to visit and hope that Aunt Shawn would offer us a trip down to the basement to pick out whatever we wanted from the pantry. She always offered, and we always accepted.

***

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My aunt loved the beach. I still remember the vacation I took with her and the family to Avalon. By accident (which I hope my cousins still realize was an accident) I killed one of my aunt’s favorite rats (they had several pet rats). I sat in the corner of the room crying hysterically knowing that I had broken my aunts heart. I remember how stern her husband was, he came into the room and told me that I need to go apologize “to my aunt.”  When I was able to see her after she had calmed down, I went into her arms saying how sorry I was, she said she knew I didn’t mean it, and that she knew I loved the little rat so much too. To this day I think about the little rat, but mostly because of how sad I made my aunt. 

***

And since my aunt loved the beach, she also had a large collection of seashells, which I remember going through secretly one time at her house, taking all of them out. Her husband caught me and scolded me, and I was so embarrassed. My aunt instead, reassured me that it was okay, and I believe she even let me take one home (but not her favorite, rare ones! Those she had to keep in the special little seashell containers). 

***

I also remember that my grandmother and aunt would always call McDonald’s “Mickey D’s,” which for some reason, I never knew people called it that. So when we pulled up to the big yellow “M,” I started laughing because I expected some cute, small town diner. My grandmother and aunt made fun of me so much, “How could you not know we meant McDonalds?!” We gobbled down some Mickey D’s and talked about all the clothes we were going to buy. 

***

My aunt also loved music, probably as much as my own mother who was constantly dancing around the house even though we begged her to stop. Shawn used to burn mixed CDs for my mom, with 80s club music, or classic jams like “You Spin Me Round,” and “Bootylicious.” Whenever I hear these songs, I always think of those mixed CDs. I hope wherever my aunt is now, her days are spent with ridiculous party jams from Destiny’s Child. 

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She also loved animals, like my mom. Throughout her life she had an awesome cat named Max, guinea pigs, tons of pet rats, and just recently, her two cats had kittens together. I think in total she had six cats, but she just couldn’t find homes for them, so she took them in herself. I hope the family tries to find new homes for them, and doesn’t just throw them in a shelter, because I know for a fact that’s not what my aunt would have wanted. Little Goose will miss you!

***

Her love for my mom is proof that the bond between sisters is one of the strongest loves to ever exist. My mom and her talked often, but not as much as you would think seeing as they lived a few miles apart in Telford, minutes away from their childhood home where my grandmother still lived. It didn’t matter, they always stayed in touch. I always knew when my mom was on the phone with my aunt, because she would be on the phone for hours. And that’s no exaggeration. They would talk about everything and sometimes, I would sit in her room and try to eavesdrop. My aunt always seemed to know a lot about everyone, and she wasn’t gossipy, she was just keeping my mom up to date with everyone’s lives. 

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She once told my sister that my mom is our rock, and we should remember that. I knew she was speaking from her heart, and from her experience as a mother. She did everything and anything for her two kids. Even when I heard stories about them misbehaving, there was my aunt, always ready to step in front of a bus for them. When my one cousin missed school on the day of prom (which was a big no-no, the rule was you go to school the day of prom or you can’t go..or you at least had to make 393287_10150465097624892_1263788287_nit to fifth period or something) my aunt told her husband to call up the school and demand she be allowed to go to prom. When my other cousin moved to Florida, I had never seen a mother cry so hard. I think she was depressed for weeks, maybe even months. She was unbelievably proud, told everyone on Facebook how her son had moved on and gotten a job. But I had never seen someone so sad that their son had moved away. Those are the little things I remember — her sadness, her pain that her children were growing up too fast. 

I realize now it’s because her kids were her whole world. I know she had more in life that was meaningful to her, but her children were the stars in her life that guided her through dark times. She would do anything for them, and if she was still here today, I know she would continue to do so. 

And even when her husband brought divorce papers into the house, she continued to love him. Even when he might have stopped “loving” her the way he did when they first married, she continued to care and love him.

James TW says, “sometimes moms and dads, fall out of love.” But like my grandfather used to say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

***

She babysat the two neighbor girls next door, Emma and Jacqui, and became a sort of motherly figure to the both of them. Much like my mom, who is also passionate about children, my aunt worked at the local elementary school, babysat for a majority of her life, and also worked at a children’s day care center. I think in life, that was what she was meant to do. To be with children, and to try to help them grow up to be the best that they can be. 

