Superman | A Short Story

Image of my niece and daughter with the Superman Logo/ Loscotoff 2022

The little boy with the black hair ran about the campsite in his Superman cape.

“Mommy, watch!”

The boy jumped from a rock, rolling in the dirt.

“Pow!  Pow!  Look mommy, look!”

But Mommy didn’t look.  Mommy was trying to start the camp stove, her face lined with frustration.

“Jon!  I told you this clicker doesn’t work!”

“It works!” the father replied, his voice tinted with frustration. 

“Then you come do it!” replied the boy’s mother.

Jon grunted, he was bent over a smoking fire pit.  The wood was damp and refused to light.  He muttered profanities and said, “Paul, help your mother!”

Paul, the boy’s twelve-year-old brother, sat staring at his iPad, shouts and gunshots rang out from the screen.  

“Just a minute.”

“Not just a minute.  Help her now.  What, do you think you’re at the goddamn movie theater with the other moviegoers and you’re somehow going to miss the important part?”

“But I’m at the GOOD part.”  

“It’s fine,” said the mother.

“No, it’s not goddamn fine, Sara,” said the man. 

Jon gave his son a look.

“Jeez, whatever!”  

The boy slammed his screen down on the table and dragged his feet over to the camp stove.

After clicking on the button for a few moments, the boy said, “Oh!  I see what’s wrong with it!… It’s BROKEN just like mom said.”

He stomped back to his movie and pressed play.

The little boy’s fifteen-year-old sister lay rocking in a hammock, her phone stretched out in front of her.  

“I told you this was a dumb idea,” said the girl, her eyes rolling. “You wouldn’t even let me bring my makeup and there is totally no reception up here.  I told my friends I would call them, and I can’t even do that.”

A look of fury overtook her mother’s face quickly followed by defeat.  The woman’s face sunk and quietly she muttered, “I’m done. I’m going for a walk.”

“Jeez Sara, fine!  I’ll come look at it,” said the husband.

“Mommy, watch!  Watch me be Superman!”

The woman’s eyes were on the ground as she wandered off into the forest.

The father went to the camp stove and began to tinker, trying to make it light.  The teenage girl went back to her phone.   The older boy stared at his screen.

Only the little boy watched as his mother wandered past the trees, losing sight of her deep green sweatshirt.

“Mommy, wait!” called the little boy, chasing after her.  

The trees were thick and dark and he could not see her.  As he turned around, he could no longer see the campsite.  He could not see his daddy or his brother or his sister.  

The forest began to talk around him; the chattering of squirrels, the squeak of mice, birds cawing, trees rustling.  

And then the little boy heard a cry; his mother.

“Mommy?” he said.  “Mommy?”

Her voice echoed around him, layered and overlapping.  

“Help!  Someone please help me!”

“Mommy?” 

He continued to walk forward, seeing a dark hole hidden within the trees.

A photo of a cave among the trees/Loscotoff 2022

As he came closer, her voice refracted out at him, loud and close; bouncing from the entrance of a cave.

“Mommy?”

“Oh, Xander, is that you?  Go and get your daddy”

The boy didn’t know where to find his daddy, and so he walked into the darkness of the cavern, looking for his mommy.

The space was dark but the boy could see a glimmer of yellow light far in the back corner.

“Mommy?”

“Go back, Xander!”

The boy continued to move forward.  The cavern continued to get brighter.  Suddenly and without warning, the boy felt the earth give way beneath him.

He felt himself falling and screaming.

Down and down the boy fell, tumbling head over feet.  His scream only lasted for a few short moments as he ran out of breath.  He could feel his Superman cape flapping around him and he thought, I’m Superman!  And Superman can fly!

He stretched his arms out which stabilized his little body.  The cape flew up behind him.  He turned his hands into fists, as he had seen the superhero do in the movies.

“I coming to rescue you, Mommy,” he called out.

He was not sure how long he flew, but the glow around him became brighter and he saw the crystalline shapes of the walls.  The air pressure became stronger and his ears adjusted, popping as he fell. 

Finally, he began to slow, as if the pressure below him was simply too great and was becoming a cushion.  

He landed in a soft growth of golden plants with a thud, his air knocked out of him and a sharp pain in his knee.

When he could catch his breath, the little boy let out a wail.

“Oh, my baby, my baby…”

His mother, Sara, drug herself across the floor to the child and struggled to sit, gasping as she tried to roll over onto her bottom, her ankle lay at an odd angle and there were abrasions on her hands and face. 

“Are you okay, oh Xander, are you okay?  Speak to me.”

The little boy wept and said, “I hurt my elbow, mommy.  It hurts.”

She carefully and delicately cradled him into her lap.

“Let’s see,” she said and he stuck out his little arm.  “Oh, it looks like you scraped it.  But its only bleeding a little bit.  Can I kiss it?”

The little boy nodded his head.

She kissed his wound and said, “Is that the only thing that hurts?”

Again, he nodded.  

“Well, I think you are very lucky then.  That was a very long fall.”

They were sitting in a large open cathedral space within the cavern.  There were plants, thick and golden, growing along the floor.  A stream meandered along a naturally carved trough, the edges striped with crystalline minerals.  Along the edges of the space were sharper plants with tall orange flowers on single spikes.  What drew the boy’s attention though was the tree.  

A tree larger than any the boy had ever seen grew in the center of the cathedral space.  Its bark glowed a deep golden light, its roots stretched out to every wall.  Its leaves were shaped like fans and moved as if a gentle wind filled the space. The leaves and branches stretched up to the roof of the cathedral and even beyond, into darkness.

Digital Drawing over Cave image of a tree growing in a cave/ Loscotoff 2022

But there were also bones, bones along the walls and in every nook and cranny.  There were animal bones and human bones.  There were ancient books, a broken yardstick, pieces of toys, a canvas pack, all laying along the edge near where they had landed.

“Mommy, I came to rescue you,” said the boy.

“I know, Xander, but I told you to go get daddy.”

“I didn’t know where daddy went.  Everything was dark.”

“It’s okay, baby.”

Sara hugged him and began to rock him, humming softly.  The time passed.  

Finally, the little boy said, “Mommy, I thirsty.”

“I know.  I am too.”  

She looked over at the water flowing through the cavernous space.  

“Can we drink from the water, mommy?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, looking at the bones around the walls.  “I’m afraid it might make us sick.”

“But mommy, I so thirsty!”

“Xander, I hurt my ankle.”

“You have a boo-boo?”

“I do have a boo-boo, and I don’t think I can get to the water.  But I don’t want you to drink first.  I think, if we are going to drink, we need to drink together.”

The mother looked at her little boy.  If the water was going to make them sick, if it would kill them, she didn’t want him to watch her die and to be left alone down here, afraid.  She also didn’t want to watch her child die.  

“Xander, over against the wall, I see an old backpack.  Do you see it?”

The boy nodded his head.

“I want you to go and bring it here. Can you do that?”

Again the boy nodded his head. 

She hugged him, and as he climbed out of her lap, she again gasped in pain.

The boy stepped carefully through the deep cushion of plants and then began tiptoeing through the litter of bones.  As he reached the pack, he bent over and suddenly stood up again in surprise.

“Mommy!  There’s a cup over her!”

“That’s so good, baby!  Bring it here too.”

The boy slipped his arm through the strap on the bag.  It was old canvas and seemed flat and empty. He picked up a silver tin mug in the other hand and began to make his way back to his mother, over the bones and through the thick soft plants.  

Sara took the pack and laid it next to them, and then took the mug.  It was dusty but did not appear damaged, there was no rust or decay.  She wiped it with her green sweatshirt.

“When you go to the stream, I don’t want you to drink it right away.  I want you to tell me what the water looks like first.”

“Okay, mommy.”

The boy made his way over to the stream and sat on the edge.

“What color is the water?”

“It’s see though, like a swimming pool,” he said.

“Good. Do you see any plants or fish in it?”

“No, mommy, it’s just see though. And it’s running really fast.”

“Okay, I want you to lay on your tummy, so only your hands can go in the water.  I don’t want you to fall in, okay?”

“I won’t!”

The boy laid on his tummy and stretched his arms into the water.

“I want you to stick the cup under the running water.  We have to make sure the cup is clean.  I want you to hold it tight and shake it in the water.”

“The water is so cold, mommy!”

“You can take your hands out when you need to.”

“No, it feels good.”

The mother smiled to herself, despite the torture within her ankle.

“Okay, that should be good enough.  Now, you are going to fill the cup with water.  Set it down next to you, away from the stream, and very carefully get up.”

A photograph of an underwater stream/ Ohio Caverns/ Loscotoff 2022

The little boy did as he was told, rolling over and sitting up. He lifted the cup carefully and cautiously walked it over to his mother. 

Sara took it in both of her hands.  The water was clear and sparkling, reflecting the golden light of the tree. 

“I know you are thirsty, but I’m going to take a little drink of it first, just to be sure that it tastes okay.”

The little boy nodded and watched her hopefully as she took the tiniest of sips. 

The water had a slight mineral taste but it was cold and refreshing and she found her body craving it.  She desperately wanted more.  First though, she allowed her son to drink.

The boy was cautious at first, but as soon as the sweet water touched his lips, he could not help him himself, he drank the cup entirely.

“I sorry mommy, it tasted so yummy.  I couldn’t stop.  But I go get you more!”

He seemed to be brighter somehow, a glow had returned to his dirty cheeks. He bounced as he walked to the stream and confidently scooped up more water without laying down or even sitting. 

“Be careful!” his mother called.

“I am!” he called back, carrying the water with confidence and agility.

Her mouth was watering for it, her body crying for it.  

When the cold tin touched her lips, she quickly drank the contents.  Her body wanted more, needed more, and as the little boy ran back to the underground river, she felt her anxiety relax.  Her fractured ankle began to tingle, the pain softening.

The little boy drank a full mug at the streams edge before bringing back the mug for his mother.  She drank deeply.

Her ankle began to itch, but the swelling was going down and the pain was fading. 

“My elbow’s itchy,” said the little boy and he rubbed it with his other hand.

Sara realized the scratches on her hands and face were itching as well, but it was mild compared to her ankle and so she hadn’t noticed.

“I think the water is making our boo-boos better,” she said to her son. 

The scratches and abrasions still stood out against their skin, but they were not such a bright red as they had been.

 “My ankle is feeling better, and I think I might be able to walk.”

The boy helped his mother as she worked to stand.  While it was tender, like a bad sprain, the foot no longer stood out at the wrong angle. 

“Yay!” said the little boy.  “I told you I came to rescue you!  I bet all those other bones over there didn’t have a Superman.”

Sara had hoped her son hadn’t recognized the bones for what they were, had wanted to shield him simply by ignoring them.

“I bet you’re right,” she said.  “I bet they couldn’t get to the water, or maybe they were afraid to drink it.”

“But we’re better now, aren’t we?”

She thought about her words carefully.  

“Well, I think the water helped, but we have to figure out how to get out of here.  The water is good, but we can’t live down here forever, baby.”

“I know how to get out!  We just climb the tree.”

Sara looked up at the golden tree, pulsating with light.  It disappeared into the darkness of the ceiling.

“That’s a very tall tree,” she said.

“It’s like a ladder,” the boy said. 

She saw that he was right.  The branches started low and seemed to wrap like steps up the trunk.

“But we don’t know if there’s an exit at the top,” said Sara.

“There is!” the boy said with confidence.

“How do you know?” 

She couldn’t help but smile.  He suddenly seemed much more grown up than her little boy at the camp site.

“The river told me, when I was drinking the water.”

Sara was taken aback, but did not want to show her surprise, and so she asked, “Did it tell you anything else?”

“It said the spiky plant would help us too, that it was medicine.”

Sara had seen the plants, lined up against the edges of the cavern and growing at the base of the tree.  

“Let’s go look,” she said and felt a sudden possibility, a sudden hope.  

The plants had dense angular leaves and reminded Sara of the shape of an aloe vera plant.  The leaves themselves were a rich amber color and light flowed like blood pulsing beneath the surface. A single bright orange flower grew in a single stalk from each plant.

Sara thought about aloe, and how the liquid inside its leaves were healing to the skin and often considered healing internally as well.

“The plant seems alive,” she said, and as she did, the stalk leaned down, the flower caressed her hand.  “I can’t just break off its leaf, what if I hurt it?”

Sara wasn’t really talking to her son, and she wasn’t talking to the plant; she was simply talking out loud to herself, trying to figure out what to do.

As she said these words, the flower again seemed to bow to her, and then one of its leaves bent until it snapped off at its base.

“Oh!  Thank you!” said Sarah.  

Xander began to pet the plant, as if it were a companion animal.

Sarah looked at the leaf, thick and dripping at it’s base.  Some of the gel ran over her hands and as it did, the abrasions and scratches began to heal.  

“Xander!  Give me your elbow.”

The boy stuck out his arm and his mother smeared the gel over it.  

“It’s not itchy anymore!” said the boy.

“And look, the scratches are healing!”

“Let me put it on your face, mommy.”

Sara hadn’t realized, other than the itchy skin, how she must look to her small son.  He began rubbing the gel across her forehead and cheeks and nose.

“That’s better, mommy.  You had a lot of blood on your face.”

Her ankle still itched terribly, and so, Sara began to rub the gel into her skin and her foot.  She hadn’t noticed the deep bruising before but as the plant’s medicine soaked into her skin, the bruises faded and the itching disappeared.  

“Mommy, can we taste it?”

As the boy asked, another leaf broke off a nearby plant.

“I think the plant wants us too,” she said.  “Thank you, all of you, for helping us.”

The flowers all seemed to nod at them in varying degrees.  

The boy put the broken leaf to his mouth and began to suck on the gel. Another plant broke a leaf off near Sara and she also began to suck on the plant’s medicine.

“It tastes like food, mommy.  It makes me feel strong, like Superman!”

Sara could feel the energy in her muscles, could feel the strength he spoke of.  She looked at the tall tree and it seemed not only possible, but easy to climb the ladder of its branches. 

“Are you ready to climb, mommy?” asked Xander.

“Almost,” said his mother. 

Not only could she walk now, she could run. 

“Wait here.”

Sara ran back to the canvas pack and looked inside; it was empty.  She returned to the wall where the various broken toys and books and bones sat.  She looked if there might be anything that could help them. 

Sitting back, underneath the broken yardstick, she saw a thermos, still intact with its lid.  She also found a journal and when she opened it, she found drawings of all the plants in the cave with notes and descriptions.  

The tree had been much smaller whenever this journal had been written, it did not reach the ceiling of the cathedral cave as it did now.  

She also found an old twisting bundle of rope. 

She put the journal and the rope into the backpack and took the thermos to the crystalline stream.   She washed it well, filling it with fresh water, and returned to her son. 

She found him sitting at the base of the tree with three flower plant babies, they had only a few tiny leaves and defined roots that they walked on like legs. They were rubbing against his hands like puppies.  He was giggling and playing with them.

“Can they come home with us?” Xander asked.

Sara was unsure, taken aback.  

“Where did you get those?”

“They followed me!”

The boy’s mother looked around at the plants. 

“We can’t take the pups from the mothers,” she said, but as she did the flowers again began to bow and move.

“They want us to take their medicine outside the cave!” said the boy.  “I hear them whispering.  It’s what they want.”

Again she looked carefully at the flowers. 

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

The was a rustling amongst the plants and she heard what sounded like whispers.

“I promise to take care of them, then.  Thank you, friends.”

“Here, mommy! We can wrap them in my Superman cape!”

They put the plant pups into a front pocket of the canvas pack, wrapping them gently in his cape. 

She wrapped the rope around her son’s waist and then, allowing several feet of length, she tied it around her waist as well.

“Mom!  Why do I have to have a rope around my waist?” 

She could hear the teenage whine the boy would someday have and was grateful knowing that he would make it to his teenage years.

“It’s only a precaution, baby.  I’m going to let you climb first and I will be right behind you.  If you slip, the rope won’t let you fall too far.”

“I won’t slip!” he said, and then thought it over.  “I’m Superman. I came to save you.  I guess if you slip, then the rope won’t let you fall too far.”

Sara smiled and placed her hand on the glowing trunk of the tree.  As she did, the lowest branch seemed to bend down for them.  She looked at the golden fan shaped leaves.  

