This is a piece which I wrote myself and submitted to Milk and Ink: A Mosaic of Motherhood‘s Fall 2010 Flash Fiction Contest. The theme was ‘Family in the Extreme’, and the constraint was 1,000 words or fewer. This entry is 949 words. My entry received an honorable mention by the editors of Milk and Ink and was published on their site. It also appears on my sister site, Bucket List Media.
Heads, We Fly
by E. Parker
In the thirteen years since I’d been there, someone had paved the dirt road leading to my childhood home. Back then, we’d have killed to have had the money to pave it. Now, it just made it seem like it wasn’t ever my house. We moved to the farm on the hill a month before I turned six. I remember Dad digging the post holes in the field to put in the rickety swing set we’d hauled from the other house, and yelling at me to keep my hands out of the concrete he was mixing in a wheelbarrow.
The wheelbarrow was the same one that always held our Christmas tree. Every year, Mom would carry her shovel into the woods and dig a pine sapling Charlie Brown would have thought robust. She’d plant it in the dirt-filled wheelbarrow and position it on the porch where we could see it outside the picture window in the living room. It was triumphantly wheeled inside every Christmas Eve and strung with lights, then planted in our own field the day after Christmas. Twelve years of Christmas trees, each a little taller than the next, still grew in a row at the far end of the property. The swing set was a rusty, twisted wreck.
My handprint in the crumbling cement was little bigger than my palm, now. I put my hand over the indentation. As I closed my eyes I could see my brother, age four, with his hands on his hips, narrowing his bottle-green eyes at me.
“But you HAVE to be the momma, you’re the girl!” he’d say; his mouth stern.
“I don’t want to play house again”, I’d groan. “Let’s play rock star instead!” and I’d line my toys up as an audience and sing to them in my tinny voice as I waggled my hips and pretended to strum a broom.
“Just like a white-winged dove…” I’d crow, stretching my fingers into the sun.
“Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing…” Michael would grumble in obligatory answer, scrunching his bare toes in the dirt.
Michael was always going to be a daddy. I was always going to be a rock star, or a princess, or a movie actress, or The World’s Greatest Lady Adventurer. “Momma” never crossed my mind, and indeed the title sounded rather dull to me when compared with any of the others I could conjure. If other little girls wanted to get married and have kids, I wanted to be Indiana Jones.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and hissed hard through them, simulating the sound of an enormous crowd cheering and clapping. “Thank you, thank you!” I’d call as I bowed dramatically to my dolls and Carmen, my stuffed gorilla.
We both left home at seventeen. I traveled, played music, danced and sang and wrote stories. Michael joined the Marines. It seemed to me then that our destinies were laid from birth, stretching out from childhood like paving stones. You hop from one to the next like frogs on a pond, praying you don’t slip into the dark water before you reach the end – the end to me being the receiving of everything you ever wanted. The day all your dreams come true. One war, one disastrous ex-wife, and one son he never sees later, I’d be willing to bet Mike would trade the last of his thinning hair for the kind of liberty I’d taken for granted my entire adult life. He probably wouldn’t bet I’d trade, too.
My husband dubbed the summer we lost the baby The Summer of No Crackers. I’d quit buying them because they shared an aisle at the grocery store with the diapers. Mom cried with us over the telephone. Dad drove the forty miles to our house, let himself in while we were sleeping and, quiet as a mouse, loaded the nursery full of baby things we’d collected into his pickup and locked them in his shed. He left a pull-out couch in their place, effectively transforming what we’d come to think of as the baby’s room back into our guest room. It took us two weeks to notice.
“We’ve got freedom,” my husband would say, treading on eggshells. “We could take up drinking, or fly to Italy! People with children can’t do that. What’s wrong with another couple of years of freedom?” I’d furiously point out that we never did those things, and he’d drop it; his face falling. Nobody ever says “Heads, we fly to Italy. Tails, we get pregnant!”
Our devastation gave way to bitter resentment that there are people every day who have babies they don’t particularly want, while families desperate to have children get them snatched away. I whispered at night to our lost baby. All I could ever get out before my throat closed was “I would have loved you so much…”
My anger gradually faded to vague jealousy over women who had children. I couldn’t imagine being luckier. Eventually, I could see a mother with a baby who would have been the age of ours without sobbing. Now, I can watch a little boy playing house without my heart breaking in two.
My husband’s stoic silence is being replaced along the way with cautious optimism; even hope. When his lips are on the back of my neck at night, the reassurances breathed into my ear are not “We’re free” or “It will be okay.” They are “It will happen for us, petal. I promise. You’ll see.” I’ll hum a little of White-Winged Dove as I curl into him, fingers in his hair. He doesn’t grumble as he sleepily murmurs “sounds like she’s singing…”
I’ve started buying crackers again.