THE LAST SOMETHING THAT MEANT ANYTHING

I think it’s pretty hard enough writing a flash story. So imagine two people combining to write a single piece of flash fiction. Well that’s what we did, my sister and I. So I’m putting it out there – ‘irresponsible’ writers that we now are, just for the heck of it. Enjoy.

Writhing in pain and agony, Helen tossed and turned, jerking upright only to find herself awake and alone in her bedroom. The covers are rumpled and damp with sweat but the pillow beside hers bore no imprint: he didn’t come home, again. Her husband had taken to sleeping out lately, a habit that fed her dreams, turning them into nightmares; her greatest fears growing stronger having been continually fuelled by deep seated worries.

She got up and headed for the kitchen, pausing at the dining table to stare at the plates with the covering still on them, sighing at the sight of the untouched meal. It all sounded so easy when she was being told by every female model in her life: as a girl child you serve your parents, get married and serve your husband, conceive and serve your kids. If you meet the required expectations you are expected to be happy and fulfilled.

Unfortunately (or so it seemed),Helen felt she had bungled things from the start. She had tried serving her parents but being the sixth consecutive female born to an already disgruntled father and a frustrated mother, she found herself ignored and unable to get anything right,let alone please anyone.

Her sense of inadequacy wasn’t lessened by the fact that she’s on the ‘just there’ ranking on the beauty pecking order; not in the knockout beauty category that people were quick to acknowledge and admire, unable to make lots of friends in school because she “just didn’t meet up with standards”: not ‘hip’, not pretty and not rich.

So she sat at the table, toying with the salt and pepper shakers, thinking about how she had tried hard to please her parents. The only time she appeared to succeed was when she got married. However, she suspected that their joy didn’t so much stem from the fact that she was getting married as from the fact that they were finally free from the last of their responsibilities.

She smiled ruefully as she remembered that she had come into her marriage with guns cocked and ready, fires blazing and all such other clichés for being ready. The elders do say that your husband’s house is a place of learning and oh boy has she learnt!

Her fire started to fizzle out when after one year, she had failed to conceive. ‘Failed’, not ‘unable to’ or ‘hasn’t yet conceived’ but failed; especially when a one-year trailer became a ten-year episode. That’s how she viewed the disappointments and letdowns in her life; not as obstacles or temporary setbacks, but failures.

So there she sat at the dining table, trying not to imagine her face in the future as she fears that what she will see will not be her appearance but her mother’s frustrated look and tired smile, her shoulders drooping with the weight of defeat; her ‘failure’ as a woman.

The sound of the latch unlocking brought her out of her reverie to find her husband standing in the doorway. She didn’t even bother to glance up at the clock. Instead, she got up, all smiles and said “welcome home dear”.

That short greeting and the way she said it surprised her; it was as if the words did not form from her lips. A heartbeat ago, she was doing a playback of her travails, almost prepared to write everything off as one big catalogue of disappointment. But from within her, something finally woke up. A silent voice which told her that she was wired to get up no matter how many times the trials of life knock her down.This deep stirring in her heart was the reason for the sudden transformation in her actions. She would try again, determined to win this round of the battle.

To the late entree however, those three words were like a knockout punch that would make Mike Tyson proud. He had been psyching himself up at the bar on how to dissolve the marriage. “It just isn’t working”, he said to himself and the empty bottles of beer that were present to bear him witness. It wasn’t her fault, but neither was it any of his. Still he felt the best thing was to get home, sit her down and tell her what was on his mind – the divorce.

But something about her greeting,the smile on her lips despite the hurt he knew she was going through, struck a chord in him. In that moment, with him at the door and Helen at the dining table facing him, he felt a strong connection to her. He suddenly realised what she must be going through; with him, his family and others. But here she was,smiling at him; refusing to be beaten down by the threats to their marriage. In Helen’s singular act, he saw her determination to make things work no matter how hard it seemed.

Resolve dissolved, he suddenly felt weak but still had the strength to walk up to her and hug her – something he hasn’t done fin a very long time. She didn’t sob but he felt tears dampening his shirt, it was as if a weight had been lifted off him. If she was going to try, so would he; they were in this together. It is only through unity that they would be able to overcome all adversity and if there’s any chance of winning, they would do it – together.

***END***

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