Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Super Mom (a story)

This is my story for the latest story contest at Fizzle and Pop. Let me know what you think!

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Janelle woke to the sound of the alarm clock blaring just inches from her head. She squinted her eyes shut when she found the glaring light of day to be too much, then slowly moved her hand from under the covers and smacked the snooze button as hard as she could. She opened one eye and nearly screamed when she was visually assaulted by her three year old’s nose consuming her field of vision. "Good GOSH, Meredith! Do you have to get so CLOSE when you wake me up?" The fuzzy-headed preschooler giggled and began a labored climb up the side of her parents’ bed. She vaulted over her mother and landed between the groggy, half-awake mother and the still-snoring father and laid there happily in the warmth between the two of them.

Janelle sighed and rolled over towards the middle of the bed. She curled around her youngest child, who snuggled in cozily. "Mere, we gotta get up. And I don’t wanna," she spoke into the mass of tangled curls on top of her child’s head. "I don’t wanna either, but my tummy wants a Pop-tart. So we gotta," Meredith replied. And in one smooth motion, the all too energetic child burst from under the covers, causing her father to groan and cover his head. "Roger, you need to get up, too. Now," Janelle said as she stifled a giggle and jerked the covers all the way off his underwear-clad body and ran from the room. She didn’t stop running until she reached the kitchen, where she flipped on a light and began making enough noise to wake the dead. Soon, her two sons staggered, not unlike zombies in a horror film, into the yellow kitchen and rubbed their eyes slowly. Zac, the oldest, laid his head on the table and immediately began snoring. Janelle shook her head as she watched Zane, who was awake enough to begin his mischief for the day. Her youngest son took advantage of his unaware brother by shaking salt onto his head which was as full of messy curls as Meredith’s. Poor Zac had no clue. She gave Zane a faux stern look and then focused her attention back to the coffee pot, the appliance that would soon bring forth the life-giving fluid that fueled her days.

Once the coffee pot started gurgling it’s morning song, she pulled out the toaster and stuck two strawberry Pop-tarts in for Meredith, pushed the lever sending them into the fiery depths of toaster-dom, then walked over to the table where Zac was still snoozing on his folded arms. She gently rubbed his back, the way she’d done since he was a baby, trying to coax him into a state of happy wakefulness, rather than the surly way he woke up on his own. He shifted a little in his seat and peeked one eye open at his mother. "Mum, do I hafta go to school today? I’m kinda feelin’ tired. No, sick. Yeah, I’m feelin’ sick. I think I have a fever. Really." Janelle smiled at her handsome 15 year old, shook her head and squeezed his shoulder. "Well, I tried," he said with a sigh and got up from the dining room chair. He stood and patted Janelle on the top of her head, since at 15, he already was tall enough to tower over his petite mother. "I’m off to get ready. Cook, I’ll have two eggs, over easy, 3 and one half slices of bacon - not too crisp, mind you - and an ice cold glass of milk for breakfast. And you’ll kindly have it ready upon my return." He snapped his fingers and Janelle, threw a potholder at him, as he stood in the doorway doing his best to imitate a spoiled rich kid, something he was definitely never going to be. "Zane, go get ready for school. Is it presumptuous of me to figure you want the same breakfast your socialite brother ordered, eh? Or would you prefer the breakfast your oh so finicky sister requested?"and, as if on cue, the toaster popped up two steaming hot Pop-tarts. "Mmmmm, hot preservative-filled jam, smeared between two slices of dry pastry, brimming with carbs. The breakfast of champions, Mom. Super." She threw the companion pot holder at her youngest son.

"Roger! Get UP! Egg number two is in the skillet RIGHT NOW and you are going to be late for work!" She heard her husband’s dresser drawer slam in response, letting her know he was indeed up, but probably not too happy about it. She put two slices of bread in the toaster, hit the button, then flipped the egg in the skillet. Meredith sat at the table, clad in her Blue’s Clues pajamas and pink feather boa, happily coloring in her Strawberry Shortcake coloring book, Pop-tart crumbs stuck to her cheeks, humming "Jesus Loves Me". Janelle’s breath caught in her chest, suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of sheer happiness. Her life was perfect at that moment.

Breakfast was a non-stop hurricane of noise and activity, as her husband and two sons attacked the hot breakfast with the energy of ravenous cavemen fresh from the hunt. Meredith sat in her daddy’s lap while he ate, tickling his neck with the feathers she wore, giggling when he acted like it didn’t bother him. Janelle leaned on the bar and watched her family with a half-grin on her tired face. She always enjoyed watching the boys interact with each other and was glad their father was a part of their lives. He had always been aloof and stingy with his feelings, something she as a young bride had worried was going to cause problems when they had children, but when Zac entered their lives, a red-faced squalling infant, right there in the delivery room, the barriers that had held Roger’s emotions at bay for years, was broken. He instantly became a sensitive, emotional man who realized daily the blessings he had in his wife and now, years later, three children. He looked over at her, staring at him, and winked. He was a lucky man.

He thought she looked tired, but figured she really was just that - tired. She ran herself ragged, running the house with efficiency that knew no bounds, kept track of countless school and social activities for the boys, volunteered at Meredith’s preschool, helped with the boys’ Scouts projects, was always a gracious hostess when Roger asked her to entertain and seemingly had an inability to tell anyone no when they asked of her. He made a mental note to look into a weekend away for the two of them, possibly that weekend. He would call his mother on the way to work to see if she could keep an eye on the kids and began planning in his mind a weekend for his beautiful wife that would allow her to rest and enjoy herself.

"Boys, we need to go," he hollered down the hall, while he helped Meredith with her coat. "Nelle, I’ll take Mere today, okay? You can pick her up this afternoon, but I think you need to rest this morning," he said, but when he saw her emerge from their bedroom looking radiant and positively glowing, he added, "Well, you did look tired, but you don’t now. Wow." She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him and smiled her trademark half smile. "I’m Super Mom. I don’t get tired. And my kids need me." Then she picked up her purse, called to the boys which caused what sounded like a stampede, took Meredith’s hand and headed toward the door. "I’ve got things under control, Rog. Now, you go to work and be a hero. We’ll see you tonight." But Roger felt like he needed to give her the morning off. He insisted she stay home, put on her sweats, lay on the couch and watch a movie or something. Maybe call a friend or her mother. Read a book. "Nelle, I have it under control. Just rest, k? You can resume your Super Mom-ish duties at 1, when it’s time to pick up Meredith. In the meantime, take a break." She tried in vain to convince him she was fine, but in the end she relented, although she wasn’t really tired. The thought of talking on the phone to her best friend for more than 5 minutes and for more than a recipe swap did sound good, though. She kissed the kids, kissed Roger once more, then watched them pull out of the driveway.
The highway patrolman said Roger’s car had crossed the center line and the semi driver had no time to swerve to miss him. The paramedics knew immediately that Roger had suffered a major stroke the minute they saw the slack muscles on the left side of his face.

What happened in the weeks to follow the funeral are still a mystery. It seemed Janelle grieved quietly as she watched those around her tend to her duties, the ones that she normally handled with ease and temerity. She took the sedatives her mother handed her with no argument. She was afraid to know what she’d feel if she came out from under the veil of the medicated fog they had her in. She sat stoically and tearless while those around her, consoled, sympathized and offered prayers and thoughts. She watched numbly from the limousine as the four hearses pulled into the cemetery.
When the last person left and she was alone for the first time, the quietness of the house was too much. She picked up her car keys and walked out the door. Her purse sat on the table by the door.

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"Miss Jane, you sure are lookin’ pretty today," chirped the nurse who opened the mini-blinds, flooding the room with morning light. "It’s supposed to be nearly 70 degrees today, girl! I think this is a perfect day for you to get some sunshine on that pretty face of yours. The jonquils are starting to bud, the birds are downright twitterpated and it’s nearly Spring!" Barbara straightened the covers on the bed, talking nonstop the whole time about nothing in particular, but making it seem happy nonetheless. She veritably attacked the young woman’s hair with a brush, smoothing the tangled curls into submission, but barely. She took a warm, wet cloth and carefully, gently washed the smooth, beautiful, but always sad face of the woman who was younger than herself. She was face to face with her, and pleadingly she said, "Jane, if you would just talk to us...please honey? There has to be something going on in that head of yours. There has to be someone out there that misses you, sweetie. Please talk, please." But her pleas were met with nothing more than a blank stare from the young woman who sat in her chair, day after day, occasionally crying softly, but never speaking.

Oh, her thoughts were lucid enough. She knew what was going on around her. She knew her name was Janelle Cleary and she was 35 years old. She knew she was in a nursing home in Mobile, Alabama, some 1500 miles from her home. She knew she had driven till her car ran out of gas nearly 6 months ago and wandered into a hospital ER one day after 2 weeks on the street. She spoke once when she said, in response to a query about her name, "I'm Super Mom," and as a single tear made it's way down her pale cheek she finished, "But now I’m tired and my kids don’t seem to need me anymore."

1 comment:

J said...

This is really good! Your an excellent writer!

(Tried to comment the day you posted this, but Blogger's comments were messed up. Better late then never, right!)