The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

#FlashFiction: Don’t Mess with Me

The following is a mostly true story. Names have been omitted to protect the innocent, and not-so-innocent.

He drives up to the video store every Thursday evening to rent a DVD for the weekend. He comes in a beat-up van that tells her he’s a plumber, even though inside the store, he regales her with stories of his involvement with the Greek mafia.

One night, the elderly gentleman leaves his wallet on the counter, so she runs out after him to return it.

“Thank you,” he says, fishing around in his wallet before handing her a business card. “If you ever need someone killed, I’m your man.”

He winks, and she smiles back.

On her way back into the store she turns the card over.

“Get A Person Killed Free Card,” it says, followed by the gentleman’s name and number.

Her cellphone pings with an incoming text message.

I think we should break up.

She fingers the card, smirking. “Well,” she says. “This will be handy.”

Penelope

PENELOPE

a short story by

Lydia Thomas

Copyright 2015

For my grandma, Marcia Bauman Thomas, who always encouraged my imagination and writing by telling stories of when I was a young girl and would talk on my play phone. She thought it was the funniest thing because she could have sworn there was someone on the other end.

“Please,” Penelope cried, rocking back and forth on the ground in the corner of the dark room. “Something is wrong with me. I need your help.”

Arleen and Cindy exchanged a look. Penelope wasn’t talking to them, and much as they wanted to help her, there was no way of knowing what would happen if they intervened while she was in this state.

“Something is wrong with me,” Penelope insisted angrily.

Arleen scribbled a note on her legal pad: Penelope was engaging with the voices from the other side today, and it sounded like they were talking back.

“I can’t take care of myself,” Penelope sobbed. “I need help.”

Arleen stole a glance at Cindy, who rubbed one arm absentmindedly as tears crawled out of her eyes and down her cheeks, watching the scene in front of her. Arleen couldn’t blame the girl: she and Penelope had grown especially close in the past few years. It had always been hard to lose Penelope like this, but recently, it had been occurring more and more frequently. Arleen suspected it wouldn’t be long before they lost Penelope for good, though she didn’t mention this to Cindy.

“This is your fault, too,” Penelope announced from the corner. “You should have helped me a long time ago.”

Arleen relaxed. Once Penelope started throwing out accusations like that, the voices would leave. Then she’d be back. Even Cindy was wiping away her tears and putting on a brave smile in preparation.

Suddenly, she and Cindy were sitting in an ornate living room, sunlight sprinkling in through wall-to-wall windows that overlooked a wooded back yard. Arleen knew the house well – Penelope often met them here these days. Still, it took her a moment to adjust to the new surroundings.

The doorbell rang.

“That will be Penelope,” Cindy said.

“I’ll get it,” Arleen replied, and scuffled out to the entry way to answer the door.

As she walked, the house changed again, and Arleen found herself in a dim hallway. Although she recognized this house, too, it had been years since Penelope had rendezvoused with anyone here, but this was where Penelope had met them all for the first time. Arleen wondered what had prompted this change. .

Penelope stood on the porch, holding a grocery bag and beaming. She was wearing a navy and mint striped maxi dress and denim jacket, and Arleen noticed that she had styled her hair and applied some eyeliner and mascara. It was quite the contrast from when Arleen had seen her last.

“You look beautiful, Penelope,” Arleen greeted her, and stood to the side.

“Thanks, Arleen,” Penelope said, breezing in as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “I brought stuff for seafood tacos.”

“Sounds delicious,” Arleen remarked, following Penelope down the hallway to a different living room than the one from which she had come.

This living room also looked out on a wooded area, and beyond that, a small pond. The sun was just beginning to dip below the trees.

Penelope sighed happily. “My favorite place on earth.”

Cindy barreled into Penelope with a big hug. “Hey, friend,” she said, voice muffled. “How are you?”

Penelope returned the hug before setting her grocery bag on the kitchen bar beside her. “I’m good,” she returned brightly.

Penelope took off her jacket and folded it neatly on one of the bar stools before finding an apron in one of the drawers and tying it around her waist. As she scurried around the kitchen, pulling out chopping boards, knives, and pans, Arleen marveled that Penelope still knew where everything was after all these years.

“Can we get some music going?” Penelope requested. “I feel like singing and dancing. Oldies, maybe?”

Cindy frowned, but complied, pulling out her iPod and its Bluetooth speaker. Soon, Wouldn’t it be nice? by the Beach Boys was filtering into the kitchen, and Penelope was dancing and singing into spatulas.

Arleen waggled her eyebrows at Cindy and joined in, but Cindy sat down on a bar stool, still frowning.

