Friday, 30 April 2010

This month's shortlisted story for The Strictly Writing Award

A Time for Grief by Jennifer Jensen

The funeral is over, over by an entire week. My eyes are dry and aching. I should have wept buckets of tears by now, but instead I’m frozen, numb, and the world seems muted around me. I lay at night, unsleeping, and see her still, knowing that I won't hear her laughter again, won't hear the tiny grunt as she restrains herself from criticizing my parenting, won't ever be able to call her for advice or a recipe or just a late-night chat.

My sister rings, wants us to ‘go through Mum's things.’ Lovely. So now we get to squabble over antiques and boot sale junk, as if the row over her coffin wasn't enough.

I enter the familiar door of my childhood, inhaling the scent of the jasmine climbing up the front post, and wander through the house lost in the whispers of my mother’s life. My hand trails over the well-worn recliner where she settled in to watch television. I caress the curves of her treasured Chippendale chairs in the dining room and hear echoes of her laughter at Christmas. The heavy sideboard is gathering dust, a visible reminder of how long she was in hospital.

My sister and two brothers are sitting at the kitchen table, making lists. The good furniture, the Spode china, the jewelry. Anything of any value. My sister, always the bossy one but also Mum's executor, says we'll take turns choosing. I gaze at her but don't answer. My youngest brother loudly claims the Chippendale, and my sister makes snide comments about his motives. Mum loved the chairs, but the haggling grates me. I tune them out and leave.

In Mum's room, the bed is neatly made with the old duvet and matching pillows. Mrs. Forrest from next door must have been in after the funeral – my sister would never have bothered. I flip open the inlaid jewelry box, but nothing interests me. Mum never did wear jewelry much.

Her collection of fairies perches along windowsills, in bookcase corners, on top of a mirror. I hear her voice, ‘Can’t you just imagine them, Jenny, flitting through the air like dancing light? Such joy!’ And they did give her joy – even at the end, the fairy in her hospital room would make her smile.

I open her wardrobe and flick through the clothes, some vaguely fashionable, some decades out of date. Nothing I want. And then I see it, folded neatly on a shelf: Mum's tattered, tartan scarf, a cherished reminder of her last trip to Scotland with Dad.

It had been such a happy trip for them, looking for the monster at Loch Ness, listening to the haunting bagpipes at Edinburgh Castle, even eating Chinese in Inverness. ‘You wouldn’t believe it, Jenny – the best Chinese I’ve ever had, in Scotland of all places!’

Of all the souvenirs she brought back, the scarf was her favorite and she wore it on special occasions. But after Dad died, it seemed like the scarf never left her neck. To church, to market, out to the park, even just round the house – it didn’t matter. Any time the weather gave her an excuse, out came the scarf. And in the middle of the market, or church, or the park, she would stroke the soft wool absently, her eyes focused on some private memory.

I lift it gently, inhaling her familiar scent: Chanel No. 5, Elizabeth Arden makeup, and the peppermints she always used to suck. I breathe her in deeply, knowing suddenly that this is the first item I'll choose, no matter that my siblings will scoff at me. I sink onto the bed and breathe her scent in again. I can feel her close, almost sitting beside me. And the tears finally come.

28 comments:

Queenie said...

Terrific story. Congratulations, Jennifer.

Jane said...

Lost my mam not long back and you got it all exact. A very poignant tale. Congrats on having your story open the comp x

Fidelity said...

Congratulations Jenn. Lovely evocative story. Well written. The images all linked smoothly and wide vocabulary; I liked your 'unsleeping' rather than using 'awake' as a different sort of wakefulness. The 'sideboard' could let go of 'heavy' and the 'reminder' let go of 'visible' for a crisper telling but overall a very enjoyable and accomplished style.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oh, Jennifer, this is a fabulous story. Well done indeed.
Susiex

Old Kitty said...

Hi

This is really really lovely, Jennifer Jensen.

Your words just flow and fill the air with sorrow and sadness and a family at odds with each other in the midst of such grief.

The final sentence is devastating.

I really enjoyed reading this, thank you.

Take care
x

Roderic Vincent said...

Thank you Jennifer for sending us your story. For me it built up a lot of emotion in a small space.

I especially loved the familiar door of my childhood given that familiar comes from family, as in Sagrada Familia.

Also, the Chinese meal in Scotland was an evocative detail.

Jennifer is our shortlisted story for April, the first of ten to be posted here. The overall winner will then be chosen from those ten by a combination of votes from SW readers and from the SW team. The stories are starting to come in faster now, but there's still lots of time to send us yours.

Helen Black said...

This is a super story to kick off our comp.
Congratulations.
Short story writing is a complete art and I think you've nailed it here.
HB x

Joanna said...

Thank you for this story. I enjoyed every word and relived old grief, but in a good way. Sharing the same process of emotions is a warming experience.

Each well-chosen word earned its place. And I really liked the Chinese meal in Scotland image.

Derek said...

Emotional realism at its finest.

Gillian McDade said...

Well done, Jennifer! We all loved your story.

CarolineG said...

Very very moving. Well done, Jennifer.

Milton said...

Beautiful piece, very moving.

Milt

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dilindquist said...

That's beautiful Jennifer! I was there with you. Congratulations!!!

Jennifer said...

Wow, I am amazed! Thank you so much for showcasing it, and for all your lovely comments! Looking forward to reading next month's story.

(sorry, couldn't edit typo in first post)

womagwriter said...

Direct from the heart, to the heart. Those stories are always the best ones, and this is beautiful. Well done!

Geraldine Ryan said...

I loved the phrase "lost in the whispers of my mother's life". Lovely story! Very neat.

Susan in US said...

This story puts me in the writer's place. The sensory detail is excellent. I feel the chair, I hear the squabbles, I senst the scarf. I know it's trite, but in this case, it's apropos... I feel the pain and the joy. Well done!

sonia said...

captured it perfectly.

debutnovelist said...

I think this is all the more powerful because it's not over- written. Sincerity/authenticity at its best.
Congrats again
AliB

Kath said...

A beautiful story.

Maribeth said...

Over twenty-five years and you brought it back like it was this morning.
Excellent!

Pongo said...

Congratulations, not only to the author but also the judges for the story about life and people.
Lets get back to basics about writing away from the over adjectived, improbable, 'trendy' styles which compare the Old Masters with contemporary art.
The Old Masters, as good writing, will survive.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at strictlywriting.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
Jack

Red-Lucy said...

New to the site-what a beautiful, evocative story. I love it.

Karen said...

Really moving - congratulations :o)

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