“It looks like its in the Ginkgo Biloba family.”

“What’s a Gin-Ko Bill-Oh-Buh?”

“They are a tree from China, originally, and they have been used for medicine.”

“See, mommy, this is a good place.”

“It is a good place,” she said.

The little boy began to climb the branches with his mother close behind, the rope allowing her the security of knowing that the boy would not fall far should he slip.  But she didn’t need to worry.  The tree bent its branches, allowing them to step higher and higher through the cave while providing them branches to hold on to.

The river and the beautiful living plants began to disappear in the distance, becoming memories below the leaves.  The tree continued to glow but the space became darker as they moved higher.  The branches became thinner, and while the mother and her son continued to be supported, the branches bent more deeply.

“I think I see it, mommy!  I see an opening and the sky looks purple and pink!”

Drawing over photograph of a tree leading from the cave/Loscotoff 2022

Soon, Sara saw it too; the sun appeared to be setting amongst the forest trees.  The opening was narrow and she hoped her shoulders and hips could squeeze through the space.  The tree extended about four feet from the hole and while the branches here were fragile, they seemed to lift them the final distance.

Xander crawled from the hole in the earth first and reached his little arm down to help his mother.  She handed the canvas pack out to him first.

“Be careful with them,” she said.  “We don’t want to squish the babies.”

The boy took the pack carefully and laid it next to him on the forest floor.  Then Sara squeezed her way through and found herself laying beneath the trees.

She felt a tap on her foot and saw that the top of the glowing tree was trying to get her attention.

“Look, mommy!  The tree is giving us something!”

A branch stuck up from the deep hole and placed something in the boy’s hand.

“What is it?” asked his mother.

He held it up or her to see.

Between his fingers, around the size of a golf ball, was a single round golden seed.

“Can we plant it when we get home and see if it grows?” asked the boy.

“Yes,” and she turned to the tree, “ and I promise we will take good care of your baby.  Thank you for saving mine.”

Together, hand in hand, they walked back to their campsite; the boy with unlimited treasure carried in the pack on his back, his superman cape protecting souls he’d already grown to love.

As they arrived at their site, they saw that the boy’s father had given up on the camp stove and was sitting in front of a well built fire, dozing with marshmallows and chocolate sitting at his side.  The teenage girl was still on her phone.  The older brother was still watching a movie.  

And nobody ever seemed to know they had been missing. 

Photograph of my daughter walking out of a cave, the light glowing in the distance/Loscotoff 2022
Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt

Week 20 – A young child makes a discovery

Include the words: Superman, ginkgo biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, makeup

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s take on this prompt here.

And this week we had another writer join us in the prompt! Welcome A. D. Reece! You can find her version of this prompt here.

A photograph of a child dancing while camping in front of a fire /Loscotoff 2022
Dancing in front of the campfire /Loscotoff 2022

Notes

When my niece and nephew were little, much littler than they are now, my niece said something along the lines of, “I’m Batman!”

My nephew quickly responded, “You’re not batman, you’re batGIRL.”

To which she responded, “I not a BAD girl, I a Good girl.”

I was reminded of this as I imagined little Xander in the story running around as a superhero, connecting his identity to Superman. I didn’t plan on Superman being a running theme throughout the story, but realized he could take the role of saving his mom, and that was where my story began to form.

The words this week had me in a bit of a tailspin. I could not figure out how to use them together in a cohesive story. Superman,… ginkgo biloba,… moviegoer,… clicker? It just didn’t lend to a story I wanted to write.

However, once I imagined them camping (and how camping in today’s world of technology is not what it once was), I could see the mom’s frustration. I could see the little boy who just wanted to be noticed. The word “cavern” gave me a place for the story to develop, and the gingko biloba tree growing in the cave gave me a visual anchor to the story. The other words just had to find their place.

As I imagined the boy falling through the cave, I was inspired by the world of Alice in Wonderland. This allowed me to imagine a world of fantasy deep underground, a land with living flowers and healing streams.

I grew up camping. Perhaps it was the time period (late 70’s/early 80’s) with parents who had grown up as teens in the 60’s. Perhaps it was our community of lower to middle class families, where camping was an affordable option over higher priced vacations. We didn’t have all the fancy equipment. We had tents and sleeping bags, we played cards at the picnic table.

I don’t remember cook stoves–although I’m sure we had some option other than the fire pit–but I do remember food wrapped in tin foil and buried in the coals, I remember s’mores over the flames. I loved that my parents bought the really sugary cereal in the tiny boxes because you could cut them, fold open the flaps, and have your own little bowl. (We never got that type of cereal at home, and so camping was a special treat.)

I remember trips with friends and our tiny church renting out spaces so that we could all camp together; the kids crossing thick logs over rivers, playing in the trees, singing around the fire at night.

My experiences growing up camping are probably a big part of why I love the outdoors so very much.

When I got married and had our daughter, we camped some, but my bones protested nights in sleeping bags on the ground. Even layers of pillows and mattresses couldn’t take the pain from my joints. I’ve noticed “camping” has become fancier with all the needed comforts, with the technology. (Although a mattress and a bathroom are delightful comforts that I never considered as a child.)

Camping seems harder these days, the planning seems more intense, the discomfort more overwhelming. Perhaps, in part, my memories are so fond because I just got to be a kid without responsibility, playing with my cousins and sister and friends.

As I decided I wanted the mother and her son stuck in the cave, I knew that I wanted them to find some sort of treasure, but not in the traditional sense. The idea of the backpack being full of money or jewels seemed cliche. Pirate treasure and booby traps were too “Goonies” and didn’t fit the mother-son relationship of the story.

I couldn’t quite figure out what the treasure would be. I knew they would find healing in the cave, but would it be wrong to remove the healing elements? How much water could they take? What about plants?

One of my closest and most wonderful friends is a folk herbalist and we have been deep in conversation lately about Mugwort. I’ve been working to establish an understanding and a relationship with the plant. I dream of growing a magical garden like she has. My friend, Ivanna, shows such love and reverence for her plants, I realized that I wanted to cultivate some of the same for my characters. (You can find a link to her website and offerings here, or in the links below.)

I didn’t want them to just take from the plants, I wanted through their kindness, that the medicine would be given freely. I did not want them to just take (as is so often the case of humanity). I realized, the treasure was to bring these medicinal plants to the surface, to care for them and nurture them and allow them to grow children of their own.

This allowed my characters to really come to the surface with a treasure beyond money, something that connects them to the Earth and their experience.

A last note; I’ve always loved caves. I grew up visiting Crystal Caverns in Sequoia & Kings National park. I’ve repelled in Moaning Caverns near Columbia in California and have taken several journeys into Black Chasm near Placerville, California. In Alabama, we had the opportunity to visit DeSoto Caverns, and in Ohio, we got visit Ohio Caverns. In Krakow, Poland, we visited Wawel Hill where the Smok Wawelski (the Wawel Dragon) lives. And in Germany we visited sandstone caves, The Schlossberghöhlen in Homburg, that were used as hiding places during war and are now used to help children with breathing problems, as the minerals help to open the lungs. Caves, for me, are not frightening or unknown, they allow me a sense of our history, of humanity and art. There are the fundamental starting place of life, the womb of Mother Earth.

If you liked this story, please share it! I send out an email with my most recent stories and blogs every Friday, never miss a story by signing up here.

I am also working towards a new art page, you can sign up for info at www.loscotoffart.com

A photograph of Ohio Caverns/ Loscotoff 2022
My daughter in front of the underwater stream, Ohio Caverns/ Loscotoff 2022

Next Week’s Prompt

Week 21 – High school hierarchy

Include the words: pyramid, cowboy hat, amateurish, angle, ripple, cheese, jersey, blister, odyssey, reorder

Links

Magical Garden Botanicals

Bridgette’s Week 20 Tale

Crystal Cave – California

Moaning Caverns – California

Black Chasm Cavern – California

DeSoto Caverns – Alabama

Ohio Caverns – Ohio

Dragon’s Den – Kraków, Poland

The Schlossberghöhlen in Homburg

Image of my niece and daughter with the Superman Logo/ Loscotoff 2022
My niece and my daughter, Empowered Superheros/Loscotoff 2022

My 52 Week Journey So Far


What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Week 16 – My Forever Love

Week 17 – The Dilemma of Purpose

Week 18 – Honey – A Story of Love and Time

Week 19 – The Light

The Light | A Short Story

Acrylic Painting of an eye being filled with rainbow colors / Loscotoff 2022

“I suspect some pain killers would help,” my husband said.

We were driving through the dark central valley cornfields, late at night, on our way to visit family.  We had been driving for over five hours, the light of the sun had faded long ago, with only a few stops to stretch our legs.

“I suspect that you have no idea what it is to be in my body,” I replied.

“Just take something!”

“Seriously, I wish I could just pop a pill and my body would somehow calm down.  But it doesn’t.  You know that.”

He was quiet.  

I was quiet.  

My right hip was not quiet. 

 It was big and loud and never shut up.  My left ankle was talking tonight too, talking of fire and electricity.  My shoulder was yelling at me as it pulled on my spine.  My body ached in the loud angry way that no one else got to hear.  

Just me.  

I’m the only one that gets to hear my body talk.  I often wish I could plug it into a microphone, plug it into someone else’s brain, find a machine that reported back on every nerve commentary.  

Instead, I sat silently adjusting each muscle, stretching and kneading and rubbing. 

The road was two-lane and dark, the shadow of the corn stalks waving to our right and our left.

“What’s that glow?”

The fields ahead of us, along the horizon, radiated a soft yellow light that seemed to have appeared from the deep darkness.

“We’re not near town yet, are we?” I asked.

“Not enough for that kind of light,” he said.

“Maybe they’re harvesting tonight?” 

The light ahead of us began to brighten, going from a soft reflective glow to something more defining.  The cornfields around us began to have shadow and definition.

Suddenly, the light was gone, as if a switch was turned off and the night was silent.

“That was weird…”

As he said the words, a pinpoint of light lifted from the horizon before us.  Lifted, levitated, it seemed to hover.  Colors shimmered around it, reflective and translucent.  The dash lights of our car began to flicker as the engined sputtered, finally turning dark, leaving us only with a focus of that single point of light.

“Are you seeing this?” 

His voice was awed, seemingly unaware of the car’s failure.  I noticed the death of our engine, but the ball of light was more important.  It engaged me.  It wanted me to step from the car, to stand amongst the stalks.

I found myself standing in the middle of the road, my husband’s hand in mine, not knowing how it was I got there.

The circle of light lifted higher, a rainbow of color trailing behind it.

Mixed media artist rendition of the alien light with the colors behind it.  Art by Anna Loscotoff/ 2022
Light in a Cornfield/ Loscotoff 2022

Without warning, the light shot skyward.  At its pinnacle, the glowing orb seemed to hit a barrier, crashing through our atmosphere like a pebble hitting a still pond; waves of rainbow energy radiated outward.  Light filled the sky, the colors streaked as if a paint brush stroked the heavens, floated outward from the pressure wave. 

I had never seen the Aurora Borealis, the shades of blues and purples and greens, but I felt that I was witnessing its glory. 

Swirling and twisting, the colors became a dome over us, the light descending, melting through me and my vision, until I could hold the color in my hands.

As the color swirled behind my eyes, I lost all sensation of pain.  I was filled with beauty and wonder.  My skin glowed, my husband glowed.  I felt divinely connected to something more, something greater than me.  My body relaxed into oneness and I understood how hard it was to exist in a human body, how much work it took being alive.

I don’t know how long I relaxed into the light, how long I stood in the middle of the road holding my husband’s hand, tranquil and at peace, when my hip let out an internal cry.

My hand ripped itself from his, clutching at my leg.  My ankle, my shoulder, my back, they were all talking to me, burning and throbbing.  How, for just those moments, however long those moments were, had I forgotten?  How had my body misplaced the pain of living? 

“Well that was weird…” I began, turning to my husband.  Still he looked up at the sky, his mouth slightly slack and his eyes unfocused.  “Hey,” I said, rubbing his arm.  “Are you okay?”

He didn’t respond to me and his eyes seemed to be glowing with color.  Color that swirled as if a reflection, but the sky was clear, there were no lights, no variations, only the stars stood out brilliantly against the blackness. 

His eyes emanated color as if from the inside.  Light flickered from his nose with every breath, there was luminosity in his ears.  Even light escaped from his slightly open mouth. Under his skin, he seemed to glow.

He didn’t respond to my voice, so gently I moved my husband back to the car, helping him to sit, putting his feet into the passenger side.  When I went around to the driver’s side, the key still in the ignition, the car started easily. 

“We’re maybe 30 minutes to town, just hold on in there, I’m going to take you to the hospital.”

He didn’t respond within his world, wherever he was.  His eyes swirled with unfocused radiance. 

We came to the end of the cornfield, to plowed open land.  Clusters of rabbits stood looking up at the sky.  Beyond them was a pack of coyotes.  The coyotes stood silent, their muzzles pointed at the stars.  There was one however, it seemed to have a broken leg, that limped around the others, sniffing them. 

“Pain,” I said quietly.  “The poor coyote is in pain.”

As we drove closer to town, I began to notice more cars parked in the middle of the lanes and along the sides of the road.  We came to the bridge that marked the town boundary; it was impassable with people, lined up and hypnotized by something I could no longer see. 

I parked our car along the edge of the road and carefully helped my husband out.  The hospital was only a few miles from here, I could guide him there.

As we crossed the river, weaving in and out of these empty bodies, the water itself seemed to reflect swirling light, as if it had absorbed the phosphoresce.  

In the distance, I heard weeping.  I left my husband standing amongst the others and tried to find the small little cries.

Curled up against the edge of the bridge was a little girl, her brown pigtails curled up on top of her head.  She wore a thick purple cast on her arm.

“Hi,” I said quietly.

“I want my mommy and daddy!”

“I know, can I help you find them?”

“They’re right there, but they won’t talk to me.”  She began to sob now and I saw a few of the women on the bridge move, tiny movement, as if the child’s tears was awakening something within them.

The girl pointed to a man and a woman, holding hands and staring at the sky.

“I see your cast,” I said to the girl.  “It’s pretty.  Did you break your arm?”

The little girl nodded, “I fell out of a tree.”

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

“It hurts and I want my mommy.  And I’m hungry.  And I have to go potty.”  

With that last statement, the child let out a wail.  A few more women began to move, as if struggling to wake from a dream.

“I have an idea,” I said to the little girl.  “I’ll be right back, I promise.”

I made my way back to my husband.

“I’m sorry sweetie, if you can hear me, but I have to give this I try.”

And then I raised my hand and I slapped him.  

The rainbows took a moment to melt away, but his eyes cleared.

“What the hell?  Did you just hit me?” 

He looked around at the people on the bridge, confused.  I smiled as he rubbed his cheek, gave him a quick kiss, and returned to the little girl, still sniffling. 

“I think your parents will wake up if we can make them feel something that hurts.  But I don’t want to hurt them.”

“I had a sticker in my shoe once, it hurt,” said the child.

“That’s a great idea.  It may take a little longer for them to wake up… can you help me collect some sharp rocks?”

The little girl and I began to gather rocks from the roadway, slipping them into the space of her parent’s shoes, where the rocks would press against the tender flesh. 

My husband was once again staring at the sky, his eyes radiating a gentle glow of color. Apparently I hadn’t hit him hard enough and he was back in his bliss.  I found a particularly sharp rock and placed it against his ankle bone, making sure the shoe applied pressure. 

The awakening was slow.  Eyes cleared and then eyes returned to rainbow translucence.  It was a cycle of pain and awareness, a cycle of disappearing into tranquility.

When the aliens came, they did not come in fancy ships or human form.  They came as bliss and joy and beauty.  They came to distract us.  But they did not know pain.

The pain took the rainbows away.


Digital Drawing by Isobel Dohn of people filled with the rainbow light @isobell.dohn.art 2022
The color melting through me and my vision / Isobell Dohn 2022/ Insta isobell.dohn.art

The hypnosis spread like a virus, circling the globe in a matter of days.  All one needed to do is look in the swirling colors behind the iris of the infected and the light awoke in them. 

