It’s Friday, which means it’s short story day! I wrote a story a while back based on a writing prompt in my group, Author’s Tale.
I played around with present tense in this story where I usually write in past tense. It was a challenge to remember to stay in present tense. I also worked with imagery and trying to engage as many of the senses as I could.
Prompt: I’ve been staring at the wallpaper on Grandma’s kitchen wall for so long…
I’ve been staring at the wallpaper on Grandma’s kitchen wall for so long that the lines are starting to blur and the fruits are just blobs of color. I can hear Grandma opening and closing cupboards and plates tapping on the counter, ice cubes clinking in glasses as she fills them with Sprite, the only beverage she will drink when I’m here.
“Emma, come over and bring this stuff to the table,” her voice bursts into my reverie and I mechanically stand up and walk around the small island to where she is working. I pick up the small corelle plates that she’s had for as long as I can remember and take them over to the small table, only enough room for two of us. I walk back to grab the glasses and see she’s filled them completely to the brim. Why does she always do that? Resisting the urge to slurp some off the top, I carefully pick them up and slowly make my way back to the table, inevitably spilling some. Grandma is right behind me with a washcloth.
“A little too full, Grandma,” I say.
“Nonsense, Emma,” she chides with a wink. “The bad stuff rises to the top. You have to spill it to get it out.”
I roll my eyes and sit back down in my chair, brushing my black bangs out of my face.
“Take off that huge sweater, Emma. It’s not proper at the table.” Grandma sits down across from me and stares at me until I comply. I unzip my oversized sweatshirt held together with what must be a hundred safety pins and take it to the closet in the living room, hanging it up. I come back and sit down and flash Grandma a fake smile. She purses her lips at me and folds her hands.
“Gracious Lord,” she begins and I obediently bow my head and close my eyes, “thank you for this gift of food and for Emma. She is a gift, the likes of which she can’t even begin to imagine. Bless this food to our bodies for strength in service to you. Amen.”
“Amen,” I echo.
Grandma takes a bite of the ham sandwich she made, a bit of lettuce sticking out of the corner of her mouth and tomato dribbling down her chin. She munches away and nods to me to eat. I gingerly pick up mine and take a small bite.
“So,” Grandma says. “What brings you here today, Emma? I doubt it’s my gourmet lunches.”
I smile in spite of myself and then take a deep breath and dive right in. “Well, Grandma, Brent’s back on facebook.”
“Facebook. That’s that internet thing, right?” She folds her hands under her chin.
“Yes, the internet thing,” I say, rolling my eyes internally.
“Right. So he was off the internet and now he’s on the internet?”
“Yeah,” I say, picking at the bread of my sandwich.
“Don’t pick, Emma. Eat it or leave it alone.” Grandma takes another bite of her sandwich and I follow suit.
“So,” Grandma continues after swallowing her bite. “What do you think of him being back on the internet?”
“Well,” I say, “I’m not really sure.”
“That’s not true. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here,” Grandma says, raising her eyebrows at me and taking another bite of her sandwich. I push my plate away, my stomach tying up in knots.
“Okay,” I answer slowly. “I was wondering if he noticed me, too.”
“Should he have?”
“We commented on the same picture of a friend.”
“Who commented first?”
“And you’re wondering if he noticed you too.”
“Is he a complete idiot?” Grandma asks, taking another bite.
“Probably,” I mutter.
Grandma lays her hands down on the table and stares intently at me. I squirm in my seat and look away.
“Emma,” she says. “Dear. Of course he noticed you. There is no way he couldn’t have. But,” she raises her finger at me, “it doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” I ask, sitting up and leaning forward with my arms on the table.
“It doesn’t matter. Brent is in the past, correct?”
“Well, yeah,” I say. “But why does he still have so much power over me?”
“Because you let him.”
“So this is my fault?” I ask, slumping back down in my chair.
“I didn’t say that dear. This is life. Trying to figure these things out. Perhaps this is God telling you that you’re ready for the next step in your healing.” She takes another bite of her sandwich.
“For the next step? I thought I was already healed from it.”
