I remember the year my sister made the pumpkin dump cake. It was the year we had Thanksgiving at St. George’s. It was the year sunsets hung in the moist air. The year we didn’t want to stress Mom. The year the surf was a disintegrating bridal veil.
Sister, do you remember when, scared in the old manse in Texas, you and I whirled and whirled through the hallway during a thunderstorm? Do you remember when I left you in the hall so I could go find our mother? I remember what she said to me when I entered her dark room: Where is your sister? Why are you not taking care of her? Why did you leave her alone?
Sister, do you remember when, many years later, you held my hand while I had my hair buzzed off? Do you remember when I was sick, when I had cancer? Do you remember going to my appointments and asking questions when I was weak? Do you remember begging relatives to come to my surgery when everyone seemed to have better things to do? Had I died you would have arranged my funeral, you would have seen me honored.
I wanted to say to our mother then, when I survived: Here is my sister, Mother. She has taken good care of me. She has not left me alone. I will always be in debt to my sister. She loves me. And I love her.
for National Siblings Day, April 10, 2019
I am entering rougher terrain in order to try to finish the writing prompts for flashnano, almost a month after the event. The quality of stories will vary, some being more cohesive than others, some more developed in terms of concept and voice than others, some more exciting and gripping than others. I am thinking of some of these as being sketches for later characters and stories or even nonfiction pieces I’d like to develop. Some may never see the light of day again. Thank you for reading.
I had never seen a woman use a mud mask until my sister and I slept over at a friend’s house. That was when we lived in Arkansas where our father was a minister. My mother didn’t use masks, or at least not around me and my sister and brother.
My friend’s mother was a kind woman, civic minded, political, intense. She was married to a wealthy successful man though there was often something silent and dark about him. He hunted and my father didn’t like to hunt. He drank, my preacher father did not.
I wish I could remember more about why my friend’s mother came into the room where all the girls were sleeping. Were we being loud? I don’t remember. Was she upset about something? I don’t recall. I only remember the shock of seeing her transformed, standing in the doorway the light behind her, her face obscured behind the mud mask, her gaze now alien and removed.
She was always kind to me when I was young and in the years after, even after my family moved from Arkansas and lived in another state, even through my college and married years. For birthdays and holidays, I always received a card scribbled in her tiny, almost indecipherable script.
She was nice to me too when she came to eat lunch with my family when we lived in Florida. I can’t remember the infraction I had committed as an adult child to inspire my parent’s silence toward me at that table on that day, but my friend’s mother was most visibly distressed over the disparity of attention lavished on the adult children. I felt it in her darting eyes and the shifting in her seat. For her it had been an experience of unnaturalism.
I think of her as a little darting bird like the kind you find who distracts you mercifully when you look out into the trees seeking solace or praying for relief.
I don’t know how a mud mask fits into this little story other than to perhaps point to the reality that she was always only ever herself.
But maybe the compulsion to make neat and tidy those elements of a story which rightfully exist randomly is undertaken by the same type who seek a too ready oneness with romantic partners and peers, those who are the pleasers and the insecurely attached.
No matter, what my friend’s mother shows is that there are people who exist for you even if you have not asked for them and even if you think you scarcely deserve them but there they are, seeing you. And sometimes that is all you want: a witness.
Put the tiny cup to my lips, father, and I will drink the grape juice, the blood of our Lord. I am too weak to grasp it myself and cannot lift my head from the pillow.
Your kindly, knobby fingers I know so well, and the freckle by your ring finger. The bells of your church in Arkansas years ago when I was a child, the bright green lawn, the white of the walls beyond the gold cross suspended from the ceiling with taut wire. At the front of the church I sing with my friends “So My Sheep May Safely Graze,” our voices reverberating, mother on the second row where she always sits. You in your red velvet chair behind the pulpit. I know where you keep a glass of water, on a shelf just below the Bible, a secret shelf.
Do you remember when I went with you to give a last communion to an invalid lady? You served her from a velvet lined burgundy kit containing the juice and wafers, Jesus’ body. When we were sitting in the car later in front of her house, I stared hard out of the window, afraid to look at your face because you said I was strong. Tears stung my eyes. When you asked me what was wrong I said will that lady be alright? You said nothing. Our experience became a sermon illustration.
I try to speak to you but my words cannot make it into my mouth my body has become slowed and lazy with the sedatives, the morphine.
I love you, father.
You hold my hand, you tell me where to go, you tell me where I will meet you. You ask me to reserve a place.
Check out my new flash piece in a fabulous UK literary magazine Use Your Words. Merry Christmas! — Meg
· Santa Baby ·
by Meg Sefton
There is a man I see from the dating site I call Santa. He calls me Cupcake even though I asked him from the beginning to call me by my given name. He did once, in a text, but ever since, it’s been “Doll” or “Cupcake.” I wonder if he even really knows my name anymore. When I first started dating five years ago after my divorce from a twenty-year marriage, I had been overwhelmed and appalled by trying to date midlife, things were so different when I met and dated my ex. Plus, I had been raised and married into a religiously conservative subculture and when I started dating again, soon learned how sheltered I had been for most of my adult life.