***

Shawn was the big sister, and my mom was the little sister. In many ways, they were twins. Everyone thought they were, too. They looked a lot a like, and later in life as I grew up, people would comment and say, “You sound just like your aunt!” Or they would say, “You look so much like your aunt.”

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A lot of my sadness with my aunt’s death comes from my own love of my mother. I love my mother with every vein and cell in my body. My mother is my rock, like my aunt said. Seeing my mother in pain, seeing her frustration that perhaps my aunt’s family didn’t step in and be there for her when she needed them, seeing her anger for not being there more for her sister, seeing and feeling the guilt in her voice for not being able to do more — it all but breaks me down.

Since my aunt loved my mom more than anything in this world, I promise her that I will be there for my mom no matter what. If she is sick, I will be there. If she needs help, I will be there. If she wants to rescue cats (which my aunt did), I will be there. If my mom is suffering from something, no matter how hard it might be for me, I will be there. I will be there, because I know Shawn wanted me to.

***

When I accepted a job in New York, my aunt was beyond ecstatic for me. She was also terribly sad for my mom, because she knew how it felt to have your first-born leave the nest. She wanted to throw a big party for me, with all my friends and family in attendance, to celebrate my new chapter. I look back on her enthusiasm, her willingness to open her home up. She said how she was so proud of me. She said that my mom is lucky to have an amazing, bright, smart young woman like myself. I held in tears that night, so as not to cry in front of my family. But tonight as I write this, I let the tears flow, because I will never again be able to tell you thank you, and I love you.

***

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One special thing about my aunt, is that she lived for her nieces and nephew’s accomplishments. Every time we made the honor roll, she would clap with enjoyment. When I started dating my boyfriend, she said (in her Aunt-Shawn voice) “Well he is just ALL KINDS of handsome!!!!” When I graduated high school, she was there crying. When I graduated college, she was there crying again. She commented on almost every picture I ever posted on Instagram, every status I posted on Facebook. She read every blog I ever posted. Aunt Shawn just had so much energy, so much love, and she cared that other people were successful, living life, and achieving their goals.

Aunt Shawn, wherever you are, I’m sorry that I couldn’t show you New York. I was just about to talk to my mom about you two visiting me as “the Weisenborn’s take over NYC.” I wanted to show you that all my hard work paid off, and how happy I am to have you as my “favorite aunt.” You will always be my favorite aunt.

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David Marcu, Upsplash

The Other Women: Lean Cuisine

*The Other Women is an original short story series, with inspiration from Naomi Wood’s fiction novel Mrs. Hemingway.

The cafeteria smelled like Chinese food again. A lot of women in my office were notorious for bringing soggy leftovers, stinking up the entire room with the smell of chicken and MSG. Any other day I could stomach it, but today it wasn’t going to happen.

Marci and I always ate lunch together around 12:30 p.m. Brandworth, the small marketing firm where we worked, allowed us an hour for lunch, and she was the only person that I would want to sit with for a whole sixty minutes.

Besides the low-pay and obnoxious reminders to clean out the refrigerator every Friday, I enjoyed my job. It helped being able to talk to someone every day. Marci helped me stay a little sane – in between paper filing and the occasional inappropriate back pat from a corporate executive. Today was another day in the office, only instead of hitting the lunch truck outside of the building, I was brown-bagging it and Marci was heating up something frozen.

“Lean Cuisine?” I asked her in between the beeps that told her the meal was ready.

“Yeah, Justin wants to go to some riverside camping trip so that means I gotta lose the extra baggage,” said Marci as she stirred low-cal microwavable pasta primavera. “If I have to spend a whole weekend with his nerdy college buddies and their dull girlfriends, I at least want to have the body of a bombshell.”

“You’re right, if someone sees you shitting in the woods you’ll want to make sure you look nice and toned,” I smirked.

“You’re so annoying.”

I looked down at my own food, a pathetic sandwich and potato chips that was leftover from a budget luncheon last Wednesday. I had yet to go grocery shopping, probably because this week was the first week that I had actually been hungry. I heard breakups do that to you.

“What are you eating?” Marci asked, mid-bite mushrooms and noodles.

“Uh, peanut butter and jelly.”

“What are you, twelve? Did Mommy make it for you?”

“Screw you,” I got quieter, noticing the old women from finance were looking over at me. “Sorry, it’s just all I felt like eating.”

