Writing short stories

6 Nov

I thought I might share a short story. One of my weird ones. This is one that got honorable mention in one of the first contests that I entered.

Mama’s Things

             “Damn y’all!  I don’t like doing this.  I feel like a vulture picking over dead meat.  I need a drink and a cigarette.”  Martha stood, reached for her purse and searched through it for her cigarettes.  She pulled one from the pack, lit it from a lighter she picked up from the coffee table and inhaled deeply.

            “Sit down, Martha.  Mama said this was the way she wanted it and this is the way we’ll do it.  Besides, it’s too early to be drinking.”  June rattled the papers in her hand and looked at Martha in disgust.

            Martha paced the floor of the small living room glancing now and then at the other women.  “I think Mama should have written down what she wanted each of us to have; not waited until she died.” she said in a petulant tone.

            Gayle spoke up, “For God’s sake Martha, it’s not like Mama knew she and Dad would die in that accident!  Gimme a break!”

            “Well, I don’t know why not?  Mama always said she was psychic.”  Martha’s tone was sarcastic.  Babs caught her breath.  “Oh Martha, don’t be so mean.  We’re all feeling bad enough.”

Babs sat quietly on the edge of the pink flowered sofa.  “You know y’all, Mama and Daddy are probably watching us right now, thinking what a bunch of silly shits.  They’re probably laughing and saying, “That’s our girls, fighting as usual.”

            June rolled her eyes.   “Honey, I’m sure they’ll know we’re trying to do the right thing.  Now let’s get back to this list.”

            The sisters sat in the small living room each one dealing with the death of their parents in their own unique way.  Martha, 48 years old, divorced, and childless, used alcohol to deaden the ache in her heart.  June, all business, buried her feelings in the paperwork.  A forty-five year old accountant, she had been designated the executor.  At forty-two Gayle, sophisticated and worldly, just wanted out of the ordeal.  What would she do with Mama’s things anyway?  None of it would fit in her post modern home.  Babs, the youngest at forty, dreaming and mystical, had set up a special altar to commemorate her parents and talked to them every night.  She was the most serene, missing them, but knowing in her heart they were in a good place. 

            Bobbie Jo and Dan Godfrey were traveling west on highway 61 outside of Charleston, South Carolina, when broadsided by a drunk teenager roaring out of a side road.  As happens in so many cases, they were killed instantly and the kid walked away with only a few bruises.  It seems that God protects the fools and the drunks.  A simple fishing trip became a family tragedy. 

            The day after the funeral the girls were gathered in the small modest house to settle the business of dividing their parent’s personal effects.  Grief was palpable in the warm summer air and the faces were quiet and set, unlike other times, when they were together laughing, joking and teasing one another.  The focal point of the family was gone.  Where would they go now for family gatherings?  Who would cook Thanksgiving dinner?  Who would loan them money when they needed it?   Who would listen when they complained of their husbands and their lives?  Who would hug them and tell them everything will work out?  It’s sad to lose one parent no matter how old one is, but to lose both at the same time was doubly difficult.

            Martha stopped pacing.   “June, where’s Carl?” 

            “He had to fly to Hartford this morning.  He’s so worried about business he’s not much comfort.”

            Martha turned to Babs. “Is Jerry gonna be at the supper tonight?”

            “Yeah, but he has to get back to Atlanta.  We thought we’d leave tomorrow afternoon, if we can get this stuff straightened out.”  Her large brown eyes brimmed with unshed tears.

            Gayle stood.  “I have to pee, don’t decide anything until I get back.”  She headed down the narrow hallway, spiked heels clicking on the worn oak floor.

            Martha said, “Y’all know she’s not gonna want any of Mama’s things.  They wouldn’t fit in her big, fancy house.”

            “Oh, don’t be so spiteful, Martha.  I’m sure there’ll be something she’ll want,” June retorted.

            Gayle came back into the room, sat down and looked at her sisters.  “Y’all talking about me behind my back?”

            “Now why would we do that, sweet thing?”  Martha arched her brows.

            “Y’all stop it.”  Babs stood and shook her finger at Martha.  “We’re supposed to love one another.  How can you be so mean?” 

            Gayle pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pants pocket and put one in her mouth unlighted.  “Oh, let her have her fucking drink.  Maybe it’ll improve her disposition.”

