This is the fictional/non-fictional story that I sent in for the Decatur Book Festival and although it was not selected I am proud that this subject matter is the platform from which I will build to become a better storyteller. Please read and leave a comment with your thoughts.
Through the Night
Sleep was a night time ritual that seemed to elude her every night. The thought of the news she had to deliver to her children the following day haunted her waking hours, but hit her most when her house was the most quiet and her mind the most clear. Angelia laid there barely conscious, reciting in her mind the terminal news, “I have cancer, and do you know what that means…do you have any questions?” “Of course, they have questions; they are children for heaven’s sake…they are my children and so young; who will be here for…” her thoughts deliberated as her mind drifted to a grey area. She rolled over to her dresser drawer, withdrew a small pouch, and perched herself on the large, brown, leather, chair her father left for her which now sits in front of her open bedroom window.
Angelia’s father passed away a few years prior to her receiving the news about her own condition, and although she was an adult, she remembered how empty the world felt without him in it and how lost her days were without his voice calling to her in the mornings; he was a fixture of normalcy in her day. Willie George was a spry older man who hosted weekly parties in his family room and played disc jockey from the microphone of his 1970 Techsonic radio. He loved life and refused to be “placed” somewhere where his love of life would be altered and charted by meal, medication, and recreation schedules. After his first stroke, his daughters moved him from his home, 30 miles from the center of Dallas, TX, to Angelia’s home, which was closer and easier for everyone to keep a watchful eye. Willie always resented that eye, because he was a free man, and his freedom had to be carefully calculated in someone else’s home, however that calculated freedom beat scheduled recreation any day of the week and he never complained. Every morning Willie would call to his daughter and ask how she was doing almost as if he was checking to make sure he was not a burden on her life and every morning Angelia greeted him with a reassuring resolve and a special breakfast. One day, while the family was away, Willie worked on his disc jockey routine, making tapes for his friends back in Ft Worth, which he planned to visit the following month, and his heart stopped beating. Willie slipped quietly away, listening to Marvin Gaye, and clinging on to small fragments of his own normalcy.
Angelia fumbled with the small pouch. Feeling the cellophane wrapping between her thumb and index finger she questioned the decision she was about to make. Just as the thought entered her mind, the smell of sulfur dioxide came wafting in from her just struck match, and then the inhale. The light from her freshly lit cigarette, competing with the light from the moon was everything a moment could be for her, especially now when moments are examined so carefully. She took another drag of her cigarette, balanced it skillfully between her top and bottom lip and hit the clock’s “time button”, which laid in peace on her nightstand. The clocked blinked 3:11 a.m. twice in big, bright, fluorescent pink, numbers and stayed illuminated. “Huh, it’s only three in the morning” she murmured and went back to the diligence of her own thoughts. It was three in the morning and Angelia was sitting in her father’s chair, with her flirty night garment, and fuzzy duck slippers making life decisions. She often believe that important decisions on life are not hammered out at the kitchen table over dinner, but at this hour, three a.m., when your thoughts take over your sleep and force themselves to the top of your “to-do list”, even when to do them never was a matter of thought.
Feeling a little nauseous from the chemo medication and her cigarette, Angelia dangled her half-smoked cigarette out of the open window and gazed around her now dimly lit, soft pink, room and her eyes landed on a table which held pictures of her family. Although she could not make out the happiness in the smiles and quirkiness in the eyes of each photo, in such poor lighting, she knew there was a small, frameless, wallet sized picture of her mother that rests against the family portrait of her and her children. “Why was I never good enough, mom?” she said in such a bruiting tone that even startled her a bit. She had to remember that her children were asleep in the next room. Climbing out of the chair and making her way to the table, she demanded with her scissored hands confronting the photo, “How come I never measured up to the lowest standards you set for the rest of your children, mom?” She tore into the image, ripping the photo to shreds, hoping to destroy with it the feeling of abandonment she felt as a child growing up under her mother’s roof.
Angelia was the second of four children growing up in a strict, Christian, home where GOD was at the head of the table, and church was the family’s near nightly activity. Every morning Angelia’s mother would walk her three daughters and one son, in full Christian regalia, around downtown Dallas catching bus after bus, in the blazing sun, to get the local magnet schools, in full display of what Helen believed were watching eyes of her parenting. Helen Claxton could not afford a slip up from her children, she was the chair of every notable board in the church, and a minor clink in the chain of her household would spell weakness and lack of faith. Peering through the keyhole of the Claxton household, everything and everyone was perfect. She had a faithful husband and four beautiful children who were good students and who participated in every church ceremony she bulletined to the church’s announcement board, regularly. And although Mrs. Claxton may not have been the head of the table in her own home, she definitely was the second in command. She ruled with a swift, open hand and made sure that everyone in her home, including her husband, prayed and fasted for their sins real and imaginary. The tight grip Helen had on her family, created the cracks necessary, which made it so easy for them to slip through her grasp. Her husband Willie’s behavior became unmanageable. He first started coming in late for dinner, which lead to missing dinner and finally missing from home altogether and then from church. Rumors began to circulate around their small neighborhood and finally it all ended-divorce! Helen’s world began to spiral and she started clinging on to the children she could save, which left Angelia in the wake of her own emotional tornado. Rebelling against the “Word of God” and pregnant as a high school sophomore, Angelia was on her own to defend her sanity in a world she knew so little about.
“You taught me nothing!” Angelia exclaimed at the torn photo, unconsciously ignoring her emotions and her children sleeping in the other room. “You never prepared me for this, how can I face my own children when WE never had a conversation?” “You taught me nothing!” “You abandoned me, and you abandoned your grandchildren, you selfish b….” and in one swoop, as if she was conducting a symphony, all the pictures clashed to the floor, in harmonious rhythm. Falling to her knees as if her legs had become weighted down with cement, Angelia opened her mouth and began muttering the words of the only prayer she remembered, “Our Father, which are in Heaven, Hollowed be thy name…” at each stumble she began again, “Our Father, which are in Heaven, Hollowed be thy name…” and again, and again, until the words flowed as if the prayer never left her.
After what seemed like an eternity, she rose and dusted the glass fragments from her knees. She examined the mess she had made of her room and snubbed the ash shaped cigarette which dangled from the edge of the table that use to hold the memories of happy smiles and quirky eyes. The warmth of the sun swept over her face and she realized that she never slept the night. It was morning. It was a new day and a new moment. She gathered herself, wiped the sweat and tears from her face, found her robe, and with bare feet, she set off to have the most difficult conversation of her life with her children.