Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write a Coming OF AGE short story (11/20/14)
TITLE: Real Life Drama
By Ann Grover
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
“Get going on the dishes,” she said, not turning around. “Then peel some spuds.”
Quietly, I said, “Mom, I need ...”
“Not now, please. I’m watching my program.”
I retreated to the kitchen. Grimacing, I stuck my hand into the scummy water in the sink and pulled the plug. The water seeped away, and I turned on the hot water and added soap. I cleared the table: the overflowing ashtray, stained mugs, greasy knives, a wrinkled Woman’s Weekly. Into the garbage or the steaming suds.
When I finished, Mom was watching another play, and I wondered how she kept everything straight in her head. Someone was always crying or lying or dying, it seemed to me. I guessed they were called soap operas because the characters were always singing the blues about their miserable lives.
Mom said it was all real.
What did I know about “real,” though, when I was enthralled by a magical wardrobe through which children entered another world. I didn’t have a wardrobe, had never seen one, but I had a closet. I’d made a cozy nest with ragged blankets beneath old winter coats and my handful of dresses, and it became my own Narnia, safe and secluded. My own place. Sometimes, I fantasized about living there forever, sleeping, reading books, hoarding biscuits in a tin box, breathing in the comforting scent of musty wool.
At supper, I tried again. “Mom, I need money for school pictures.”
“Just two dollars.”
“There’s change on my dresser.” She swabbed her plate with bread. “Help yourself.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I slipped from my chair and gave her a hug. She smelled of sweat and cigarettes. She smelled tired.
Mom’s room was a shambles, as always. A tattered quilt sprawled across the bed, and sweaters, skirts, and blouses were jumbled on her dresser. I recognized clothing of my own. A red cardigan I’d worn when I was six. Dingy socks. A pair of threadbare pyjamas. A tower of newspapers and magazines leaned in the corner propped up by a broken laundry basket overflowing with unfolded towels.
Coins sat in the dust on the edge of the dresser, and I counted out two dollars. As I turned, my shoulder bumped the haphazard stack of clothes, and a small box tumbled into my hand. Christmas cards? Mom never sent Christmas cards to anyone, ever. The picture on the box -- a sleigh on a snowy road -- was faded; I lifted the lid.
There were a few cards and yellowed envelopes in the box. A matchbook. Two hair ribbons. A receipt. Beneath everything, a piece of thick paper, folded and folded again, the creases grimy.
Suddenly fearful, I opened it. Birth Certificate, it said, in fancy, curly letters, and below that, my name. My birthdate. My mother’s name. On the line for the father’s name, it said simply, “Unknown.” Unknown?
My father had been killed in a logging accident before I was born. We bore his name. As if from far away, I heard Mom murmuring at something on Peyton Place. Quietly, I approached her and dropped the paper into her lap.
She took a deep drag on her cigarette. Where did the smoke go before it was released in a billow of choking bitterness?
“You might as well know. Someone’s bound to tell you anyway.”
“You said he died. You said ... “
“I know what I said.”
I walked over to the television, and Mia Farrow’s face dwindled to a dot and disappeared.
She smashed out the cigarette. “Henry Harrison.”
“Henry Harrison? Same as Grandpa’s name?”
“Grandpa Harrison.” She said dully.
“Grandpa Harrison? Grandpa? But ...” Realization razored into my skull, and I shrieked. “You? Grandpa?”
She nodded once, avoiding my eyes.
I ran, wading through a fathomless sea of disbelief, and slammed myself into my closet sanctuary. In the dusty darkness, I cried, my grief greater than anything I’d ever felt or ever would again. For the father I’d never had, but now lost twice. For my mother, my sister, and her own searing anguish. When the weeping ended, I felt a quiet calm ease into my heart, cocooning my sorrow, and I knew nothing could touch me again.
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