Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). Past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.
esker. noun. A long, narrow ridge of gravel and sand deposited by a stream flowing in or under a retreating glacier.
The visual I needed appeared in the quote that followed the definition:
‘My Grade 11 geography teacher likened an esker to the mess left by a drunk simultaneously walking backward and throwing up.’ — John Barber.
Now there’s a powerful image.
Following the image, I brainstormed this morning and these words came to mind: refuse, scars, and collateral damage.
The Creeping Vine
Franny pulled the hospital sheet back and looked down at her arm. The wound had soaked through the bandage and formed an elongated letter S. She would have to call the nurse.
Her mother slept in the chair next to the window with her feet propped up on the bed. Franny twisted her head around to see the clock that hung on the wall behind her, but she couldn’t decipher the difference between the big hand and the little hand. Maybe it was the medication they’d given her last night.
She could turn on the TV, she thought, but decided against it. She didn’t want to wake her mother.
She wasn’t ready for the questions.
Always, her mother bombarded her with questions as soon as she saw Franny was awake and alert. Each time, Franny did her best to respond, but her answers were never quite good enough.
“I don’t know why I did it.”
“I only meant to take one or two of your pills. I guess I lost count.”
Her mother needed Franny to explain, she always said, but even Franny didn’t understand. Her depression came on slowly and then pulled her down hard, like the creeping vine that snuck in under the neighbor’s fence last summer and took hold of the rose bush she’d helped her mother plant. The vine look harmless at first and stayed close to the ground. Then, one day Franny found her mother panicked over the bush.
“The roses!” she shouted, her right hand wielding sharp clippers, “they’re turning brown! That damn vine, DAMN vine.”
Franny would be fine for months on end. Then, she’d wake up one morning gagging and gasping and clutching at her throat, unable to draw in a good breath. In those moments of despair, when life closed in on her and Franny felt claustrophobic, retreat seemed the only option.
Her mother figured out Franny’s cycle. This last time she’d been watching Franny like a hawk, trying to predict what even Franny couldn’t see coming.
“Where are you going, Fran?”
“To do some reading, Mom. I’ll just be in my room.”
“Leave the door open, hon.”
In the hospital, Franny looked at her mother as she slept. Her mother’s head hung down to her chest. A thin hospital blanket draped her legs from her waist to Franny’s bed. She was snoring. Franny slid her foot under the covers over to her mother’s heel and bumped it. Her mother opened her eyes and took in a deep breath. She let out a sigh as she stretched her toes.
“You were snoring,” Franny said.
“Oh. Dear.” Her mother wiped drool from the corner of her mouth and straightened her shirt. She looked at the clock and then at Franny.
Here come the questions, Franny thought.
“I’m tired,” her mother said. “Real tired.”
Her mother leaned over the bed and held Franny’s arm in both her hands.
“Looks like an S. Does that stand for something?”
Franny looked at the bandage. It definitely needed changing now. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe.”
Her mother placed Franny’s arm on the bed and brushed a strand of Franny’s hair back behind her ear.
“I can only stay a few hours this morning,” her mother said. “Then, I’m leaving.”
“You know, Fran, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t help you, keep watching you, wondering…waiting.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“You say that. And, I believe you. But still….”
Her mother reached down into her purse and pulled out a tissue. She unfolded it, smoothed it out, folded it again.
“I don’t know,” her mother said. “I don’t understand. And, I’m so…so tired.”
For the first time, Franny saw something on her mother’s face she didn’t recognize. It wasn’t anger or panic.
Her eyes didn’t dart back and forth looking for the nurse. She stared straight into Franny’s eyes, and in her mother Franny saw sadness, uncertainty, and the truth of what it looked like to finally give up.
Franny’s throat constricted, though not from choking. She tried hard not to cry. A wave of fear and despair encompassed her from head to foot, but it was different from the pull towards retreat.
“I’m sorry,” Franny said. She took her mother’s hands in hers. “Mother. I’m so sorry.”
Her mother turned away for a moment. Then, she stood up and pulled back the sheet. She climbed in bed next to Franny and put her arms and legs around her.
“I love you, Fran,” she whispered in her ear. “My sweet, sweet Fran.”