Readers comments: Your writing is beautiful
...can't wait to read the rest...
Thanks for sharing this loving and thoughtful story. Please continue!
This is part one of a heartwarming, life-changing six-part short story inspired by events that unfolded around my mom's death.
Most of the babies are asleep in the nap room. Jordan sits in the highchair, an array of banana slices spread before him. He captures the pieces between thumb and index finger, wraps his fist around each morsel, and pops his saliva-soaked hand into his mouth. Mashed banana covers bib, ears, and sparse hair.
Each time he looks up I spoon mashed carrots into his mouth. Banana--spoon--banana--spoon. We are managing nicely when we hear the phone ring in the director's office.
"Tel-e-phone. Tel-e-phone." My funny voice makes Jordan giggle.
"Leanne, where's Trudy?" Beth, the director, walks into the room. She is still wearing her shoes which is odd because she knows the rule: No hard-soled shoes in the infant room.
Following my obvious gaze, Beth steps back and kicks off her shoes.
"Trudy's in the nap room with Brooke. Do you want me to get her?"
"No, the phone's for you."
Who...? Maybe Byron?
"It's a man."
Nope, Beth has met my husband. Maybe one of my professors? Or Bill. Bill and I co-facilitate a parent resource group.
"You can take the call in my office. I'll help Jordan finish. Does Sara need anything?"
Sara looks like a baby Harp seal scooting around on her belly after a bright pink beach ball.
"Oh, no, that girl just wants to have fun."
Though small, the office is always orderly. Posters of smiling children and a calendar with circled dates hang on the cork walls. A metal filing cabinet decorated with magnetic happy faces is shoved into a corner. An old-fashioned oak teacher's desk occupies the centre of the room. Paperwork is neatly organized in two wicker baskets. The phone receiver lies in one of the baskets.
"Hello." I recognize the voice immediately--my eldest brother. I'd moved to BC three years ago but I still feel pangs of homesickness, especially when I speak with my family. "I'm surprised you're phoning me at work."
"Listen, Leanne, I wish I was calling about something more--."
My knees begin to buckle and I collapse into the padded chair.
"It's Mom. The doctor thinks you should come home."
Fighting back tears, I hang up the phone and push myself back to the infant room.
"Beth..." Somehow I'm able to get the news out.
"Leanne, you've got to go home. We'll manage here," she tells me.
The click of Byron's computer keyboard greets me at the door.
I can't face him--not yet. I'll drown him in tears. I can't dump this all on him. I have to wait until I'm...I'm strong enough.
I pass his home office and make my way to our bedroom.
I need to... I need to...
I flop onto the bed, close my eyes, and... but dark thoughts make rest impossible. I push myself up with my elbows and swing my knees off the bed. Where's the...? I need to...
The large red suitcase is in the back of the closet.
Spoiled--that was me. My parents always gave me everything even if that meant they had to do without.
I pull open my top dresser drawer.
But I've changed, grown-up.
I collect several balls of socks.
I'll be like Florence Nightingale--not think about my own needs at all, only Mom.
I stack the socks against one side of the suitcase.
We'll talk like we used to about fashion and home renovation.
Back to the dresser this time for panties.
She'll grow stronger and stronger. Until she's strong enough to go home. And then so will I.
The panties tumble out of my hands and onto the socks like leaves. I ease myself onto the edge of the bed and slid down to the floor.
Or maybe I'll stay longer. Have a break from work and school and volunteering and... I've pushed myself so hard for so long.
I push myself to my knees and then I stand.
I'm so tired, but everyone else is managing all their stuff. Why can't I manage mine? I need to push myself harder and not cave in so easily. I can't lose my job. I have to complete my degree. The parents need me. I can't let Byron down. I need to pack a few bras. I just wish I didn't always feel so tired. Maybe I should reduce my hours at the daycare? Or take fewer credits? There's got to be a way all of this can work. Mom will know. She always has.
I grab a few bras and toss them into the suitcase.
No, it's my turn to take care of her. She needs me. And I owe her... I...owe...her...so much.
Tears well up but I refuse to let them fall.
I need to be strong. I need to get a grip on things. I need to...write.
Full of memories, I crawl into the closest and pull the door closed.
I recall three of us gathered around the kitchen table--Mom, me, and a younger cousin. Homebaked cookies were on a plate, milk in plastic tumblers.
"I want to do the arithmetic game," my cousin said.
Mom set the challenge. "2 times 2?"
Without taking time to think, my cousin said, "4"
I needed the time, but I got there.
"4 times 4?"
That's wrong, I thought. It's 8.
"Right," Mom said with a smile. "16 times 16?"
They continued like this, speaking their language--leaving me in the dust.
Later, after my cousin had gone home, I went to Mom in tears. "How can you love me? I'm so stupid."
She wrapped her arms around me. "Leanne, never say that. You are smart--."
"No, I'm not," I told her, "I can't play the number game."
"Leanne, there are many ways to be smart. Numbers are only one way." She assured me of her love, of her pride. I can tell by her eyes that she's telling the truth, that she does love me.
My elementary school teachers, clearly frustrated, gave up on me, but Mom never did. She had boundless patience for me. Day after day, teaching me colours, numbers, the alphabet. She moved mountains. She was always there to encourage me, always there to help me work through the puzzling world. She was always there. Was...?
She needs to be remembered as a heroic woman, I propped my journal on my knees and click my pen. Words chase words out of my brain onto the paper and my pen flies.
Mom has filled many roles in my life--nurturer, adviser, fashion coordinator, sage, and most importantly my best friend. In fact, if I focused on my needs this would be a dark gray day. However, this is very selfish.
It is up to us to live our lives--positively or negatively. Mom thrilled in the positive. She found pleasure in small things--children, animals, family, and friends. Her life wasn't always easy. She did meet setbacks. But she took them in stride, handled them with grace and put her trust in--
"Leanne." The bedroom door creaks open. "Leanne?" The closet door swung open. "What are you doing in there."
"In the dark?"
"Yes...I need to…" I can’t push my voice through my tears.
Byron helps me to my feet and folds me into his embrace. "Oli is strong," he tells me. "She can beat this."
Part two of 'A Woman Like Her' will be published on this blog on Wednesday, May 5 at 7:40 am PST
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