I’m going to try to do more writing exercises right here on this blog in the following weeks.
Today’s attempt is taken from a prompt in Chapter 1 of Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. It’s on Page 22 in the Second Edition, Exercise 7: “Write ‘My mother never …’ at the top of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going.
Here’s what I came up with:
My mother never left her cup of coffee unfinished. Steam still rolls up from it as I pace around the coffee table. The moment replays countless times – I try to get Dad to let me ride with him, and he makes me stay home with Steve. Despite all the worlds my mind makes for my toys and daydreams, it won’t create one where I stay with her. Dad closes the ambulance door every time, leaving me to care for my brother.
Steve is just sitting there, though. Not even really watching the cartoons endlessly fight on the TV screen. Where else will he go? He’s not causing trouble now! I should be with Mom.
I pace. I replay. I wait.
A ring breaks the silence. I run to the stand next to the sofa and snatch the phone from the receiver before the first ring finishes.
Dad’s voice is calm. He says he won’t be home for a long time. He tells me to get Steve to bed. He doesn’t even tell me about Mom. He doesn’t have to. I remember when Grandma was in the hospital, and how he talked then. Grandma didn’t come back.
I hang up the phone. I look back to the steaming cup, and Mom is there. I jump, but she smiles at us, and I feel calm. Steve turns off the TV, and we both watch her silently.
“Thank you,” she says, “I know you wanted to come, but really – it’s quite boring. A lot of people asking questions, papers to sign – nothing you kids would be interested in.”
She takes up the cup of coffee, taking a long sip.
“Mom,” I ask, “You won’t come home?”
“No, dear. I’m going away. Dad will be alone – don’t let him cry too much.”
“Will we… will we see you again?”
Mom takes another long sip. She holds the cup low – one more sip left.
“I think so. Not for a long, long time, though.”
Steve and I both watch her. I see for the first time that Steve is crying, then I realize that I am, too.
Just then, a headlight shines in through the living room window. The car stops, and Dad walks up to the door.
Mom takes the last sip, and then she’s gone. The door opens, and Dad walks in to see us before the empty TV screen, crying in our dazed stupor.
“I’ll have to go back out,” Dad says, “I had to check – had to see how you were.”
He hugs Steve first, but stops as he reaches me. He points to the empty cup clasped in my shaking fingers. I notice that my lips and throat are burning with dull pain.
“Mom finished it. She always does. Right Steve?”
Steve nods silently. He turns his lip in the faintest smile, and I know he really did see her too.
Dad’s eyes narrow. Slowly, carefully, he nods. Steve takes the empty mug, and I hug Dad tightly.