Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
I used to wish on dandelions as a child; I truly believed that everything I wanted would come to me if I blew away those seeds into the sky. It was like planting my dreams all over the earth. I wished for pets and for a brother or sister to keep me company and I often wished to see butterflies because they were my favourite. I would lie in the garden for hours wishing on each little seedling that fluttered away in the breeze. Once, I laid there for so long in amongst the verdant grass, that I only came in when mother called me for dinner.
“You haven’t eaten all day you silly girl.” She had tutted, waggling her finger in my face. She hadn’t seemed actually angry with me though and that evening, one of my wishes came true.
“Sit down Lyra, your mother and I have something important to tell you.” My father had said as he sat down in front of his own dinner. He was very different to my mother, his voice gruff and low. He sounded like a car turning in gravel and he reminded me of the tallest trees in the forest that stood stoic as the others wavered around them. Whereas mother was more like the squirrels that scampered up the trees, their little hands and feet clinging on for dear life.
I found out that night, at the dinner table, that I would have a baby brother or sister. Mother said she thought that it would be a boy and father agreed. But I knew that I had wished on a dandelion for a beautiful little sister. That was the first time I really was convinced that my wishing had worked and I carried on everyday wishing that my baby would be a girl. And we would play together and I would have someone to lay in the grass with.
One day I was helping mother because father had told me that when her tummy got bigger she wouldn’t be able to do her jobs like usual and I should help. So I was carrying out the laundry and jumping to peg up bedsheets on the line outside. Mother kept saying she could do it herself but she often sat down and closed her eyes while I did her jobs. This particular day she sat down and held her hand up to her face. Her tummy was so big it sometimes made her wobble and lose her footing as she walked. Her hand was shaky as she wiped it over her forehead and her face changed colour. Mother always had rosy cheeks and now they were white. I went inside to get her water because that’s what she always used to get for me when I felt poorly.
It was a hot day and mother’s copper hair was sticking to her forehead.
“You should go inside, mother, I can do the laundry just fine on my own.” She shook her head and squinted up at the sky.
“It’s a beautiful day, I don’t want to waste it away sitting inside.”
She had stayed looking pale until father returned home. He insisted she lie down as we made dinner together. He cut up the vegetables and let me throw them into the pan and mix it all together. He always used to say the secret to a good soup was to throw every vegetable you had into it. I thought about my little sister and how she would be a perfect mixture of all of us. Then father told me off because I had been daydreaming and the onions were burning.
“I tell you what, you go and check on your mother and I will mix the vegetables.” I had pulled a face at this, my favourite thing to do was to help with dinner.
“You can carry on mixing when you come back down, don’t worry.” He had ruffled my hair with his big palms when he said this. His palms were rough and little parts of his skin snagged on my hairs.
The stairs in our house creaked at certain points so you could always hear someone coming. mother could tell the difference between mine and father’s footsteps and she would always call out to us when she heard. I reached the seventh stair which was the creakiest and rocked back and forth on it so I wouldn’t make her jump if she was sleeping. She didn’t call out and I rocked some more. I frowned at the silence from her bedroom and carried on up to the second floor of the house.
“Mother, I just came to check on you.” I tried to speak as softly as I could when I pushed the door open into their bedroom. Mother was turned away from me as I came in and I circled around the bed to see her face. She was still pale, but her body was gently rising and falling as she breathed. Her tummy looked funny when she was lying down and it pulled her whole body deeper into the mattress. I smiled and poked at it, playing with my sister. Mother jumped awake and grabbed my hand.
“Oh, Lyra, you scared me.” She was heaving breaths and her voice shook with every word. She patted the space next to her and I climbed up onto the bed and nuzzled into her.
“I just came to check on you before dinner.” I whispered into her neck, she felt warm, but her hands were cold as they wrapped around me.
“Do you think your father will allow me to eat in bed?” Her words were slurring, and I could tell she was falling back to sleep.
“I don’t know, can you really not come downstairs?” She began to snore softly, and I wondered how long I could stay cuddled up with her before I would have to leave to eat. My stomach had rumbled at the thought. I wriggled my arms down to try and slither out of her grasp and my hand brushed her nightgown. It was damp and I wondered if Mother’s sweat had been all over her body and not just her face.
As I left the room and came out into the light of the landing, I examined my hand. The fingers that had touched mother were red. I didn’t really understand what happened next. I went downstairs and showed father my hands.
“What have you touched?”
“Mother.” I had looked up at him and saw an expression in his eyes that I had never seen before. Father rushed upstairs and was up there a long time. I stirred the soup for him and tried to add the vegetable stock but I scalded my hand as I did so. Father came hammering down the stairs and I heard the creak on the seventh step. I had turned around to see he had mother bundled up in a blanket and was carrying her in his arms.
“Stay put, Lyra, I’m taking Mother to get help.” He walked out of the door and left me to figure out how to turn off the soup. My stomach growled again and I had to sneak a little bowl for myself from the pot. I took my bowl out into the garden and wished on dandelions for mother to be okay. When father returned it was late into the night and the owls had begun to hoot outside of my window. I could hear mother crying as he put her to bed and I thanked my dandelions for bringing her back okay.
The next day mother wouldn’t come out of bed and father insisted that I let her be. He sat me down at the dining table, the pot of soup still sitting on the stove. It would’ve now been cold and mushy.
“Lyra, the reason mother was so poorly is because we lost the baby.” I remember frowning at this, I couldn’t understand how she lost something that was living inside of her. Surely she would know where she put it? Father could see the confusion on my face.
“Your sister passed away.” My face lit up; I knew it was a girl, oh how I thanked my dandelions. It took a couple of moments for me to hear the words ‘passed away’. I forgot to wish on my dandelions that my sister would also be okay as well as mother. My little sister was gone and all alone, without any of us there to help her. That day I ripped all of the dandelions from the garden and I haven’t wished upon one since.