“Come on, Cin,” Penelope said, shimmying around the kitchen. “Live a little.”

“This is insane!” Cindy exploded.

Arleen and Penelope stopped dancing, and without anybody touching the iPod, the music had stopped. Arleen knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“What’s your problem?” Penelope demanded.

“My problem?” Cindy spluttered. “My problem is that less than twenty minutes ago, you were absolutely beside yourself, crying about how you need help. You come here, and suddenly everything is okay.”

Penelope’s face fell. “Look, Cin,” she said. “I just need to relax, okay?”

“You used to be real with us,” Cindy replied. “That’s been the place where you’ve faked it, but not here. Never here.”

Penelope sunk to the floor, and Arleen saw they were losing her again. Cindy saw it, too, and relented, coming to sit on the floor next to Penelope.

“Don’t you trust us?” Cindy whispered desperately.

Penelope turned slowly to face Cindy. “Of course I trust you. Both of you,” she added, glancing at Arleen. “More than anyone. You’ve always been here. I just”-

“What?” Cindy probed.

“I don’t know if I should anymore,” Penelope admitted.

Arleen sunk down to the floor and put an arm around Penelope’s shoulder. “We understand,” she murmured.

“I don’t,” Cindy argued. “I don’t understand how you could choose them over us. All of us. We’ve made it our mission to protect you. If you had any idea”-

“That’s just it, Cindy,” Penelope said, shaking her head. “You’ve all been keeping me from things. Things that could keep me here forever.”

“Would that be such a terrible thing?” Cindy asked.

Penelope emitted a strangled sob, and looked around the now-shadowy house.

Her favorite place on earth, Arleen thought wryly.

“No,” Penelope replied eventually. “And yes. They need me there.”

“I know,” Arleen whispered.

“Can’t you please just tell me?” Penelope pleaded.

Arleen shook her head. “I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “I don’t even know myself. I’m just here to protect you until you’re ready.”

It was true. Arleen had shown up at this very house shortly after the incident to introduce Penelope to her first family. She had knocked on the door, not even sure anyone would answer, but a three-year-old, pigtailed Penelope had opened the door and invited her in, much to her parents’ chagrin. That was the only time the two worlds had overlapped; Penelope kept them separate after that. Arleen hadn’t known what happened then, and she didn’t know now, but she had instantly seen Penelope‘s sadness. She only knew that every time a family got too close to the incident, Penelope would start acting up and had to be placed with another family. Then, there were the people who had left on their own: Arleen’s own son, Eric had walked away from Penelope several years ago, tired of being used as a crutch. Soon after, Cindy had shown up. Arleen wasn’t surprised Penelope was choosing the other side, where she had only one family.

“I’m ready,” Penelope said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Arleen cautioned.

“I know,” Penelope whispered. “But it’s time.”

Arleen and Cindy faded away, and Penelope was left by herself in the dark kitchen.

“You’re very close,” a voice whispered out of the darkness.

“What if I lose everything?” Penelope asked.

“There’s no chance I’ll let that happen,” the voice returned. “Trust me.”

No longer afraid, Penelope straightened from the fetal position she’d been in on the floor and stood up. She walked out to the living room where she’d left her parents.

“We think you should see a doctor,” her mother said.

Her father didn’t make eye contact, and Penelope knew he wished it hadn’t come to this.

She hated to disappoint him, but Penelope nodded.

“I think you’re right,” she agreed.

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The Name’s Lydia

So. Lydia and Linda. Similar names, right? Yeah, I don’t think so, either, but some people see my name (like, on a name tag or doctor’s form or whatever) and think it’s Linda.

Today, a guy was asking me about coupons, and I told him I didn’t have any so he does the whole “Linda, honey, just listen” spiel from that little kid on Ellen, and says, “I bet you get that all the time.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him my name is LYDIA.  After all, he was trying to cheer me up.

And seriously, I sometimes feel like Mateo’s mom about coupons or returns or, well, any number of customer-related issues. (I’ll bet some customer’s feel that way about me, too, so…)

The True Story of How I Became a Seattle Seahawks Fan

If you ever wondered how a girl born and raised in Michigan and transplanted in Texas became a Seahawks fan … wonder no more.

This is the true story of how I became a Seahawks fan.

I started following the Seattle Seahawks when I first decided to move to Seattle. Since Seattle would be my home, the Seahawks would be my team.

Exciting, I know.

It provokes all sorts of smack talk from the Lions’ and Cowboys’ fans in my life. You know, since I’m from Michigan, and have lived in Dallas ten years now, it only makes sense that I should be either a Lions’ fan (ahahaHA) or a Cowboys’ fan.