There were deaths, although not as many as you might imagine. The lights in the sky made vehicles inoperable for only those few minutes.  Crashes were avoided simply by the refusal of machines to operate.  The radiating light encompassed only a small area of sky, and whether it was luck or divine planning, no aircrafts were flying in the waves of tranquility.

Some pilots reported no fly zones in the area and others reported aircrafts refusing to start.  The aliens, if that is what we saw, wanted to survive.  Crashing would kill the host.

The body could not stay in this state forever, it is too strong for that; but many did slip in and out of consciousness over time.  There were those that stood in the glory of the color until the sun began to burn their skin.  Hunger  becomes pain in time, bladders become full, muscles begin to cramp, discomfort grows.  

Most people have some sense of pain now.  There are bracelets that give a steady mild shock, enough sensation to keep from disappearing into the light.  On the opposite side, the development of pain management has grown and many choose to sleep in the radiance of the light, the removal of discomfort has become a sedative.  

It has become a drug in a sense, a place to escape from the sadnesses of the world.  For those living in chronic distress, new medications allow pain to dissolve and thus, the user to disappear into a few hours of bliss.  

I tend to overlook my pain these days.  When the aliens came, we expected them to come in ships and bodies.  We did not know if they would be friend or foe, if they would bring with them wisdom or destruction. Never did we anticipate that they could teach us that on somedays, our pain can be a gift.  Pain is the tether the connects us to this body and I am not ready to let this body go.

Photograph of spinning light/Loscotoff 2022
Colors streaked outward from the pressure wave / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – The Light

An alien in disguise among humans

Include: Aurora Borealis, paint brush, corn field, cluster, lineup, overlook, suspect, bridge, dome, dash

Bridgette’s Tale this Week

a photograph of blue light spinning/ Loscotoff 2022
Swirling and twisting, the colors became a dome above us/Loscotoff 2022

Notes

Several years ago, my husband, daughter, and I were driving to see my parents who live in the Sierra Nevada foothills, away from light pollution and having minimal neighbors.  The skies above their home is considered military airspace.  (This is not as unusual as many might suspect.  I’ve included a link to military airspace over the United States.)  Military airspace is used in training and support of military mission and requires different permissions for general aviators.

It was late at night, around 11 pm, and as we drove up their road, we noticed a glow of light softly lighting up the base of mountains in front of us.  From our distance, the light must have covered several miles and couldn’t have been from a small source. 

I thought there was fire.  The glow was broad and yellow and stretched along the base of the mountains from East to West.  I don’t remember seeing it turn on, it was more that it gradually became apparent. 

We were all discussing the light and where it could be coming from when it abruptly turned off and a small ball of light shot directly up into the sky.  The light stopped and hovered over the mountains before shooting to the right, crossing a huge distance and hovering over a different set of mountains.  The light then dropped low, out of our site, before shooting up again and disappearing.

My husband was a pilot for the USAF at the time and he had never seen anything move like this.  I certainly hadn’t either.  We arrived at my parent’s home within minutes and were excitedly reliving for them what we had seen.  At first, they assumed we were playing a trick on them.  We weren’t.  All three of us had experienced this object and none of us had an explanation.

I don’t know what it is we saw.  Being military airspace, perhaps we witnessed an aircraft with amazing speed and maneuverability.  Perhaps we were in the right place at the right time to experience alien technology.  Whatever it was, it impacted my view around life outside our current existence.  

I didn’t want to write a standard alien story, they have been done well and trying to rewrite one feels like reinventing the wheel.  So I began to consider an unlikely alien living within our midst.

I live with chronic pain, and while I often have it under control, there are times that I have flare ups.  I’m in one right now which made this idea closer to my thinking.  It also made writing this week exceptionally difficult and I wanted to quit this story more than once.

What if pain itself were the alien.  Or a virus.  Viruses themselves seem to be perfect possibilities within the realm of an alien living and hiding among us. Viruses are often stealthy and can present differently in different people.

Looking at what we know (or don’t know) now about Covid, and long Covid specifically, we can see the different presentation in different populations of people. What if my pain were actually a defense against the virus in the story.  What if my active pain receptors kept an alien virus at bay?

I can’t really find a happy ending here; living with pain really isn’t a happy ending for anyone.

Special thanks to my daughter for the drawing of the girl with the rainbows in her eyes. Please follow her on Instagram @isobell.dohn.art

If you liked this story, please share it. I send out a newsletter every Friday, you can sign up here.

I am also working on a new art website, coming soon to www.loscotoffart.com

The topmost image of the eye was a happy accident I created while painting. The paint had a mind of its own and the image lives only in photographs. The paint soon morphed into a Rainbow Heart.

a photograph of reflective light/ Loscotoff 2022
Loscotoff 2022

Next Week’s Prompt

Week 20 – A young child makes a discovery

Include: Superman, ginkgo biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, makeup

Links

Bridgette’s Tale for week 19

Isobell Dohn artwork on Instagram

Military Airspace Maps

NOAA Atmosphere Printable

Painting by Anna Loscotoff, 2022

My 52 Week Journey


What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Week 16 – My Forever Love

Week 17 – The Dilemma of Purpose

Week 18 – Honey – A Story of Love and Time

Honey – A Story of Love and Time | A Short Story

An image of my mother's bear, used to represent Honey in this story/Loscotoff 2022

The little girl woke with a gasp, her heart pounding, sweat running into her eyes. She looked around her room, stuffed animals piled in the corners, a little pink nightlight glowing next to the bed.  She grabbed her favorite bear, Honey, nestled next to her, and dragged him from the twin size bed, across the floor, across the hallway, and into her parent’s room. 

The little girl crawled up the steep side of the bed, snuggling in next to her mom. 

“What’s wrong, baby,” said her mother, wrapping her in her soft arms, her voice slurred with sleep.  

“I had a bad dream.”

“What happened?” responded her mother, holding her more closely. 

“I dreamed I was an old lady.”

“Not yet, my baby, not yet.”

Her mother’s began to softly snore and Aubrey’s eyes grew heavy, safe against her mother’s breasts.



Aubrey woke with a gasp, her heart pounding, sweat running into her eyes.  Her room was different; no pile of stuffed animals in the corner, the walls were no longer pink but a deep blue, there were posters of bands she had never heard of on the walls. Her body felt different; longer, fuller.  Honey sat, thread-worn, on the top of a dresser.

“Aubrey!  Wake up!  You’re going to be late!”

“Coming!”

Aubrey didn’t know how to move in this body.  She pulled back the sheets and saw… breasts!  Her legs stretched down to the base of the bed.  She awkwardly tumbled out and saw clothes crumpled on a chair; jeans and a tee-shirt.  There was a bra there and it took her a few moments to figure out how to put it on.  It was binding and pinched her skin.

“Not today,” Aubrey said to herself as she took a few more moments figuring out how to remove the torture device.  She saw a green sweatshirt on the floor in the corner and pulled it over her head instead of the t-shirt. She pulled on the jeans from the chair and groaned at their tightness.

“5 minutes!  If you want me to drive you, you have 5 minutes,” her mom yelled from beyond the bedroom. 

Aubrey threw open her door and ran to the bathroom.  Seeing herself for the first time in the mirror, she was paralyzed.  She remembered her eyes, but her hair had darkened from her childhood blonde into deeper brown and it tangled down to her waist.  She had curves; not just breasts but hips and a butt.  She was frozen in time, staring at her reflection.

Her mom peeked into the bathroom, “Hurry up, I have a meeting and I can’t be late.”

Aubrey turned to her mom, her face more lined than she remembered.  There was grey at her temples and her hair had been cut to a shoulder length style, not the long curls she remembered. 

“You okay, sweetie?”  Her mom’s voice dropped in concern.  “You look pale.”  Her mother stepped into the bathroom and touched her face.  “You don’t feel hot.”

“I’m, I think I’m okay.”  Aubrey looked at her mother in wonder.  “I just need to brush my hair and I think I’m ready?”  Aubrey asked it as a question, because she wasn’t sure what else there was to do.

“No make-up today?”

Aubrey saw the brushes and pallets scattered on the counter, not having any idea where to start.  She looked back at her mother.

“It’s good. You know I like your face better without make-up anyway.”  Her mother smiled.  “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, just give me a sec.”

Her mother gave her a second look as she walked from the bathroom. 

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth!  Your breath is atrocious.”  Her mom smiled at her as she closed the bathroom door.

Teeth!  When she was smaller, her mom had to always remind her to brush her teeth and helped her get to the backs.  She wasn’t sure which toothbrush was hers in the cup, there were three.  She grabbed the purple one and covered it with paste, shoved it in her mouth and began to scrub.

The door burst open and a little girl burst in.  She looked like Aubrey used to look, with thin blond hair and a sprinkle of freckles across her nose.  The little girl stopped when she saw Aubrey and her face wrinkled into a tight knot.

“Mom!!! Aubrey’s using my toothbrush.”

“I’m… oh, hi, I’m sorry.” Aubrey pulled it out of her mouth and stared at it for a second.

The little girl crossed her arms.  

“You are so gross,” she said.  “I can’t believe you’re my sister.”



Her mom dropped her off near a fence line where groups of kids stood scattered.  She saw smoke drifting up from one circle, another group was all in black.  There was a group of cheerleaders and, next to them, tall muscular boys throwing a football. 

One of the cheerleaders came skipping over to Aubrey, she had a high blonde ponytail and endless perkiness. 

“Aubrey!” 

The girl gave her a quick hug and then stepped back, raising her perfectly manicured eyebrow.  

“Oh my God, you aren’t wearing a bra!  And… why aren’t you wearing any makeup?  Where’s your portfolio?”

“My portfolio?”  Of all the things this strange girl said, it seemed to be the strangest of all.

“You have your presentation today.  In art… Why are looking at me like you have no idea what I’m talking about?

Aubrey was silent, her heart far too loud in her chest.

“I’m taking you to the office, I’ll tell the teacher you’re sick.  Seriously Aub, maybe you need to lay down and take a nap.”


Aubrey  woke with a gasp, her heart pounding. There was someone laying next to her, his body behind her, pressed against hers. His bare legs were wrapped around her legs, tangled together. His hand cupping her naked breast under her green and blue argyle sweater.

“What’s wrong, baby?” came a sleepy voice. 

Aubrey froze.  This room was not the nurses office where she had fallen asleep.  Not her bedroom.  They were cuddling tightly on a twin bed, another twin bed was unmade across from them.

“Where am I?” Aubrey whispered, afraid to move.

She felt the male shape nuzzle into her neck, kissing her.  

“What do you mean?” he whispered back, his hand moving from her breast and tracing her belly.

Aubrey didn’t speak, unsure that she could even breath.  

His hand stopped moving, frozen.

“Aubrey?  Aub?  Are you okay?”  His hand pulled back suddenly. “Oh!  Oh, my God.  Aubrey.  I’m sorry.  I thought you wanted this!  I thought, last night…” 

The boy climbed over her wearing only his underwear, frantically pulled on his jean that were crumpled on the floor.  She couldn’t see the front of his face, only the softly curling brown locks that lay at the nape of his neck. 

Aubrey found her voice, pushing herself to sit on the edge of this little bed, “No, I didn’t mean that!  I, I just felt like I was dreaming for a moment.  I didn’t know where I was.  I feel a little… disconnected?”

The boy turned around and Aubrey could see that he wasn’t a boy, not really.  He wasn’t a man either.  He inhabited some in-between space.  He was tall and thin and the look on his face felt desperately like hope.  His eyes were a strong blue and she felt like she knew him, knew his eyes.  She was captivated and felt, the only way she could describe it, she felt thirsty for him.

“Aubrey,” he got down on his knees and held her hands in his, “I know it sounds crazy, but I have loved you from the moment I saw you.  The fact that you are even here, in my dorm room, feels like a dream to me too.  I love you.”

Aubrey looked deep into his eyes.  She had no idea what his name was, but the familiarity was there.  

Maybe this is all a dream, she thought, as she traced his face with her hand.

“I love you too,” she said, “come lay back down with me.”

The young man smiled softly and crawled back into bed.


Image of our wedding, 2002/ Loscotoff 2022
Marriage / Loscotoff 2022

Aubrey woke with a cry, her heart pounding, sweat running into her eyes, pain bearing down as she pushed and felt pressure that felt to split her in two. 

“Push! You have to push, Aubrey!  One more and the baby’s head will be out!”

Aubrey pushed, if only to satisfy what her body was telling her she must do.

Standing on her left, holding her hand, was a man with deep blue eyes.  Blue eyes that she knew, worried and full of anxiety.  He was older now, his hair a bit darker and his face stronger.  He no longer had the face of a boy.

He looked down at her, wiping her forehead.

“Aubrey, you are doing so good. She’s almost here.”

“That’s it!  Your baby’s head is out.”

Aubrey looked down and saw the great swell of her belly, her legs spread into foot stirrups, the top of a head with a surgical cap between her knees.  A face looked up, a woman’s face.  She smiled.

“You are doing wonderfully, on the next contraction, you are going to push your baby out.”

Aubrey could hear the beeps of a monitor and saw a nurse standing back. 

“Alright, one more big push,” said the doctor.

Aubrey pushed and the man on her left squeezed her hand, as if he was trying to give her his strength, or perhaps match her own.

There was a baby’s cry as Aubrey felt a piece of her soul leave her body.  

The baby was laid on her chest, wrapped in a towel.

“You have a healthy baby girl, congratulations,” said the doctor.

Aubrey looked at the man to her side, tears were running down his face.  

“She’s perfect,” he said as he bent down and kissed Aubrey. “You didn’t even think you were fertile.”

“I guess I was wrong,” said Aubrey.

“Best mistake ever,” he said with a soft smile.

Aubrey cradled the child in her arms and instinctively lifted her to her breast.  The newborn mouthed her mother’s nipple, not ready to latch but already aware. 


First photo of the birth of my daughter 2005/ Loscotoff 2022
Birth / Loscotoff 2022

Aubrey woke with a jerk as the door to the bedroom softly slid open.  A strong body lay to her left, and she felt warm and comforted under the umbrella of his deep even breath. 

“Mommy,” came a soft voice.

“Hi baby, what’s wrong?”

“I scawed.” 

“Come cuddle with me,” she said.

Light from the moon through the window showed Aubrey a little girl with brown hair curling about her shoulders; she had her father’s eyes.

The little girl crawled into Aubrey’s open arms, laying her head onto her mother’s shoulder, nestling deep into her warmth.

Aubrey snuggled closer into the man she loved, wrapped in the love of this child.  

She felt safe.


A photo of my daughter sleeping/ Loscotoff 2022
Generations Sleeping /Loscotoff 2022

Aubrey woke softly, as the world came in focus around her.  The room was full of golden light and she could make out the form of people around her bed. 

“It’s okay mom, we’re here.”

Aubrey’s eyes began to clear and she saw the woman, with big blue eyes, was holding her hand, tracing the lined and worn skin with her finger.  Her daughter.

“You are so beautiful,” said Aubrey.  Her voice was cracked and unused, her throat felt dry.  Her daughter’s hair was streaked with grey and she had lines around her eyes.

“No mom, you are the beautiful one.”

“And who is this?” asked Aubrey as she saw three teenagers, two leaning against the wall, a boy and a girl, and the smallest, perhaps around 12, sitting with a bear in her lap, her hair a soft brown.  A man stood at the doorway, perhaps a bit older than her daughter.  

The bear was worn and loved.

“Helen brought you Honey, mom.  She thought you might want to have her back for awhile.”

“Hi grandma,” said the little girl as she shyly brought the bear over. 

“Why, I don’t remember when I last saw this bear.”

She lifted him up, her arms were lined and deeply bruised, the wrinkles carved into her flesh.

“Mom, you gave Honey to Vincent when he was born, do you remember?”

The boy against the wall gave her a little wave.  He looked so much like the man with the blue eyes, his eyes perhaps a bit smaller, his hair a bit straighter.  

“He looks like your father,” said Aubrey.  

“He really does, doesn’t he mom.”

The girl leaning against the wall with long blondish hair spoke up, “And they always say I look like you, grandma!” 

“Oh, I don’t think I was half as beautiful as you are,” said Aubrey.  The girl blushed and was silent.

“Honey has been loved by all of your grandbabies, mom.  You gave him to me, and then you told me that he should be loved by my babies.  So Vincent had him until Genevieve was born, and then Genevieve gave him to Helen.  Helen has been holding onto him until you were ready to have him again.”

