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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Bookends (01/30/14)

TITLE: A Room With Two Beds
By Melanie Kerr


My life began in a room with two beds.

My brother was three years old when I was born. After a year in a cot in my parents’ room I was moved into the bottom bunk in a small box room at the back of a semi-detached house. The window overlooked a backyard planted with rows of potatoes. The yard backed on to a playing field with a slide, a see-saw and square pavilion painted green.

James wasn’t my hero. He didn’t defend me against the bigger kids in the street. He had his own wars to fight. Our father was a perfectionist and James had a stutter. While my mother dragged him off to speech therapy classes, my father took the plastic railway track from the toy box and set about beating the stutter out of him. I don’t ever remember being hit, but then, I didn’t stutter.

I think James might have been a little glad when our father died of cancer. His was not a slow illness or a long battle. Diagnosed in the spring of 1968 he died six months later as autumn leaves fell from the trees. He didn’t surrender quietly but fought the futile battle against tumours he couldn’t see. When the end was near there was no handing over the mantle of responsibility to his eldest son.

Without the heavy hand of discipline James became wild. He pushed my mother time and again, testing her love, almost goading her to pick up the plastic railway track. I stood between the two of them on so many occasions.

He painted the walls of our bedroom black and started to smoke.

We were never friends, James and I. I thought we were never enemies either but I didn’t realise how deeply he despised me. I wasn’t like him. I was placid and peaceful and saw no need to prod and poke at people. I didn’t have his acid wit or his sharp eyes that exploited the flaws in other people.

I was thirty five years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. It began with a white dot the size of a pea at the base of my neck. In the time it took the hospital to do their tests, just six weeks, the dot was the size of a golf ball and I was dosed up with strong painkillers. Genetics had bestowed on me a faulty string of chromosomes.

Did I call James? I don’t think so. I hadn’t seen him since he moved abroad to escape the Child Support Agency his ex-wife set upon him like bloodhounds. He had limped from one bad relationship to another, leaving behind a string of children and a night or two in a prison lock-up for wielding a fist at a fragile face.

I fought the same battle my father had fought. I knew I couldn’t win but I held out for six months. Diagnosed in the autumn, I saw the end coming as daffodils bobbed in the spring sunshine. A week of respite in the hospice was time enough, they thought, to get me back on my feet.

I woke one morning to see James sitting in the chair beside my bed. A suitcase lay open on the spare bed in the room. An untidy pile of clothes spilled out like intestines.

“Hey, Andrew,” he said, “Guess what? We get to share a room, just like the old days. I think I can persuade the doc to let me paint it black!”

He was thin and very brown, long hair tied in a ponytail. He wore light cream trousers and a T-shirt advertising beer. On his feet he wore brown sandals, no socks, toe-nails ingrained with sand. A woven fabric bracelet jostled with a watch on his wrist.

That week James became my hero.

He held my head as I vomited into the toilet bowl and wiped up the messes that missed the diapers I was forced to wear. He made me laugh as he flirted outrageously with the nurses. At night he sang me to sleep with soft lullabies and when I woke screaming in the night he held me.

And he prayed. James who had scorned the Catholic Church that nurtured him had found faith.

“Father, Lord,” he prayed softly, “Andrew has fought the battle and he has won the race. It’s time for him to go home. Tine for him to rest…”

My life ended in a room with two beds.

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This article has been read 413 times
Member Comments
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Virginia Lee Bliss 02/08/14
This is a wonderful story. For all his flaws, James sounds like quite a guy.

I see the bookend theme very clearly.
The MC's life begins and ends with (is bookended by) two beds.
LaVonne Wood 02/08/14
Very touching story. I can see the brothers as bookends, opposite each other in their relationship with their dad.

This could also be written in the third person. Not sure which would be more powerful.

Great job! Vonnie
Danielle King 02/08/14
A clever use of the topic and such a sad tale, beautifully put together. The ending was superb with the wayward brother's faith reigniting and returning home to care for his younger brother. Great job!
Toni Hammer02/08/14
Brilliant. I enjoyed every word. I'm glad the prodigal son came home.
Linda Goergen02/08/14
I was captivated by this story beginning to end! Because of the last line, I was wondering if it would have maybe been better told in the third person. But it was a gripping story as is and had an amazing amount of detail and drama for such a short story! Great job!
Colin Swann02/10/14
A very interesting and moving story. One of the best I've read in here.
Lillian Rhoades 02/10/14
Just the kind of approach to the topic that I expect from a real Pro. :-). Written with a flow and style that's a winner, in my opinion.
Yannick Ford02/10/14
Excellent! The story really draws you in, and you are left wanting more, like finding out how James came to faith.
Ellen Carr 02/11/14
You have told this very moving story very well. I think being told in the 1st person added feeling, but maybe telling in the 3rd person would have made the ending a bit easier to tell. Well done!
Norma-Anne Hough02/11/14
Very well done. Moving and intense.
You had me wondering throughout the story how it would end with James.
Melanie Kerr 02/11/14
Thanks for reading and commenting on my story “A Room With Two beds”. A large part of it was biographical. The history and relationships my brothers had with one another and with my dad were as described. The cancer diagnosis and the hospital scenes were also real but I switched things around a bit. I did try to avoid the last sentence. I thought it was needed to get the book end theme. I didn’t want to lose the tension – people might not feel as strongly about the characters if it had been in the third person. I was also lost in the emotion and the memory of what I felt at the time. It was a cathartic write.
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/12/14
You made me love a character I didn't think I could. Great job with this very personal story.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/13/14
Congratulations on ranking 13 overall!