Healing through story

Tag: short story

shortfiction24 – morning sun

What I’m Writing This Week

Morning Sun, Edward Hopper

I find Edward Hopper’s paintings thought- provoking. This week I used Morning Sun as inspiration for a short story. Lori Hines finds freedom in the warmth of a morning sun.

Back in May of 2021, I had used another Hopper painting, A Day on the Cape, for inspiration. Here’s the link.

Please enjoy my stories. And comments are always welcome.

Morning Sun

Bob Gillen

The phone woke Lori Hines at just shy of two on a Sunday morning, the incoming number an Arizona area code she knew too well. “Ms. Hines, I regret to say that your mother passed a short time ago. She left us in her sleep. I’m so very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Lori replied.

The caller hesitated. “We will comply with your final wishes. An undertaker will cremate her remains…and dispose of the ashes as they deem appropriate.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And we will donate her belongings to a local thrift shop.”

Lori’s nod went unseen.

“Is there anything else you wish us to do? If not, I am again very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Lori cut off the call.

She opened the window curtains, staring out at the city’s dark. Only a month before, in their last phone call, her mother had told Lori, ‘If you can’t find it in your heart to visit me, don’t bother coming to my funeral.’

Well, mom, you got your wish.

Lori sat on her bed, her legs drawn up, the sounds of the nighttime city drifting in the window. Voices rose from the street as drinkers spilled out of a bar at closing time. 

Several hours later the dawn’s faint light illuminated blocks-long brownstone buildings, facades punctuated by rows and rows of windows.

The dawn offered light, a promise of warmth. 

Lori continued to sit on the bed as the warm morning sun inched over her feet, her legs, her arms. Her face. Lori felt her body ease with the heat. The blond hairs on her arms stood out in the sun. She picked at her bare fingernails. Licked her lips, dry without lipstick or balm. Rubbed her unshaven legs. Specks of blue toenail polish glinted in the sun. 

The stink of her own sweat wafted up in the flood of sunlight. 

Lori closed her eyes. A memory rose, like a sea monster rising out of the water, dripping menace and slime. She saw herself sitting on a wooden dock, drenched in sunlight reflected up from a still lake. Her feet dangled in the cool water. A canoe sat tied to the dock. In the canoe a picnic basket and two paddles. Tied to the front of the canoe a silver balloon. Happy 10th Birthday, it read.

In the memory Lori’s mother padded up behind her. “Your father will not be coming up from the city for your picnic…today…or ever. When we return from our vacation he will be gone.”

Lori had continued to face out over the lake. Her mother reached for the picnic basket. “Let me put this back in the cottage. Come up when you’re hungry.”

Lori had sat on the dock till her legs, her arms, her face were sunburned. At the cottage her mother rubbed lotion on the burned skin…and never again mentioned her father. 

Ever.

For twenty years Lori and her mother had gone about their lives. Her father had not died. He simply had ceased to exist. Lori did not know if her parents had divorced. She had had no word about him. Living or dead, who knew?

And now, twenty years after her mother’s lakeside announcement, Lori sat again in the bright sun. Basked in it like a house cat that had prowled for hours seeking the one spot of sunlight on the carpet.

Outside, the city braced for another hot day. Noise slashed at her senses. Sirens, honking, yelling, grinding gears.

Come up when you’re hungry. Lori shifted off the bed, pulled on yesterday’s clothes, stepped into the kitchen. Her faithful French press charged her with fresh coffee.

At least a rut leads somewhere

Lori sipped the coffee, grabbed a Mason jar from the kitchen counter. Paper strips filled the jar, strips saved from fortune cookies after years of eating Chinese take-out. Every morning she pulled one to start her day. Today’s message, Only difference between a rut and a grave is depth.

She shrugged. At least a rut leads somewhere. The strip fluttered into the trash.

She went to the bedroom, returned with a bottle of red nail polish. She tugged her foot up onto the edge of the chair, began painting her toenails.

Her phone chirped with a spam call. She ignored it, then thumbed in a number.

“Hey, Maya. Just wanted to let you know my mother died last night…”

Lori listened to Maya’s response. 

“Yeah, you’re right. It is a relief…Hey, are you up for a late lunch? My treat.”

***

A Card on Mother’s Day

Here’s another short story I wrote for my online writing course through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. The program offers excellent feedback from other participants. So worth it!

I hope you enjoy it.

A Card on Mother’s Day

You shouldn’t have wasted your money on flowers. They’ll only die

Mom tells me that every Mother’s Day. This year I want to say, So will dad.

I hesitated at their front door. I don’t want to do this.

I fingered the bouquet of red carnations and the bag in my hands. Rang the bell. Turned the knob. Always unlocked. I stepped in. Mom came down the hall. “He’s not good.”

I nodded. “These are for you. Happy Mother’s Day.” I handed her the carnations. She offered a thin smile. “I’ll find a vase.”

I followed her to the kitchen. 

“Go say hello. Your dad’s awake.”

I walked to their bedroom. Dad lay in a hospital bed. Shrunken. Pale. Eyes closed. 

“Hi, dad.”

He opened his eyes. Nodded slightly.

I took a corsage and a card out of the bag. “I got these for you to give mom. Can you sign the card?”

Dad shook his head. His eyes glazed over.

“Okay, I’ll sign for you.” I pulled a pen from my shirt pocket, opened the card. 

To My Wife on Mother’s Day. 

I signed the card, Love, Bill. I had already written Dear Mary across the top of the card.

I stuffed the card in the matching yellow envelope. Left the card and the corsage on the side of the bed, next to dad. “I’ll get mom.”

I returned to the kitchen. “Dad needs you for a minute.”

Mom wiped her hands on a dishtowel and went back to the bedroom.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. Stared out the window. Took in a deep breath. Not good.

A while later mom came back to the kitchen, her eyes wet. “Thank you for doing that for him.”

She busied herself preparing supper. A light meal. Shrimp cocktail, potato salad, deviled eggs. “I doubt he’ll eat anything.”

After we ate, mom’s close friend Angela stopped by. With a crumb cake from the local deli. My favorite. We sat in silence eating the cake and drinking coffee.

Afterwards, I told mom I’d be back in a little while. I went out for a walk. A long walk. All the way to the edge of town, to the park that bordered the bay. I circled the park till well after dark.

When I got back to the house, Angela met me at the front door. “Your dad is gone.”

I nodded. “How’s mom?”

“Having coffee. Do you want to see your dad?”

“Yes.”

I walked back to the bedroom again. The Mother’s Day card stood on the night table. The corsage was on her pillow. 

I stood looking down at my dad. My dad’s body. His empty eyes. With an index finger I gently closed his eyes. 

The doorbell rang. Moments later two undertakers stepped into the bedroom. They said nothing. I moved aside, walked back to the kitchen. Mom sat at the table, Angela next to her, holding her hand.

Mom looked up at me. “He’s at peace now. No more pain.”

I nodded.

“See if the undertakers need anything.”

As I approached the bedroom, I heard the zip of the body bag. I stopped. They came out of the room. I met their eyes. Nodded.

I walked ahead of them to the front door. Held it open for them. Stood in the doorway. A dark moonless night. 

I watched them carry the body bag to their van. I felt a single tear ooze out as they drove off.

I stared into the darkness.

© 2022 Bob Gillen

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