“Where is your father?” asked Aubrey.

“He’s not here with us anymore, mom, don’t you remember?”

Aubrey could see his deep blue eyes, eyes that had been passed to her daughter and to her children. 

“I miss him,” she said.

“I know, mom.  You are going to see him soon.”

“I would like that, I would like to see his eyes again.”

As the light of the room began to fade, Aubrey heard her daughter as she began to cry.  A different light began to glow around her, and Aubrey saw that she was witness to her own life; the five sided pentagram of experience.  From infancy to childhood to teenager, to her own adulthood and now old age, she had lived.

Beyond the light, Aubrey began to see shapes taking form.  Stepping from a sort of misty transparency, the man with the blue eyes stepped out to meet her.  He was holding the hand of a little boy, the little boy who had been meant to be a part of their lives, but hadn’t made it past pregnancy.  She remembered how much she had loved this little soul and wanted him to join them. 

She saw her parents standing back, young as she had remembered them.  Around her husband’s feet sat a myriad of dogs and cats; a giant Rottweiler, a fat little Corgie, a German Sheppard, and a tiger striped shorthair that she remembered as her best cat friend, Molly.

“I’ve missed you all so much,” she said, as she made her way into their arms. She realized that she was still holding her bear, holding her Honey. She bent down to her son, the son she had never met, “This is for you.”



Aubrey woke with a gasp, her heart pounding, sweat running into her eyes. She looked around her room, stuffed animals piled in the corners, a little pink nightlight glowing next to the bed.  She grabbed her favorite bear, Honey, nestled next to her, and dragged him from the twin size bed, across the floor, across the hallway, and into her parent’s room. 

The little girl crawled up the steep side of the bed, snuggling in next to her mom. 

“What’s wrong, baby,” said her mother, wrapping her in her soft arms, her voice slurred with sleep.  

“I had a dream.”

“What happened?” responded her mother, holding her more closely. 

“I dreamed I was an old lady.”

“Not yet, my baby, not yet.”

Image of me as a toddler with my mom and grandma/Loscotoff 2022
Three Generations/Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – Honey

18. A child’s dream literally becomes true

Include: high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, guidance

Read Bridgette’s Tale for Week 18

My paternal grandma/Loscotoff 2022
My paternal grandma/Loscotoff 2022

Notes

This story is dedicated to our little boy that never grew past pregnancy and the daughter I’ve had such honor to watch grow into a young woman.

I didn’t start this week thinking it was going to be generational, I started this week thinking about a nightmare (since I am prone to nightmares) and how this nightmare could become real.

I imagined a little girl waking up, climbing into bed with her mom, only it’s not her mom and there is some sort of monster with her mother’s voice and red glowing eyes. She jumps out of bed and runs through the dream (using the required words to create the dreamscape) only to wake up and have the same nightmare start again in the same way.

As I read the words, I realized they were really words that fit into our lives. They weren’t fantasy words that led to nightmares. The hardest to naturally include was pentagram. Pentagrams have 5 points, so what are the 5 points of life and how could I use them to tell this story; infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age.

I divided my words into these 5 sections, leaving out infancy as Aubrey was past that stage of her life. I could have ended the story circling around to her birth, but really wanted to end it with her death… looping to where she wakes from her dream and crawls into bed with her mother; almost a life flashed forward.

I want to clarify, this is a fictional story where I have added connections to my life. I chose to add my personal photos in honor of the real lives we all have, from birth to death. I wanted to connect the ideas to something real and tangible, and for the reader to exchange those faces with the ones that they know. I wanted to add the generations, making this story larger than just the words, making this story about the cycles of life. I included the names of some of my grandparents as Aubrey’s grandchildren; it seemed the right thing to do. The bear in the title photo is my mom’s childhood bear, Smokey.

The part of the story closest to me is the end, where everyone is waiting for Aubrey. It brought up a lot of emotion and continues to every time I edit. I imagined the boy I lost in pregnancy waiting with my husband, waiting with real animal companions that have touched my life. I miss this son, even though I never met him. I miss my cat, Molly.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers reading this. Happy Mother’s Day to my own mom, and my grandma, and my great grandma, and all my mother ancestors before me on both my maternal and paternal side.

If you liked this story, I hope you’ll share it with someone you love. I publish a short story ever week and send it out on Fridays in my weekly newsletter, you can sign up for it here.

I am also in the process of building an art website for originals and prints. If you’d like to know when that is up and running, you can sign up now at Loscotoff Art.

Me and my mom/ Loscotoff 2022

Next Week’s Prompt

19. An alien in disguise among humans

Include: Aurora Borealis, paint brush, corn field, cluster, lineup, overlook, suspect, bridge, dome, dash

Me and the slide/Loscotoff 2022
Loscotoff 2022

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Week 16 – My Forever Love

Week 17 – The Dilemma of Purpose

Photo of my bear and my daughter's bear, the family generational bear in this story is named Honey / Loscotoff 2022
My bear and my daughter’s bear. The photo of the bear in the title is my mom’s childhood bear, Smokey/ Loscotoff 2022

The Dilemma of Purpose | A Short Story

Close up Ink drawing of the lighthouse keeper, Abe/ Loscotoff 2022/ he introduces us to the "Dilemma of Purpose"

Driving along the curving ocean road, the cliffs to my right and the crashing waves to my left, I head north, wondering who it is I’ve become. 

Chartreuse succulents with purple flowers line the highway and I see a sign for a lighthouse turnout.  I pull into the dirt parking lot and see the trail that winds along the rocks and the plants, twisting out to a lighthouse on the edge of a cliff; painted white and red, the glass at the top reflecting the sun’s light. 

Photograph of the galley of a Northern California Lighthouse/ Loscotoff 2022/ short story Dilemma of Purpose
The glass at the top reflecting the sun’s light/ Loscotoff 2022

I wear so many titles; wife, mother, writer, artist, teacher, chef, maid. Wear each like a uniform, often dirty without time to throw it in the wash. I keep pulling these identities over my head.  

There is an old worn sign, 2.3 miles at the trail head.  The cold wind whips my hair around my face and I clip it into a bun.  The sun is warm against my skin, contradicting the wind.  Just as I am a contradiction, a little piece of many opposing stories. 

Before I threw my things in the truck, before I started driving up the California coast, I called my friend and told her that I no longer knew who I wanted to be.  She blamed motherhood and my dedication to my child; prefacing that it was not “bad” but that I had left no room in that relationship for me. It feels like a backhanded compliment; you were such a brilliant mom that you stopped existing as anything else.  Why does it feel like an insult?

I disagreed.  Still disagree.  Will probably always disagree. 

My muscles are tired from the driving.  I stretch as I walk along the trail.  The flowered ocean fauna is sprinkled with tiny lady bugs.  A flock of cormorants sun themselves along the crags beyond the cliff edge.  I look at the inside of my wrist, a tattooed reminder of my creativity, my muse.  A tattooed reminder of who I am, who I thought I was, who I will someday become.

You see, motherhood has not been about letting myself go.  It has not been about losing myself.  It has been about becoming something more, someone more.  That is part of my question, who am I today? Who am I when all these puzzle pieces pull together and create something larger, something more than they were individually. 

I am not going through this question of identity simply because my daughter is starting her own life.  The truth is, I have never known.

I get bored with identity. 

A flock of cormorants sun themselves along the crags/Loscotoff 2022

I can feel the skin on my neck beginning to burn, despite the ice of the wind.  My skin has always been a sort of villain in my story, blistering and rebelling, crying out as if the sun were pricking it with daggers. I keep going.  I am closer to the lighthouse now and can hide inside, give my skin a moment to convene with the shadows.

The lighthouse is small, perhaps only two stories tall with a lean-to type building on either side of the tower.  A small straw colored cat sits on the steps leading into the lighthouse, holding a mouse in her mouth. 

“Hello, friend,” I say to her.  

She drops the mouse which scurries along the step, only to be stopped by a small orange kitten, batting and playing and practicing. 

The mother cat mews at me, gracefully moving from the steps and rubbing against my legs. 

I squat down to scratch her neck, morphing her body to fit into the curve of my hand.  Her purr is louder than the wind or the waves. 

“She likes you.”

I jump a bit, having lost myself in the moment of affection.  Standing in the door is an ancient man, the lines carved deep beneath a grey shaggy beard.  He’s wearing faded overalls over a thick sweater, a black knit beanie on his head and an unlit pipe hanging from his mouth. His eyes twinkle and dance.

“Sorry to scare you,” he says.  “I see you met Cheetah. If she thinks you’re safe, you probably are. You might as well come on in.”

The moment he said the cat’s name, she pranced up the stairs and into the lighthouse.  The kitten had it’s nose pressed up against a wooden crack, it’s tiny paw batting at something just out of reach.  I smiled to myself, imagining the relief of the little mouse as it taunted the kitten beyond the lighthouse boards. 

I stepped up the wooden planks into the lean-to style quarters attached to the tower; my eyes take a moment to adjust to the light.  A small bed with thick woolen blankets neatly made sits in the corner.  A small kitchen shares the room.  There is no wall separating the room from the tower and I can see the spiral of the stairs moving upward, tracing the inner walls.  On the opposite side of the spiral stairs is another room filled with tools and what appears to be containers of kerosine. A small round table with two cups and a steaming tea kettle sit in front of a window that looks out over the ocean. 

“I’m sorry, I thought this was a museum?”

The old man chuckles.  “Aye, it is.  You might call it a working museum.  I show people around.  But you’re the only one today. Call me Abe.”

“Are you expecting someone?”  I gesture to the cups of tea.

“Oh, I saw you coming some 20 minutes ago.  I thought you might like a drink before you see the tower.” 

I laughed, “Do you treat all your visitors like this?”

“Only the ones feeling the weight of the world.”

That makes me pause, and my face must show some sort of surprise.

“Oh, you wear it around your eyes.  You don’t know who you are, you’re on some mission to discover yourself.”

“Is it that obvious?” I stutter, and suddenly I find myself holding my breath.  I hadn’t realized how much tension I wore in my skin, how rigid I felt.  I start to laugh.

Again, I see the twinkle in his eyes.  

“Let’s have a bit of tea before you go up to see the lens and the view.”

We sat at his little table and for a few moments, we were just quiet.  Cheetah curled up at the base of the bed and I could still hear her purring.  The old man poured tea from the kettle, filling the little china cups to the brim. The tea smelled of herbs and had a golden glow.  He began to drink and sat back into his chair, his eyes closed, in perfect contentment. 

He’d poured us both from the same kettle and so I trusted that it must be safe.  I took a sip and found myself relaxing, the tension is my shoulders letting go.  The tea had an earthy taste, woody yet sweet.

“What is it?” I asked.  “It’s almost familiar, but not quite.”

The old man kept his eyes closed, but responded as if it were a sacred secret. 

“It is the root of one of the sea cliff plants.  They grow in abundance, and you don’t need to kill the plant to take a bit of root.  When you cut a bit, it seems to grow back faster.  Or perhaps that is because I always thank the plant.”

We drink in silence for a few moments.  Finally the old man opens his eyes to refill his cup.  As he does, he says, “So, what is it you think you need to find?

“I’m not sure it’s finding anything,” I say.  “It’s more that I feel like there is something I’m supposed to do, but I don’t know what that is.”

“Ahhh, the dilemma of purpose.”

“The dilemma of purpose?”

“Yes, some people walk through this world never giving it a thought.  They just live their lives, work their jobs, and move through the experience.  Some live their lives like it’s a cliffhanger, everything is a drama with a great climax.  Some know their purpose from their earliest memories; they know they were meant to be a doctor or an actor or a writer or a pilot, and they do everything they can to achieve that.  Some, like you, never quite know.”

“What am I supposed to do about that?”

“What do you want to do about that?”

That makes me pause.  I take a sip of my tea.  

“I don’t know?”

“What if you aren’t supposed to know?  What if that is the great cosmic joke?  What if the ones who want to know the most are the ones that spend their lives searching?”

“Well that isn’t very fair, is it?”

The old man laughed.  

“Who said life was fair?  What if this life is only the seed and you become a seeding in the next?”

“But I want to know what type of plant I’m growing into.”

“Does it matter?” 

I thought about that for a moment.  

“I don’t want to be a weed.”

“Weeds are only plants growing where someone doesn’t want them.  Do you think you are a weed?”

I smiled, “No.  I don’t think I’m a weed.  And some of the most beautiful plants are considered weeds.”

“This tea, for example.  There are many that rip it from the ground, but when we treat it with love, it helps us heal.” He took another sip.

We drank the rest of our cups in silence.  

Photograph of succulent flowers on the California coast/ Loscotoff 2022
“But I want to know what type of plant I’m growing into” / Loscotoff 2022

“Why don’t you go up to the light room and see what you see?” said the old man, Abe.

“Thank you for your kindness,” I said, still unsure on what my journey was but also feeling a sense of peace. 

He walked me to the lighthouse stairs and patted me on the shoulder.  

“May your journey be safe,” he said.

I look up the steep spiraling staircase.  It seemed to go up and up, much taller than the two stories I saw from outside.  I began to climb.  With each step, I think about my life so far.  I think about my gifts at the arts and at writing as a child.  I remember falling in love with my husband, thinking he was my perfect match.  I remember the birth of my daughter, and how much love I had in that moment.  I remembered the moves, the trips, watching my family change over time.

I come to top and enter the inner gallery surrounded with glass. In the center sits the lens, ridged glass that focuses the light as it spins to warn sailors of danger.  It is not moving now, not on this bright sunny day. 

I turn to look through my reflection, through the glass at the top of the lighthouse–before me is the wild ocean, a rough world of hardship and beauty.  And then I pull focus back to the woman staring back at me.  Her freckles stand in hard relief from her skin, ruddy from the wind and sun.  The lines have deepened around her eyes and through her forehead.  Her lips have thinned and the hair at her temples has become white and kinked. She is also one of hardship and beauty, beaten by a rough world, softened by love and age. 

I think about the man’s words, Abe’s words, “the dilemma of purpose”.  It often sits on the tip of my tongue, an answer I just can’t quite find. 

Perhaps this life, which has stretched late into my 40’s, has only just begun.  Perhaps I am still only a seed with all my potential still before me.  Perhaps this is not my only life and my only chance to get it right. Perhaps there are lives before me.

Perhaps I am here to just question.

I smile at the woman in the reflection, and turn to head down the stairs.  

The climb down seems shorter, the floor comes more quickly.  I hear voices talking and wonder how long I spent staring into the sea and my own reflection.  As I come to the final turn, I realize a rope has been tied across the base of the stairs.  The room is now painted bright white and where the bed had been is bookshelf next to a postcard rack.  Where his table sat is a countertop with a register.  A teenage girl sits behind the counter, staring intently at her phone.

“What are you doing up there!” 

I turn and see a woman standing where there were once tools; now filled with glass cases and written descriptions.   She is frozen behind her name tag, her face flushed.  There is a family of four staring at me.

“You are not allowed up there!”

“I’m… I’m so sorry.  There was a man here, and he told me I could go up.”

The look on the woman’s face changes from a sort of shock to red and angry.

“I have been here all day,” growled the woman as she marched over to the stairs.  “There have been no men working today, and I would have seen you.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I spy a photo on the wall in black and white.  It is of a middle-aged man in a thick sweater and overalls.  He stands in front of the lighthouse with the ocean behind them, a small cat leans against his leg, posing for the image.

The woman sees my eyes shift.

“What are you looking at?” 

“Him,” I said.  “The man in the photo.  He’s the one who told me to go up. He was much older, but it was definitely him. And that’s Cheetah, his cat.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said the woman, but her face had gone pale.

I walk to the photo. 

There he stands, much younger, less lined.  I traced my finger over the gray tones of his face.

Attached to the base of the frame was a little gold plaque; 

Abraham J. Williams
1872 - 1965
The Keeper of the Lighthouse
Serving 1893 - 1965
"May your journey be safe."

As I walked the path back to my car, the sun setting along the horizon, the fog rolling in, I looked back at the tower.  The silhouette of a man stood up in gallery, preparing the light to guide the ships.  I could see his grizzled beard. He raised his hand to me and I raised mine in return.  The light of the lens lit up and began to turn. 

