Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The False Hope of a Robin

Ronnie never liked trips to the hospital. It was always a mixture of revulsion and fear. The combined smells of disinfectant, urine, and floor wax made her stomach unsteady, but the fear was all about her mother. What she would do to remind Ronnie again there really was no hope of her ever having a mother from storybooks. Though her head had long accepted the fact, her heart, in hidden folds and pockets, held out with hope waiting to be quashed when her mother talked to unseen people or shouted wild public obscenities at her father for being himself.

“Good morning, Mr. Wallace,” the too friendly nurse said. “She’s in the sun room waiting for you. Shall I take you?”

Ronnie’s father smiled a weary smile. “No, I think we’ll be okay.” He took Ronnie’s hand and they made their way down the shiny corridor. He looked at his daughter. “I’m sure she’ll be fine today.”

Ronnie looked at her father’s worried face and said the only thing she could. “Yeah.”

As she walked, Ronnie tried to pick through her memories to find the one she went to when she wanted to see her mother how she could be if her brain would only behave itself. And there it was. A warm spring day and she walked with her mother to the edge of a lake. They removed their shoes and dangled their feet in the still icy water. Her mother reached in her handbag and pulled out a plastic bag filled with dried bread. She held it out to Ronnie who reached in and took out a tiny piece. “Throw it in the water,” she said smiling. The minute it landed, a duck from across the lake swam over and scooped up the floating bread in its flat, yellow bill making a clack noise. They laughed together at that. They sat feeding the ducks, watching them scoop up the bread in their funny way. It was a nice, comfortable memory that gave Ronnie hope as she spotted her mother sitting next to an open window in the corner.

“Hiya Sweetheart,” her father said, bending down and kissing her mother on the cheek. He sat down next to her on the window’s ledge. “Nice day.”

Her mother looked at them with drug-induced flat eyes. Her hair had been combed to the wrong side, done by a nurse who didn’t know her. Someone had applied lipstick that was smeared on her bottom lip. Ronnie knew it was her mother, but a strange altered version, which was better really since that should be the mother that lived in this place.

“Yes, it’s a nice day,” her mother said to her father while all the time she looked at Ronnie.

“We brought you some things.” Her father held up a bag Ronnie knew contained Hershey bars and shampoo.

There was no response and they sat, all of them, looking out the window at the small garden at the back of the hospital. They had nothing to say that would help anything. Nothing but feather words and each of them knew they hardly stood a chance in the wind tunnel of emotions that raged around them. Long, heavy minutes pass. “Maybe I can take this down to your room,” Ronnie’s father said, never comfortable without action. He got up and disappeared before Ronnie could stop him with her eyes.

Her mother leaned forward and opened the window a bit wider. She pushed her face into the slight breeze and closed her eyes. Ronnie was scared. She thought she heard her mother humming. Behaviour that was normal in other people took on a tinge of crazy with her mother; this was one of them. It was perhaps a precursor to something worse to come. Ronnie held her breath.

Just then a robin landed on the window’s edge and Ronnie’s mother opened her eyes. She looked at it, and then looked at Ronnie. Slowly, she pushed her hand into the blue bathrobe she wore and pulled out some raisins. She dropped a few on the window sill and the robin came forward and ate them one by one; then it flew away.

Ronnie’s heart jumped. “Do you remember… that day…,” she started in desperation. Maybe she could pull her mother back from where she’d run to; the robin had given her hope.

Her mother put her finger to Ronnie’s lips; a hollow sadness filling her eyes. “No… please… don’t speak of it. Not today. I won’t manage it….”

Her father came back just then. “So, what have my girls been doing?” he asked with a forced jolliness, looking back and forth between them.

Her mother turned back to the window and Ronnie said to her father, “Maybe it’s time to go home.”


Anonymous said...

I was slightly confused by Ronni's perspective, guess I should have pay more attention

I do like Ronnie's memory of her mother and the ducks, that was sweet compare to what she was today

it seem like a real story, maybe there was chance for Ronnie's mother, especially the appearance of the robin

groovyoldlady said...

OK...hand me a hankie, will ya? The story was tender and sad and almost (though not completely) hopeless.

I'll be sad all day now!

Anonymous said...

Her mother put her finger to Ronnie’s lips; a hollow sadness filling her eyes. “No… please… don’t speak of it. Not today. I won’t manage it….”

The above quote reminds of a quote by Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy,

“There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery”

And it would seem that your characters have been both to ‘heaven’ and through several levels of ‘hell’. You use juxtaposition (of good times, bad times, hope, hopelessness, sanity, insanity) to great effect in your story – as you do with imagery and detail. I also thought the ‘suspenseful –kettle-boiling-bomb-about –to go off-at any minute pacing of your story,coupled with its dramatic atmosphere, was grand. A lesser writer would have fallen in the quagmire of bathos and purple prose. You didn’t. Thanks for a good, sad, read.


Anonymous said...

Well, I wish I could have said it as well as David, but can you stop making me cry, woman? The robin appearing like that, offering hope where none could be found? A superb touch. You just get better and better.

anthonynorth said...

A very tender, poignant story.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story and so exquisitely drawn. I love how you have allowed us to see into the humanness of the mother, the moments of clarity in her feeding the robin, and her conveyance that she can't bear the old memories poignantly shows her suffering, without painting her as pathetic. Very genuine and resonant - bravo!

And I agree with David - the parallels to Dante here are strong. Thanks for a great read!

Lauri said...

Thanks so much guys. Your comments help me see my story in a new way and that is helpful.

I promise next prompt- no sad stories or poems. I am able to write happy stories... really.

Karen said...

I loved this. Clarity, hope, sadness, longing, love... all of it was there.

Lauri said...

Thanks Missy K!