“Sarah, if you need some help you know you can just ask me. Justin’s mom is always bringing me over casseroles, which leads me to believe is the reason I’m on a temporary diet,” she picked up her plastic fork and let the contents drop back into the plastic container. Drops of reduced sodium sauce splattered onto the table.

“I’m fine. Just not all that hungry,” I munched slowly on a few stale potato chips to convince her.

The problem with breakups is not just the loss of an appetite. When you’re the one left, you just wander around and wonder what you did wrong. Then, you realize how much your life revolved around the other person. Everything reminds you of them. Street sounds, movies, commercial jingles, the weather—even a crappy last minute lunch shared over a work-break with your friend.

“You know what my ex used to do with potato chips?” I smiled a little, hoping that talking about him would make me get over the breakup.

“Hmm.”

“He would put his potato chips on his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I always thought it was so gross but once I tried it I thought it was genius.”

“That’s childish, and a perfect example as to why you shouldn’t be with him,” Marci pointed her fork at me, and more sauce dribbled onto the table.

“I don’t get how that matters,” I looked woefully at my sandwich, deciding if the stale chips between the white bread would make me feel any better. “Do you know he could only eat the crunchy kind?”

“Is talking about his favorite foods really going to help you feel any better, Sarah?”

“Probably not, I guess” I finished the last bite of my sandwich, feeling, remembering our last minute trips to Trader Joes to pick up peanut butter and the bread pickles I used to eat. Thinking of him only drew me closer to the gaping hole somewhere in my heart.

“Chin up, buttercup. He was boring and he deserves to get hit by a bus,” Marci scraped the rest of her primavera into her mouth and wiped up the mess she had made.

We packed up and headed back to our cubicles. Marci and I sat next to each other, with thin walls separating us, giving each employee a small and drab space to work their eight hour shifts. The first time I had spoken her, she had poked her head over the cubicle to mutter, “Hey new chick, ease off the Chanel, it gives me a headache.”

I thought about how we became instant friends, wondering if nostalgia would cheer me up, but even though I had Marci I still couldn’t help feeling as if a part of me was missing. I was spiraling into a dark place known as depression, although I lied to myself as I opened up my email, and blamed the pit in my stomach on the lack of sustenance of my lunch.

*

Ralph had ended it about a month ago on a steamy August morning, not long after I finished up the dishes that had been piling in his sink. The roaches in his city apartment would have a picnic with leftover Ramen noodles and buffalo sauced chicken wing bones, and yet he never seemed to mind the mess, or the bugs.

I had always called him “Alphie” because it sounded cute and fit the soft-spoken man who had a love of Star Wars collectables and spearmint gum. He never seemed like a “Ralph.” In fact, the name reminded me of a wire rimmed glasses, fifty-something year old man with graying hair and a pedo-stache. Not something you exactly want to be moaning under a knitted afghan.

And who knows, maybe this had something to do with my inability to be serious and my desire to find something in men that just didn’t exist. That thought left my mind quickly. It definitely was about not wanting to have sex with a guy named Ralph.

Something had been up with Alphie for about a month, I could just tell. He was as readable as a children’s pop-up book. But this time, he was as readable as a map in Spanish; I was hopelessly lost and the only thing I could say was, “Te amo.”

We didn’t live together, so I guess it was easier for him to become distant and make excuses during the final weeks of our relationship. Our after-dinner phone calls became scarce and my text messages would go unanswered for hours. How did I not see this coming, I had thought between the hot tears as he sat there — the bearer of bad news — stone cold and without any hint of sadness or regret.

That’s what angered me the most, besides being dumped and having no one to turn to but a co-worker and a bottle of cheap vodka. No one prepares you for that moment where you are left dumbfounded and alone, scraping your brain for an answer to try and realize what you did wrong.

Then, when you find the answer, you wish you never did.

*

“Hey Alphie, I’m going to be stopping over just to pick up the last of my stuff, so um, I’ll leave my spare key in your mailbox, and then um, that’ll be all. So um, thanks and maybe I’ll see you later. Okay, well, bye.”

Voicemails had never been my strong suit, and then again, neither were breakups. I only had one more box left of my things at his place—a sports bra, a Nicholas Sparks book, bobby pins, and three half used shampoo bottles—and then I would have no reason to speak or see Alphie again. I decided that after I stopped by his apartment I would hit the liquor store for a rebound date with a handsome man named Jack Daniels. Or, maybe even a ménage à trois with a chaser of Mr. Samuel Adams.