Pen and Ink drawing of the lighthouse keeper, Abe/ Loscotoff 2022
Abraham J. Williams, 1872-1965. “May Your Journey Be Safe” / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – The Dilemma of Purpose

17. The main character goes on a trip alone to gain perspective

Include: lighthouse, flock, muscle, sprinkle, insult, cliffhanger, cheetah, chartreuse, wrist, seedling

Read Bridgette’s Tale for week 17

A photograph of a sun setting over the ocean through fog.  The colors are gold and black / Loscotoff 2022
The sun setting along the horizon, the fog rolling in / Loscotoff 2022

Notes

I had a tough week last week. Sometimes I am just overwhelmed with this idea of whether I am on the right path, whether I am doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, and what my purpose even is. So the arrival of the prompt this week seemed like synchronicity.

When I started writing, I just started writing as me. I posed it as a “what if my daughter was in college and my husband was busy working and I just went on a road trip to try and discover who I am and what I will do next?” I dumped some of my thoughts and feelings into the keyboard, following the inspiration of the required words while still being within me as the character.

It was interesting that one of the words was “wrist”; how am I going to incorporate the word wrist, I thought? My inner wrist in the real world holds a tattoo of great importance to me, and that tattoo is important around my feelings of who I am. Perhaps my writing this week is helping me find the answers to my own questions, and that tattoo and the story behind it are perhaps part of my answers.

Whether it was this story, or my thoughts on who I am, this week did inspire me to take a new step in my art. I’m working on creating a second website, linking it to this one, that will highlight and offer professional prints as well as original pieces or my art. Is this my journey? I don’t know, but art and writing have always been a part of my path.

The idea that Abe wasn’t in our current time, or of this plane of reality, didn’t occur to me until I had basically finished the story. I originally had him in more of a museum like space and couldn’t figure out how she would say her goodbyes, or honestly that they would even have this philosophical discussion.

As I pondered their ending, it occurred to me that perhaps he was the spirit of the lighthouse. Perhaps he only came to those who needed a good talk and a good cup of tea. Perhaps, once she came down the stairs, she would see the museum as it really was.

One of my favorite books is “Jonathon Livingston Seagull”. I quite literally changed my life in high school. While I haven’t read it in many years, I recommended it to a local teacher a few weeks ago. This story has me feeling like I need to go back and read it. I think I found a certain inspiration there, even if that inspiration is some 30 years in my memory. It is a book on the philosophy of life and learning.

Finally, I leave you with of a picture of me and my grandpa Mike. The man in the story reminded me a bit of him, even without the bushy beard. Perhaps because we would always take him to Bodega Bay when we would go and visit him at his farm in Santa Rosa, and I imagine this lighthouse somewhere around that area. We used to sing his favorite silly songs as we drove. I think what reminds me of him the most is that my grandpa always had a twinkle in his eye.

I believe my love of words was passed down from my grandpa Mike, through my dad, directly to me. My grandpa was the first US born son of Russian immigrants, born in 1908. They were Molokan religious refugees, immigrating for freedom to follow their faith. Despite being raised in a Russian speaking community, and leaving school after the 6th grade, my grandpa loved words.

My dad recently showed me photo albums that my grandpa filled with quotes, philosophy, and jokes, cut from American magazines and newspapers. My dad also has note card boxes filled with 3×5 cards, covered in his favorite quotes. I did the same as I grew up, and still keep those journals. I honor my grandpa for this love.

If you liked this story, I hope you will share it with someone you love. Thank you for spending a bit of time with my thoughts, dear reader. If you’d like to read more, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

Photograph of me and my grandpa near Bodega Bay, California
My grandpa and I near Bodega Bay, approximately 1984/ Loscotoff 2022

Links

Lighthouse Keeper Tools

Lighthouse Fresnel Lens

Jonathon Livingston Seagull

About my tattoo discussed in the story

Bridgette’s Tale for Week 17

Next Week’s Prompt

18. A child’s dream literally becomes true

Include: high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, guidance

Sun setting over the ocean, sepia toned / Loscotoff 2022
Caucus/ Loscotoff 2022

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Week 16 – My Forever Love

My Forever Love | A Short Story

The Las Vegas sign with blood dripping from the Las Vegas letters, Digital drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2022.

“I now pronounce you…”

We married in Vegas; my forever love, my soulmate.  The nights were long and when our eyes locked, we knew.  We knew it was meant to be and we both fell hard. We knew we were bound by something we would never understand.  His touch was all I could feel, his sparkling eyes all I could see. All the years we had both been alone, finally meeting in this loud and dirty place. It had all been for this.

We slept together that first night in the dark of a hotel room, the shades drawn from the hot Nevada sun. Having this man next to me, loving me, wanting me. There was nothing else; would never be anything else. Together we were electricity.

The second night, we married. He proposed, down on one knee, in front of the Bellagio as the fountains hit their climax.  The ring was a large heart-shaped ruby, red as blood. I kissed him fully, knowing he was everything I had ever wanted, ever imagined.  I would marry him today, tomorrow, for eternity. As long as he would have me.

Elvis said our vows, “I now pronounce you…”

That was when my husband sliced the man’s throat, and gave me my wedding gift.  Elvis tasted of whiskey and smoke.  It was comical really, you could almost imagine the thought bubble of surprise, exclamation marks in his half-glazed eyes as he realized a moment too late.

Las Vegas is an easy place to hunt.  The drugs keep the minds numb; communities living in tunnels beneath the city.  We are aware of others like us, but I had never seen him before, my love. We live solitary lives.  Until you find your soulmate, huddled in an alley, teeth in the corpse of a prostitute. I had heard her last breath, a beautiful echo on the still night air. He looked up at me and we both knew this was our destiny.

On the third night, under the light of a full moon, we hired a pilot.  He knew us for what we were, but you can get anything in Vegas, especially when you are beautiful and rich. He didn’t fear us, he was confident in his place in the cockpit, treating us as if we had souls.

He flew us to San Francisco, a place I’d dreamed of yet had never been.  

Our hotel looked out over the Golden Gate Bridge, the misty fog swirling as it ebbed and flowed. Mysterious and beautiful.  A place to escape. A place alive at night with numb, wandering souls. A place for us.

We watched from our window as the sky filled with an early morning glow, purple to orange. We pulled the blackout curtains and went to our bed, wrapped in each other’s arms.  Loving each other, trusting each other. Believing, finally, in something more that our next fix.

We awoke as the sky filled with stars and made our way into the city.  Our first real night of honeymoon.  His touch made me feel alive again. It had been so many years.  So many years alone.

Japantown and the Buddhist temple, a couple’s shiatsu massage in the darker corners of society.  When I kissed the woman’s wrist, she did not pull away.  Our eyes were locked, hypnotized, and I watched the light leave them and she collapsed to the floor.  

We drank our wine and danced along the bay.  Drunk on each other’s love, drunk on the life energy of the souls we took.  How I have waited for this man. 

We watched the tourists snapping their selfies in the city, watching this human expression of saving a moment.  What are these moments when time has lost its meaning?  We will never change. We will never grow old.  The hourglass to these humans is but a fraction of a moment for us.

We stole kayaks and paddled to Alcatraz, exploring the island in the dark, making love on a picnic table.  I could imagine the men, trapped behind the bars.  Willing to swim the cold water just to be free.  And here I lay in the cold arms of my lover, my husband, willing to give everything for him. 

We will stay here for awhile, in this beautiful city by the bay. We can move unseen in the deep fog. No longer will I wander this world alone. How many years I have painfully longed for companionship; forsaking motherhood, forsaking community, forsaking family. Giving it all for immortality.

I was lonely. I can see that now.

Perhaps, someday, we will make our way down the coast of California at night; Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico. We will move south. I dream of seeing the tip of Argentina in winter. We will move at night, unseen and unsuspected.

We are in no hurry, reveling in the passion of each other.  Hungry for love.  Hungry for life. Hungry for blood. 

Digital Drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge, abstract oranges/ by Anna Loscotoff 2022/ My Forever Love
We watched as the sky filled with the early morning glow / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – My Forever Love

Week 16. Newlyweds on their honeymoon

Include: cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, temple

Read Bridgette’s Tale here.

Notes

This week started with several different possibilities.

There was a somewhat dramatized personal lament. It is unfinished. The required words were driving me crazy because they just didn’t fit into the emotions I wanted to write about. (I’ve included a small bit of it at the end of this blog, if you’re curious about the initial direction I was headed.)

Bridgette and I discussed being less attached to the words, perhaps committing to 5 of the 10, or allowing ourselves to leave out one or two each week. I did end up using all the words in the above story, but freeing my commitment to those words may be a change we consider for the future.

Another idea was two people meeting in Vegas at a poker table and both think the other is rich. It would have been written in a sort of back and forth dialogue, with spoken words in bold and thoughts in italics. The spoken words would have been them playing some sort of relationship poker, but the thoughts would have been all about stealing the other person’s money. They would have run off to marry at the Little White Chapel, only to discover the next morning that they are both poor thieves, fallen into their own manipulations.

I really loved this idea for a story, but it seemed bigger than I was able to do this week. I was limited on time, I was limited on energy, and I honestly don’t know enough about Poker to write that story.

My third idea was the story you find here; a love story that glosses over the bloody parts because they are just life and it’s the love that matters. I wanted a sort of run-away romance between two vampires, where the blood eating is the norm and love is new. I also wanted to hold off on letting you know they were vampires, so that there was some mystery about the story. My drawing of the Vegas sign gives you that foreshadowing, but hopefully in a mysterious way.

Last weekend was my parents 50th wedding anniversary, so this story came at a good time for thoughts on honeymoons. They have film of their honeymoon on Super 8, silently watching my mom with her long brown braids as she wore miniskirts, swinging on a set, their wedding, the little bronze Toyota with cans tied to the back. Time is passing quickly and I need to find a way to make those silent films digital. (For their 25th anniversary, I had the Super 8 transferred to video, but who has a video tape player these days?) I’ve been working on a drawing for them, and hoped to post it here, alas it’s just not finished yet.

My own 20th wedding anniversary is next month. Our life together has both been beautiful and complicated; as I think all marriages are. We’re all just human, after all.

Happy 50th anniversary to my parents. Happy 20th to my husband.

Happy 50th Anniversary to my parents!

Unfinished First Attempt

It wasn’t the proposal I wanted. It wasn’t the honeymoon.  I didn’t care about the ring.  It was just him; I just wanted him.

You could almost see a thought bubble when I told him, some sort of exclamation mark radiating like electricity from the top of his head.  The fear in his eyes, a look of terror. 

“Time,” he said.  “I just need time.”

I didn’t want time.  I wanted commitment.  I wanted to know that he loved me as much as I loved him. I wanted to envision a future together. I wanted to wander the world with him.  To discover motherhood with him.  To create some sort of temple to our connection.

“How much time?” I asked, as if he knew.

“Just… time.”

It was a long distance relationship.  Passionate together, quiet apart.  He wasn’t good at phone calls, didn’t write letters.  Busy with following his dreams.  Not really knowing much about mine.

His true love was in the cockpit, freedom in flight.  He wanted me to experience his passions, to love them all as much as he did.  

The air currents made me sick, the wings wobbling, the small hot space. 

Under the light of a full moon / Loscotoff 2022

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Light of a city in the distance, the stars stand out, photo by Anna Loscotoff 2022
We awoke as the sky filled with stars and made our way into the city / Loscotoff 2022

White Coats | A Short Story

A ball of wires held in someone's hands/ Loscotoff 2022, short story of paranoia

It was a Saturday when I set the explosives.

That damn office.  I couldn’t bear the screams.

I can not write buried in screams.

The men in the white coats, they’ve been watching me.  Watching me while I watch them.  Watch them go in and out of that office.  

White coats.  From the government.  They are listening to my thoughts.

I hid in the alleyway with the wires beneath my coat.  Watching for the men who are listening to my thoughts, who are telling me to mind my own business.

But I can’t.  I must save the children.  Save the children from their screams. 

I hid the bombs from my mind, so they couldn’t sneak in and find me out. 

It’s all a front, you know, that office.  The hearts on the doors, the palm trees lining the walk. 

I try to write, but the screams.  The screams.  They echo through my brain as if the children were in this room. 

I see them, the mothers, lattes in hand, as they lead their children through the door.  The door with the rainbow and the hearts. 

They should be carrying cactus, their hearts are sharp.  Leading their children who have no idea.  The mothers are in on it.  Leading their children to the screams.

I try to write, but the faces of the children.

They are watching me, the adults who trick their children into eating beets.  Tricking their children into this unsafe world. The men from the government. The men in the white coats.  They watch me while the children scream.

They took my teeth and replaced them with radio wire.  Radios to hear my thoughts.  Radios to tell me what to do.

But I was smarter.  I took my teeth and buried them beneath the trees.

Now I try to write. 

Try to keep my thoughts from the government, listening to me through the TV.  Listening to me through the radio. Listening to me through the windmills that cause cancer.

I threw the TV from the window.  The radio is dead in the tub. The windmills will be gone in the morning. Gone with the wires.

They see me watching from the window, trying to write.  They usher their children into the office as they see my eyes.  I know they are watching me.  I hear them whispering in my ears as the children scream. 

There will be an explosion.  An explosion.  I will save them.  I will save the children from the man who steals their teeth.  Tried to put radios in their teeth. Steals their souls, to sample them to the highest bidder.  

The horizon will be different tomorrow.  Through the smoke.  

They call him dentist.  But I know better. 

I will save the children from their screams. 

An image of a child's teeth/ Loscotoff 2022
Save the children from the man who steals their teeth / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – White Coats

Week 15. A writer with noisy neighbors

Include: dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, sample

Read Bridgette’s Tale here

Notes

You’ll notice we changed the format this week. If you are new here, we (my writing partner and I) generally put the prompt and a link to our writing partner’s work at the very top. Sometimes the prompt and the words give the story away. If you read “dentist” before reading the story, you might have had a hint of where I was headed. In an effort to make the story the important focus, we are moving our prompts and our partner’s link below the story. I hope this will give a sense of mystery as you wonder which are the required words and what was the inspiration.

I hadn’t given my story much thought, it was spring break and I went to visit my parents, planning my trip around accompanying them to doctor appointments. As we sat in the doctor’s office, my dad asked me what the prompt was this week. I told him what I remembered (a writer with noisy neighbors) and that the only word I could remember was “dentist”.

My dad is apparently a random idea generator just like my daughter is. He immediately responded, “the writer lives next to the dentist and he can’t handle the screams.” That is where this story was born. I thought the idea was brilliant and decided to play with it. I wanted to build on the idea of conspiracy theorists and mental health.

This story is short, but it came quickly and reminds me of my week 5 story, “Drink the Kool-Aid“. I loved that story because it told the story in so few words. I feel the same about this one. They feel like they belong in the same collection.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s story. If you did, please share. I send out a newsletter every Friday with new blogs from the week. You can sign up here.

Photograph close up of teeth/ Loscotoff 2022.  The men in the white coats take the teeth.
They took my teeth and replaced them with radio wire/ Loscotoff 2022

Next Week’s Prompt

Week 16. Newlyweds on their honeymoon

Include: cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, temple

Links

My Writing Partner, Bridgette

Bridgette’s Week 15 story

My 52 Weeks So Far…


What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

52 Weeks – Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Original Art by Anna Loscotoff, the constellation Andromeda

Something bad is about to happen but nobody believes the main character

Include: Andromeda, stop sign, dandelion, iceberg, spectacle, poet, candle lit, keyboard, bumble, robotic

Read writing partner Bridgette’sTale here.

