This is my first short story in several years. I’m excited to walk back into the short story world and share this with you. (And more to come!) I hope this piece drives the point home in a light-hearted but profound way. We can change the narrative.
I knock on her door. Freshly painted, freshly scraped and peeled. Made to look worn and old. The door promptly falls off the hinges at my gentle knock. She says hello. Looks down at the door and smiles as if to say, “Job well done!” She welcomes me inside. I step over the threshold to a lived-in house. Homey, soft, vibrant.
She offers me a cup of coffee. I say yes and glance at her cupboard of beautiful teacups and mugs. They are printed with wildflowers, colorful patterns, holidays, hope, happiness. How lovely. I smile to myself. I’m so glad to meet her and finally spend some time together.
She pads to the kitchen with heavy feet. Gorgeous hardwood floors. Or maybe linoleum. Either way, they are so pretty! Just as I think she will reach for a mug from the cupboard, she turns to the sink full of dirty dishes. Not an unruly mess in the least. Looks like a well-used sink, like fresh morning starts and mid-day ordinary moments. Mine looks much the same. She reaches her hand in rummaging through the dishes and finds a mug. Pulling her hand from the sink, I see scrambled egg bits and grease caked on the side of the mug. She pours cold coffee into the dirty (yet otherwise beautiful) mug and hands it to me.
Not sure how to respond, I take the smeared mug of cold coffee and manage a thank you. Her shoulders slump forward. She mumbles, “Just want to be real” and she leads me to the couch. Before I can sit down or make sense of her comment, she dumps a basket of undone laundry on the cushion and is visibly relieved to have done so. “Now you can sit.” She smiles as though she’s made everything more cozy and comfortable for me.
I struggle to balance myself on her pile of laundry with my cold coffee sloshing in its dirty mug. When I work myself into a sitting position of some kind, I notice her children laughing with each other over a tea party. Their playful chatter and imaginative accents distract me from my precarious perch on the couch. I am momentarily transfixed by the magic they create with with their conversation and grand flourishing hand gestures. How spectacular.
Just as I begin to ask my new friend a question, I hear her shrill voice shriek and insist her children STOP IT RIGHT NOW. I startle, coffee sloshing everywhere (admittedly much to my relief), and stare dumbfounded at the scene. I hadn’t even noticed her children had been arguing over the pink, wooden tea kettle. “That’s real life for ya. Kids what can I say?! Relatable, huh!” She laughs, a very kind and unassuming laugh, and briefly excuses herself for a moment.
Probably to poison her garden.
Her children are laughing again and absorbed in their play once more. I take the brief moment of reprieve to heave myself off her pile of laundry. I gingerly walk to her cupboard full of beautiful things. I’m curious. Upon opening the cabinet, I quietly poke every clean, sparkling, charming mug and teacup.
Yes. I’m not imagining things! These beautiful things are real. I look to my right and smell the aromatic coffee grounds wafting from the newly opened bag. I tap the buttons and hear the coffee maker effortlessly roar to life.
I turn it off, feeling sheepish for exploring her kitchen. Speaking of her kitchen, it’s lovely too! Lived in, bright, small by celebrity standards, but perfectly wonderful in every way!
I tiptoe back to the couch, children still laughing, and push aside the mountain of clothes (a normal size mountain for a family). I sink into the most comfortable couch I’ve ever sat on and wonder why in the world she added lumpy clothes to a perfect cushion.
Once I settle in, I see her trudge back into the living room. She drags herself past priceless family memories spread out on walls and falls into her chair once more. Exhausted. Depleted. But confusingly there is still a bit of cheer beneath her expression, although she stamps it down with resolve. I’m not sure why.
She asks me questions and we have a personable chat, but I soon find out much like her dirty coffee mugs and piles of laundry and exasperation for her children, she is only willing to recount the worst, hardest, most frustrating experiences and stories.
Maybe she makes the poison for her garden too!
I stop myself short of laughing, but remain confounded as to why we are sitting here pretending the beautiful things aren’t here and real too.
Must I drink out of a dirty coffee mug to be your friend?
Must I see your piles of laundry to relate to your life?
Must I hear only about your hard days as a mother to know you are a living, breathing woman?
Can’t we have two feet in the mess and the magic?
Can’t both be real?
I’d rather not call a war on beautiful things because hard things exist. I’d like to live my whole life. Thank you very much. And please don’t scratch the paint off my door in your heroic efforts to pull me into your version of authenticity. I shake myself from these runaway thoughts and hope one day she knows I can be trusted with her beautiful life too.
Our visit ends, and I feel sad for what could have been. I never minded the mess. Not once. I knew it existed long before I had to sit on her laundry. (I’ve got a house and a life too, you know.) But I hated that every lovely thing around us was ignored. And ignore something long enough, and you’ll forget it exists. Even if it’s real.
A woman finds herself as a skeleton after personal, chaotic, life-altering grief. As light fills space between bone, as skin grows back thin and vulnerable, as she steps over the threshold of her damaged house, she discovers the most beautiful surprises threatened only by the fear that creeps close behind as she grapples with the grief that remains a part of her frame.
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