What can I say? I’m a bit of a rebel.

My older brother is a Patriots fan, so I’m not the only one.

Who You Are

A Short Story by Lydia Thomas

In memory of Elizabeth Kearns Meany.

To all those who have more to their stories than we’ll ever know, and those who are gone, even when they’re still with us.

“This is not who you are.”

It’s a whimper from my mother, rocking back and forth on the edge of her bed, hugging a spiral-bound notebook to her chest.

Aunt June buries her head in her hands.

“Dolores,” she says, voice muffled. “You have to take your medicine.”

“This is not who you are,” Momma hisses.

I want to cry. Of all the things Momma has forgotten on account of her disease, she remembers this mantra.

This is not who you are.

“Dolores, please,” Aunt June begs.

“This is not who you are!” Momma snarls, jabbing a finger at her precious notebook.

This, too, she has carried around for years, a list of names: family, friends, mere acquaintances, even; and beside each name, that person’s characteristics. Well, that person’s characteristics according to Momma, at least.

Of the dozens, maybe even hundreds, of names on that list, Aunt June and I are the only ones here. None of her friends from younger, healthier years are visiting and caring for her in the nursing home; not Daddy; and not my brother, Teagan. It’s all because of that damned notebook: they all got tired of hearing it wasn’t who they were when things weren’t going Momma’s way. One by one they left, declaring, “This is who I am.”

I guess Aunt June agrees with Momma that she is not a drug pusher, because she comes and sits next to me on the sofa, sighing heavily.

“We’ll try again later,” I assure her, but she shakes her head.

Meanwhile, Momma continues rocking, eyes fixed blankly on the wall in front of her.

***

Princess.

That was the first thing Momma told me I was.

“It’s what your name means, Sarah,” she murmured in my ear one lazy afternoon, scratching away in her notebook. “It means you’re royalty. You don’t take nothing from no one.”

After that I was a helper, and sweet.

I glowed in Momma’s praises.

Except.

I didn’t always behave like a princess or a helper or sweetly at all.

And Momma would look at me with solemn eyes and perhaps she would steal a glance at her notebook or stroke it or hold it out to me, but her words were always the same.

“This is not who you are, Sarah.”

Those words always brought a feeling of ice to my gut, like I’d failed Momma, and I was failing myself, so I would do my very best to get back to who I was, to vanquish the alien that had taken over.

***

“I’m so sorry, Sarah,” Aunt June’s voice breaks the silence. “I can’t do this anymore.

“Aunt June, no,” I protest.

Aunt June plucks up her bag and kisses my forehead.

“I have lived my whole life with my sister telling me who I am,” Aunt June says, pulling away and holding my chin in her hand so I can’t look away as if I’m a little girl again. “I don’t know how much time I have left, but it can’t be spent here”- she waves a hand at Momma –“trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I can’t stay.”

Tears burn in my eyes.

“And you shouldn’t either,” she adds.

“I can’t leave her,” I say desperately. “I’m her sweet helper. What would she do without me?”

Aunt June purses her lips.

“She’ll learn to help herself,” she states.

***

“We all hate him,” Momma informed me, slamming a casserole dish into the cupboard.

My chin trembled.

“You don’t even care how we feel,” she continued and jabbed her head in the direction of her notebook, which was sitting behind the cookie jar. “This is not who you are, Sarah.”

I was going to cry. I didn’t want to, but I knew where all of this was going, and I didn’t know how to stop it.

“And you’ve been a nightmare throughout the entire wedding-planning process,” Momma complained. “So obsessed and controlling.”

I sighed.

“This is not who you are,” Momma reiterated.

“What do you want me to do, Momma?” I asked, spreading my arms, now fully bawling.

Momma came over to me and laid an arm around my shoulders.

“You’re not yourself when you’re with him,” she said. “You need to let him go.”

 ***

My trembling hand lifts my phone out of my purse and dials Teagan’s number. I haven’t spoken to him in years.

“Farber residence,” a female voice announces cheerily.

I clear my throat.

“Hi, Stephanie?” I inquire.

“Yes,” the woman replies, voice more sober. “Who’s calling?”

“It’s Sarah,” I answer. “May I speak with Teagan please?”

“Sure, Sarah,” Stephanie says. “Hang on just a sec, okay?”

“Thanks,” I say, trying to ignore the hollering going on in the background.

“This is Teagan,” my brother’s voice comes across the line.

“Teagan, it’s Sarah,” I say.

“What’s up, Sarah?” Teagan asks curtly.

“It’s Momma,” I say. “I really need you to come.”

