Trigger Warning: I haven’t written much misery recently. Maybe having kids makes it harder to write sad stories. But this one came to me and it needed to be shared. If I’ve done my job well, and especially if you’ve just been watching the UK’s Christmas adverts (McDonald’s in my case), it might bring tears to your eyes.
Little kids just take things for granted, don’t they? When I was in Kindergarten, I didn’t know it was weird to go to school nextdoor to a graveyard. Or to watch your teacher sneak out and eat her lunch every day beside a small grey angel statue, come rain or shine.
We collected leaves between the headstones and took rubbings of their intricate carvings, but we never went near the angel. It was Ms Connor’s special place.
Whenever we drove East, we passed the Big Apple. Mom said it was a pie store, and we couldn’t stop because pie’s not good travel food. I recently discovered there’s a whole play park there too. I asked Mom why we never stopped.
“Honestly? I wanted to. I asked Dad every year, but it’s such a bad location. If we stopped there, we’d never get to the island.”
“Isn’t the point of a vacation to enjoy the trip?” I asked her.
“Dad always wanted to get where he was going,” Mom replied, tapping the urn. “And now he’s made it.”
They’d all been kept apart so long that gathering together in this way felt both exciting and unnerving. The old kind of crowds had been hot and close, full of unwanted touching from strangers, accidentally or otherwise. This was different.
This was closer, more intense but completely comfortable and filled with a sense of belonging, like going to a concert and discovering everyone there is already a friend. Without faces or voices, recognition came from deep within and as they met, they drew together, a growing sense of ease replacing individual cares.
The realisation came in a single moment. Home.
Today’s pretty photo reminded me of crowds of people gathering before a concert or at an airport. It’s a view we have missed for so long, perhaps I would have seen it in any image! I started thinking about a story where we come back together after the pandemic and how that would feel. (I know some of you already have; here in Ontario we’ve got a long way to go, but that’s another story.) But then the story took a different turn, one perhaps inspired by or at least connected to a recent re-reading of this old FF: https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/ff-the-greatest-of-these/
I hope you enjoy, I welcome your feedback good or bad.
“I love talking.” Mum would say, “And he listens better now, especially when he’s got his pipe.” A lifelong non-smoker, Mum had cleaned and refilled that pipe every day since Dad’s death, then placed it unlit on top of the blue carved box that held his ashes. A habit of devotion.
Maria stared at the pipe and box and wondered what she should do with them now. Should she add Mum’s ashes to the box, or scatter them somewhere together?
Maria emptied the pipe into the bin. The tobacco smelled like Mum. She opened the pouch to fill it again.
I’ll save my introduction for after the story, lest it count as a spoiler. Here, I will just say thank you to Rochelle for hosting, Claire Fuller for the photograph, and all the Fictioneers for cutting me a bit of slack at the moment, when I am struggling to read more than one or two submissions each week. My story (and then the intro) follows, and your comments and feedback are always gratefully received.
Ella bought her first display cabinet when she was thirty-four. She’d never really been a collector; knickknacks always seemed like an expensive way to fill a house with nothing.
She chose a wooden, rugged-looking one, because Peter would have liked it. Pirate treasure wouldn’t have felt odd there. His treasures – hers now – fitted too: a piece of coral, seven rocks, a couple of dried leaves and a coin among the favourites. And then, in the final spot, the too-small urn where Peter himself could count them all forever. Her little Peter Pan, who would never grow out of boyish things.
I’ve touched on this subject before, but this week is Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness week, and while Peter in the story is a little older than that technically includes, the grief his mother feels is certainly in the same camp.
I know all about boyish collections – our front window ledge and porch are cluttered with just the sorts of things Peter has left for his mother, and soon I will have a second little collector on my hands. What I can only imagine (and frankly, try not to), is the grief of a mother who has lost her child. The origins of Peter Pan, it has been suggested, are in just this sort of loss, and certainly when I read about a little boy who never grew up, the childish fantasy is edged with the adult fear. There is only one way to avoid aging, and very few of us would choose it for ourselves or our children.
I am thinking and feeling today for the Lost Boys (and Girls), and for the parents they left behind. I know this includes some of the Friday Fictioneers – my heart goes out to you all.