Marci had volunteered to go with me to Alphie’s apartment, but I decided it would be easier to go by myself. Plus, I was afraid I would start bawling and get snot all over her blouse.

Walking up to the apartment alone only brought up what little bit of sandwich and stale chips I had that afternoon, but still I managed to jiggle the key into the lock and enter a place that I used to spend time with him in, holding my breath as if smelling where he lived would bring back every memory we ever shared.

The door opened and I saw my box of things in the corner of the living room. I didn’t even want any of it; it was just another part of the process that everyone was telling me about. This process involved crying late into the night and packing on foundation early morning so people at work didn’t know you were an emotional wreck. It involved deleting pictures off of your Facebook page and changing your relationship status to private so no one would know that you were single, even though everyone would figure it out. It involved what I was doing right that moment, sitting in your now-ex’s apartment with a box of shit you didn’t even want, but you had to pick it up because it was part of the process of getting over him.

I sat on his couch and brought my knees up against my chest. The couch embraced my weight, its worn upholstery inviting and familiar. If only there had been one other imprint next to me—the way that felt normal to me.

As if to interrupt a forbidden moment, Alphie’s door rattled and someone was rapping three soft times. Startled, I knocked over the box and the shampoo bottles hit the ground with a hard thud. The stranger on the opposite side of the door heard my clumsiness and called out, “Hello? You there?”

My stomach dropped and my palms began to sweat. The voice that called out belonged to a woman. It sounded sweet like a soft church bell. Knowing all of Alphie’s neighbors, none of which were this angelic voice, I felt a pang of jealousy thinking maybe he had found the company of another woman.

I was overreacting, but I scrambled for the items that I had dropped and threw them back into the box, shoving it under the end table by the couch. I could have easily stayed silent and pretended no one was there, but I had to see her in case she had an intimate relationship with Alphie. Why else would she be at his apartment at 8 p.m?

Behind the door she was standing with her back towards the entrance, looking off down the hallway. She turned around with a lit up face, as if to see someone familiar. Her face dropped when she saw me, and she pushed up her dark square-rimmed glasses.

She seemed confused and scared, to see another woman in his apartment, especially one that looked like a homeless person with red eyes and business attire.

“Oh, I um…?”

“Oh uh, sorry to startle you. Um, Ralph isn’t here.” I was surprised I could even speak, all I felt like doing was vomiting.

The woman walked cautiously toward me as if I was an unleashed Rottweiler. Two women now stood near Alphie’s apartment—one ex lover, and one most likely, current.

“Um, can I ask who you are?” she was playing nervously with a dark hair strand that had fallen in front of her face.

“Oh, I’m just here to uh, water his plants,” I lied. “He forgot to so he asked me to stop by. I’m just a neighbor.”

“Okay, I was just knocking to see if he was here. I had a key anyway, but thanks for letting me in. His door is always jammed,” she giggled.

I eyed her up to see what Alphie might like more in this woman than myself. Her hair was decent, straight how he likes, but her glasses made her eyes too-huge and forehead small. She had a tight button-down blouse that buckled around her breasts, and a long brown skirt to pair with her oxford sneakers.

“I just came to pick something up I left last week, so I’ll be right out,” she said as she walked towards Alphie’s room.

Thinking quick, I moved closer towards his room and waited until she emerged, a sweater in hand. She jumped upon seeing me moved, and gave me a weak smile.

“So, you his girlfriend?” I asked, adding a smile to make me seem somewhat sane.

“Oh, no,” she laughed. “We’ve only been dating a few months, I don’t think it’s anything serious, yet.” She gave another weak smile.

My heart thrummed in my head, but something seemed weird about this relationship. I kept trying to get more information and hoped my casual conversation seemed not-so-creepy.

“Like actually dating? Or just friends?”

“Well, we met in May and have been dating since then,” she said, still twitching with her hair in her hand. “I just didn’t want to rush it because he seems like a great guy, you know?”

The woman stared at me because I hadn’t answered her question. I hadn’t said anything because I was doing mental math. In a minute, my fists started to clench. I’m sure my face was red, my eyes welled, and maybe I even looked like I was going to kill her. I’m not going to lie, it crossed my mind.

This chick had been dating Alphie since May, but so had I.

As if my life didn’t already suck, sure enough the doorknob turns and in walks Alphie. Really? Is this a sit-com where everyone is laughing at how pathetic the protagonist’s life is?