“What’s wrong?” Teagan replies. “Is she sick? Dying?”

“No, no,” I say hastily. “It’s just that Aunt June left”-

“Good for her,” Teagan remarks.

“I’m by myself here, Teagan,” I say. “I can’t do this by myself.”

“You don’t have to do it at all,” Teagan points out. “Frankly, I don’t understand why you would after everything she put you through with Daniel.”

“It’s who I am,” I say, hoping he’ll understand.

“Whatever you say, Sarah,” Teagan retorts, “but it’s not who I am.”

“But Teagan”- I protest.

“No, Sarah,” Teagan says firmly. “You remember what she did to my little girls.”

I do.

They are in Momma’s notebook, too.

***

“Daddy, please don’t go,” I wailed.

Daddy shook his head, while throwing white undershirts into a duffel bag.

“I have to, Baby,” he said.

“This isn’t who you are,” I whined, stomping around a little bit.

Daddy grabbed my arm and yanked me toward him, giving me a stern look.

“You listen to me, Sarah,” he said. “Nobody gets to tell you who you are except for you, and who you are doesn’t change, no matter what you do. You got that?”

I choked on some snot.

Daddy waved me off.

“Eh, you’ll understand someday,” he said dismissively, jerking his duffel bag off the bed and storming out.

***

I rise from the sofa and take a tentative step towards Momma. She stops rocking and looks at me, as if she can sense what’s coming.

Our blue eyes mirror each other, filling with tears.

“I’m sorry, Momma,” I whisper.

My heart breaks as her eyes glimmer with recognition. In this moment, she knows I am her sweet, helping princess.

“This isn’t who you are, Sarah,” Momma replies, holding the notebook out to me.

I shake my head.

“It is now, Momma,” I say.

I don’t look back.

***

Perhaps the lazy summer afternoon wasn’t as lazy as I remembered it to be all these years.

There was a black eye, a bleeding lip, tears, and trembling arms.

Perhaps she was sheltering me, strengthening me when she told me I was a princess, royalty, one who didn’t take anything from anyone.

Perhaps I really wasn’t living up to my full potential with Daniel. Perhaps leaving him saved me the same kind of grief Momma had endured with Daddy.

Perhaps Daddy was both right and wrong. Perhaps I determine who I am, but perhaps Momma always saw the best in me, even if she did use it for her own ends.

Perhaps those things Momma wrote in that notebook she desperately needed to be true about the people she wrote them about. Perhaps they were true after all.

One thing I know: abandoning my mother is not who I am, no matter who she is or what she’s done.

***

“Momma?”

“Who are you?”

She’s no longer lucid.

“I’m your daughter, Sarah.”

“Oh,” she says.

There is a pause.

“I have a daughter?” she inquires.

“Yes,” I reply. “And a son.”

“Good grief,” Momma states.

I pick up the notebook from off of her bedside table.

“Do you know what this is, Momma?” I ask.

Momma frowns.

“It’s important, isn’t it?” she says eventually.

“It is, and it isn’t,” I reply.

This is lost on her.

“It’s a little book of records that you kept on people you met throughout your life,” I explain.

“Oh,” Momma says. “I don’t remember that.”

“I know, Momma,” I say. “I want to get rid of it.”

“Why?” she asks, frowning again.

“It’s a collection of observations,” I say. “Observations that ruled your life, no matter how right or wrong they might have been. I want you to be free.”

Momma smiles.

“I’d like to be free,” she says.

A frown creases her forehead.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Will I miss it?” Momma wants to know.

“No,” I tell her.

“How do you know?”

“Because, Momma, this is not who you are.”

After she dozes off, I slip the old notebook off of the bedside table into my purse and replace it with a new, blank one.

I cast a glance back at Momma, sleeping peacefully, before tip-toeing out of the room. I dump the notebook into a trashcan on my way out, finally free from Momma’s expectations, and knowing she is free now, too.

And as long as Momma’s here, I know I’ll be back.

It is who I am, after all.

Retail Therapy, A (Very) Short Story

Retail Therapy

a (very) short story

by Lydia Thomas

©2014

This is a work of fiction.

 

“Jenna, would you like to talk about why you’re here today?” the group leader asks.

I think her name is Simone, but I don’t remember, because I wasn’t really paying attention. I’m just going to call her Simone.

“Retail therapy,” I mumble.

“I’m sorry?” Simone asks, eyebrows furrowed together.

I imagine you’re looking at me the same way Simone is right now, so let’s just get this settled right off the bat: it’s not what it sounds like.

I sigh.

“There was an, uh, incident with a customer,” I explain. “This is a condition of my continued employment.”