Andromeda’s Lament

Andromeda's Lament

The poet sat
The world in her scope
Writing on her keyboard
A breath of hope
As the dandelion blew
The iceberg melted
The bumble of life
The poet lamented
Original art by Anna Loscotoff, a poet sits atop an iceberg, constellation Andromeda in the background/
The poet sat, the iceberg melted/Loscotoff 2022
Andromeda
The chained woman
Screams to the heavens
Bring me salvation
Lift up your weapons
Eyes wide
A spectacle of truth
Into the beast's mouth
We have stolen her youth
Original art by Anna Loscotoff, Andromeda chained to a rock, 2022
Andromeda screams to the heavens/Loscotoff 2022
The sky
She said
Is falling
The candle now lit
You have become too busy
Robotic
Unfit
Earth's Candle melting down, original art by Anna Loscotoff, 2022
The candle now lit/ Loscotoff 2022
Cetus will come
He'll devour us all
Perseus will not save us
We are destined to fall
Alpheratz, Mirach, and Almach
Can not stop the signs
For we are blind in our vanity
The Nereids divine
Cetus, Original art by Anna Loscotoff, the Sea Monster
Cetus will come/Loscotoff 2022

Notes

The word “poet” in the list of required words brought me directly to poetry for this week. As I finished something I moderately liked, I took it to my teenage daughter. She was thoughtful and honest… she didn’t like it. Well, most of it. She liked the stanza about Cetus. I set back to work, cleaning it up, bit by bit. In time, it became just a jumble of words. I wasn’t sure if it said anything at all.

Why do I take the constructive criticism of my daughter so seriously? The honest answer is that I trust her opinion. If she says my poem is rough and needs work, I can assume it’s rough and needs work. When she says it’s better, or even that there is a part she really likes, then that means more to me, because I hear her honestly.

The idea of something bad happening and no one listening made me think of our world today. Conspiracy theories, politicians who only want to win, war; we’ve stopped listening. Climate change and the destruction of our planet was at the forefront of my thinking. Every sign is screaming at us that something bad is about to happen (actively happening), but most people only casually listen and refuse to see it in their lifetimes. Others see the changes in the weather patterns, in the heat of the summers, in the natural disasters, but they feel helpless to stop it.

We feel small in the scope of the world and try to affect change. We hope someone in power will fight for the necessary steps, but we can’t control other’s votes or if what matters to us, matters to them.

This prompt reminds me of the movie, “Don’t Look Up“. I didn’t want to rewrite that story, it’s already been done, and done brilliantly. The prompt also reminded me of Chicken Little-only the version where the sky really is falling–and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, when the villagers stop believing because they can’t see through his lies. I thought about plays on these stories, but couldn’t quite find the path. I still feel a story, on the tip of my tongue, but so far, I haven’t found it. Perhaps it will find its way in the future.

So, I leave you with this poem. My daughter ended up liking it, which is my biggest win.

I cheated on the words this week. I felt limited by “stop sign” and “candle lit” and made the choice to adapt them to what I wanted to say. This has been a struggle for me in the past. I don’t particularly like forcing the words, but rather appreciate them as a guide.

The candle I created, if not obvious, is Earth’s candle; we must act now. Alpheratz, Mirach, and Almach are major stars in the constellation of Andromeda; I imagined them as three biblical kings. Nereids are the 50 sea nymph daughters of Nereus and Doris of Greek Mythology. While they helped sailors during storms, they were enraged by human vanity, which is why Poseidon sent Cetus and the floods to Ethiopia. This makes me think of rising sea levels, and the idea that those of the sea become God-like in their power; thus Nereids divine.

What became essential for me this week was the art. I discovered new Procreate brushes that allow me to digitally draw with gold leaf. (I will link them in the comments.) The learning curve in Procreate was a giant step. I drew all of the images by hand in my watercolor notebook, photographed them, and then digitally colored the images. I also found textural canvas backgrounds for Procreate that allowed a more painterly feel. (Also linked in the comments.)

I’ve included two images of Andromeda because I loved each for it’s own voice. I included the version in dark blues inside the poem because it makes me think of Greek black-figure pottery. I included the gray and gold version below because it highlights the stars of the Andromeda constellation.

If you liked this week’s poem or my artwork, I hope you will share it with someone you love. Thank you, dear reader, for coming on this journey. I send out an email every Friday of new blog posts from that week, if that interests you, please sign up for my newsletter here.

Original art by Anna Loscotoff, Andromeda chained in gray and gold
Andromeda Chained in Gray and Gold/ Loscotoff 2022

The Myth of Andromeda

In Greek Mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, rulers of Ethiopia. Cassiopeia is arrogant and brings the wrath of King Poseidon by bragging that both she and Andromeda are more beautiful that the Nereids, the 50 daughters of Nereus, the old man of the sea. Poseidon sends the sea monster, Cetus, to wrathfully destroy the coast of Ethiopia. The oracle of Ammon tells King Cepheus that he must sacrifice his daughter to the monster of the sea to end its destruction. She is chained to a rock at sea’s edge where she awaits the monster to devour her.

Perseus has just killed Medusa and is carrying her head, flying in his winged sandals. He sees Andromeda chained to the rock and falls in love with her. He battles the monster, Cetus, killing him with the sword used to kill Medusa. Andromeda has been promised to marry her uncle, Phineus, however she is marries Perseus. A fight begins between Phineus and Perseus during their wedding. Perseus ends the fight by showing Phineus the eyes of Medusa, turning him to stone.

Perseus and Andromeda have seven sons and 2 daughters, ruling the land of Mycenae. Upon Andromeda’s death, the Goddess Athena places her in the sky as the constellation Andromeda, next to Perseus and her parents, connecting her to the constellation of Pegasus.

Links

Andromeda Constellation: The Ultimate Guide (2022)

Andromeda – Greek Mythology – Britannica

Andromeda Mythology – Wikipedia

Nereids – Wikipedia

Types of Greek Pottery

Procreate Sparkly & Metallic Effect Brushes

Magic Canvas for Procreate – Texture Overlays

Don’t Look Up – Netflix

Don’t Look Up – 2021 Film Explained

Next Week

15. A writer with noisy neighbors

Include: dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, sample

My 52 Week Journey


What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

52 Weeks – Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Two Roman Coins, top face of the cufflinks described in the story/ Loscotoff 2022

Week 13 – A haunted house

Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink

Read Bridgette’s Week 13 Tale here.

The Cufflinks

The woman had grown old in the Victorian house along the sea.  

She walked with a cane now, making her way into the drawing room.  They had once entertained here, when the days were young. The furniture had been covered in the finest of fabric, the wood was dark and imported.  A gilded gold mirror hung over the mantel. Now, her easel stood in front of the bay window, looking out over the ocean; an unfinished watercolor reflected the green of the sea.  

She caught a glint of silver reflecting from the center of the oriental rug; worn and a bit threadbare.  Her hands and spine were twisted with age; swollen and angry.  

Slowly and with much bodily protest, Eleanore stooped to pick up the silver cufflinks, turning them in her palm. 

She had given these to her first husband, Stanley, as a gift.

“Hattie!” the old woman yelled.

There was pounding on the stairs as the young girl hurried to her mistress’s aide. 

“Yes, Lady Eleanore?” The child was only 16, her apron crumpled and her hair falling loose about her face.

“How did these come to be here, in the middle of my drawing room floor?”

The girl stepped closer.

“Why, I don’t know?”  The girl looked frightened now.

“I have told you not to go through my drawers.”

“I didn’t, Lady Eleanore!  I promise you!”

“Then why are these laying here?”

“I swear to you…”

“Do not swear, it is unladylike.”

“I only meant…”

“I know what you meant.  Take these up to my room and place them at my dressing table.”

“Yes, Lady Eleanore.” 

The girl took the cufflinks and headed up the stairs.  

It was only her and the girl now. A cook came in a few hours each day to prepare supper and to leave food for the following day’s breakfast, dinner, and tea.  There were no visitors, and the money had dwindled over time.  Hattie was all the woman could afford. 

Eleanore turned back to her easel, remembering her first husband.

He had been a banker, tall and handsome, with soft curling blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She was the daughter of a politician, 20 and beautiful.  He had built her this home, looking out over the sea. He had Copper Beech imported from Europe and planted around the back of the home, saying the leaves, when they turned, reminded him of the copper in her hair.

Representative image of the protagonist's first husband, Stanley/ Losctoff 2022
Stanley/ Loscotoff 2022 – Photo taken in Polish Salt Mines 2016

Years past, and she thought they had been happy, until she found him kissing a maid.  She had pretended to ignore it, to continue her life in the comfort of wealth and privilege.  What was it to her that he sometimes chose to share his bed with other women?  She was his wife. Until the night of the ball, when she had found him pressed up against a girl no more than 16, the daughter of an investor.

At home, they had quarreled.  He told her that she was becoming tedious, that he thought she would have given him children by now.  Perhaps, he said, he would take another wife. 

She had these cufflinks made, a gift for her husband.

Before an opera, she had given them to him.

“I do not wish to quarrel with you, my dear husband.  Please do not put me aside for a younger woman. I have had these made for you, a token of my forever faithfulness.”

Stanley smiled, turning them over in his hand.  Sterling silver with Roman coins as their front face.

“They are finely made.  Who is the man?”

Eleanore smiled her beautiful smile, “Why this is Emperor Claudius, my love.  He was the ruler of Rome and helped to reestablish the Roman finances, just as you have done here.  He was an ambitious builder and began the conquest of Great Britain.  He was worshiped, just as you will be worshiped, my husband.  May I put them on you?”

That night, Stanley slipped from their box at the Opera, leaving Eleanore alone.  He did not return at the end of the show, and while Eleanore waited patiently, the theater emptied.  

There soon came a bloodcurdling scream from backstage. 

Stanley had been found, blood trickling from his nose, laying on top of a young ingenue, his pants around his ankles.  The girl had laid underneath him, silent, afraid to be found, afraid of the wrath of the wealthy. While she lay there, she slowly went mad.

Eleanore came from her memory and seemed to catch a glimpse of a shadow as it moved through the room.  

“My eyes have become old,” said the woman. 

She opened her paints and dipped the brush into the water, looking out over the shapes of the ocean.  

When she looked down at her canvas, the glimmer of silver caught her eye.  Sitting on the lower handle, where the canvas sat, were two cufflinks, the face of Emperor Claudius looking up at her. 

Eleanore gasped slightly, picking them up in her old hands.  She had watched as Hattie took them from her, had heard her ascend the stairs, yet here they sat.  

Eleanore turned and looked around the room. For a slight moment, she thought she saw the face of a man peering out of the gilded mirror over the mantel. She blinked and the face was gone.

He had black hair and his eyes reflected green, like her second husband, Thomas.  Thomas was a politician and well liked in society.  When Stanley died, Thomas swooped in and made sure that Eleanore was supported, finding lawyers to make sure she received all she was due from Stanley’s estate.  He also made sure that Stanley’s death was covered up, paying off the members of the Opera and legally binding their secrecy.  It was reported that he had fallen victim to a heart attack while leaving the theater, allowing Eleanore the discretion of staying within society without scandal. 

Representative image of protagonist's second husband, Thomas/ Loscotoff 2022
Thomas/ Loscotoff, 2022 – Image taken in Polish Salt Mines 2016

She did not love Thomas the way she loved Stanley, but he did care for her and had kept her out of society’s gossip.  So, when he began to be rough in the bedroom, she thought perhaps this was what some men did.  She did not want to insult him, but time came when she begged him to stop.  He hit her.  Bruising her legs and arms, but never her pretty face. She threatened to take him to the police, but her reminded her of how her first husband had been found, pants around his ankles, over a young girl who was now in a mental hospital.  He stated that he would be happy to tear up the legal document keeping members of the Opera quiet, and that he was quite sure the local newspaper would be happy to print the story. 

Eleanore withdrew, only appearing in society as was required.  The household saw the change, saw the mornings when she did not seem to be able to get out of bed, saw the way she limped through the house.  They were afraid of Thomas as well, and wished to keep their jobs, so they kept quiet. 

Finally, the night came when Thomas was to speak at a dinner in front of his supporters. 

“I have a gift for you, Thomas.”

She stood in a gown of silk and brocade, her copper hair twisted and piled on her head.

He was ill mannered, trying to tie the bow at his neck.

“Let me do that for you,” she said.

She fixed his collar and knotted the bowtie before giving him a little box tied with a blue ribbon.  

“What’s this?”  

“Just a gift. They are antiques, passed down from royalty in England, and seemed perfect for you.”

He opened the box and saw the cufflinks, not knowing they had once belonged to Eleanore’s first husband. 

“They are made from Roman coins, of the Emperor Claudius.  He was a great Emperor and sat among the men of the Roman Senate.  He reminded me of you and how you have continued to rise within the world of politics.”

Thomas looked at her with tenderness she had not seen in many years. 

“Thank you my wife, will you do me the honor of putting them on?”

Later that night, Thomas stood in front of his donors and began to speak of their plans, to rise from the local constituency, to become a senator and perhaps even president.  He spoke of their arsenal of men, of lawyers and donors and influential spokesmen, and how they would all climb to the top, no matter who got in their way.

Eleanore watched from her table and, when Thomas began to gasp through his speech, asking for water, and then spitting up blood, Eleanore cried and tried to rush to his side; the affect of a woman in terrible grief. She was held back by men, trying to protect her the sight of her dead husband, lying on the stage.

Eleanore looked at the cufflinks in the palm of her hand, and then dropped them into a tall decorative vase which sat on the mantle, imported long ago from China.  She heard them clink through the narrow porcelain neck and settle at the base.  

Turning back to the room, she thought she saw a shadow pass the drawing room door.

“Hattie?  Is that you?” asked the old woman, walking with her cane to the door.

“Did you call me, Lady Eleanore?” The voice of Hattie drifted down from the bedroom. 

Shaken, Eleanore called up, “No, child.  I’m going to go walk through the garden.”

“Let me help you with the stairs!” Hattie called back.

“I can do it myself, I’m not feeble.”

The old woman moved slowly down the stairs, using her cane to balance while holding tightly to the banister in her left hand.  She came to the landing and passed the dining room on her right, walking to the front door.  She stepped out, looking at the sea in front of her.  The garden was around the side and the Copper Beech, now a grove, grew tall behind the house.  

Eleanore looked at the overgrown plants.  There was no one to care for them now, no one to love the land except her, and she rarely stepped from the house.  The herbs had become tangled bushes, the broccoli was a mass of yellow flowers going to seed.  In the dirt, Eleanore caught the glint of silver reflecting in the cold light. 

Careful not to fall, Eleanore slowly bent to investigate what was lying in the garden bed.  She brushed back the dirt.  Emperor Claudius looked back at her.  Digging her nails into the ground, Eleanore grabbed the cufflinks from the soil and with a scream, threw them as hard as she could towards the ocean. Her arms were weak and she felt the protest from her shoulder. The cufflinks did not travel far, but they landed somewhere outside the fence in the tall weeds. 

Eleanore no longer wanted to be outside, she felt tired as she slowly walked with her cane back to the house.  She seemed to see the shadow of a man as he walked past the corner.

Eleanore thought of her third husband, Edgar.  Edgar was young and thin, a bit mousy, but he made her feel beautiful.

Representative image of protagonist's third husband, Edgar/ Loscotoff 2022
Edgar/ Loscotoff 2022 – image taken in Muiderslot Castle, the Netherlands, 2016

Eleanor was moving into her 50’s when she met Edgar.  He was in his 20’s and she knew he was more interested in her money that he was in her, but she didn’t care.  She was lonely, and very few men looked at her after being widowed twice.  Edgar took her to dinner and showed no embarrassment at their age difference.  Edgar gambled with the possibility that he could, should he be patient, inherit everything Eleanor had to offer.  And so they married. However, in time, he not only gambled with her affection, he gambled with her money.

At first, Eleanore discovered items that seemed to be missing; jewelry and bits of cash she hid throughout the house.  Edgar questioned whether perhaps a maid was stealing, or perhaps even Eleanore was confused at where she had left her items.  When she went to the bank and realized her fortune was diminishing, when she saw that her husband’s signature marked the transactions–small amounts, again and again–she knew he would take her to poverty. 

Edgar was going out one night, he said to play cards with the fellows.  Eleanore knew what that meant now, that he would continue to gamble with her fortune.  And so, she gave him a gift of cufflinks.

Edgar’s eyes shone with a greedy desire. 

“These were my first husband’s, Stanley’s. I hope you will care for them, my dear.”

Edgar could not take his eyes from the precious treasure, and wanted to feel their weight in his hand.

“Will you wear them tonight?  For me?” Eleanore asked.

A smile spread across Edgar’s face.  He cared nothing for the coins or who the man looking up at him was, he cared only that he could gamble them away.

“Will you help me with them?” he asked.

Eleanore did.

