A Little Shoebox

A Little Shoebox

A Story by 49k_jdys
"

Even the briefest seconds of life offer the most of love.

"

 

My mother is a ghost. She smells of morbidity and rust and she floats about haggardly in the stained, ivory nightgown she hasn’t removed in three months. Sometimes she bathes, or rather submerges herself in a bath full of tepid water. Now and then I’ll creep in and wash her hair over the edge while she lies there wordless, blinking drearily, while the nightgown billows around her. I wash her hair gently�"no tugs�"and watch her face for signs of sleep. I’ll save her if she slips beneath the water again.

            Her hands shake when she uses them; she’s dropped countless glasses and plates. We use paper now. She dropped her wedding ring down the garbage disposal and my father was so angry he threw his down the disposal too, and they didn’t acknowledge each other for a full day.

            My father is a shadow. He leaves when it’s dark and he comes back when it’s dark, and even then, I forget mostly what he looks like because he always turns off all the lights except the lamp and the TV. Father-shadow smells like whiskey and mildew and outside. He drinks now. Probably because mother won’t have sex with him, or make dinner for him, or clean his house. Or give him babies that don’t come out blue.

            Father sleeps on the couch. He avoids their bedroom and the squeaky bed with its yellowing sheets. He won’t look at the kitchen table on rainy nights because that’s where mother cries with the wind and the water and clips obituaries with black and white photos of little girls and boys. There are about a hundred, I’ll bet. All lined up alphabetically without any Js. No Js for blue Jacob.

            Father doesn’t cry but he talks in his sleep. His sleeping eyes roll and dart�"“why, why, why”. I wonder if he dreams about blue babies. I do. Sometimes I’m surprised when I see rosy babies, and babies with ebony skin, and babies with blue eyes but not blue bodies.

A bead of water drips off her nose and mother’s breath quickens like when we rounded the corner on that day. From her wheelchair she had held her hospital gown shut against her breast and had stretched out her hand like a little girl window-shopping at Christmas. All the babies were lined up tidily in their snug boxes, tucked away in neat little squares like a box of Valentine’s chocolate.  I had recognized a pure jealousy in her sad eyes.  It hadn’t quite matched her defeated smile. Father just kept walking. I had studied the speckled tile for accidental shapes, and I knew then that we’d begun the first day of a thousand years of blue, blue, blue.

            Since mother is only a body now, neighbor Mrs. Peele takes me to school. Nobody asked her. She used to ask questions but I just make the face father makes if you interrupt the football game or if mother drops another dish�"the face he makes all the time, now I guess. So neighbor Mrs. Peele just smiles and her daughter Susan just turns up the radio, and when Mrs. Peele drops us off in front of the middle school and hands Susan and I paper sacks, I don’t say thank you since I throw most of it away anyhow. In case Susan might see, I sometimes rip up the bag into tiny pieces and crush the cookies and bananas and flush them down the toilet. Like father says, I’d rather go hungry that take that high class b***h’s charity.

            I ride the bus home when Susan and the high class b***h have shopping to do. The bus stinks but it’s better than listening to Susan’s music or avoiding Mrs. Peele’s stretchy smiles. Once, a girl on the bus said, “Where do babies come from?” and a plump old lady with glasses smiled from across the aisle like it was the sweetest thing she’d heard all day. The girl’s mother started on some story about seeds and watermelons, and I said, “Hey, you ever seen a blue baby?” The lady frowned and the girl shook her pigtails. “They ruin your whole life, and they sleep under ground and chase after you in your dreams with slimy cords around their necks and they never open their eyes so they have to look at you through their eyelids. I saw one. My mom got one instead of a regular one and the nurses put it in a shoebox instead of throwing it away.”

            “Shame on you,” the lady hissed. The girl’s eyes were wide. The old lady moved to the front of the bus. I felt a smile pushing behind my lips; I covered my mouth and pretended to yawn.

