June 15, 2007

Fiction Friday: an offer unrefused

This week's theme: Write a story/poem beginning with this line: No one refused her offer.

No one refused her offer. She'd made it a thousand times over the years, her hands submerged in greasy, sudsy dishwater, a dingy red and white dish towel limp on her shoulder. She'd just turned off the tap, and steam patched the bottom half of the kitchen window looking almost like frost on the pane with blackness beyond. A single drip clung to the bottom of the faucet. Every night it held on no more than fourteen seconds before finally letting go.

As she exhaled at the black window, I wondered what she saw out there. What she would write in the diminishing steam with her naked finger if she dared. Behind her at the kitchen table, Dad and Todd and Luke listened not to her but to John Madden expounding on the virtues of a gargantuan left tackle on the Colts' offensive line.

My eyes darted once to the TV to see Peyton Manning throw incomplete. When I looked back, I was almost surprised to see Mom still standing there, now silently scrubbing a pot, her shoulders more slouched than they had been. I wanted to say something, but the world had moved on. Something in the slowness of her arms, the calmness of her breathing made my skin tingle. She really meant it this time. Maybe. That intrepid drop finally let go of the faucet to splash among the unwashed pots. Tonight I hadn't counted the seconds.

Six years ago was the first time she threatened to leave. "Maybe I'll just disappear," she said as she washed the dishes one night. "I bet you'd never notice." Dad stopped chewing his spaghetti just long enough to look at each of us boys and then reply without swallowing or looking, "You go right ahead. Thanks for the offer." Offer. He called it an offer.

At the time, all I knew was confusion. What could I know? I was just seven, barely starting second grade and in awe of my loud, strong, tall father. I could tell my brothers had a moment of doubt, too, and terror coursed through my body. I didn't know whether to cry or protest. What second grader can conceive of a life without his mother? When Luke decided it was a joke, I relaxed and smiled along with them. Mom gazed out into the blackness. Even then I didn't think she was smiling too.

John Madden said something about a field goal, bringing me back to the table where Luke was counting the point differential on the fingers of both hands. He'd be going to Nebraska next fall on scholarship. For a few more minutes I pretended to watch the game while I pushed mashed potatoes around my plate. Mom looked so calm, her slight movements rhythmic in the way tall trees sway in a high breeze.

I stood and gathered my plate and fork. Dad looked up. "Done already?" I nodded. "Aren't you gonna watch the game? Not even halftime yet." I shook my head and mumbled something about trigonometry homework, then waited until they all looked back at the TV.

I stepped up next to Mom and set the plate on the counter. When I looked at her, for the first time I saw--really saw--the creases in the corners of her eyes, exhausted resignation in the corners of her lips. As she looked up at me--I'd finally grown an inch taller than her--I felt not fourteen but eight again, and I fought against the same uncertain terror coursing through my body.

"Thanks, Mom," I whispered to her. She smiled with love and sadness. I hugged her and put my mouth close to her ear so Dad couldn't hear. "For everything." I paused there, wanting to etch the feeling of her warmth into my memory, make indelible the softness of her old sweater, her untoned, feminine arms, the dry oldness of her hair. I thought I felt a slight tremble in her, and as I pulled away, I whispered, "Write to me."


~willow~ said...

... so powerful ...

and that's all I'm gonna way about that!

~willow~ said...

say! not way! sorry!

Dale Challener Roe said...

Very powerful. I know willow said the same thing, but when she's right, why expound?

Anonymous said...

I'm stunned. How overwhelming and quietly sad.

Anonymous said...

You did THIS in 20 minutes? I'm very impressed! In very few words you wrote a very compelling scene. I'm looking forward to next Friday!

bluesugarpoet said...

Fiction? It sounds so real - as if it was something you've observed before. You really made the scene come to life with the carefully chosen details, PJ. Love the use of the TV as a distraction, the flashback, and most of all the final "goodbye" at the end that is implied.

Your piece reminds me of Kate Chopin's style - able to capture the complex reality of human emotion.

Lily said...

uhhh...yeah. I'm crying.

well done, my wonderful writing friend!

writtenwyrdd said...

Lovely stuff. Very moving. YOur transitions from inner thought to outer activities is great.

Anonymous said...

now I see the full picture..such wisdom in one so young! Beautiful.