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"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" ~ Neil Gaiman (A Game of You)

1.23.2010

Calling All Critics!

Wishes

Death was of no consequence to Elizabeth. She was a woman of faith and therefore had no doubt that she would be crowned with glory in the hereafter. And if she was wrong, and existence simply came to a sudden, screeching halt – there was a certain appeal to this idea, as well. Far more frightening to her was the aging process, that winding, descending path that ultimately led to death's door.

She had watched time ravage her mother's life, precipitously it seemed. As the oldest child of seven, Elizabeth could not remember a time when her mother did not look tired and gray. Her father, with so many mouths to feed, never seemed to find that level of financial success that equated security. Lines of worry etched into her mother's face, along her forehead, around her eyes, and deeply into the corners of her mouth, drawing it into an eternal frown.

Her mother carried the cumulative pounds of seven pregnancies and uninhibited indulgences like a burden that slowed her step and impeded her from the natural enjoyments of life. She developed arthritis early, followed by diabetes, and then osteoporosis that bent her forward like an elderly Atlas carrying the weight of the world. The death of her husband was the final blow. When she began showing signs of dementia, it was almost like a voluntary withdrawal from a painful life that was too much.

Her mother's life therefore became a template of opposites for Elizabeth's life. Living by the maxim, “You can fall in love with a rich man as easily as a poor one,” Elizabeth was very selective in her dating choices. Only those young men who were clearly ambitious and exceptional were allowed to compete for her hand. The man she chose to marry became a very successful lawyer. She had just two children, two lovely, mild girls who rarely ruffled her sufficiently to cause a hair to stray, let alone turn gray.

Elizabeth's body was a temple. She ate lean meats and low carbs and plenty of leafy vegetables. She allowed herself one … just one … single glass of red wine with her dinner. She took her vitamins and various supplements and antioxidants as they came en vogue. She was active and athletic, visiting the gym often and insisting her husband install tennis courts and a covered, heated pool on their estate.

She shouldn't have been surprised when the call came from the doctor, and in hindsight, perhaps she wasn't. She struggled nonetheless to grasp the full magnitude of his words. Her mother had slipped in the shower and broken her hip. It was unlikely that she would regain mobility again. She would require round the clock assistance. Her insurance would cover a few days' stay in the hospital, during which time arrangements would need to be made for her care. It would be unreasonable to expect she could remain alone in her home. He left her with the suggestion that she discuss the situation with her family.

She hung up the phone. She grabbed her heavy coat from the closet and stepped outside, as if by escaping the house she could escape her responsibilities. She took the well worn path that rambled through the woods and across property lines, connecting otherwise distant neighbors. The crisp autumn air and her racing thoughts caused her to walk briskly. The trees swayed in the breeze, birds chattered, and a brook gurgled nearby, but today they all went unnoticed. She replayed the conversation over and over in her mind, looking for a way out.

Her mother would come live with her, of course. It was the only logical option. She and Steven were by far the most financially stable. They had a large house with plenty of room. She no longer had little ones to care for at home; Stephanie was already at college, and Jessica was a senior this year. . She didn't have to work. She had a part time position as editor for the weekly magazine that came with the local Sunday paper, but that was more of a hobby than a career. She grimaced as she realized she couldn't possibly ask her siblings to take on this much of a burden when she was so uniquely equipped.

She slowed and looked around her. She suddenly realized how far she had walked. She had crossed onto the Taylor's property and was standing before a small water well. Weeds were growing around the base and through cracks in the bottom. The crank was rusted and the bucket once attached was missing. The wood and the brick had been eroded to a uniform pale gray. It was certainly no longer in use, and possibly forgotten.

Impulsively, she fished around in her jeans pocket and pulled out a coin. She closed her eyes and held it to her lips. I wish I didn't have to take care of my mother, she thought. She threw the coin into the well and listened until she heard a tiny plop. She was immediately overcome by guilt and embarrassment at her childish gesture. She pulled the collar of her coat up more tightly around her and hurried back home.

8 comments:

Renee said...

Wow. This is powerful and for a sick woman who spends a great deal of time consulting with her sick hubby about our future it speaks loudly. We want to live close to one of our kids as we miss them all so much...but we don't want to be a burden....but we know that we need help at times.....and we don't see ever living Lyme free at this point..research supports this unfortunately. So this part of the story with the coin and the wishing well is what is vivid for me today.
But also the beginning is where I find myself today...effort...everything such an effort.
GOODNESS! I am having a pity party and making this about me!
Let me say your writing is soooo good, so honest and has given me pause...
So glad you started this place of words to share with us.

DanyaLynd said...

BEAUTIFUL! I can't wait to read your book!!!!! You are SO talented!!!

hopeandme said...

Shelli, once I started reading I couldn't stop. I found nothing to critique! I will read it again slower; however, am certain that I will not be able to find any errors.

This is going to be a MUST READ! Thanks for allowing it to be read here.
Barbara B

Emilie said...

Wow Aunt Shelli!! That was amazing! I would definitely want to read the rest of this.
One sentence that I thought was kind of weird though was right at the beginning about her father. "Her father, with so many mouths to fee, never seemed to find that level of financial success that equated security." It is well written, but as just one line about her father, I don't think it fits very well. Especially since the rest of the paragraph is about her mother.
Good luck with this. I think it has great potential. :)

JAMAL said...

Lovely, Shelli. It seems like this character is going to really grow and change through this experience, and come to appreciate her mother, in spite of the things the character has judged harshly throughout her life. I think you have created in just a few words people with real depth, whose lives seem real and do jump off the page. Very nicely done. Definitely a work in progress worth working on!

Lori said...

Shelli,
It was great and definitely "hooked" me! I can't wait to read what happens next. What wonderful writing. You go girl! :)

Tanya Parker Mills said...

Excellent writing, Shelli! You have a great beginning, with the characters well drawn. I do have a couple of suggestions:

1) You use the word "was" way too many times in the first paragraph. (I really didn't notice that problem in later paragraphs, so I almost got the feeling you were just getting your writing juices warmed up.)

2) In the 7th paragraph, the phrase "The trees swayed..." etc. seemed a bit too easy for the kind of writing you'd been doing up to then. A little too cliche and not specific enough.

Otherwise, I think it"s terrific!

Shelli said...

Thank you so much for your opinions and encouragement!

@Renee -- I'm glad the story touched you on a personal level; it tells me that something is working here! I hope I can maintain that through the rest of the piece.

@Tanya -- Look at you catching me being lazy! I took your advice and reworked the opening paragraph.

You're right, that line in paragraph 7 was kind of a "place setter", something to remind me what I want to say until I get around to editing it.