flash fiction: Losing My Focus

It’s Wednesday. Are you ready for the word? I’m not., but I’m committed to giving it a whirl.

From Wordsmith.org, Today’s Word:
peremptory. adj. dictatorial. expressing command or urgency. not admitting any question or contradiction.

I admit, I went to a thesaurus in search of connections: dictatorial – bossy – overbearing – high and mighty.


I walked into the house carrying a bushel of fresh picked apples. A waft of Yankee Harvest candle overcame me, which was then overpowered by a stream of staccato jazz violin — Stephane Grappelli, her favorite. I don’t know any other violinists, but I know Grappelli well. He’s her “pick me up” music she plays when cleaning house or scrubbing dishes or ignoring her lingering doom.

She meandered down the hall, like a skeleton in jeans. The apples were heavy, and her appearance shocked me. I dropped the bushel onto the floor harder than I intended.

“Careful, Maggie! If they’re too heavy, ask for help.” Even in a state of decline, her peremptory voice commanded subservience.

“Sorry, Mom. It slipped.” I slipped. She hated it when I reacted too strongly to her thinning hair and gaunt face. When I visited, I forced myself to look her straight in the eyes, zero in on her amber irises, watch her pupils shrink and grow with the changing light through the window. Only when she turned towards the kitchen, and I followed, was I allowed to study the sharpness of her shoulder blades. My heart fell.

“I picked two bushels of Macs and Paula Reds, mixed. Those are good, right? How many apple crisps are we making today?”

“Paula’s are good, Macs will do. I need ten crisps. One for the Johnson widows down the street, three for the church bazaar, five for St. Vincent DePaul – soup kitchen’s open tomorrow. And, one for you, my sweet.” She looked over her glasses at me, straight into my anguished face. “Get that expression off your face, Maggie. Only smiles in this house today.”

I swallowed hard. “Yes, Mother. I’ll go get the other bushel.”

She hollered from the kitchen as I stepped through the front door, “And, don’t drop them this time, missy!”

Behind the open trunk of the car, I broke down. When she told me of the cancer six months ago, she declared it a minor disruption. She demanded I see it the same way. She refused to listen to my fears. This apple crisp bake-off is a tradition. I knew it was coming. But, I hadn’t prepared for the wrench on my heart.

I gave myself exactly one minute to fall apart, then I wiped my face with my sleeve, put on some lip gloss, and straightened my hair. I picked up the bushel and balanced it between the bumper and my legs. Then, I slammed the trunk.

She was standing in the front doorway.

“What’s taking you so long? We’re on a schedule here, and you know how long it takes to peel those apples.”

Her sharp tongue whipped me into a staunch laugh. “God, Mom. I’m coming! These apples are heavy.”

“So is your hand when you peel them.” She eyed me up as she held open the door and I slid past. “Let’s try not to take out half the flesh when you peel the skin away this year. Got it?”

She slapped me on the bottom and sent me marching into the kitchen.


4 responses to “flash fiction: Losing My Focus

  1. Great story. I could feel the stuggle between love, tension and despair. Sometimes all we can do is just keep on.
    Thanks for opening this window into a life lived.

  2. I echo Steve’s comments. Nice ending that veered away from what could have become maudlin, and instead delivered a very strong impact for what came before.

    Very well done!

    • Thanks, Cathryn. I really want to keep your comment in the back of my mind when I write, because sometimes it seems my hand types out such drama. And, while crisis is a part of life, I never want a story to read “maudlin.” I’m glad this one didn’t.

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