There he was, the simple man with simple tastes, decked out in his usual jeans and a button up shirt exposing a goofy t-shirt with a cheesy graphic. What does a man do when he is presented with his current girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend, and the act that both of them know he is a good ol’ cheater?

He says hello, or, at least that’s what Alphie did.

“Hey guys, uh what’s going on?” he tried to put on a smile, but I saw right through it.

“Well Alphie, I just met your new friend here. Did you tell her about me?” I was getting angrier. Alphie looked sweaty.

“Um, well Sophie. This is my um, ex-girlfriend Sarah.”

I started getting snippy. Sophie looked way too calm and collected and all I wanted to do was dump my box of shit on Alphie and then set him on fire. He wasn’t going to get away so easy.

“Yes Sophie, and I have a question for you, how good at little brain games are you?”

Sophie looked confused. “Um, pretty good I guess.”

“Well Sophie. Alphie and I broke up in August. Officially. And you and him started dating around May. Do you know what that means?”

I have to say, I had to give this chick some credit. She was totally unaware that she was the other woman, hell, she probably didn’t even want to be the other woman. But when she found out, you could say she didn’t take it lightly.

“What’s going on? Why didn’t you tell me you had a girlfriend?” Sophie’s voice cracked.

“Yeah, Alphie, I must ask the same question,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell  me you were cheating on me?”

Alphie looked at the two women in front of him – and then turned to look directly at me. I had hoped to see some sort of regret, some torn look realizing what he had done wrong. But when he looked at me, I saw his eyes narrow as if he was disappointed in me. The same eyes that used to look at and whisper “I love you’s,” and the eyes that used to look at me lovingly. Eyes that I adored and now these eyes looked right past me to this other woman. The one he really wanted to console and hold and love was her. It hit me hard but I knew right then and there that it was over…as if the whole cheating thing didn’t seal the deal for me.

Sophie huffed, red-faced and darted down the hall. Alphie, of course, ran after her.

“Sophie wait! Don’t leave!” I had never seen or heard him so enthusiastic and desperate. I was pissed.

“Alphie you asshole get back here!” I screamed as I ran down the hall.

They were too fast though, and Sophie was already halfway down the block by the time I ran down the stairs trying to catch Alphie. He had already begun crossing the street when I reached the corner.

I darted out into traffic dodging a taxi, and screamed. It wasn’t because of Alphie, though. A bus came to a screeching halt right in front of me, and like they say, I saw my life flash before my eyes. Can’t say I was happy to see that I had such a pitiful life, but at least I had something before I died a slow and horrible death.

*

I was being a bit dramatic. I didn’t actually die a slow and horrible death. I just figured that sounded better than, “I almost died chasing after my ex who was cheating on me and chasing after his other-woman in the middle of traffic.” The doctor laughed when I told him that. I however, wasn’t chuckling, due to the fact that three of my ribs were broken, I had a black eye and broken arm and leg. And a broken heart. There was no cast for that, the doctor said. Just Prozac.

Surprisingly when I awoke from too much pain medicine, the nurse told me someone wanted to see me. Alphie came walking in and for a brief moment, all I wanted was for him to hug me again. He didn’t though, just awkwardly stood at the foot of my bed.

“Hey,” he mumbled. “How are you feeling?”

“Which part of me? My heart that was smashed into a million pieces or the several bones in my body that now need mending?”

Alphie’s face looked hurt for a brief moment. I wanted him to feel bad even though I knew he really didn’t care about me or my feelings. Or my broken bones.

“I’m sorry Sarah. Really, and I know it’s not going to mean much but I think that maybe once you had some time we could be friends.”

“Is that literally all you have to say?”

The nurse came back in with a tray of food. I felt like throwing up and I didn’t know if it was the smell of something frozen or the thought of Alphie and I remaining friends after our disastrous breakup.

“Think about it,” Alphie said, and he gave my casted foot a tap before he left.

The nurse walked over with the tray and plopped it down on the table next to me.

“Here sweetie, you should really try and get some food in that body so the pain medications won’t zonk you out again,” she said.

“What is it?” I poked a fork around.

“It’s kinda like a Lean Cuisine, you’ll like it.”

I leaned over the table and puked.

Max’s Mother

max“Are you ready to hold your baby boy?” the nurse asked the exhausted new-mother who sat slightly upright in the hospital bed.

