I was feeling really blue when I awoke this morning – completely suffering from a case of the Mondays. I was listless during work, and struggled to find motivation to do anything other than sleep.
I felt infinitely better this afternoon, when my friend Melanie and I walked the deserted boardwalks of Seaside Heights. Among the caged stores and waves crashing in the distance, we talked about everything and anything. Walking against the wind, with sand stinging our faces, we admitted our fears, bad habits, and desires. It was relaxing and rejuvinating.
I felt ready to tackle what I consider a very difficult and very personal prompt. This prompt unnerves me for two reasons, the first being it deals with my mother. I love my mother deeply, although I must admit that I do not know her. There are times when I was confident I had my mother figured out, but she continues to surprise me. I’ve considered her the stronger of my parents my entire life – that she was a little colder, refrained from showing emotion and told us kids “no” when she had to. But now that I’m older and wiser, and Mom feels like she can talk to me as an adult about adult worries, I realize that my mother is vulnerable, and that she has feelings that can be hurt. I think this realization was subconsciously playing at the back of my mind when I decided the route this prompt would take.
Also, it reminds me of myself when I was about five years old. I wouldn’t let my twin sister inside our room after I had retreated there, hurt and embarrassed because I had been yelled at by my mom. Tears streaming down my face, I had fled from the dining room table in hysterics. I wailed with each step and had no idea my twin sister was right behind me, step for step, worried and eager to make me smile and forget the whole thing. I closed and locked the door behind me, and for as long as I live, I will never forget the desperation in my twin sister’s voice as she begged me to open the door and let her in. I will never forget how she raised her tiny fists again and again against the door.
I will never forget how cold I was, how selfish I was, and how I did not open the door.
THE PROMPT: “Your Mom at Five”
Today’s exercise is courtesy of Leslie Pietrzyk, a novelist and short story writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Imagine you are your mother. You are five years old. What are you seeing / thinking / doing?
It was late, much too late for a five-year-old girl to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but Kelly Ann was just that. Her eyes were as wide and as bright as the moon, shining just as clearly. Her eyes were a wonderful shade of green that altered ever so slightly depending on her outfit. Her eyes were beautiful, but all of the character in her face came from her nose – a little too large with nostrils that were a smidge too wide, but shaped in a more attractive than abrasive manner. It was reminiscent of a pig – but the cute, small, pink kind and not the wild boar kind – and she would grow into it before the cruel teenage years.
At this moment in her remarkably young life, Kelly Ann was not dwelling on her eyes or her nose or her mouth or her ears, and the only thought she gave to her less than clean, knotted hair was to push it back and out of the way because it had a troublesome habit of falling into her face, obscuring her view and tickling the tip of her nose. Kelly Ann didn’t have time for useless things like hair because she was in the middle of quite the captive conversation with Thumbelina and Pebbles. Kelly Ann was enthralling the ladies with her adventures from outside earlier in the day, when the sun had been high in the sky, and she had tried pedaling as fast as she could. Kelly Ann had been bicycling through the paved streets of the neighborhood with a kind of reckless abandon that only the very young – or the very foolish – could afford, sometimes lifting her hands from the handlebars and her feet from the pedals, so that her own momentum would take her places. She hadn’t been slowed by any of her nine brothers and sisters, or by her stressed and harried mother. Kelly Ann was free, speeding along hills, navigating curbs and weaving across the road as she saw fit. It had been a wonderful day, and she had been thankful for every breath in a small, genuine way – the only way a five-year-old could be thankful.
She was just about to relate how Mean Mr. Polly had tried to squirt her with the water hose as he tended to his garden near the edge of his lawn when Kelly was interrupted by loud yelling. Kelly Ann had been so enveloped in relating her melodrama that she hadn’t heard the voice, which seemed to be coming from outside and which seemed to be growing steadily louder. Kelly Ann narrowed her eyes, annoyed at whoever was making such a ruckus. If Ma woke up and found her awake at this time of night, it would be catastrophic.
But at that time enough, and with an imagination such as Kelly Ann’s, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Ma woke up, because what if the boogeyman was out there, yelling and making all sorts of noise to get all the children up and out of bed so he could gobble all of them up? Shivering slightly before going completely still, Kelly Ann inhaled sharply and let her beloved – albeit uncommonly dirty – dolls tumble to the uncommonly dirty, carpeted floor. Kelly Ann’s face fell as she decided what to do – wake up Ma? Should she maybe sprint to Ma’s bedroom and dive beneath the itchy blanket to curl beside Ma’s thin body, at least until the boogeyman left and the terrors passed? To do that, though, would mean admitting to Ma she had been awake and the wrath of that woman would be worse than that any boogeyman who made a scene on the front lawn.