            I wasn’t always that way. Before the blue baby took it all away I brought home bunches of dandelions, and I rubbed sunblock onto Mother’s back. I played the clarinet because the funny honking noises made Father smile. I hung A+ papers on the refrigerator�"the refrigerator when it worked, when I didn’t have to squash the flies that come since mother would open the door and father wasn’t a night crawler. Before the blue baby, father read thick, old books, cleared the table after dinner and kissed mother on the cheek, sometimes gave her a quick swat on the butt. In those days mother was a braiding expert and she would wake me up with Eggo waffles and banana slices, and she’d arrange them in a smiley face before she took my hair in her hands and wished father the best day ever, sweetie.

The baby was blue and didn’t move�"like a fire hydrant, or a rock, or the bar of soap that Mother never touches. The baby just slid out the shade of a bruise and held his breath. I practice holding my breath sometimes. Turn blue, turn blue. But I don’t.

            Mother drops another dish. I close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears because Father is home. I can mute out some of the sounds, but I know they’re yelling about the same old things. Something about Father’s sins with money, and how they could have managed to afford those ultrasound appointments if he hadn’t f-word it all up at the f-word casino.


© 2018 49k_jdys



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Featured Review

this was so beautifully written. At first i thought the mother and father are dead and that you were talking about post depression and memories of them. As the story progressed i realized the reality and that the family had been broken up because of the death of the infant. its really sad that happened. it affects the other child as well who feels he or she arent good enough or worth their parents happiness enough.
beautifully written with amazing emotions and words

Posted 4 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

49k_jdys

4 Months Ago

Thank you so much Pia!



Reviews

This is a brilliant example of "show instead of tell" . . . I'm in awe of how you think of so many drab sorry details to flesh out this portrait of sad lives. There's a caustic sting to the narrator's observations that belie the actual sympathy that's conveyed in your message. This is a strong word-illustration of the old adage: "people living quiet lives of despair" & you do a great job of delineating when the crash came that changed this into a family of zombies. Your nicknames are harsh but perfect. Amazing wit, to turn authentic despair into such a powerful profile! (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 2 Months Ago


this was so beautifully written. At first i thought the mother and father are dead and that you were talking about post depression and memories of them. As the story progressed i realized the reality and that the family had been broken up because of the death of the infant. its really sad that happened. it affects the other child as well who feels he or she arent good enough or worth their parents happiness enough.
beautifully written with amazing emotions and words

Posted 4 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

49k_jdys

4 Months Ago

Thank you so much Pia!
Thanks for sharing. This story is strong and compelling. It shows off the writer's talent and sense of timing. It is, and this is important to me, not right in the reader's face; it allows the reader to discover the information the writer has created. A good thing in a story, maybe the best thing.

The story is not perfect, in my opinion it is too long with part of the "too long" part being the hammering of the word "blue". Once nailed only a tap or two is needed to keep it in place. If this is always to be a short story it is overweight by a few dozen words. If it is to be part of a longer work no problem as the rewriting needed to incorporate it into that novel or novella take care of everything.
Whatever it is, or becomes, it is an excellent piece of writing of which you should be very proud. I am glad I read it.


Posted 4 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

49k_jdys

4 Months Ago

Thank you so much for reading! I will definitely take your critiques into consideration!
Wow. This is one great story.
Just so bloody raw. So tangible.
Everybody knows that shoebox. It's hidden, but never hidden that you can never find it.
The ending brings it right into focus. You feel the pain as the fingers go in the ears. Cracking write.

Posted 4 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

49k_jdys

4 Months Ago

Thank you so so much! It took a bit out of me to write this one.
Paul Bell

4 Months Ago

It did seem very real. Hope it helped.

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151 Views
4 Reviews
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Shelved in 1 Library
Added on January 8, 2018
Last Updated on January 8, 2018
Tags: baby, kids, depression, sadness, mother, father, family, broken, death, stillborn, gambling, life, real life, loss, heartbreak

Author

49k_jdys
49k_jdys

Grand Rapids, MI



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