I thought I’d share another short story with you guys, since the last one seemed popular with everyone. I wrote this for Faithwriters a couple years ago and it came in third. (Next time I’ll choose something more recent.) Enjoy!
“What time is it?”
I grit my teeth and pretend not to hear, pretend to be occupied with preparing dinner. Mom . . . please.
“What time is it?”
I glance at the doorway of the kitchen to where her concerned face, a pallor of weather- and labor-worn wrinkles from the decades of farm life, watches mine intently. “Seven o’clock.”
“He’s late. He’s never late, Steven.” Mom turns, her step hobbled, and walks with muttered words out of the room.
I watch her go, my weak composure a trembling pillar. I’m not Steven. I’m not your brother. And Dad’s not coming home. That car wreck did more than take my dad’s life. It took hers, too. I took her in when my sister refused, unable to understand what the problem would be. But with the panic in Anne’s voice whenever we talked about a place for Mom and the doctor’s indelible glum when the words brain and damage floated around, I should have known.
And after the most grueling two years of my life, I can’t face up to the agonizing truth – I can’t take this.
I manage to get the chicken in the oven and the carrots steaming, manage to get in a hushed phone conversation with my girlfriend to let her know the date is off for obvious reasons, manage to feed the cat. I am existing, not living. My unspoken vow to Dad, my unshakable resolve to take care of Mom, has left my life barren.
I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry.
“What time is it?”
Turning away, I squeeze my eyes shut. “Seven-thirty.”
“He’s never late, Steven.”
Here, I must pretend. “He called. He has to go to Dover. He’ll be back later.”
Mom doesn’t answer. I assume she’s gone from the room, and I turn. She stands there in the doorway, her eyes clear and in pain, her lip quavering as she meets my eyes. And here, I endure the insidious torture and the beautiful hope of her frail, infinitesimal moments of perfect clarity. I cross the room to hold her in my arms as I always do, but this time, I cannot stop my own deluge of emotion kept buried during her endless spells of uncomprehending, of living in an age gone by.
“My Cody,” she whispers, and my heart shatters as glass to hear my name from her lips.
“I’m here, Mom.” My voice rasps. “I’m here.”
Why? Because she has nowhere else to go? Because Anne can’t handle even the thought of taking her in? Because I promised Dad?
No, none of these are right. The real reason has kept me afloat, if only just above water, for the last two years.
“Because I love you, Mom.”
She does not answer, and I know this priceless moment will soon be gone, ripped away by the cruel monster that has kept her from me all these many months. But for now, the hope and relief that these moments give to us, if only for a moment, I can dwell within.
“Hey, do you want to do something special tonight?” I ask with a smile.
“Your dad always asked me that question,” she replies, her voice light, and I cling to that relief with her past tense use of ask.
“I was thinking we could make cookies.” Something she used to recruit my help for as a kid, telling me I was the cookie “expert” in order to play into my pride and get me to lend a hand. “You’re the expert,” I add.
She laughs a little, and I can tell she is not fully with me. But we will get through this together. I promised Dad. I promised myself. I promised her. God, there’s only so much of this I can take. I ask for grace.
Tonight, as her moment of clarity, as frail as glass, begins to ebb away, we do something special. Tomorrow, she’ll again think I’m Steven, she’ll worry after Dad, she’ll tell me he is late, that something must be wrong. How many hours will it be before I have my mom back again? How many days?
But tonight, I won’t dwell on tomorrow.
We taste the warm cookies and Mom tells me with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “We should do this every night.”
Thanks so much for reading! Let me know what you think.