Santa hangs Christmas lights from the roofs and eaves, ancient oak trees, and palms in the wealthiest suburb of…
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Daddy drove us nine hundred miles to Florida the Christmas after Mama passed. It was just me, Daddy, and my little sister Lulu. Daddy said there wasn’t anything in Florida that wasn’t all around the world and that was Christmas love and reindeers and Santa. He didn’t want to see snow, he said, or get a tree or eat turkey. These things reminded him of Mama and he needed a break from feeling sad. He said she would have wanted us to go to Florida for Christmas. In fact, he said, she probably knew what we were up to right now and it made her happy.
When I wasn’t keeping my sister occupied with books and games of eye spy, I was watching the landscape change from naked trees and gray skies to thick grass and fat palms and I was watching for Mama to see if she was watching us drive to Florida. Maybe she was traveling beside us, just outside the window. I looked for her in the shadows of green. I looked for her in the marshes beside the freeway. She would wear her white linen gown, the one with the satin bow I had learned to tie when I was three years old. She would wear her hair long, like she did before the sickness took it. She loved the outdoors. It made sense I saw her a few times, walking along in the trees, touching the head of a tall white bird in the marsh, a place she would sink if she were a real person and not a ghost.
The camp was a place called Cocoa Beach. I had wondered if that meant the water would be made of chocolate. I had visions of me and Mama and my sister rolling in waves and waves of cocoa. Dad would be sitting on the shore, reading his paper as usual. We would bring him cups of cocoa and he would pretend to drink it just like he did at our tea parties. He would finally join us and mama would flee away, not wanting to cause him pain because she was a ghost and it seemed like ghosts knew everything.
We camped in a spot surrounded by twisted trees and bushes with red berries. It looked like God put his finger down and stirred things up, but it was really the wind and soil that made them the way they were said Daddy. While he set up the tent, he let us go to the beach and put our toes in the water which was not cocoa. The sand was crushed shells and scratched my feet but it didn’t hurt. When a wave crashed, bits of shell rubbed up against my legs. My shoulders felt warm from the sun. I put my diving mask on and dunked my head under the water, looking for Mama. Not far away I saw the tail end of a white gown flowing in the water but then a wave took me down and by the time I stood up, I could see no one. I went under again and all I could see was the strange grey green sea.
Lulu was scared of the water and so I had to hold her like Mama used to, on my hip. She could swim but I knew it was the moving water that worried her and she clung tight. When the waves started slapping her bottom, she kicked and screamed. I took her back to the shore and held her hand while we walked back to the campsite. My stomach was all in knots because I thought she might cry to Daddy about the waves and spoil things but she just sat on the picnic bench and sucked her thumb. I brought a towel and wrapped it around her.
That night by the camp fire, Daddy read about the baby Jesus. All I could think about was whether Mary would get cancer and leave Jesus. Then I remembered Mary weeping for Jesus on the cross. I didn’t feel so sorry for him that he was poor and there wasn’t room for him in the inn. And I didn’t care about Easter and Jesus dying. This was Christmas. I kicked some sand into the fire.
“Katherine Elizabeth,” daddy said like he does when I’m in trouble.
He sent me to the camp restrooms to get ready for bed. There was a lady in the stall beside me who had blue veins running through her feet like Mama did right before she died.
“Where is your campsite?” I asked her when I came out of my stall but she just kept washing her hands over and over. I couldn’t see her face. Her hair hung down like Mama’s used to hang when she let it free. “Are you Mama?”
She looked up at me then. She had dark eyes and a face with deep lines around her mouth. She only wiped her hands on a roll of cloth that went round and round through a machine.
Daddy was silent in the tent. He didn’t sing to us like Mama would have. I knew I shouldn’t say anything about the lady and about whether Mama was in Florida. He promised Santa would find us no matter where we were but of course I knew Santa was a made up story. But how come so many grown ups believed you would never die? Was Mama an angel now?
When Daddy and Lulu were asleep, I slipped outside the tent. The moonlight made our campsite white. Little puffs of air blew against my face and the shadows moved with the trees.
I spoke with Santa then. I asked him for my old Mama back – the one who could still lift Lulu on her hip, who could sing us to sleep without stopping to catch her breath, who made us fried chicken and biscuits. I asked Santa if my Mama was here. I asked him these things even though he was supposed to be an old made up story for children.
There was only the sound of the crashing chocolate waves. How Mama would have loved that, that I imagined them as cocoa. She would have played along, filling up a pot and putting it on the fire, doing magic and making real chocolate. She would have kissed me for my dream of the dark, sweet, milk sea. There was a sea somewhere like that and Mama was waiting for us, with Peter the wolfhound who died soon after she died, heartsick my dad told us. He was licking up the ocean. She had gone there to prepare a place for us. We would never be apart again and Daddy would watch over us always.
I stuck a dried up flower from a palm tree in the sand. Daddy said people didn’t really notice the flower of the palm but he said the most interesting things come and go in secret. I put some rocks around the base to hold it up and then at the top I tied the ribbon Mama had given me. It was white and satin like the ribbon in her gown. The dried up palm flower looked like a Christmas tree. I would leave it out all night, just in case.