Her eyes, although tired, sparkled as she held out her hands. A tiny blue bundle was placed in her arms, and it was as if he was made to fit there. He peeked up from his soft cocoon, much like his mother’s womb, and he gazed up to see a woman that he already loved, although he did not quite know it.

“Hello, my little Max,” said his mother, and she smiled into his little face even after he had fallen asleep.

*

It’s too late for this, thought Max’s mother. Her son was wearing his wolf suit again, even though she had asked him three times to take it off and get into his pajamas. Most days, he refused to wear any other type of clothing around the house. He was attached to his suit, a gift given regrettably one Halloween long ago.

Max had always been a rambunctious child. The moment he could crawl he began to cause all sorts of unwanted stress to his mother. The wolf costume was a new addition and it matched his wild behavior. But, despite his occasional monstrous behavior, Max’s mother still loved him as she did from the first day she held him.

Tonight, she was having a hard time being overly loving to Max. She was tired and had cooked a hot meal for Max, including all of his favorite foods. She was even going to let him have chocolate milk with dinner, instead of plain milk.

She was getting tired of the night’s antics. To start, Max was refusing to take off his wolf suit, but unfortunately that happened on the regular. Tonight however, he nailed up a tent to play in, using a hammer as a tool and leaving holes in the freshly painted walls. He was pretending that it was his castle, a castle that he would rule for the duration of the night.

He also decided to run around the house, jumping on and off furniture, chasing after their poor dog with utensils, thrashing around and refusing to settle down. Max’s mother couldn’t take it any longer. Supper was on the table and was ready to be eaten, and Max couldn’t care less.

Finally, she had to do something. She rarely raised her voice, thinking that it didn’t do anything to calm down a child, but she didn’t know what else to do.

“WILD THING,” she yelled at him, hoping he would stop and settle down.

Max looked at her with angry eyes, like a wolf ready to attack. He held up a spoon that he had been carrying, waving it at her with force and ready to throw a tantrum.

“I’LL EAT YOU UP,” he screamed, waving the spoon in front of her face.

That was the last straw for Max’s mother, and she was through with how he was acting and how he was treating her. She figured a cruel punishment would have to serve as a lesson. She pointed towards his room and ordered for him to go to bed, without supper.

Max stormed off and obeyed, and locked himself in his room. Max’s mom went to the kitchen and made herself a plate, looking down with dismay. She hated to yell at Max. She loved her wild son with all her heart, but she couldn’t understand why he was acting out, behaving like some sort of animal.

As she picked at her supper, she heard him clanging around in his room. Probably creating another “castle,” she thought. He had such an imagination at such a young age. Always dreaming of far away places with creatures and monsters and other wild things. He was always telling her these stories, in between the fort-building and rumpus-making, but she listened and smiled all the while.

Sometimes she would read Max stories before he would go to bed. He curled up in her lap in her arms, in the spot that was made for him, and she would read to him before he fell asleep. Since Max was always bouncing off of things in the house, he always came to her with a teary-eyed face and scratches on his arms. Max’s mother always had Band-Aids and kisses ready for her restless son.

And, every Mother’s Day since he could write, he would scribble a homemade card for her on construction paper, with unsymmetrical crayon hearst and “I love you” written all over the inside.

Although Max spent most of his time daydreaming, she knew her song would always come back to her, because in her arms there was always a warm place where he could endlessly be loved. She knew in her heart, that her Max loved her just the same.

Max’s mother finished her supper and went over to the stove where she put food on a separate plate. It was still warm. She walked quietly to Max’s room and walked over to his nightstand. He was collapsed in his bed near his make-shift castle. His wolf costume remained on and his face was flushed and peaceful.

She placed the warm plate of supper on his nightstand and dimmed his lights in his room. She crept to the open door and turned to where Max was sleeping. Before leaving she whispered goodnight to him, even though he was fast asleep, off in some jungle with vines and monsters and little boys without supper.

“Goodnight, my king of the wild things.”

***

This short story was written for my mother. The inspiration is from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a story about a boys adventurous mind and a mother’s eternal love. Max’s journey and realization that he always has a place at home is just one reminder of all the things a mother is and always will be.

 

A Fishy Relationship

A impromptu short story completed for my creative writing class, where I partnered with  avid writer Becca Lynn. Our prompt was on a relationship, with the incorporation of a goldfish somewhere in the story. 