A new round of yelling was starting up, and Kelly Ann listened with all her might, closing her eyes tight to aid in the effort. Was it unintelligible growling, or were there English words? What kind of monster yelled out to be let inside? How scary could a monster be if he had to beg? The voice sounded like it was demanding, like it was telling and not asking, but it didn’t really sound dangerous. Kelly Ann opened her eyes, now more intrigued than ever. It wasn’t a monster at all, but someone she might know. She rose from her scabbed knees to stand on her bruised feet and then paused again to listen hard. Her nightgown, which was really some worn, smelly tee that one of her two older brothers had used for gym class, hung just below her knees. The fabric rustled gently against her thighs as she padded soundlessly to the bedroom window opposite the bedroom door. Breathless with excitement – and an ashamed twinge of fear – Kelly Ann stood on tip toes and gripped the windowsill in tiny, grimy hands. She pulled herself up as much as she could, and peered out of the window and down onto the lawn below.
It was Daddy. Daddy was on the lawn, yelling for someone to come downstairs and let him in. Kelly Ann’s face broke into a radiant smile, and she released a breath she had been holding just in case it was a boogeyman down on the grass. Daddy’s face was red and looking up at her window. He must have seen the light, known that Kelly Ann was up, and was trying to get her attention. She raised one of her tiny, grimy hands to wave, and she saw Daddy smile big. He jumped into the air, waving both of his arms above his head, and called for Kelly Ann to come downstairs and let him in. Careful not to shout and wake Ma, Kelly Ann showed her Daddy the thumbs up sign and then disappeared from sight.
Once again, she padded soundlessly across the room to light switch beside the bedroom door. Once again, she employed her tippy toes and stretched until she could stretch no more so she could flick of the bedroom light, lest Ma knew she was awake. Once she was safe among the shadows, Kelly Ann slowly, slowly, slowly opened her bedroom door, simultaneously biting down on her full, bottom lip as if that action would not only keep the door from creaking, but also keep Ma snoozing peacefully down the hall.
With the door open, Kelly Ann peered up and down the hallway. She saw no one and released a tremulous breath. The only movement came from dust mites, gracefully floating in the random shafts of moonlight that reflected through the upstairs windows to light upon the floor. The only noise Kelly Ann could hear was her own breathing and the ticking of the big clock downstairs in the living room. As far as she could tell, the coast was clear. She crept along the hallway and tip toed down the stairs, making sure to lightly tread along the carpet running down the middle and to jump over the trick step that always seemed to squawk at the worst possible moments. Enthralled by her stealthy abilities, Kelly Ann began to imagine that she Agent 99 from that show “Get Smart” and that she was really rescuing her Daddy from a group of masked bandits that had gathered on the front lawn. He was depending on her, he needed her and Kelly Ann was going to save the day.
Kelly Ann reached the bottom of the stairs and took only a few steps towards the back door, which was through the kitchen that was straight ahead before she stopped dead in her tracks, terrified and open-mouthed.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ma sneered, standing just inside the kitchen doorway with her hands on her hips, and her shoulders so tensed that they were all the way up by her ears.
Kelly Ann turned to her mother slowly, fighting an oncoming pout and averting her eyes. “I – I was just, I was just gonna let Daddy in.”
“Don’t you dare,” Ma growled. “If he wants to go out drinking with his friends after work, and not come home to help a woman with ten children, then he can stay out, the bum!” The last part was more directed at Daddy than at Kelly Ann, and Ma turned her body more towards the door to prove it. She sneered at Daddy, and Daddy just looked back at Ma helplessly through the window.
“Come on, Helen,” he pleaded. “It’s cold and dark out here, and it’s late. Let me in and we can talk.”
“Not a chance in hell, Charlie!” she shouted. Ma was fighting mad.
Daddy rolled his eyes in exasperation, and in doing so, landed them on Kelly Ann. He smiled brightly and waved. “Hey, Kelly Ann, come on over and open the door for Daddy!”
Kelly Ann beamed back at her father and forgot that her mother was in the room at all. She took a few more steps forward before she felt Ma’s icy, iron grip around her arm. “Get upstairs and go to bed!” Ma ordered. Kelly Ann offered her father a small, sympathetic look before turning and bounding up the stairs.
Kelly Ann was crying. She wasn’t scared anymore – well, she was a little scared of Ma and what she would do to Daddy, but she was very sad that she couldn’t save the day. Daddy had been depending on her, and she had fallen short of the mark.
As always, please comment to offer critiques, responses, and pieces of your own.