I’ve felt uninspired lately. More specifically, I’ve been full of dreadful negativity, so I’ve done more personal journaling instead of throwing down all the dirty dirty onto the page here at Grief Happens.
I’ve missed posting, though, so I decided to pull some stuff from my drafts. The following is a rough draft/excerpt from a short story collection I’ve been working on steadily for the past six months. Enjoy!
What creative pursuits do you have stored in the vaults, begging to be shared?
I plopped the overflowing bags onto the counter, collapsing with them momentarily, making a mental note to sign up for the ‘Toned Toughies’ class at my gym asap. Screw vanity. Turning forty has made me painfully aware of my need for functional fitness.
“Thank you, Love,” my mother said, planting a kiss on my cheek as she began putting the groceries away robotically.
“I saw Mrs. Rigby in the ice cream aisle.”
I gauged my mother for a reaction. ANY reaction.
“She’s fine. Just fine. Have you noticed that’s all she ever says? ‘How are you, Lanelle? Fine, just fine. How are you?’ It’s like she wants to make sure you know, but she damn sure doesn’t like to linger there for long.”
Mom kept her head down, diligently spreading a thin layer of icing on an adequately-cooled sugar cookie. This had to be her twelfth batch of the day; such feigned concentration was completely unnecessary. She could ice cookies in her sleep.
She and Lanelle are cut from the same cloth. Southern and appropriate, though my mother is better rooted. Slightly. Mom hides it better. Maybe she’s just better medicated.
That was always Martha’s biggest beef with her mother –Lanelle was removed from reality.
“Well…if being fine is how she copes, then so be it. There are plenty worse things she could be doing.”
This was my signal to move on. Alice Baxley prided herself on not participating in any conversation that was so much as a distant cousin to that devil, Gossip. A Watson trait, she called it. Well I was no Watson for sure. I got the red hair and freckles, but that was it.
I held my tongue and thought back on conversations Martha and I had had over thirty years of friendship.
The irony was thick. In high school we could always count on Martha’s house being the safest escape. Lanelle suspected Martha of everything, but she trusted her friends because we played the part of all-American teens.
Poor Martha could never catch a break. She and Lanelle were as different as gumbo and matza balls. Still, Martha was a great kid with an innate sense of right and wrong, and she knew precisely how far to push. She was often the one talking our crowd out of some half-cocked scheme that could get us in some deep shit…or worse, killed.
Somewhere early on Lanelle decided that Martha was a bad egg — damaged, unworthy.
Martha used to tell me this about Lanelle, but I never believed her. They were both born with a flair for the dramatic, a quality lacking in my own pragmatic household, so I assumed Martha’s complaints were embellished.
Lanelle was convincing as long as we were on her turf. I only began to suspect there was some truth to Martha’s tales once we were older. She’d laugh and say, “Aida, you can only cage crazy for so long.”
She’d wink making sure I wasn’t offended. I work in mental health, and she knew how passionate I was about dismantling stigma in the mental health community. Martha’s career was in social advocacy and we were a like-minded pair, but she had zero patience for folks like her mother and referred to her as pathologically proper and polite.
Shortly after Martha’s triplets were born, I bumped into Lanelle leaving a Sip-n-Give fundraiser for our local Hospice. Lanelle had her hands in everything and was one of Huntwater’s most recognized volunteers.
“How’s Martha? I haven’t talked to her this week,” I said.
“I guess she’s fine. She better be if she stands a chance with those three. Whoever thought my Martha had any business raising three babies is beyond me. This one’s a mess I’m not sure she’ll recover from… Oh well.”
And with that she flashed a smile, brushed her freshly trimmed bangs out of her eyes and climbed into her new candy-apple red Prius, the car purchased the day she found out she was going to be a grandmother…to triplets.
She rolled down the window before zipping off and said, “It’s always a joy to bump in to you, Aida. When is some rich young thing gonna snap you up?”
I climbed into my jeep and texted Martha immediately. Texting before calling is a good idea when a person is parenting multiples.
My phone rang almost instantly. I had barely picked up when I heard screaming on the other end.
“Jesus, Aida, they won’t stop crying. I am so over this bullshit. Good thing they’re cute. Today’s bad because they all had shots. Don’t mind the howling.”
I tried ignoring the piercing screams on the other end. For the moment I was thankful I hadn’t been snapped up by a rich young thing if bedding one of those got you in Martha’s shoes.
“Where’s Jeb?” My watch showed half past six. Weren’t husbands home by now?
“Who knows. He’s rarely here before eight. I can’t blame him. Would you want to come home to this?”
Poor Martha. I was proud of her for rolling with it. She was a good mother.
“I just saw your mom up town.”
“OH MY GOD. Fuck her happy little ass. I asked if she could come down next week when Jeb has to go to Memphis for work, and she can’t because of her volunteer obligation of the moment. You know how hard it is for me to ask her for help, but I’m trying — for the kids. They deserve better. You know what she said? ‘Mar, you can’t expect everyone to drop their commitments because you decided to go and have triplets. Y’all should have considered all this before having these children.’ She’s such a bitch. She‘s been exactly once — when they were born — and acted put out the entire time. Honestly, it’s easier to handle it all myself.”
I don’t know that the expression time flies is entirely accurate, but that conversation might as well have happened in another life. I wanted it back so bad I could taste it. If only I could reach into my past and reel it into the present. I’d cradle that exchange and all the others to my chest like a cherished stuffed animal, whispering promises to never let go.
I made my way out onto my parents’ porch and found the perfect sunny spot. I gazed up at the vast blue and whispered, “I’m sorry, Mar. If only I had known…You deserved much better.”
I watched my mother through the glass door, silently wondering if these lost ghosts from moons past could ever be spoken aloud.
Life doesn’t give us what we deserve.
A breeze appeared, unfitting for a still day in late July as leaves crunched in the distance. I felt a chill.
It’s up to you to tell them.