 

fish

John and I never seemed like a couple that would break up over something so trivial. One day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave him. I had to get out. He came home from work one day, and I don’t know…I lost it.

“I hate its bulging eyes and its white flecked scales and the round bowl that you have it in. It’s so oddly placed on that dresser, look at it…next to your dying plant that you refuse to water,” I paused, taking in the deer-in-the-headlights look on his face.

I continued my rant, watching him set down his briefcase and take a step back. Was he afraid of me?

“You never forget to feed the fish though. It swims around, in its pathetic prison—waiting for you to feed it!”

My voice echoed in our apartment. Thank goodness the window was closed. I’m sure the neighbors would be scared to hear such a fight from what they thought was a forever-in-love couple. They didn’t know about the fish.

“Jodi, no,” John mumbled.  “Why are you saying these things?  Where did all of this come from?  You know how much this fish means to me!”

I heard what he said but I didn’t care. I kept thinking about the fish, glancing over to the bowl with a sick feeling in my stomach. It’s not the fish, although, it was a little. The fish is just simple and boring. I don’t see a point in something that swims around, never changing its path, always remaining a sad, little orange creature that lives in a comfortable home on top of a comfortable dresser.

But he loved that fish. I could tell he was about to cry, or tell me why the fish meant something to him.  He took a step closer to me, his eyes glazing over and his eyebrows quivering up and down in confusion.

“Jodi, I just don’t understand.  We have been through so much together and now you’re getting worked up over a fish?”

He kept looking at me in those wide eyes, searching for any ounce of sympathy that I wasn’t willing to give him.

“I love you, Jodi, don’t you get it?  You make me so happy.  I would change for you, I really would.  I just love my fish so much.  I would do anything for you, as long as I can keep my fish.  You know you love coming home from work and seeing her swimming around in her little bowl chasing bubbles around in the water.”

He was running out of breath but didn’t give up.

“Well,” he swallowed.  “Now you’re the bubbles and I’m the fish and I’m chasing you.  Eventually she gets bored of chasing her bubbles but I could never get bored of chasing you.  I promise.  All I ask is that we keep her!  I wish you could see how much this would mean to me.  I want to swim through life together, with you, forever, Jodi.”

I looked down at the floor and took a deep breath.  I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

“John, I can’t remain in a place created upon routine, each day the same thing,” I saw his mouth quiver.

“Jodi!  It’s a fish!  Just a fish!  One of the most simple, easy-going creatures on the planet!  You don’t even have to take care of her—”

“You bet I don’t take care of that thing!” I interrupted, shouting a little louder than I intended.

“Then why does it matter to you?” he demanded.  “This fish completes me.  I love her.  But I love you more!  Believe me when I say this, Jodi, I love you, and you mean the world to me.  I just need both of you in my life.”

He stood waiting for me to say something, probably hoping I wouldn’t go on about the fish. I had to continue.

“Each swim around the tank is just another day for that fish. You can’t even give the fish different color rocks at the bottom of her tank, remember? I suggested those purple rocks, at least give her a chance to have a change in scenery.”

I sat on the bed, looking away from the fish and John’s face as he desperately searched for air. Like a fish, I thought.

“You know what, I feel sorry for that fish. He’ll never get that from you: change. Life will stay the same, just like our relationship.”

I stood up and walked toward the window, my back is again to the fish, and to John.

I stared out the window and wished to say something else but I was lost. I was swimming in my own pool of frustration. I tried to understand what he was saying, but I only hated him more. I walked to the door and saw him hold out his hand.

“I never wanted the life of a goldfish,” I whisper, and I was gone.

 

 

 

Destination

I sit alone in a vacant train station, but its vacancy is only my perception. It is semi-crowded, yet I have this feeling that everyone seems to be far away from me. I try to occupy my mind, but the lingering smell of oiled tracks and trash that has yet to be emptied only adds to the lump in my throat. My iPod shuffles music, and I have the urge to turn it off because every song pulls his face into my mind.

I hope for my train to come on time, anything to get me off of the cold bench that I sit on alone. I’m surrounded by hand-holders, married couples, and young lovers. I avoid looking at them, and instead glance at the clock that seems to keep saying 12:47 p.m. There are billboards across the track that I begin to take notice of, and I realize I’m doing more than just surveying what is around me.

live fearlessThe advertisement I focus on is for affordable health coverage, emphasizing that if I have this insurance, I can “live fearless.” The point is obvious. I’m supposed to think that if I get this health insurance, I can surf the seas, jump off of cliffs, explore the world, or be as reckless as I possibly can. I can live fearless with nothing to worry about.

I realize how often I worry as I stare at this advertisement. I worry about this idea of being fearless. I worry about my life in two years, I worry about where my family will go, I worry about my friends and what road they take, I worry about money and grades and opening my heart to someone new.

I hate worrying, and I hate using expressions about the heart because it seems cliché. The heart is just an organ that beats and pumps blood and keeps us living. So frequently we talk about the heart in pain, the heart swelling, the heart flipping and turning, the heart growing warm, the heart feeling love, his sympathetic heart, her aching heart.

Their hearts beating.

Still waiting for the clock to turn to 1:16 p.m., I picture his face, again, in the window as his train started to pull away from where I stood. My heart feels like it’s breaking, I thought. If my heart feels like it’s breaking, then does that mean being with him is when it is whole? Does it mean my heart is complete when I am with him?

My train pulls up, interrupting the thoughts I had. I still do not know if I can be fearless, but perhaps with him in my life I can begin to have courage and forget about being afraid.

I sometimes wonder if I will find the answers I am looking for. But, in this moment, I am sure of one thing, and that is that I am ready for a new destination.

Class Cancelled

20131022_093946I’m sitting ridiculously on the floor, hunched over this computer. Panic! At the Disco’s new album Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! plays loudly in the background. All I can smell is the hair dye that is on my head right now, waiting for it to turn a shade called Honey Butter. My mom passes by my room, telling me to open my shades and let some sun into my room. It really warms up your room, she tells me. As I obey, sunbeams fall across the candy apple red bedspread that looks all too inviting to me right now. I like noticing this, the color of my bedspread, the way the sun comes in through my cloudy window that I should really clean, the sound of new music, the stretch in my legs as I attempt to sit pretzel-style. Today is not a normal day. I should really be waking up at 6:30 a.m., but instead, just on this Tuesday, I can sit here and watch the sun in my window.

A Happy Life

She often wondered if there was more to her life. She almost had everything she ever wanted; a job, a place to live, friends, a strong marriage. Every so often, she thought maybe she was just settling into a predetermined life.

She sat alone and had these thoughts on the balcony of the apartment, more frequently than ever before, as she waited for her husband to come home from work.

The sun was shining over the city, casting its rays on her stretched out legs, warming her body. Every so often a billowy cloud would float over the sun, creating a hazy glaze in the sky. Eventually, the sun was covered by one cloud that decided to stay.

She watched this cloud. No matter how hard the sun tried to burst through its whiteness, the cloud remained. She could see the outline of the sun, small and bright, but it never could escape the cloud’s presence.

She couldn’t stop staring at the cloud. Why couldn’t it just leave the sun be? All it wanted to do was shine down on the city, make its rounds around the sky. It didn’t need the cloud. But still the cloud remained.

The sun didn’t need the cloud. It was fine without it. It could shine on the city and cheer everyone’s day up, do all the things the sun was supposed to do. She couldn’t figure out why, but staring at the cloud and sun made her realize she didn’t need him.

His sweet and charming smile made her feel shy and small. He floated around the office, passing her desk in quick movements so that she could smell his cologne. She normally talked to everyone in the office, but with him around, she felt her own energy shrinking. Inside she felt bright and happy, but she couldn’t let out anything, afraid to say something she would regret.

She tried to dismiss these thoughts, and told herself could still have a great life, all the things she ever wanted–her husband included–without him. However, like the sun, she couldn’t get away from him. She couldn’t push away his presence, couldn’t forget how he drank coffee like her. Or the way he noticed when she would coordinate her earrings to her blouse.

Just then, she heard the screen door open and her husband walked onto the balcony. She jumped, startled at the idea that maybe he could read her thoughts and know she felt something toward her coworker.

“Hey, did I scare you?” her husband smiled and embraced her, his hair slightly touseled and his eyes a bit weary.

“Oh, no I was just sitting in the sun,” she said, walking inside.

“Huh, it looks cloudy at the moment. Let’s go inside and make some food,” he walked in and she shut the door behind them.

As she was closing it, she looked out towards the sky and saw the sun had finally broken free from the cloud. The cloud slowly crept away, inching itself away from the sun. As it moved, she was sure that the sun looked a little less bright, as if the cloud had given it something that it needed all along.

Maybe the sun needed the cloud after all.