Edgar died at the gambling table.  He had been winning, for once, and when his body was taken to the morgue, the cufflinks were still at his sleeves.  Eleanore collected the links and buried him next to her first two husbands; three men in a row. 

Three skulls in a row, from the Paris Catacombs/ Loscotoff 2016
Three men in a row/ Loscotoff 2022 – image taken in the Paris Catacombs, 2016

As Eleanore climbed the steps to her decaying home, she caught a glimpse of the face of an old man peering down at her from at upstairs window.  She stumbled, caught herself, and put her hand to her heart; the beating was frantic.  When she looked again, the face was gone.

She made her way into the morning room and collapsed into a deep chair.  She closed her eyes and imagined the face she thought she had seen, the face of her fourth husband, Nathaniel.  

“Are you okay, Lady Eleanore?”

Eleanore opened her eyes and saw Hattie in the doorway.

“I am quite tired today,” Eleanore said.

“You look pale, as if you’d seen a ghost,” the girl responded.

“Perhaps I have?” said the old woman.  “Will supper be ready soon?  I think that I would like to go to bed straight after I eat.”

“It’s early yet,” said Hattie, “but I will go ask the cook if she can be ready more quickly.”

“Thank you, dear,” said the old woman, and closed her eyes.

Hattie didn’t know how to respond.  The old woman had never called her “dear”, wasn’t sure she had ever thanked her genuinely.

Eleanore thought of Nathaniel, her fourth husband.  He had done nothing wrong.  He was simply old and he bored her.  He did not like to go out, he did not like the opera; he liked puzzles and reading before the fireplace.  And so Eleanore asked him one night if they could perhaps dress for dinner as they once had, in their finest clothes. 

Representation of protagonist's fourth husband, Nathaniel/ Loscotoff 2022
Nathaniel/ Loscotoff 2022 – photo taken in Polish Salt Mines, 2016

“Perhaps, after we eat, we could put on a record and dance in the drawing room?” Eleanore asked.

“My dear, I would love to dance with you.  There is a man of science who speaks of relativity, and how the functions of the world interact. I simply wish to be near you. It is that relativity in which he speaks.”

“I have been saving these for a special occasion,” said Eleanore, and she pulled the Roman coin cufflinks out.  

“They are beautiful,” he said, “ and perhaps even an important piece of history?”   

“Yes, I do believe they have been instrumental in the role of men,” she responded.  “Can I put them on you?”

And so they ate dinner, and that night, while they danced in the drawing room, Nathanial died in Eleanor’s arms. He went quietly, with very little fuss.  He simply said that he was tired and slumped into her arms.

“The cook says that we can start supper now, if you wish?” said Hattie, pulling Eleanore from her memories. 

“Yes, dear, please help me to the dining room.”

Eleanor sat in her accustomed place, first being served a bowl of soup.  As she sipped the broth, she felt stronger.  Until, that is, she came to the bottom of the bowl.

There, sitting in the curve beneath the broth, sat the cufflinks. Emperor Claudius seemed to be staring into her eyes. 

“Oh!” she squawked. 

“Is everything okay?” asked Hattie.

“Can you look into my bowl, and tell me if you see anything unusual?”

“Of course, Lady… oh!  I swear, Lady Eleanor, I took them up to your dressing table as you told me!  I did not do this. Please don’t fire me!”

The old woman simply nodded her head.  

“I am not going to fire you.  But I do think I am full, and wonder if you would help me to bed?”

The young girl helped Eleanore, undressing her from her day’s clothes, dressing her in her night gown.  She brushed the woman’s long grey hair and braided it, tucking it under a fine cotton nightcap.  She pulled back the blanket and helped the old woman under the covers; slowly laying the woman back into her deep pillows. 

Eleanore gave out a little cry once fully laying in bed.

“Are you alright?” asked Hattie.

“My bones are just old, that’s all.  I’m ready to sleep now.”

Hattie said goodnight and closed the door.

It had not been her bones that caused her to cry out, it had been the prick of something sharp behind her left shoulder.  She could feel it cutting into her, sharp into her skin.  It didn’t matter what she did now, her death was close at hand.

She remembered when she had had the cufflinks made for her dear Stanley.  She remembered how she had asked that one of the toggles be made hollow with a sharp point that would not be noticed when it hid between the post and under the face. 

When she had put the cuffs on Stanley, he had cried out as she scratched his skin with the sharp point, drawing blood.  She apologized and said that she would have the cufflinks checked and fixed.  But he had died, and so the cufflinks had never been returned to their maker.

Thomas had struck her with his belt the night that she helped him with his cufflinks.  He had called her stupid and clumsy when she scratched him with the sharp end, and she had agreed that it was all her fault.  It was the last time he hit her.

Edgar hadn’t really noticed the scratch as she helped him with the cufflinks.   He had sucked the blood from the wound, perhaps hastening his death. He said it was nothing, for his eyes were focused only on the uniqueness of the coins, and wondered what he could get for them.  They brought him only a hole in the ground.

Nathanial had looked at her sadly when she had scratched him.  His skin tore easily, like tissue paper, the aged bruises standing out against his wrinkled flesh.  

Eleanore remembered dipping the hollow toggle into the poison, being sure the well was filled; knowing that the scratch would allow the poison into their bloodstream.  

Now, she lay, with the hollow toggle pressed into a scratch in her shoulder.  It had been many years since she had dipped the sharp point in poison and a part of her wondered if it was enough to kill her the way she killed them.

She did not wonder long, for a tall shadow with faded blonde hair and blue eyes stepped from the corner of the room and began to walk towards the bed.  Then a thick shadow, black haired and green eyed, emerged from the wall and moved closer.  The third figure, thin and mousy, stepped from the window.  Finally, the ghost of an old man moved through the door.

They all came and stood around her bedside, looking down on their wife, looking down on their killer.  Four men, four graves laid side-by-side.  

She had nothing to say to them in death, and so died silently.

In the morning, when Hattie came to wake her, the woman was cold, a single trickle of blood dried around her mouth, a cufflink embedded in the flesh of her shoulder. 

Statue of death in Rüdesheim am Rhine, Germany/ Loscotoff 2016
She had nothing to say to them in death, and so died silently/ Loscotoff, 2022 – image taken in Rüdesheim am Rhine, 2016

Notes

I wanted to leave a certain ambiguity in this story until the end. Is Eleanore murdering her husbands? Or is there a curse on the cufflinks? Perhaps there is a curse on the Roman coins. Could Eleanore be a victim in this as well, grieving for each husband despite the fact that they were all (except one) terrible husbands? Perhaps, if I had included an old, faithful maid, the maid could have actually been the murderer and the last husband died naturally in his wife’s arms.

I chose to make the murderer Eleanore simply because the story was clear in my mind. I was stepping into the shower (where I do all my best thinking) and I saw the whole story laid out before me. However, should I ever rewrite this story (or publish it in a short story collection), perhaps I will give you a different ending. One of the above or perhaps something even further from the original truth.

I love antiquity and own two Roman coins myself (the ones you see in the title photo). There is something really special to me about artifacts, the idea of all the people who held that coin; how it was probably lost through time, buried, and rediscoverd by someone in a field with a metal detector. I think perhaps I was meant to be a archeologist or anthropologist.

I wanted the Roman coin to bear the face of Emperor Claudius, as history believes he was murdered by wife, Agrippina, on 13 October, 54. I worried that the idea of a cufflink being able to introduce enough poison into the human body may push the limits of reality, however Agrippina may have used a poisoned feather to kill Claudius. I wanted the use of Claudius to be an element of foreshadowing. If you know his story, you will suspect Eleanore in the murdering of her husbands.

Finally, all photos come from when my family and I had the opportunity to live in, and travel around, Germany for 6 months in 2016. The majority of the photos are statues carved from salt rock in the Polish salt mines of Wieliczka Salt Mine. I’ve also included photos from Castle Muiderslot in the Netherlands, the Catacombs of Paris, and one from the torture museum, Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum, in Ruedesheim am Rhein in Germany.

Thank you, dear reader, for joining me on this week’s journey. I am publishing a short story every Saturday this year in my 52 week project. If you liked this story, please share it with a friend or loved one. I send out an email every Friday with any stories or blogs I have posted during the week, please sign up for it here.

A woman and four men, salt statues in the Polish salt mines/ Loscotoff 2016
Eleanore and her husbands/ Loscotoff 2022 – image taken in Polish Salt Mines, 2016

Links

Some of these links may seem random, but they are all sites I visited this week to research various questions I had for this particular story. Some stories need no research, others find me searching every little thought. This was one of those weeks.

Wikipedia on the Roman Emperor Claudius

Julia Agrippina – the wife of Claudius and the mother of Nero – Wikipedia

The Roman Emperor – The most dangerous occupation in Ancient Rome

Poisons, Poisoning, and Poisoners in Rome

Victorian Homes – Part 1 – Rooms

Victorian Rugs, Interiors, and History

The Copper Beech Tree

History of the Nightcap- Victorian and Edwardian Hair Care

History of Record Players

The Parts of an Easel

The Parts of a Cufflink

Wieliczka Salt Minę

Castle Muiderslot

Catacombs of Paris

Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum, in Ruedesheim am Rhein

Week 14 Prompt

Something bad is about to happen but nobody believes the main character

Include: Andromeda, stop sign, dandelion, iceberg, spectacle, poet, candle lit, keyboard, bumble, robotic

My 52 Week Journey

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

52 Weeks – Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Digital drawing of a Murder of Crows in front of the moon/ Loscotoff 2022

12. A hike through the woods

Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s Tale here.

A Murder of Crows

The girl rowed across the lake, looking over her shoulder, hoping the man had lost her scent. The full moon hung low over the trees behind her, casting deep shadows around the shoreline.  

The girl named Aisling, for her mother had seen her coming in a dream, had taken the boat which she kept loosely tied to a tree on the water’s edge.  She was alone here, other than the birds, and had been for most of her young life.  

She did not know her age, only that the seasons had turned many times since her mother was taken. The girl had managed to stay alive and, over time, had grown strong.  Her legs were long and the muscles showed beneath her skin. Her mother’s clothes, kept in a heavy trunk against the wall, no longer dragged along the floor or sagged at her breasts.

She could not see the dark man at the shoreline and rowed powerfully to the other side.  He would be forced to walk around the edge, a slow journey through heavily wooded underbrush.  All she could hear was cawing of the crows in the dark trees, telling her to run.  Crows do not see well at night, and so, could not fly to her aide.

She thought about sitting in her boat in the middle of the lake, waiting until dawn, waiting for the crows, but the light of the moon made her feel vulnerable.  If she waited, she would not know where he hid or if she could safely leave the water. And so, she rowed.

There was a cave, hidden amongst the trees, on the far side of the lake.  If she could make it, she could crawl into the far crevices hidden deep in the back.  She had used the cave during the coldest parts of the year, when the house held little heat.  But always she returned to the house, where the memories of her mother were.  Where there was a small cookstove and a soft bed.  Where her herbs were hung from the ceiling and there was a clear stream of water that fed the lake. Where she could still catch her mother’s scent when the breeze blew and the temperature was just becoming warm.

Purple landscape of forest along a lake / Loscotoff 2022
And so, she rowed. / Loscotoff 2022

The small wooden boat began to rub its hull into the muddy shore and Aisling leaped to the land.  She took only a slight moment to pull the boat firmly out of the water so that she would not find it floating adrift when she was safe to return.

She paused and listened.  The forest was quiet; too quiet.  Normally, she heard the croak of the frogs and the music of the crickets.  Normally, she heard the chattering of the crows together in the tree. The low hoot of an owl echoed as Aisling felt the pressure change with the soft thump of its feathers overhead.  

She understood that the owl was warning her, that there was a stranger amongst the trees. She was used to moving silently through the forest, her bare feet were worn and callused, but she was not used to being watched.  She was not used to being chased.

As she made her way through the thick ferns, listening, she remembered the men who had come for her mother.  The warning of the owl had come too late, and Sabine had spent the few moments left kissing her daughter’s face and hiding her under a wooden panel in the floor.  Aisling could see between the cracks, but her mother had wrapped her in a spell of silence so that they would not find her.

The men had pounded on the door and her mother began to chant spells of protection, but there was not enough time.  The door fell open and three men, their eyes a strange silver, walked in.  Her mother was thrown to the floor and an iron collar was wrapped around her neck.

Her mother had taught her from an early age that iron would dull the senses.  The moment she was bound, the light fell from her eyes and her chanting stopped. The men yelled profanities and called her “witch”.  They drug her from the house.

Aisling hid until the spell of silence around her broke.  She was able to loosen the board from the floor, and then she ran from the cabin, trying to follow the energy of her mother.  Nothing was clear to her and she collapsed beneath the trees until the sun rose in the morning.  She slept through her tears and when she woke, the trees were full of crows, watching over her.  

As her eyes opened, the crows landed around her in a circle.  They laid for her nuts and seeds and then, hopping, led her back to her home, now barren.  They kept watch from the trees during the day and helped her survive in those early years. They led her to the spring and brought her food. 

Her mother had shown her a book, hidden in the brick of the fireplace, with drawings of plants and how to use them.  Aisling felt that she was snooping, searching through her mother’s things, but the book soon became her most important possession.  It taught her the healing practice through pictures.  Her mother had drawn the plants around them, had drawn the way of cutting and caring.  In time, Aisling was able to care for the crows as if they were her own children, healing them when they were injured or sick.

Aisling continued through the dark forest until she came to a fallen tree.  She knew this forest, and the tree had always stood tall and strong.  Suddenly, here it lay on its side, shattered and broken.  She traced its bark and, instead of climbing over, moved silently down its trunk.  In the rising light of the moon she saw the raw chops about its base, its flesh white and bare.  The man had been here. He had done this.

A twig snapped behind her and Aisling turned to see a form move from the shadows.  Silver light reflected from his eyes.  

The girl turned to run, knowing she no longer needed to protect her position through covert motion.  She ran, ran into the darkness, knowing the cave could no longer protect her.

The man with the silver eyes threw himself at her, and though she was just out of reach, he was able to clutch at the hem of her mother’s dress.

Aisling felt herself falling, and suddenly, the man was upon her. 

His thick hands pressed her shoulders into the earth and she tasted the gritty soil on her tongue. She felt something cold and hard wrap around her neck.  Her brain became simple as the iron collar snapped into place; her muscles became weak.  

The man flipped her over and she looked up into the night sky, the pointed tips of the trees bending in the breeze with a backdrop of stars.

Looking up at the tops of the trees / Loscotoff 2022
…the pointed tips of the trees bending in the breeze… /Loscotoff 2022

“Hello, little witch,” he said, pulling her arm straight and tracing his finger over a birthmark nested in the crook of her arm.  “You have the witch’s wart, and will bring me a good bit of gold.  You are my own sweet leprechaun, ready to give me my wishes.”

He dropped her arm and began to trace the line of her jaw.

“You are lovely, like your mother.”

Aisling felt nausea rise in her stomach.  While her thoughts were a jumble and the iron made her feel heavy and dull, she could remember her mother dragged from their home. One of the men wore a pack on his back made of fur.

The same backpack lay next to her now, a silver knife peeking out of the opening.

Dully, slowly, Aisling found her words.

“You, took, my, mother…”

The man laughed, deeply in his chest.  

“Yes, a wicked thing she was.  A wicked thing she still is.”

“…alive?” The girl struggled to say the word and felt a fire begin to tingle in her belly. It was a fire of hope.

“Aye, very much alive.  She wears the iron bracelets now, and made us some good gold, she did.”

Power surged through the girl and electricity filled the air.  A fireball of light streaked through the night sky; a falling star that trailed brilliant blue.  

Each of their eyes were drawn to the heavens as the full moon found her place in the center of the sky, lighting up the predator and the prey.  The moon was so bright as to create shadows around the two. But the moon only allowed her face to be seen for a moment, and then the night was filled with the sound of beating wings.  

The darkness descended upon them as the crows, aided by the light of the moon and guided by the falling star, consumed the man and his silver eyes. 

As the sun rose, Aisling found herself surrounded by a circle of birds.  The man was gone, his flesh had been torn and scattered, his silver eyes dropped in the lake. Only the blood stained earth where he had once knelt identified that he had ever lived at all.  She felt no pity for him and was glad that he was dead. The birds left her his ring of keys and slowly she was able to remove the iron that bound her.  The crows bowed their heads when she was free and took flight into the morning sky.

