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.

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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

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

52 Weeks – Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

My daughter lays cuddling against my chest / Loscotoff 2007

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 over the last three years?   Did that mean she was done or was I?

And then she hung up.  

I sank 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 husband see.  The only version I let my parents and my sister see.

There is only one person in this whole world 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 straightforward 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 a 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 as 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 edited pictures and none of the reality.

Moms 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 for 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 judgment 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

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

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