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Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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parenting

Words

This week, Charli Mills and the https://carrotranch.com gang wrangled 99 word stories interpreting the prompt “for one day.” Writing a story in 99 words is a challenge, indeed. This is mine. Its first incarnation was much longer, but to comply with the challenge, I pared down to the essence of the story. I’d love to know what you think of it.

 

Words 

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

A toddler plied her mother with questions at a check-out line as the mother stacked goods onto the conveyor. Another toddler sat in the next cart in line, limp-legged and watchful. “You have such a sweet baby,” the harried mother said to her line-neighbor. “Mine won’t shut up. I wish I could have silence for just one day.” She chuckled darkly and turned when the cashier asked, “Paper or plastic?” without noticing the grimace on the mother-behind-her’s face. 

 

That mother’s child was born mute, and how she longed to hear even one word from her child. Even just one.

Singular Task

Singular Task

Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black

11 November, 2013

Motherhood was a challenge that Cynthia endeavored to meet and beat, though on this particular Thursday, it was a singular task, indeed. 

Angelica was her oldest but more demanding child, a girl of five who looked as beautiful as her name deserved, with golden ringlets and icy blue eyes fringed with coppery lashes.  She was on the Autism Spectrum, and, although there was nothing obvious to indicate a disability, her involvement was debilitating.

Last night, she would not sleep, screaming her mother’s name all through the night in a sing-song rhyme.  Cynthia tried to sooth her girl, even curling up in bed with her in the hopes of providing comfort, but Angelica did not want to be touched.  She lashed out, hitting her mother and screaming.  Because they lived in an old-fashioned condominium with thin walls, it was imperative that quiet be maintained at least through the night, but Angelica could not comply.  The neighbors complained, and although Cynthia tried to explain, they were unsympathetic and threatening.

Her youngest girl, Anya, was not quite a year old and equally as beautiful as her sister, with a wispy fuzz of gold curls erupting like a halo and eyes a shade of blue darker.  She did not show any signs of autism, to the relief of her parents.  Both sisters were difficult about eating breakfast and required baths before running the necessary errands.  Anya enjoyed her bath, splashing and making a mess that would make a clutch of ducklings proud.  It was only with gingerly handling that Angelica could be cleansed.  She did not like the feel of the water on her skin and fought like a wildcat when having her hair shampooed. 

Just strapping the struggling pair into their car seats was exhausting, but Cynthia persevered and set off to the Monroeville Mall to tend to the day’s errands.  Many were the times that she wished that her car was a military issued Humvee, wide enough to separate the girls and keep them from touching each other.  That notwithstanding, she wished that she could divide the vehicle lengthwise with a mesh that could protect the personal space of each girl. 

Truth be told, Angelica was always the encroacher, the aggressor, the interloper.  She draped herself across the arm of her seat, wiggling free of the restraints, and antagonized her little sister, taking toys or poking her.  Just as they pulled in to the parking lot, Angelica sat up with a self-satisfied grin when Anya let out a wail.  Cynthia unstrapped Anya who was pointing at her sister and rubbing the right side of her head.  Soothing and bouncing the infant in her left arm while setting up the stroller with her right, Anya calmed and nestled in to her mother, tears still wet on her round cheeks when she was strapped in to her pastel-cushioned stroller. 

Cynthia pushed Anya in the stroller to the back passenger side door where Angelica glowered at her through the window.  At times, Cynthia imagined that her older girl was unaware of the impact that her actions had on those around her, but the look of defiance Angelica wore as she coldly regarded her mother through the passenger side window made her reconsider in this instance. 

She opened the door and looked right at her child.  “Angelica, you hurt Anya.”  Angelica crossed her arms and looked away as though not hearing her mother.  “Angelica, look at me.  You hurt your sister.  You made her cry.”  The headliner of their van apparently became tremendously interesting to the girl, deaf to her mother.  “Angelica, please,” Cynthia continued, but since there was no reasoning, she stepped back to allow Angelica to exit.

The girl lunged at her sister, pulling on the unsuspecting baby’s hair.  “No!” Cynthia yelled, but it was too late.  Golden curls were trapped in Angelica’s clenched fist, and Anya’s shock and hurt formed salty tears as she yelled to the Heavens her discontent. 

Cynthia presented Anya with a Sippy cup of milk, which quieted the child.  She knelt in front of Angelica, but with the same results as earlier in the van.  No eye contact, no remorse, no understanding.  “Look at me, Angelica!” her mother said sternly, shaking with fatigue and frustration.  When the girl would not, Cynthia reached up and, with forefinger and thumb, tugged at a small clump of her daughter’s hair.  It was not hard, but it did draw Angelica’s attention and elicit a reaction, though not one for which Cynthia hoped. 

She burst into heaving sobs and would not listen as her mother said, “It hurts to pull hair.  That did not hurt as much as when you ripped hair out of your sister’s head.  Please, listen to me.”  She would not.  Internal battles pressed and seized Cynthia’s heart and mind.  How to reach her autistic girl and how to be a good mother, vied with frustration.  Fighting back her own tears, Cynthia grabbed her daughter’s hand in her own and pushed the stroller toward the mall entrance. 

Before reaching the glass automatic doors, however, a woman came screaming off of a PAT bus.  “How dare you!  I saw you pull that poor child’s hair!  I should call Children and Youth Services RIGHT NOW!”  Cynthia was stunned, unable to process the tirade.  “I beg your pardon?” Cynthia said, confused.  The woman from the bus then yelled, “You what?  You should be begging that child’s pardon!”  The woman, having shaken the already distraught mother, then returned to her seat on the bus. 

Cynthia stood outside of the mall watching as the bus pulled away, unable to keep the tears in check any longer.  Angelica and Anya occupied themselves, one at the end of her protective arm, the other in her stroller, recovered from their distresses.  Their mother pulled some resolve from within herself.  Motherhood was a challenge that Cynthia endeavored to meet and beat, though on this particular Thursday, it was a singular task, indeed. 

Blood on the Pumpkin

Blood on the Pumpkin

Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black in October, 2013

Bobby held the folded orange construction paper tight enough to wrinkle it, all concentration on the wide, black arc drawn on the outside edges.  He bit down on his full lower lip, trying to steady the tremor that rippled through his muscles like a private earthquake.

His mom gently covered his left hand, encouraging the fingers to loosen a bit.  She smiled at her son, quietly willing his inspiration and success.  “I can do this, Mom,” grumbled the sullen teen.  “I know that you can, sweet heart.”  She did not even glance at the waste basket filled with discarded earlier attempts, focusing instead on this attempt, now.

At school, Bobby’s little brother, Jack, made a “Five little pumpkins” picture on a construction paper gate, but the glue on one of the five did not do its job, and so there were only four gourds.  Jack was bitterly disappointed, so his big brother offered to help.  Bobby was determined to keep his promise to replace the missing pumpkin.  He pushed on the blue loop safety scissors, snipping along the line.

“Well done,” his mom said, and with concentration, Bobby loosened his fingers for the next cut.  He did not push the paper, though, or adjust the scissors, and so the first cut was duplicated, making no further progress.  “Remember, you need to move the scissors along your cutting line like a train on a track,” she suggested, hoping to stem another tantrum.  Her words had a contrary effect, though.  “I am not a baby, Mom!”

“Oh, I know that, but we all need a little assistance now and then, sweetie.”  He groused, but after several additional, unsuccessful independent attempts, Bobby allowed her to help steady the paper and guide the progression of the scissors.  “Good job,” she murmured, “Keep going!”

Bobby resented that he needed her help, hated his muscles for being so uncooperative or even mutinous.  He knew how to do what was needed, but to his frustration, his hands would not comply.  His agitation exacerbated the heightened tone in his muscles, which caused them to become even more rigid and less likely to accomplish his wishes.

Shaking and angry, he pushed the scissors vehemently forward.  She tried not to exclaim aloud, but the bite was quick and startling, when the surprisingly sharp blades of the safety scissors withdrew from her finger.  He looked up, aware that he’d hurt her.  “Those are sharper than you would think,” she said, trying to sound relaxed while retreating to the medicine cabinet to dress the bleeding cut.  From the restroom, she called, “The glue sticks are on the shelf with the Crayons, Bobby.  Perhaps you can get your stem attached,” she suggested.

Bobby did not react, just looked at the irregularly cut semi-circle spotted with his mother’s blood.  When she came back a couple of minutes later, two Clifford the Big Red Dog Bandages wrapped around her finger, he had not moved.  “Are you okay, honey?” she asked.  When he did not respond, she sat in the straight-backed kitchen chair beside him, looking into his frozen face.  Relieved that she saw no signs of a seizure, Bobby’s Mom collected for him a glue stick and the crayons.  She opened the folded pumpkin.  “Here you go,” she said.

He looked up angrily.  “It is ruined.  You bled on it.”

She swallowed before answering.  “You can’t see any blood on this side.  Why not put the face pieces that you’ve got there on the unmarked side?”

“Why do you ruin everything?” he spat at her.  She looked into his eyes, the brown of woodland creatures so vulnerable.  Her gaze slid to the spattering of freckles that covered a nose so like her own.  She was not sure if he was blaming her, as he often did, or was berating himself.  She took a deep breath before suggesting that it was not ruined.

Those were apparently the wrong words.  Bobby’s wide-eyed vulnerability slit into pinched, angry lines.  He swung, but she knew to anticipate and stopped his fist before it struck her face.  Tears prickled both of their eyes.  She hugged him to her chest, firm enough to pin his arms to prevent any further blows.  “I love you,” she whispered as he vehemently vented his frustrations, targeting her.

The psychologists to whom the family turned all stated that Bobby’s outbursts were leveled at her because she was safe, the one constant in his turbulent life.  She was the person who would not leave despite the abuse.  She held on to the thought that he was not truly hating her, but that he was instead a hormone-filled teenager desperate to express the rage caused by being trapped in a dysfunctional body, intellectually unable to process the frustrations.  Every slight or joke from peers or neighbors, the stares of strangers in public places, all seemingly shrugged off were privately stored within his subconscious.  These hurts became kindling for the fire of melancholy, self-loathing, and pain.  With each flare of his temper, these festering infuriating wounds provided a backbone and strength to his acting out.

After a solid many minutes, he at last relaxed in her hug.  His mother could feel the tension leave his body, and she relaxed her own tautness.  She resumed her seat at the table beside her son, toying with the ragged black construction paper triangles before her.  He did not say it, but she could tell that he was embarrassed and sorry.  Without looking at his face, she opened the pumpkin shape before him, blood side down.  He silently reached for the glue stick and pasted the triangles in place, adding the crescent to his sad jack-o-lantern face.

Jack loved the jack-o-lantern that his big brother crafted.  It was an adorable addition to the paper-crafted tableaux.  There were no other words exchanged on the subject of crafting, mother and son re-entering a familiar rhythm of acceptance and misunderstanding.

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