Aisling used leaves to protect her hands as she tucked the iron collar back into the fur bag.  She tucked the sharp silver knife into the tie at her waist and threw the pack over her shoulder.  

She made her way to the lake as the crows circled and cawed, thinking of the woman who had given her life.  Thinking of this woman, still alive and bound by the iron bracelets.  She decided, as she rowed across the lake, that her mother would have her freedom and that Aisling would bring her home. 

A Murder of Crows silhouetted by a full moon/ Loscotoff 2022
A Murder of Crows in Shades of Gray/ Loscotoff 2022

Notes

Crows are one of my favorite animals. They are smart, engaging, beautiful creatures. I live in the high desert, and when I started raising chickens, the crows became almost a part of the flock. They alert me to coyotes, chase away hawks, feast on the chicken scratch, and even circle our heads as we walk, talking to me and my dog. They have become friends. They sit on our roof and tap on the chimney, look in our windows, and always make their presence known.

When I started this story, I didn’t know the crows would come in. This story was about Aisling (which means dream or vision in Irish) and her mother. I also didn’t know her mother was still alive until I wrote the words that the dark man said. I realized in that moment, maybe this is a larger story that I should investigate.

Currently, I’m reading Magic Lessons, by Alice Hoffman. If you’ve read this story, you will certainly feel my inspiration from Maria and her daughter, Faith. Their relationship is what I imagined here, only from the viewpoint of the daughter and not the mother. I was tentative to include crows because Maria’s familiar is a crow. I knew I wanted animals to help in the end, but thought perhaps a bear, a mountain lion, or a wolf. I considered one of these animals being in the cave that Maria headed towards. I ultimately decided on the murder of crows, because I could imagine them helping Aisling as a child, essentially keeping her alive until she became a part of their flock.

Mom and daughter sit in the roots of a giant tree / Loscotoff 2022
Nursing my daughter in the roots of a tree/ Loscotoff 2022

Links

Do crows see in the dark?

My 52 Week Journey


What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Next Week’s Prompt

13. A haunted house

Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink

Digital drawing by A. Loscotoff, crows sitting in the tree in front of the moon/ Loscotoff 2022
An Abstract Murder of Crows in Blue/ Loscotoff 2022

52 Weeks – Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

My daughter lays cuddling against my chest / Loscotoff 2007

Week 11 Prompt – The main character thinks he or she is about to get fired

Include: magazine, blow-dryer, congeal, bluebell, cummerbund, wheelie bag, pastels, cheeseburger, binding, science

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s Tale here

The Imperfect Self

“Have a good day, sweetie,” she says, meaning it sincerely.  She hands him his coffee and a bag with lunch.  Her hair is combed and her face is clean.  She gives the appearance of a magazine spread; the kitchen is spotless and there are no toys on the floor.  The toddler is still asleep.

She stands at the door and waits until she hears his car pull out of the driveway.  She walks to the front window, a steaming mug in her hand. She smiles and waves. 

She waits a few minutes, just to be sure he doesn’t turn around, before walking to the blue wheelie bag.  She squats and unzips it.

That is when I tumble out.  Unkempt.  My hair is tangled, mascara smeared beneath my puffy eyes. She crawls in, the perfect me, the one I save to show the world.  My wheelie bag is never far out of reach, for when I need my public face.  She zips herself up, her perfect makeup, her blow-dried hair. 

I have congealed food on my shirt from last night’s dinner.

I go and gently lift our 3-year-old from her big girl bed and she snuggles into my arms.  I take her to our room and lay her in our bed, crawling in next to her.  Her warmth, the sound of her breathing, listening to the beat of her heart; all of this is what makes me feel safe in the world.  I go back to sleep, a doze, where I can just be the person I want to be; this child’s mother.  Where I can be in her presence and nothing more.  I want to live in this moment.

The ding of my phone wakes me and Essa snuggles deeper into my side.  I quickly turn off the switch, making it silent. 

Text.  

Can you talk? It’s important.

I don’t want to talk.  I just want my quiet morning with my girl.

How important? I text back.

It’s Andi.  She’s a mom in our group.  Her son is only a few weeks older than Essa.  

There are eight of us; eight first-time moms with our little ones.  We met in a community resource center before our babies could even walk.  As our children grew, we all became closer; the bond of motherhood and insecurity. We began to meet away from the center; at the park, at the zoo, at each other’s homes. Three new babies had been born in the passing years.  Eleven children now between us.

The little dots on my phone show she is responding.  I am about to set my phone aside and allow my overactive brain back into my bliss, when it vibrates.

It’s Jo.  She’s really pissed.

I feel the familiar panic; the sensation of warmth in my throat, the nauseous ache deep in the pit of my stomach, the tingle behind my eyes as the tears threaten to fall. I consider crawling back into the wheelie bag and letting the perfect me, the calm me, the centered me, come out of the suitcase and take care of it.

But the perfect me doesn’t cuddle in bed with Essa. That version of me is a problem solver, and I don’t want to solve this problem.  I want to wander through the fields behind the house with my Essa and look for bluebells.  I want to pull out the chalk pastels and draw on the sidewalk, smearing the dust on our cheeks. I want to lay here and listen to my child breathe.

At me? I ask. 

Again, the dots, waiting for her answer.  

Can you call me? she asks.

I sigh.  This was not the way I expected the morning to go. 

I slide out of bed, untangling myself from her perfect pudgy arms and quietly shut the bedroom door.  I’m hoping to crawl back into my cocoon as soon as the imperfect me understands what is happening.

I snuggle with my toddler, my imperfect self.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2007
Her warmth, the sound of her breathing, listening to the beat of her heart/ Loscotoff 2007

The phone vibrates in my hand, a repeating alarm of panic.  It’s not Andi.

It’s Jo.  

My heart sinks deeper.

I quickly type: Jo is calling, call you back after.

I press the answer button and do my best impression of the woman in the bag, light and airy, as if nothing is wrong and my heart isn’t pounding in my chest.

“Hey!  Good morning, Jo.  What’s up?”

There is silence.

“Jo?”

I hear her breathing on the other end.  Finally, a deep breath and Jo speaks.

“How could you?”

It sounds like she’s been crying and again I consider going and climbing into the bag, letting the other me out; hiding in the darkness, behind the fabric wall and the binding zipper.

“How could I what?” I ask.  I’m sincere, but I also know.  Deep in my gut, I know.

“How could you talk about me when I wasn’t there?  How could you talk about my marriage?”

It’s my turn to be silent now.  She was right.  I had talked about her.  I had talked about her husband.  I had talked about her in front of the other six women and their children. 

“I tried to talk to you,” I said.  My voice is a whisper.

“Bullshit!  You didn’t try.”

“I did!”  

The tears are starting to fall.  

“But every time I tried, you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Because it was none of your business!”

The problem was, it was my business. My business that while her husband was exceptionally kind; my daughter seemed afraid of him.  My business that I didn’t know how to stand up for my daughter.  My business that I felt, to keep my pretty social face, to keep my friendship with Jo, I had to swallow my instinct.  My business that I had dreamt of my baby’s death at her husband’s hands. My business that I felt afraid.

How it tore at my heart, to battle against something unknown and unseen; to battle my own past trauma, to question whether my intuition was real or imagined.  Was it the overprotective mommy brain or was there something there?  Was I imagining things?  Did it matter, true or false, if my subconscious was screaming at me so loudly?

“I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I talked to everyone because I wanted to know if I was somehow making things up.  I wasn’t sure how to talk to you.”

“You should have talked to me.”

I had been trying to talk to her for months, but how do you tell that to a woman who has refused to hear you?  How do you tell that to a woman fighting for her own family?  How do you tell that woman who probably has her own suitcase she’s climbing in and out of?

We were both quiet.  

Finally, she said, “I don’t want to see you anymore. Ever.”

Undeniably final.

“I understand.”   

It was really all I could say, because I did understand.  

But what did  that mean for my daughter and her best friends?  What did that mean for the circle I had created the last three years.   Did that mean she was done, or was I?

And then she hung up.  

I sunk to the floor, shaking. 

I texted Andi.

Just got off the phone with Jo.  I don’t know what to do.

I could see the response dots and waited.

Maybe you should just stay away for a bit, see if it blows over, she finally messaged.

Have you talked to the others? I asked.

The pause was even longer this time.  

Yes.  Everyone thinks you should stay away. Everyone is worried about Jo.

I wanted to say, but you all agreed with me yesterday!  You all supported that I should talk to her.  You all said that something didn’t seem right and that it wasn’t just me.  You all agreed we could talk to her together!

I also wanted to say, What about me?  What about my Essa?  What about us?

Mostly though, I felt hurt. I thought you all would wait for me to try and talk to her again.  I thought we were a family. Who told on me?

That last thought, who told on me?  I felt ashamed.  Ashamed that I had done something perceived as “wrong” or “bad.”  Ashamed that I had hurt Jo.  Ashamed that she no longer wanted to be my friend. Ashamed that we were ostracized for something I had done.

Instead, I imagined the perfect me in the wheelie bag and how she would respond.  She would wear a perfect smile.  She would acknowledge the conflict and offer to stay away until everything calmed down.  

Then, I wrote, You didn’t stand up for me, did you.

It was a statement, and I knew it was true.  I understood that none of the rest of them had either.  They all had their public faces, and standing next to me felt like a risk.

Andi didn’t respond.  

I turned off my phone.

I cried on the floor.

Somehow, they had chosen her over me, when I didn’t even know there was a “her” or “me” scenario.  They didn’t like me anymore.  Didn’t want me or my child in their group.  It’s like being fired, but worse, because this is my soul.  This is my child.  These are the people we spend our time with, the people I trusted.

And they don’t trust me anymore.  Even though I didn’t mean to cause harm.  

I glance at the framed photo on the wall; all of our children, dressed up for a toddler ball.  The boys in mini cummerbunds, the girls in princess dresses.  I imagine my child, my most important gift, being erased from that picture as if she never existed.  As if we never mattered.  

But it’s not her.  It’s me.  I’m the one that never mattered.  Not to them.

I thought, if I could be perfect enough, then they would like me.  Perfect pictures, perfect family, perfect life.  The perfect model I pull around with me in my wheelie bag.  The only version of me I let my my husband see.  The only version I let my parents and my sister see.

There is only one person in this whole word who gets to see me; the real me.  The one with the congealed food on my shirt.  The one with the tangled hair and the stretch marks and the extra fat on my tummy.  I have grown physically soft; the better to cuddle her with.

The door creaks open and she is standing there, rubbing her eyes, her tangled crown of hair curling around her face. 

She sees me and her face lights up, despite the tears running down mine.  She throws herself into my arms.

And I understand, it’s not about perfection.  It’s not even about being liked.  I’m here for her.  She’s my reason for being at this moment in time.  She doesn’t need the perfection in the suitcase.  She just needs her mom.

My time with her is borrowed. It is finite. At least within the scope of this human life.

“Do you want to go for a ride?” 

She nods her sleepy head.

I get her settled in her car seat and then run back inside for the wheelie bag.  Only I don’t unzip the perfect me and let her drive, the way I normally would.  I don’t climb inside behind the zipper.

I wheel the bag out to the car and maneuver it into the trunk. 

I don’t change out of my pajamas.  I don’t brush my hair.  I don’t wash my face. 

We drive into the middle of nowhere, where the dirt road goes on forever and the Joshua Trees stand.  

I pull the bag from the trunk.  

There is a roadrunner, stopped to watch in curiosity; his clicks and trills are the soundtrack to my evolution. 

Perhaps someday, someone will find the perfect me, hidden in that suitcase.  Perhaps they will take her home as a trinket of what our world has become, the expectation of what we are supposed to be.  Perhaps they will try the perfect me on, and realize how stifling and uncomfortable that person is.

I’m tired of presenting a perfect face.  I’m tired of being my own science experiment. 

I drive away, the suitcase left in a cloud of dust on the lonely desert floor.

We pick up donuts and go to the park.  I push my Essa on the swing.  We laugh and she slides down the twisty slide, flying into my arms.

That afternoon, I call my husband.

“I’m not making dinner tonight.  Can you pick up cheeseburgers?”

He’s quiet for a moment and then says, “Is everything okay? You don’t eat cheeseburgers.”

“I do now,” I say.

He laughs.  “Okay, cheeseburger, fries, and milkshakes?  What are we celebrating?”

“I’m not perfect,” I respond.  

“I never wanted you to be.”

A little girl pulls a wheelie bag/ Loscotoff 2007
Perhaps someday, someone will find the perfect me, hidden in that suitcase/ Loscotoff 2007

Notes

I always start with these prompts feeling the linear weight of the straight forward interpretation–a drug rep with all her samples in the wheelie bag, bringing cheeseburgers to the office, prepared to discuss the science behind her samples. As I’ve said before; I don’t want the linear story. I want a story that is about something more, a way of viewing the prompt I didn’t expect.

I always share the prompt with my daughter, the Essa of the above story, and she is never connected to the linear idea. Her brain sees around the outside, into the corners, from angles I missed in those first moments. I envy her capacity to see the depth of possibility before my brain is ready.

But magic happens in the moment. She tells me what she would write and suddenly it’s like a shadow lifts and I can see the other ideas. I can see the story I want to write. Something about my daughter and her viewpoint of the world opens my senses to the possibility of where this story could go.

Her idea was around LGBTQIA, specifically transgender and non-binary identity, and the parts of themselves society makes difficult to leave behind. She talked about the wheelie bag carrying around things like dead names and birth pronouns.

I was absolutely blown away by this idea for a story, but it is not my story to write. I have not lived this and am not a representative of the LGBTQIA community. I am an ally, but that does not put me in the position to write that story. (I have included a link to the LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary from UC Davis. These terms need to be more widely used and accepted.)

Her idea got me thinking about the parts of ourselves we drag around; what type of ball and chain do we each carry because it is a part of us? My list began: expectations, mental illness, depression and anxiety, a temper bomb and different lengths of fuses. What if you were fired from your job for not fitting a social standard? What if the job isn’t the paycheck type, but the role we play in society? What if being fired is equated to being “canceled”?

It’s happened to me, I’m sure it’s happened to you. You have good intentions but it comes across wrong, you say the wrong thing in the wrong situation, you don’t say the thing you should have said–suddenly someone is angry and you find yourself trying to fix the situation. Fixing it doesn’t always work. There is loss and sadness and ongoing questioning of how you could have handled it differently. As the proverb states, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We live in a society of social media where everyone else’s lives look somehow perfect. We share too much of the edited pictures and none of the reality.

Mom’s feel that pressure too, beyond the scope of social media. Everyone has an opinion, and you are certainly doing something wrong in someone’s mind. I remember my anger at a family member judging my choice to homeschool my daughter when traditional stopped working; how dare she judge my choice for my daughter when she spends no time with us and has no idea who my child even is. We get judged for birthing in a hospital as well as home birth. We are judged for breastfeeding (for too much time or not enough) and bottle feeding. We are judged if we decided to co-sleep, judged if the baby is in a crib, judged if we let our baby cry it out, judged if we wear our baby and calm their whimpers. Judged on the schooling we choose (or don’t choose.). They get to college and suddenly there is judgement on if they go, if they wait, if they go to junior college, and the prestige of the final decision. But it doesn’t end there–it never ends.

Childhood and motherhood is not a race. We are all in different places with different reasons for doing what we do.

And then we pile on pressures from how we look to who we are at our fundamental core. That’s the wheelie bag, that’s the ball and chain, that’s the basis of this story.

If you liked this story or connected with it in any way, it would mean so much to me that you share it. I send out an email every Friday with new writing, you can sign up for it here.

Photo/Rachel Valley, 2007. Mother Culture – Social Perception on nursing. “Dirty” featuring me and my daughter

Links

LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary from UC Davis

Mother Culture Photo Exhibit by Rachel Valley (Flickr Set)

My personal journey to motherhood

Part two on becoming a mom

Another story in this 52 week collection, on Motherhood – The Community

An important bit about me and who I am

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

My daughter stands hidden in the morning light/ Loscotoff 2007
Her tangled crown of curls curling around her face/ Loscotoff 2007

Next Week’s Prompt

12. A hike through the woods

Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar