Weekly Writing Challenge November 5th – Tell a story based on this picture.Challenge details: Write some fiction. Who are these people? What’s their back-story? What’s going on in this picture? What happens next? Construct a history for us.
My father was a strict, God-fearing man. He believed that everything had its place, and that place was given by God. For him that place was the old factory by the river. He worked long hours, leaving in the morning before my sister and I woke. He’d return as my mother was putting us to bed. Sometimes I would sneak out of bed and sit at the stop of the stairs, peering through the banister. I would watch him as he sat in the kitchen eating the dinner my mother prepared for him and reading the evening paper.
My father believed that children belonged in the woman’s domain. As did cooking and laundry. My father never cooked for himself. My mother would wake before him and cook him breakfast, make his lunch and see him out of the door. She’d spend the days starching his linens and preparing food, whilst making sure my sister and I stayed out of mischief. My mother always seemed to be up to her elbows in something, be it the tub of soapy laundry or a ball of dough she was kneading.
Everything changed when I was eight years old. Two weeks after my birthday my mother fell sick. At first it seemed just a little thing; she had a cough, and seemed to slow down slightly. A week later she was still unwell. My father suggested he try his hand at making breakfast for himself; she laughed and told him not to be silly. A couple of days later she relented and let him try. The acrid smell of burnt bacon took hours to disperse.
It was whilst my father was at work that my mother collapsed. I had been playing upstairs with my sister whilst my mother did the laundry when I heard a terrible crash from below. I can remember running downstairs and finding her sprawled across the black and white tiles of the kitchen floor. The laundry tub was on its side and the puddle of soapy water was inching its way to freedom beyond the back door.
I think I blurred out much of the rest of that day. I remember it only in dribs and drabs. Technicolor glimpses, as if they were photographs from an album of an event which was of no concern to me. One picture – my sister on the kitchen floor wrapping her tiny arms around my mother’s head. Another – the parlour of Mrs Brown’s where we sat eating biscuits whilst the adults promised to “sort everything out my dear, now don’t you worry.” A third snapshot is a glimpse from behind the lace curtains as mother is taken out on a stretcher.
The factory let father take a week off work. He alternated his time between home and the hospital. Whilst he was there he left us with “Mrs Next Door”, as he called Mrs Brown. My sister didn’t like it when he was home; she was only three years old, and to her our father was just another stranger.
The following Friday he took us to see our mother in the hospital. Mrs Brown came around and helped us get dressed up in our Sunday best. She told me I looked “like a proper little gentlemen”, and my sister was “just precious”. Before we left Mrs Brown insisted that we let Mr Brown photograph the three of us. My father looks stiff and uncertain in his grey suit as he holds tightly to my sister’s white gloved hand on one side, and my hand on the other.
The smell is what stuck with me the most about that hospital visit. A mixture of bleach and disinfectant, and that indescribable scent that I have since learned to associate with the soon to die. My mother was asleep when we arrived. Her face was as pale as the pillow it rested on. I remember seeing her arm resting against the bed spread. Her wrist seemed no thicker than a robin’s leg and I recall wondering how she could ever have managed to knead dough without snapping it clean in two.
My mother smiled when she awoke and saw us. It made her eyes look sunken and her cheeks hollow. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke to thank us for visiting and for the bunch of flowers we’d bought with us, having picked them from Mrs Brown’s garden. My father instructed me to ask a nurse for a vase for them. When I placed the vase on the table beside her bed they seemed to wilt and brown before my eyes.
That visit to the hospital was the first time my father had taken me and my sister anywhere.
The next time he took us out was the day of my mother’s funeral.
Afterthought – Well, the picture was apparently not quite telling a thousand words. That could partly be because I’m a bit burnt out from the battle I had with my NaNoWriMo today, so I had a bit of difficulty in writing this. I did quite enjoy doing it though, and if it weren’t so late here in my time zone I may have continued further. I hope people like my contribution. Please excuse any mistakes, I’m too tired to edit it!