Drabble #3 – Flash short story competition – UPDATE

My story was fourth overall – not bad for my first attempt at this format and competition.  I was only 20 votes shy of the winning entry.   This was my story:

I spied the sparkly thing and it peered back at me, glinting in the dazzling sunlight.  It was a shard of glass splintering light like a beacon of hope. Hay in my arms fluttered in the breeze as I watched the point of light glow white; then it exploded into red and gold fingers and ignited the dry grass.   I had never seen anything so beautiful and shivered with delight all the way to the top of my old hat.  I realised all too late, when the light started to lick at my old boots, that I was a gonner.






Out to Seal Island

When my mum was in her early eighties, I went to visit her in the beautiful Western Cape village of Hermanus where she had moved to several years earlier.    She had a lovely two bedroomed cottage and was only about a kilometre from the seafront.     Whilst she was becoming dependent on a stick whenever she was out and about in town, she was okay in the house.  I decided that I wanted to take her on a bit of an adventure and booked a trip out to a nearby seal sanctuary.

We arrived at the jetty and I’d made sure we had sturdy waterproof jackets on with hoods.  The walk down the jetty to the boat was a steep decline and then we had to climb up metal rung steps and swing into the rear of the boat, which had large inflatable tanks on each side.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm.  Gulls screeched overhead as the group of paying customers gathered at the boat shop to pay their tickets.  The air filled with the stench of seaweed and saltwater.  My mother took one look at the metal rungs of the ladder, promptly turned around and began stomping up the road back to our car, her walking stick clicking on the cobble stones.

I could see in her eyes that she was actually quite terrified of the idea of trying to pull herself up those rungs and into the boat. She wasn’t having any of it. It didn’t make any difference to her that there were several able-bodied men milling about (as well as myself) who were prepared to carry her – if needs be – into the boat.

I stopped her and held on tight, giving her a big bear hug and telling her that she could do it and I was going to be right behind her to give her a good shove over the last rung. I reassured her I would not let her fall or look ridiculous.   Sighing dramatically, she allowed me to lead her down to the steps and bully her up the ladder.  With a little bit of pushing and shoving we were eventually sitting snug inside the boat, life jackets on, ready for the off.

Mum was quiet for a while, her mouth a firmly shut line.  We headed out to sea and I worried that she was cross with me.  It was only after we’d been home for an hour and were getting dinner organised that she came up and gave me a long cuddle.

‘I couldn’t have done today by myself, or with anyone else, you know.’  She said.   There were tears in her eyes.  ‘Thank you for making me take the chance and get in that boat.  I’ll never forget it’

I was touched that I’d somehow made her see that with a bit of help she could do almost anything.  And for a few days afterwards, I noticed she hardly used her stick at all.

Beyond the sea

I mix up a sizeable amount of modelling paste and smooth it out onto the chalky virgin canvas. It flakes and moves about, so I have to press it in with my fingers.  I work with bare hands because the creamy texture of the paste is soothing and tactile.  My fingertips work unconsciously, feeling out a landscape and soon I have a surface to work on.   I lay pieces of plastic over the paste and press it down.  It creates faint imprints and crevices suggesting rocks and boulders.  I see a seascape developing in my mind and begin blocking out the composition of the painting using burnt sienna and alizarin crimson, loosely applied with a thick brush.  Once I have this quick sketch, I start working with the paint.  Cerulean is always first, then exotic Ultramarine.  I am wary of white, it can dominate, so it is the last pigment I use.  I apply the myriad blue hues in lines across the painting, mimicking the rolling waves and it’s only when I start working with darker greens that I remember mother.

We are sitting on a wooden bench, looking out over the crashing waters of Kwaaiwater in Hermanus, South Africa. This was my mother’s favourite place, we could spend hours watching the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of a majestic Southern Right whale in the months when they came to calve.  Mum sits with her grey anorak and silk scarf pulled tight over her ears, tied securely beneath her chin, so she doesn’t get earache from the wind.   It’s blustery up here, the tide is turning and gulls swarm about screaming into the wind. A fine mist of spray wafts across us but we don’t bother, we are talking about nothing in particular, glad to be here together in this truly wild place.

I leave her for a few minutes because I am young and I should be clambering over the rocks, like young people do, in search of things that young people search for, whatever that is. I manoeuvre out onto a group of rocks but immediately realise that this isn’t the best place to be standing, I could fall into the surf or onto the jagged rocks below. I move back like a responsible person, like an older person, like my mother.   I hate myself for moving back but I’ve done my exploring.    I make my way back up onto the path to go and sit with her.  She looks so tiny and fragile sitting up there by herself on the bench.

Suddenly, I look down at the canvas and see all the white.  It’s splattered in a rage all over the rocks.   Down below, the churning white swell blasts out massive forceful sprays, sending the water pluming high into the air some fifty foot above our heads.   My eyes are stinging so much from the sea spray.  At least, that’s what I tell myself. I  pack up the paints.

Death Rattle

The woman in the bed didn’t look like my mum. She was a paper version of a real person.  Her skin was pulled and drawn from her deeply lined chalky white face and it was oily but dry to the touch.  She wheezed.  She had no substance in the bed.   The machines reached a crescendo of clicks and buzzes, alarms went off and I held her right hand.  I didn’t dare look into her eyes, in case I saw what I knew I would find.   Her hand was bruised from where the drips had been, removed now because they didn’t work. Parts of her legs were almost black, her eyes were rheumy and vacant, but she had hung on until I got to the Intensive Care.  I knew this was the end, I knew it then. but I wouldn’t accept it.   Despite her black legs, her bruised arms and hands, something inside me screamed that she would get better, that this would all pass.  She’d only gone in because of an upset stomach, for Christ’s sake!

There were other members of my family there, my children and some of their friends who had managed to get there in time.  In time for what?  It was like everyone was holding up a clock, counting down the minutes, the seconds.  There were people there, gathering about in the bright hospital lights, vultures fluttering around a dying carcass.  It was surreal.  Go away! I wanted to shout at them.  Go away and leave me with my mum.  I was sure I could still talk her round, through the morphine haze back to consciousness and me.  People always say, ‘it’s better to be with them in the end’ … but no, it isn’t. I didn’t want an end.  All I wanted was for her to get better, so that we could plan things together, so she could be there for me, like she always had been.  She was 81, her time wasn’t up yet.  But it was.

Her breathing became erratic, the wheezing grew louder, her chest rattled – yes, there really is such a thing.  I tried to talk to her, to think of something to say that might help her.  Help her with what?  How can you help someone who has been with you every second of your life? How can you guide your mother along the road to death?  Nobody is trained for that!  I couldn’t cry, I had to be strong. I had to figure this out in my head and keep holding on because maybe, just maybe she might take a big turn for the better and stop all this nonsense of dying.