This week’s FF story is a special one to me. During my recent absence, I lost my last surviving grandparent: my Grandma. She was a wonderful woman who wore her heart on her sleeve and never let any of us forget how much she loved us. She follows my Grandad, with whom she had a long and loving marriage of over 60 years and who I know she missed every day since his death. Although I don’t know what is on ‘the other side’, I am certain that her grief is over. Either they are now together or else it doesn’t matter.
When I saw Rochelle‘s picture, this story is what came to me. I hope you like it; I welcome your comments.
The Greatest of These
The noise lapped over her in waves: hushed voices, a reading from Corinthians, a baby crying and quickly quieted. There was a weight to the sounds that wrapped them around her like an embrace, though she could see, hear, and feel none of it.
From a distance, and across a gap both wider and narrower than the physical one, she knew nothing of the details. Sight, sound and sensation were lost to her. Where she was, only love remained – from those near and far, surviving and already departed. It was love that flowed both ways, and would never end.
Of all the photos from my wedding, this remains one of my favourites.
Normal service resumes, folks. I am home, I am sane, and I am writing fiction with a dark side (SPOILER ALERT: someone even dies)! I hope you enjoy this story, and I welcome your critique and your interpretations, whether good or bad.
This glorious photo, courtesy of Sandra Crook, goes to show just how much the bitterness of winter can also be its beauty. Toronto is finally warm (by which I mean positive temperatures. +2 feels balmy after a few months of -20somethings) and sunny, the snow is melting and we can walk down the street without having our faces ripped off by the wind. I am fortunate not to suffer from anything as extreme as SAD, but the Winter definitely takes its toll on my mood, and I can’t wait for Spring to get its boots on and come out to play.
Beyond His Shadow
When the dust settled, everything was almost as it had always been. Life revolved around the gaping hole where the old man used to stand as though a real dust, an embodiment of his presence, coated everything. I went shopping and felt his hand on my arm; I heard his voice on the train, on the phone, in my dreams; I lay awake in bed, waiting for his hand on the doorknob.
My father’s grave weathered seasons of frost and rain, tenacious weeds and beating sun. And I weathered grief and relief by turns, learning to live beyond his shadow.
As promised, it’s December, so I’m back with the Friday Fictioneers. NaNoWriMo was great – I miss it already, and I’m desperate to finish my novel, but December is never a great month to write, and especially this year when we have guests for more than half of it! So quick, while I have a chance, here’s a story for Rochelle‘s prompt – a photograph from long-term and highly-committed Fictioneer, Janet Webb.
Death Becomes Her
“It does what?” Larry asked.
“It becomes her,” I said. “She looks good on it.”
“I’m sure that’s a great comfort,” he said, indicating her grieving bastard of a husband, then edging away.
“It is,” I said – to her really, or myself. It wasn’t clear to me where one began and the other ended. She wasn’t “a beauty” in life; too round, she always sighed, although some of us like a fuller figure.
I could hear her voice in my head – bemoaning the figure that had turned heads. Usually the wrong kind, she said.
It’s FF time again, and this week’s photo comes from Doug MacIlroy, a fellow addict who has just fallen off the wagon for at least the second time. Don’t worry, Doug, I’ve never made it onto the wagon yet!
There is a recurring discussion amongst seasoned fictioneers – it came up again a couple of weeks ago – about the prevalence of death in our stories. Are we all just macabre people? Is it taking the easy route? To an extent, I think it is; death creates instant drama, and that’s useful if you’ve only got 100 words to tell a story. But if it’s easy, does that make it bad? I hope not, because death crops up in my stories not infrequently. I hope, however, that I’m not always taking the easy route when it does.
As always, I welcome your thoughts – on that question, and/or on the story below.
Alice was dying. His little girl, on whom he had founded all his dreams, was dying.
The bodies at his feet writhed, screaming, a pink-striped leg occasionally escaping the tangle and lashing out; sometimes an arm grasping the leg of his trousers for an instant before returning to the mass.
But Alice was dying. Her husband, Owen, was gone already. And Alice was dying.
Dean wiped away a tear of self-pity; what was Alice to him, compared with ‘Mom’ to them? He etched on a smile and threw himself into the pile of giggles.