            Martha raised her voice, “I don’t have to stay here and listen to you insult me.” 

            June stood and put her hands on her hips, “All right everybody, enough of this shit.  Mom and Dad are gone, we’re all stressed, let’s try to have a little civility here and get this over with.”

            Gayle shrugged.  “Well, I don’t want Mama’s silver.  It’s too ornate for my taste and I don’t wanna polish it.”

            Babs raised her hand.  “If no one wants it, then I’d like to have it for my little Crissy.”

            June said, “How about the silver tea service?”  No one spoke.  June looked at her sisters, “Okay, I’ll take it.”  She looked at Gayle.  “Is there anything of Mama’s you want?”

            “I wouldn’t mind having Mama’s sapphire ring, the one Daddy brought her from the Philippines.  I could have it made into a pendant for Julie.  She doesn’t have anything old for the wedding.  I think she’d like Mama’s ring and I think Mama would want her to have it.” 

            “Is that all you want, Gayle?”  June said.

            “Yeah, that’s all I want.  Maybe a few family pictures.  We’ve still got to go through those.  Mama has at least two large boxes and several albums.”

            “I think Mama and Daddy would want their clothes donated, maybe to the Methodist Church or the Salvation Army.  Don’t you think?”  Babs hesitated and looked around the room.

            The sisters looked at one another. 

            “Yeah.”  June said, “Let’s give them to the church.”

            She got up and went into the neat, compact kitchen.  She opened a cabinet, took out a glass and filled it from a container in the fridge.  “Anyone want anything while I’m up?” she called out. 

            Gayle called from the living room.  “Please, I’ll have a glass of water and if you don’t mind, put a slice of lemon in it.”

            Martha stopped pacing, looked sharply at Gayle and shook her head

            Gayle said, “What?”

            Martha said, “Gayle, you’re such a fucking yuppie.” 

            Gayle started to get up from her chair, when Babs said, “Y’all stop it!  Can’t y’all ever get together without fighting?  Our Mama and Daddy are dead and we’re never gonna see them again.”  The last few words came out as a wail.  She put her head in her hands and sobbed.

            June came out of the kitchen with the glasses of water.  “Now look what y’all have done.”  She put the glasses down on the coffee table, sat next to Babs and put her arms around her.  “It’s okay, honey.  You cry; it’ll make you feel better.”  She held her tightly and began to rock gently. 

            The other two watched silently with stricken faces.  Tears began to slide down Martha’s cheeks.  She moved quickly and sat on the other side of her sister and put her arms around both of them. 

Gayle sat for a moment silently watching her three sisters.  She caught her breath, her face crumpled and she said, “Oh, God.”  She stood, pushed the coffee table aside and knelt on the floor holding onto them. 

Martha pulled Gayle close.  The four sisters held on to each other and cried aloud their grief.  The keening sounds came from deep inside.  They wrapped around the gut and squeezed the heart.  The sisters held on to one another and wailed; a wrenching, primitive sound of grief and loss.  They grieved for their parents, but they also grieved for their lost youth, for the parts of their lives that hadn’t worked, for dreams unrealized. 

The sobs slowly subsided until the room was still.

Gayle moved first, catching her breath.  “Damn, my knees are stiff.  I don’t know if I can stand.”

June got up and helped Gayle to her feet, hugging her as she did.

Martha looked up at Gayle.  “I really do love you, you know, even though you’re such a prissy shit.”  They all laughed.

Babs said, “I do feel better.”  They laughed again a little self-consciously.

June said, “Well y’all, I guess we could use a drink right now.”

They moved as one to the kitchen.  June took four glasses from a cabinet and filled them with ice.  She reached in another cabinet and brought out a bottle of bourbon and set it on the counter.  She opened the fridge and took out a large bottle of Coke.  She filled each glass about one third with bourbon and the rest with Coke.  She stirred the glasses with a spoon she took from the sink and handed one to each woman.  She raised her glass and said, “To Mama and Daddy, may they rest in peace.”  She glanced at Babs, “Wherever they are.”

The girls solemnly clinked glasses and took a drink looking to June for direction.

“Okay.  Let’s take our drinks back to the living room and finish this there’s still a lot of Mama’s things left.”

The couple watching the scene turned to go. The taller of the two put his arm around the shoulders of the smaller figure. “It’s okay, we can go now. The girls will be fine.”



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