Thought it would be fun to share one of my flash fiction pieces. For those of you who have not heard the term, flash fiction is basically a short story no longer than 1000 words. A fun and interesting challenge.
THE SILENT PARTNER
by Lynne Southerland
Our shoulders are in lock step, like in a sack race. We move back and forth on a circuitous path around chairs, a dirty clothes hamper and the morning’s rejected clothing choices in my parent’s large bedroom. Although I am tall for someone who will turn thirteen in a couple of months, I do not have the physical strength of a woman and have a difficult time keeping up with the woman on the other end. She is my mother’s best friend, Joan. The woman in the middle, whose eyes are fighting to stay closed is my mother. Not only are her eyes heavy beyond sleep, her head hangs limp like a broken bobble-head doll.
I try not to think about how the sight of her in this state makes me feel. I’m used to doing that. The way I see it, feelings produce moments like this disastrous scene we’re in now. So instead, I count out each step we take. I don’t want to focus on what could happen if Joan and I can’t get her to wake up, or the ambulance doesn’t get here in time.
My eyes divert to the nightstand on her side of the bed. It has always been a source of fascination to me since Mommy keeps her private stash of candies behind its closed doors. I think about the times when the stars have aligned just right and she opens those doors to share one of her precious delights and what seems like the inner sanctum of her soul. I can see her unsealing the wrapper of the Mounds Bar and letting the first of the chocolates slip out. She presents it to me in a manner that turns her simple hand into a sterling silver tray. Once she crushes the wrapper she looks at me, and smiles. Mmmmmm. I learned to love dark chocolate sitting on the edge of Mommy’s bed, next to that nightstand.
But now my eyes are drawn to the brownish yellow bottles on the top of the table, their lids capped tight. A full glass of water sits next to four pills resting loose near the edge.
Just a half hour before, I had played the role of the can-do daughter, a role which, at that time I was proud to own in our family. It was 11 P.M. – an hour past my bedtime. I had used the excuse of tending to her to cheat the rules and watch a little more TV before delivering another dose of medication to her.
She had come home later than usual. We sat down to dinner, without my father who often ate with some of his car dealership associates. It seemed to be a very normal evening.
But, as my siblings and I did clean up duty, my mother calmly explained that she had not been feeling well and the doctor had prescribed something.
“I need to take four of these pills every hour. Rocky, you’ll have to wake me so I don’t miss a dose.”
“Okay,” I responded despite thinking that she didn’t seem sick.
With unquestioning pliancy, I woke her at eight, nine and ten o’clock. Between these markers, we finished our kitchen duties and then did our homework and watched television, an advantage to being beyond my mother’s watchful eyes.
My father called around nine thirty.
“Rocky Road,” he said when I answered the phone.
“Where’s the old bag?”
I hated that he called her that. She was a beautiful, petite woman with great legs. Where did he get “old bag” from?
Using me as the go-between, he explained that he was stopping off for a drink and she should not wait up for him. Of course now I realize that she had heard those very words many times and they probably contributed to her state of mind for weeks before tonight.
Blissful at the guilty pleasure of having stayed up late, I gladly approached her room ready to give a last dose before going to bed myself. I filled the glass from the bathroom sink, placed it on the nightstand and then poured four pills into my cupped hand. Now that all was ready, I spoke quietly into my mother’s ear, hoping to arouse her gently. I knew this is how she would have handled the same situation if it were one of us.
Unlike earlier in the evening, she did not respond. I then tried a soft jostling of her shoulder. She moaned at the disruption to her unconsciousness. Seeing her that way made my stomach queasy. An instinct tugged at me – something was very wrong. I patted her hand in another attempt to arouse her, but it was limp and clammy. I wished to hear the sound of the front door opening and my father coming in, just in the nick of time, to save the day, to save my mother. But that sound did not come. And neither did he.
Thankfully, the can do part of me took control. Joan was the only other person to call. It seems like forever until the ambulance arrives. Numbness is the only feeling I’m willing to take on. This is happening in our house, to my mother, but it seems so unreal – like I’m watching that movie with Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine – only my story has a different ending.
My siblings slept through the whole thing. I wish I had too. Then I wouldn’t have heard her moans as the EMTs tried to revive her or seen her lifeless face as they carried her down the stairs.
I stare into my closet, realizing I own nothing black – if you don’t count the empty, dark feeling squeezing my heart. I consider the option of burying myself underneath the pile of dirty clothes lying on the floor. Maybe in there I can snuff out this burning feeling that if I weren’t such a stellar can-do girl she’d still be alive.