Thursday, September 22, 2011

She Knows

This is the story I have submitted to NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest for Round 7.  The rules are that the story must be 600 words or less and one character must arrive in town and one character must leave town.  I decided to write about Ellie's adoption day.  Hope you like it!

The woman awakens and, even before seeing the butterfly on her wall, she knows.  No one has told her.  She does not have access to the internet; no friend of a friend to keep her informed.  She knows it the way twins separated at birth know of significant events in each other’s lives.  She will not speak of it to her husband, although he shares her pain.  They had made the decision together almost immediately after the birth, exactly one year ago.  Without the money for the necessary medical procedures, it was what they had to do.  Today, however, her pain is bittersweet. 
Today is the child’s first birthday.  She doesn’t understand what is happening, but she feels its importance.  She wakes up at six o’clock, the same as every other day; eats the same hot cereal for breakfast.  Her favorite aunty bathes her and dresses her in a well-worn pink and white striped top and shorts.  But then the aunty clips two brand new kitten barrettes into the child’s short, dark hair.  The aunty is smiling with tears in her eyes.  Another gathers her pink tiger and the little book of pictures that arrived from far away two months ago.  She places them into a plastic bag along with the baby bottle.  These are the child’s only possessions.  Then the child is carried out to a waiting car.  She has only ridden in a car two other times.  The first time, the car took her to the sharp-smelling place where everyone wore masks and moved about very quickly.  She was frightened as the strange men and women poked her and put cold metal instruments against her sensitive bare skin.  The second time, the car took her back to where she lived in a room with eight other little girls her age. 
Today, the car goes on into the middle of the city.  The three aunties in the car with her keep singing and clucking in the way that makes the child happy.  When the car stops, they are all escorted through doors that swing around in a circle, across a fancy tiled floor, and into a large carpeted room where other small girls and boys are waiting with their grown-ups.  The child becomes a part of the waiting crowd - nervous, but too curious to be scared.
A man and woman arrived at the same hotel an hour earlier, after traveling thousands of miles from a distant city.  They, too, are part of a group that is waiting, equally curious and nervous.  The last fifteen minutes feel like the longest in the four years they have been waiting.  They kiss each other one last time as a childless couple before heading downstairs.  They see the child immediately from across the room.  The new mother feels the weight of love and completeness as they place her daughter in her arms while the new father remembers to snap a photo before wrapping his arms around his family.
As the plane lifts off five days later, the mother says a silent prayer of thanks to the woman who gave birth to her daughter.  The girl wonders where she is going this time; but she feels somehow safe with these two foreigners who hold her so close and give her so much attention.  The woman who remains feels hollow but hopeful.  The butterfly catches a gust of wind and flutters out through the open window; and she knows.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Sound of Happiness

NPR's Three-Minute Fiction is getting ready to launch Round 7 soon.  They prompted would-be contestants to warm up their writing skills by writing a short story (420 characters or less, ) that included the words "three", "minute", and "fiction".  Here is my attempt, although I think I went over the character limit a little.

"Down in the meadow in an itty bitty pool swam three little fishies and a mama fishy, too." Her singing had never sounded so sweet, accompanied by splashes and giggles from the tub.  Happiness can do that - turn an ordinary voice into something special, like a magic spell in a science fiction story.

His mind drifted back to that time in the parking lot when she pulled her guitar out of the back of the little red pickup and played and sang to him for the first time. Her voice wavered a bit. She stumbled over a chord. All he remembers is that she sounded beautiful. Like now.

He would go tell her the news.  But not yet.  In a minute.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


NPR is hosting another round of their 3-minute fiction contest.  The rules this time are that someone must tell a joke and someone must cry.  This is my entry.  My apologies to anyone who clicked on this link expecting an Ellie story.  This one is just pure fiction and shows that I actually can think about something other than my amazing daughter once in a while.

Ellen ran down to the shore.  She knelt by the edge of the frozen stream, caught her breath, and then held it.  She listened.  There!  What was that?  Soft, but distinct; it was definitely a scratching sound on the ice.  “Amy!  Oh my god, Amy!” she cried.  The scratching seemed to be moving slowly downstream.  Ellen saw the spot near the end of the dock where the ice was broken up.  “Amy!  This way, girl, swim this way!”  Ellen’s thoughts raced.  How could Amy know which way to go or how to get back to the open water?  Ellen certainly couldn’t go in after her. 
No one else was around; the other places all boarded up for the winter.  They had only come out to check on the summer camp and to get away for a few days.  A cold rain was falling when they arrived and Ellen had joked, “Geez, it’s raining cats and dogs.  How do I know?  I just stepped in a poodle!”  Amy had groaned appreciatively and shook the rain off her coat in the mud room.  It had been lovely to build a fire in the drafty old stone fireplace, heat a can of Spaghetti-O’s in the coals, and take a long nap.  The heavy gray clouds had parted and allowed the sun to break through while they were sleeping.  The snow had glistened and beckoned them to come out for a walk in the crisp air.   It was the perfect escape from the grind back home - until now. 
What could she do?  Ellen’s fear kept her paralyzed on her knees, listening and watching, willing Amy to reappear.  She pictured her bumping her head up against the ice and frantically clawing at it with her nails.  She must be disoriented, confused, her energy waning.  Melting snow seeped through Ellen’s jeans. 
The first tear seared its way down Ellen’s frost-nipped cheek.  She lowered her head into her mittens and wept.  She wept for Amy and for her own ineptitude.  She wept for her unfulfilled dreams and mediocre life.  She wept for her Grandpa and Nana, who had built the family camp with their own know-how and labor.  She wept for her country, so divided and divisive.  She wept for people everywhere whose lives were destroyed by hatred, hunger, and ignorance. 
But mostly she wept for Amy – poor, good Amy who had been with Ellen through the joys and the sorrows of the past eight years.  She had endured three moves, four boyfriends, and two changes of career.  She kept Ellen active and made her leave work on time each day.  Amy was Ellen’s best friend and constant companion.
Ellen’s thoughts settled and sobs subsided.  She realized there was a rustling in the woods.  As she lifted her swollen eyes and blinked away the crystallizing tears, Amy bounded from the shrubs and ran circles around Ellen.  She barked excitedly and licked Ellen’s salty face.  She had gotten lost chasing a scent and was thrilled to be reunited with her mistress. 
Ellen hugged the wriggling dog tightly, too surprised and happy to think clearly.  She got to her feet and clipped the leash to Amy’s collar for good measure.  Not knowing whether to say “good girl” or “bad girl,” Ellen simply said, “Time to go home, Amy.”  With one last look at the frozen river, Ellen vaguely wondered what, if anything, she had heard.  She turned and walked away, leaving the tears and fears of a billion souls swirling beneath the ice.