“Of course you did,” she says, her mouth still full of sandwich.
“Grandma!” I say in mock horror. “Talking with food in your mouth!”
She smiles at me and swallows. “What I mean is that you thought you were over it, but his reappearance in your life is showing you that you’re not. God knows this. And he knows that you’re ready to take the next step. When he was off the internet, you had the luxury of not really realizing he still existed, right?”
“I suppose. He did sort of drop off the face of the earth for a few years.”
“My point exactly. Now that he’s there and if you have friends in common there is a chance you will continue to see him on the internet. A reminder that he does, in fact, exist.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I mumble and pull my plate back in front of me. I pick it up and take another bite.
“Of course I’m right. Now, it’s up to you to decide what your next step is going to be.” She shoves the last bit of sandwich in her mouth and wipes her mouth with her napkin.
“So,” I say, “If he does exist and I have to be reminded of it, then I have to figure out how to handle it. Like, whether I’m going stalk him or try to do something to get him to notice me or if I’m just going to live life as is.”
“Precisely. Either you can keep letting him have power over you or you can give it up to God and let him heal you.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing for eight years now!” I exclaim. “How long is this supposed to take?”
“It all depends dear. After all, you did love him quite a lot.”
“Yeah,” I huff. “Before I knew better than to hold back.”
“But you shouldn’t hold back. That’s the problem. You became wounded and then you think that everyone is going to do the same thing. Emma, look at me.”
I look directly into her gray eyes and brace myself for what is coming.
“Remember, God hurts when you hurt. AND,” she leaned forward, “he hurts when Brent hurts.”
“Grandma,” I say.
“No.” She cuts me off. “Do not ‘Grandma’ me here. You are a child of God. Brent is a child of God. As a parent, you don’t choose which child you love more. No matter their behavior, and believe I know this, you love your children the same. Even Don in jail. Even Elizabeth the pastor’s wife. I love them the same and I want the best for them, but I can’t force them. It’s the same with God. He can’t force you and he can’t force Brent. You have to choose.”
“It’s too hard!” I cry, burying my head in my hands.
“Of course it’s hard, but look at how far you’ve come. Do you remember when you’d come here and cry puddles on my table or plan some way to murder him?”
I shake my head without saying a word. Of course I remember.
“And now, you’re here, trying to have a rational discussion about it. You’ve even said his name. Emma, you ARE healing. You didn’t fall in love in one day and you’re not going to heal from such an immense hurt in one day, either. It’s all a process. You have to be willing to go through that process.”
I look up at Grandma and she hands me a tissue. I wipe my eyes, black smudges left behind from my eye liner.
“You’re still trying to hide from these emotions. You hide behind your black hair and your black eye liner and your black sweatshirts. It’s time to let that go, Emma. You can’t hide if you want to heal.”
“What if I don’t want to heal?” I ask quietly.
“What if you want him to have this power over you when you’re my age, you mean? What if you want to be 76 years old and still pining over a lost love? Is that really what you want, Emma?”
“I just want to know if he hurts, too.” I say, my voice cracking.
“It doesn’t matter if he hurts,” Grandma says tenderly. “What matters is that you are still hurting and holding this relationship as an idol. Are you thinking of running to God or are you thinking of manipulating Brent? Whichever one comes to your mind and stays is the idol.”
I contemplate what she’s saying.
“You know,” I say slowly. “I don’t hate him anymore. Not even a little. The rage, the anger, the hatred it’s all gone. All that remains is a little hole, a tiny longing, a whisper of a wish for him to get it, but it isn’t a NEED. Not even a whisper – the echo of that whisper.”
“That, my dear, is healing,” Grandma says with a smile. “Whether he is on the internet or not, whether your internet paths cross, doesn’t matter. What matters is you moving forward, continuing to move forward. Yes, you might look backward sometimes, but the important thing is to keep moving forward.”
“You’re right,” I say, nodding.
“How did he look?” Grandma asks suddenly.
“What?” I’m surprised by her question.
“I’m sure you looked at his picture. How did he look?”
“Exactly the same,” I say with a half smile. “Exactly the same.”