Friday, August 28, 2009

Just words - Flash Fiction

The woman was playing solitaire on a TV tray in front of her easy chair. She was superstitious and believed that if she won the game he would call. She blamed the silence of the phone on the cards. He hadn’t called in over a week and she was obsessing over him, trying to figure out what went wrong.

Her children were sitting in the living room with her watching the Donny and Marie Show featuring the brother and sister Osmond team. In addition to singing, dancing and performing comedy sketches the teenagers were as attractive as Barbie and Ken dolls but life-like and down to earth. Everything about them was perfect in the woman’s eyes.

She had been divorced for over five years now. Loneliness and depression were eating her up and caring for two children alone was a burden. In the 1950s and ‘60s divorce carried a stigma unlike current times when long lasting marriages were the exception and divorce more the rule. Not only was she bogged down by daily life and getting by on the money she earned as a saleslady in a department store, she was an outcast; a divorcee.

Finally she had met a man and thought that her life might possibly change for the better. He was attractive, which was very important to her, and had a steady job. He was obviously interested – enough to call her and take her out for a few early dinners during the weeks before. She never saw the signs or suspected that there was a pattern to the phone calls and dates. A more sophisticated woman might have guessed that he was married. Maybe she suspected it but didn’t want to acknowledge the possibility.

She turned up the final card and once again had lost her solitaire game. The phone rang. She jumped up to answer thinking that maybe there was nothing to this silly superstition. The voice she heard was a child calling to invite her daughter to a birthday party on Saturday. What a letdown! Out of frustration, she told the girl that her daughter couldn’t come to the party. She imagined the other mothers talking about her as the single mom who couldn’t find a man. Why impose more shame upon herself?

She looked at her tiny young daughter who was born with a chronic disease. Although the child never complained, the mother was a witness to the constant pain as it was displayed in her facial expressions. The child sat on the floor in front of the TV set. Even though she suffered the little girl didn’t deserve to go and have fun at a birthday party. If mom was miserable, why should her daughter be allowed a pleasure that was being denied to her?

The mother lit another cigarette. She glanced at her son who was eating cookies. He was already obese and shunned by the children at school. His daily tales of ridicule added to the weight of her misery.

Before giving up, the cards were laid out one more time. She vowed that this would be the last time tonight for her evening ritual. She concentrated and moved the cards carefully tempted to cheat. Once again the final winning card was buried under another and she gave up. She stood up and went into the bathroom. It was obvious when she looked in the mirror that she was a beautiful woman with her green eyes and flowing red haired.

There could only be one reason he hadn’t called. She had been right all along and the man would never call again. During their last dinner together, the all-important third date, she had told him that she had two children. No man in his right mind would get weighed down by a woman that represented a future involving an obese boy and an ailing daughter. Of course! Who could blame him? It wasn’t her fault or his; the children were responsible for her loneliness.

Stubbing out her cigarette, and taking another from the packet she stared at her defective offspring. Without them her life would be happy and fulfilling, she thought. Then she glanced up at the television screen. It didn’t seem fair.

“How come their mother got those gorgeous, talented children and I am stuck with you two?” Her children didn’t turn to look at her. They sat silently letting the words burn into their brains like tattoos. They were just words; one sentence. It never occurred to the woman that children never forget what their mother tells them. Just words had branded each of these little lives with guilt that would last a lifetime.


ganymeder said...

Oh wow, what a sad story! I feel so sorry for the children!

Susan Cross said...

Thanks for commenting. This was my first entry in this Twitter group. Not all my stories are sad. Read lower and there is a sort of humorous one. I'm working on non-fiction with this memoir but dabbling in flash fiction (which I enjoy writing). I need to practice it more.

anasazistories said...

Susan: This is dripping with emotion. I enjoyed the way you conveyed that. Just give me a little more dialogue. With that married man trying to date her. I'd like to hear his voice so I can hate him a little more.

Welcome to #FridayFlash. It's a good group.

--Jeff Posey

Tomara Armstrong said...

This just breaks my heart. It's a very good piece.
Happy to see you on #FridayFlash :-)

Chris Chartrand said...

Nicely written. You brought me from feeling a deep sense of sympathy for the mother to a deep sense of loathing for what she has done to her children. I hope you continue with #fridayflash

Susan Cross said...

Thanks, all, for taking the time to read my story. I've spent so much working on this book I haven't had time to 'play' with fiction or read it. I have a stack of novels to read when the book is over, plus I want to read your stories.

J. M. Strother said...

Ah, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, with the memoir, so there will be more time for flash, right?

This is a terrific piece, Susan. I'm very glad you joined #fridayflash. Hope you keep coming back.

Susan Cross said...

Thanks Jon. I had that one in the bank. There's so much work to be done in the next 3 weeks for the book, but I get that fiction bug & sometimes late at night I'm too tired to work and too wound up to sleep. That's when I write flash. Like now could be one of those times.

dan powell said...

A heartbreaking ending. It is too easy for a parent to forget the impact words can have on their children. Welcome to #fridayflash, hope to see you taking part next week too.

Susan Cross said...

Children remember everything. When parenting my own son, my rule was never to say anything in anger or frustration that I would regret because you can't delete words or actions from a child's memory. Our rule was to hold your tongue and take a walk. Come back when the anger subsided and have a calm conversation.

kjm said...

k. d. lang has a song, "Nowhere to stand", that speaks of childhood memory. Same kind of sadness.

The journey you take the reader in this piece is terrific and there is so much feeling conveyed. Very well done.

Susan Cross said...

I appreciate your kind words about my writing.

J. M. Strother said...

I distinctly remember reading this, and am surprised I did not leave a comment. Sorry about that. This was a good one. Heart-wrenching, painful even, but very good.

Susan Cross said...

Thanks Jon for going back in time and reading it now. I have to become more diligent about writing #fridayflash and working on my book. I have 7 months to finish the book or I'm going to burn what I have, put the ashes in an urn and place it on a special shelf in memory of it's subject, Leroy Cooper.