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.
irenic. adjective. Promoting peace or conciliation.
Sometimes, it’s the etymology of a word that sparks an idea for a story; other times, it’s the picture that accompanies the definition.
Irene wasn’t always a peacekeeper. It wasn’t until she had her horde of children that she realized she had to learn to mediate or fall to pieces.
“Horde” seemed a bit harsh of a word, she thought, especially on the good days, when the hours sailed by smooth and they all said “please” and “thank you” and “can I have a turn when you’re done?”
But, today – all week, really – had not been smooth. Irene walked circles around the house, clearing up misunderstandings, working negotiations, and ceasing altercations in progress.
At six years old, Rosie was the oldest. But, today she regressed to a three year old. After breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Rose folded fast into a lump onto the floor. Each time, she refused to speak.
“Your words, Rosie,” Irene said, exasperated. “You’ve got to learn to speak up for yourself. I can’t help you unless I know what you need.”
Turns out, it was something about the way Margaret looked at her.
Michael and Michelle had no problem using their words. All day, they fought over who got more of anything and everything: oatmeal, crayons, and space on the couch. Irene did her best to ensure absolute equality between the two of them. She packed a measuring tape in the pocket of her khakis, along with a pad of paper and a pen, and measured and marked down exact numbers and inches.
Little George turned ugly when Irene least expected him to, so she kept a close eye on him. He’d go about playing in peace until Margaret walked by. Then, he’d dive at her with both arms, grab whatever toy she held, and break out in a serious tug of war.
“Little George!” Irene shoved her arm in the middle of a fight over a red-headed doll. “You don’t even like Strawberry Shortcake!” He let go of the doll long enough for Margaret to scurry down the hall.
Little George cried.
“Honey.” Irene put her arm around him. “Why would you want something you don’t even like?”
“Because, she has one and I don’t.”
That night, when Irene sat down to watch TV, the news flashed a photo of a UN soldier – his face haggard, his eyes flat, his shoulders slumped. Irene knew that look.
“I quit,” she told her husband when he finally made it home from work.
She was washing her face. She turned to him, her face covered with foam.
“This whole mommy business. I quit.”
He laughed. She didn’t.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“I need a day. Two days. Out. Just me.”
“A vacation from parenting?” He put his arms around Irene. “Is that even legal?”
“Yes,” she said. “Two days leave, that’s all I’m asking.”
Irene packed her bag that night and made reservations at a hotel on the beach. It would be a four hour drive there, four hours of peace and quiet.
She fixed breakfast on Saturday morning, then kissed the kids and her husband goodbye, and said, “I’ll be back Sunday. Late.” She drove ninety the whole way. From the check-in counter at the hotel, she walked straight to her room, threw open her bag, slipped into her swimsuit, and walked out the patio door of her room to the beach ahead of her.
She settled into in a folding chair under an umbrella and ordered a drink.
“A virgin Piña Colada, please.”
When a couple sat in the chairs just a few yards away from her, Irene sighed. How sweet, she thought, as they whispered and kissed. They ordered drinks and held hands. A few minutes later, a young woman strolled by in a string bikini.
“I saw you,” the woman said.
“Saw what?” the man replied.
“I’m not an idiot,” she said.
“I never said you were.”
Irene rolled her neck and adjusted herself in her chair. The cabana boy set down drinks for the couple, a magarita and a martini, and walked away.
“I ordered the margarita,” the woman said.
“What? Are you crazy? I hate martinis!” he replied.
“What do you mean you hate martinis? Every time I order one, you insist you get the same. And, now, it’s a margarita!”
Irene dug her toes into the hot sand. She gripped the arms of her beach chair and concentrated on the ocean’s waves. The couple continued to argue long after the woman in the bikini disappeared. The drinks sat, untouched.
Irene waved the cabana boy over again.
“Another margarita and another martini for the couple over there.” She flapped her hand in their direction. “And, make it stat.” Irene sipped the last of her Piña Colada.
“Compliments of the woman in the white swimsuit,” he told the couple when he brought the drinks.
“Oh,” said the woman. “Now there’s no reason to argue.”
“Nope,” said the man. He smiled at Irene.
Irene waved as she gathered up her towel and moved down to the end of the beach, where the only noise she heard was the sound of waves crashing and the echoes of her children’s laughter.
She stayed for breakfast Sunday morning, took one more walk down the beach, and headed home.