Sunday, April 10, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: The noise escalates

This week, Trish challenged me to write a story including the line "behind her the noise escalated". I'm not sure where this idea came from, exactly, but it jumped into my head fully formed, so I just went with it. My challenge will be answered by FlamingNyx.

Melissa worked from home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday- but she made herself get up and dress, all the way down to stockings, modest heels, and makeup. It helped tell her daughters that Mommy was working, and shouldn't be bothered for anything short of armed revolution in the streets. It also helped her convince herself that she was working- being slightly uncomfortable helped her focus, reducing the temptation to spend the day IMing with her hugely pregnant sister, stuck on bed rest in Topeka and dying for conversation.

Just like in the office, she gave herself from 12 until 1 for lunch, so after she ensured that Frick and Frack, her 9 and 12 year old girls home for the beginning of school vacation, were going to eat something other than Cheez Doodles for lunch, and once she had prepared her own turkey sandwich and Diet Coke, she allowed herself a few personal moments on the computer. She checked in with Amy, listened to her grousing about the miseries of the 8th month, then signed out and called up her word processor.

Years ago, after graduating and marrying Roger but before career and babies took hold, she made herself promise to write. "Write every day", she told herself, "no matter what. No matter what else you have to do, write something." She had been writing since she could remember, from adventures starring her stuffed animals to anguished teenage reflections to poems she tried, and occasionally managed, to place in the college literary magazine. She didn't talk about it, or make a big deal of it- it was just a secret love that she promised herself, 22 and full of promise, she would not forget about.

Like a lot of promises, she hadn't managed to keep it. Events pressed, and weekend getaways stole her time, and then eventually the girls came, dulling her nerves and killing her senses. She kept the flame burning, dashing off paragraphs when she could, but it had become a weekly thing more than the daily work she knew it had to be. She tried to memorize scenes- the unspoken exclusion she felt at Saturday's soccer game, for one thing- committing to later reducing them to words. But she seldom followed through.

She stared at the screen, remembering what it was like on Saturday. The little clots of parent groups, some oohing and aahing at new babies, others deep in conversation about common friends or, more likely, common foes. She thanked God regularly that her daughters didn't seem to have her own social issues- they both blended and mixed easily, rich girls and poor, popular girls and not, quiet girls and loud. But Melissa stood apart, returning greetings that were offered to her, but never having more than a sentence or so to say. Nobody ever said it, but the lines were clear- like you drew them in the grass.

It could not have been clearer, she typed. The house was as quiet as it ever got, bangs and thumps from upstairs, the echoed speech of 12 talking on the phone, then the footfalls of someone coming down the stairs. It was too loud to be 12, who moved like a ghost, teenage anxiety making her want to disappear most of the time, so it had to be 9, with the heedless nature of the tween who didn't yet care what she sounded like.

Behind her the noise escalated. Nine had turned the TV on, loudly declaring as she did so, "Mom-MEEE! Can I watch some TV?". In theory, Melissa thought, you asked for permission before taking action, not after. "Sure," Melissa said, distracted, saving her file and shutting the word processor down. There wasn't going to be any more work done on that idea, she thought, wondering why it was she compromised so much, and when exactly it was she sold her 22 year old self down the river.

It wasn't their fault- Melissa and Roger had welcomed their arrival. But Melissa couldn't help thinking, burying it into the little corner of her heart, that she had not bargained for all that had come with them, the sacrifices of body, and mind, and soul, and the sheer energy it took to hold their little lives together. She hadn't agreed to that part, and when she tried to steal away a moment to bring her old self to the front, to compose something beautiful and striking, to make even a line or two that captured exactly how it was, it seemed like they resented the exclusion. No, Mommy, they seemed to say- all of you isn't enough. We want more.

She opened the door to the porch, hearing 12 calling from the top of the stairs. She heard her daughter begin the sentence, but shut the door deliberately on her words. It was childish, she thought, pretending you didn't hear someone. But there were times when you just had to get away from them, if only for a minute. Melissa watched the breeze move the leaves on the trees and wondered exactly how much she had left to give.


  1. i really enjoyed this! you made her very relatable and even though i'm not a mom (but i am a nanny) i felt what she felt. some good craftsmanship here and i like how you approached the women's perpective. nicely done!

  2. I loved this. I came very close to tearing up. I can so relate to her, it hurts. Beautifully written.

  3. This reminds me of one of the last scenes from Bourne Ultimatum. Cornered on a roof top overlooking the water below, he has just had his memory return of the program he first volunteered for. He is programmed to kill without asking questions, sacrificing any chance of married life and children. He freezes because he is faced with another agent about to shoot him; not knowing what Bourne has done, or why he has to shoot him.

    Bourne says, "Do you even know why you're supposed to kill me? Look at us. Look at what they make you give."

    Motherhood can be like that. Something automatic, yet one has to be sacrificial. Very touching at the heart of the conflict between being a mother and losing one's own identity. Well done!

  4. @Trish- I'm sorry to have saddened you, but as I'm sure you'll agree, you can pay me no higher compliment.

    Thank you all.

  5. Um, are you sure you're not a Mom? Amazing job getting into her head. As I started to type this, my 3-year-old interrupted to tell me her new orange butterfly hair clip broke. So, yeah, you nailed it.

  6. I pretend not to hear my kid all.the.time. *snort* I think of it both as a necessary sanity-saver, and revenge for when she does it to me.

  7. @Jeanne- Coming from Diamond Jeanne, that's a true compliment.

  8. Yes, how much I miss those little selfish moments that could be taken without feeling like it is at the expense of another. This nailed it.

  9. I think you just wrote my life, except for the kids part. Seriously. The reason I joined the challenge was so that I would force myself to write, at least once a week. You don't have to have kids to be too busy for the things like writing or gardening or anything you love. Well done.

  10. Michael - this piece captures parenthood (because it's not just the way a Mom feels) so accurately! Your line - "No, Mommy, they seemed to say- all of you isn't enough. We want more" is spot on. How often I crash into bed at night having given everything I am and yet feeling that it wasn't nearly enough. The plight of the parent indeed!

  11. ahhh so relate, i so do. i am all pleased with myself for finding whatever i needed to find so that writing has become a priority again. oh yes. this is very beautifully written, just as i expect from you :)

  12. I'll be honest, even though I'm not a parent, just babysitting the nieces and nephs for only a few short hours and I start feeling this way. I can't even begin to fathom unending years...

    I so feel for Melissa...


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