Short Stories

A Mother’s Jar by Laura Kirsten

The aroma of fresh filtered coffee filled Nicola’s nostrils as she sat fidgeting at the cast iron table. The glass top had small chips and she connected them with her cerise pink fingernail like a children’s ‘dot-to-dot’ game. A fresh breeze ruffled her hair and she sighed, glad that the coffee shop had no seats available inside. She tried to count the numerous white pebbles that lined the large grey paving stones that demarcated the small dining areas. Small, serrated green leaves floated down around her like elegant confetti. She jumped as a smiling waitress touched her shoulder.
‘Are you ready to order now Ma’m?’
‘No…no… sorry not yet. I’m waiting for my daughter. She should be here any minute now. Perhaps just a tall glass of water with a slice of lemon and some ice?’
‘Coming up Ma’m’ as she disappeared through the stained glass doors on the patio.
‘Hi Mom, are you okay? I hope you haven’t been waiting too long?’
Nicola spun around in her chair.
‘Theresa, you gave me such a fright!’
‘I’m sorry Mom; you’re not alright are you?’ Gently touching her mother’s shaking hands.
‘Thanks so much for meeting me for coffee. I had to get out of the house to clear my mind and get things off my chest.’ Tears rolled down her perfect makeup and her shoulders shook with grief.
‘What’s wrong Mom…? What has upset you so much?’ Theresa tilted her head slightly as she tried to see the expression in her mother’s eyes.
‘Terry, I found out yesterday that your father is having an affair with two different people. I don’t know how I am going to cope with all of this. Can you imagine the gall of it all? How does he think I’m going to be able to face our friends?’ Her shoulders shook vigorously and her tears splattered all over.
‘But, Mother, that is an outrageous thing to say. How could you even imagine him doing these terrible things to us… to you?’ Theresa barked at her mother.
‘It’s true, Terry. I saw him with my own two eyes, yesterday. He was kissing some gorgeous female with long curly auburn hair. And were they kissing…’ More tears and wailing.
‘Are you sure it was Dad, our Dad?’ Theresa hovered over her mother. ‘I hope you haven’t made a mistake Mom, I really do.’ Her tone softened somewhat.
‘Yes, Terry, I am very sure, I’m certain it was him. I recognized his onyx ring. You know how unique it is.’ The pile of pale pink tissues skated across the tabletop in the cool breeze.
Theresa flopped into the green gingham cushion on the chair opposite her mother and sighed.
‘Gosh Mom, I don’t know what to say. But you said he’s involved with two people. Who on earth is the other person? Theresa’s shoulders slumped as she slid her elbows across the table.
‘You’re not going to believe me Terry, but, it’s another man.’ Nicola cowered as she uttered these words.
‘What the hell are you telling me Mother, have you gone totally mad? Theresa jumped out of her chair and threw her arms into the air.
‘I’m sor…’ Nicola tried to answer the raving lunatic that had just emerged from her daughter’s being.
‘You’re sorry, all you can say, is you’re sorry. Have you gone bloody mad? He’s my father; he would never ever do something like this to me.’ Theresa paced across the uneven pebbles.
Nicola’s tears abdicated in fear. This was no time to cry. Her truth had declared a war.
A wide-eyed waitress gingerly approached the two women. She cautiously placed two menus on the table and removed the pile of candy floss tissues from the table.
‘Care to give me your order now?’ she whispered
‘Two filter coffees will do for now, thank you.’ Nicola muttered under her breath.
Her eyes remained glued to the reflections that danced across the glass.  Multicolored shafts of light vied for prominence. Nicola tried not to breathe. She dared to turn her head to see what had happened to her daughter.
Theresa was huddled against a huge oak tree, sobbing. The weight of this ultimate betrayal threatened to crush her.
Nicola rose from her gingham cushion and tiptoed to where Theresa was dealing with one of her life’s unforgivable sins.
‘I’m so sorry, Mom. This isn’t only about me. You must be devastated?’
Nicola put her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and led her back to where their coffees awaited them.
‘Why a man, Mom, why a man?’
‘Why a man and another woman, my child? Only he can answer our questions.’ Nicola shrugged her shoulders as she spooned a heap of brown sugar into her coffee. She stirred continuously, staring into a blank space ahead of her.
‘You know, Terry, I have always believed that were such a solid, well-balanced family. You and your brother have done so well. You are caring human beings and hard workers and your dad and I are so proud of you. What more could we ask for?
‘You gave us everything we could ever dream of Mom. We are so blessed to have you both as our parents. But now this…I’m not sure what we are going to do?’ Little black rivers of mascara stained tears rolled down her cheeks once more.
‘I imagined all these years that I was holding this family together. All of you contained in the beautiful orange and red painted pottery jar that is perched on our dining room table. It always glows in the late afternoon sun. Your dad bought it for me on one of his trips to the East. In my heart, I placed each one of you inside the jar for protection and new that God would keep you all safe from hurts and danger forever. How naïve I have been?’
‘Mom, how do you know about the man in Dad’s life? I’m not really sure that I’m even ready for your answer….’ Theresa covered her eyes with her hands.
‘He told me about him yesterday, Terry. Some male model from Scandinavia. He says he has always preferred blonde men to blonde women.’
‘But Mom, why were you so devastated about the other woman, rather than the man? I don’t understand you?’ Her young brow crinkled as she spoke.
‘Honestly Terry, I could compete with another man, but NOT another woman!’ She crossed her arms across her chest in defiance.
‘Gosh Mom, who would have thought…? We make a right royal pair.’ Theresa threw back her head and laughed.
Laughter rolled out of their bellies until tears of joy cascaded down their faces and onto their breasts. Two grey haired ladies passed by, unnoticed on the paved pathway, shaking their heads in disbelief and rolling their eyes in horror at this raucous behavior.
A pair of brightly coloured finches took flight from the tree above them as their shrieks of laughter peaked. Across the table, four hands locked in love and determinat

That night Nicola tossed and turned between the cool silk sheets. A vague sense of resolve shrouded her. She needed a sign. A sure sign that would guide her into her new future, peering at her around the corner of the room. Slowly she drifted into a deep sleep.
As her breathing settled into a rhythmical murmur, she arrived at a small house in a peaceful forest. Gentle swirls of smoke wafted out of the chimney in the centre of the tiled roof. She heard a gentle tune whistled, from the inside of the house. She was drawn to the sound. Nicola hesitated in the doorway. She felt no fear, just a secure knowledge that she had to be here.
‘Come on in my Child, have no fear. You are at the Potter’s house.’
The aromas of worn leather and fresh clay filled her nostrils. Dim light filtered through the small window and a pale oil lamp provided the rest of the light in the room.
‘And what do you have here my Child?’
Nicola handed the grey haired man the parcel in her hand. Rolled up in a faded piece of canvas, were the shards of bright red and orange pottery. Broken into jagged pieces, some revealed beige specks where the paint had disappeared.  
‘I cannot even begin to put these pieces back together again.’ said Nicola. ‘It used to hold my family and now they are scattered all over the place. They are battered and broken. You see, Sir, it is entirely my fault. I dropped the jar.’ Remorse filled her heart.
The Potter gently removed the jagged fragments from her hands. 
‘None of this is your fault, dear Child. You were holding on so tight for so many years and I saw that your knuckles were white. I had to force you to let go.’
Nicola stared at the gentleness contained in two blue pools in his worn face.
‘You mean, you allowed the affairs? Both of them, to teach me some kind of lesson?’ She staggered in disbelief.
‘Oh yes, but not to harm you my dear. Merely to teach you to let go and to let me help you in the future.’ A gentle smile smoothed away all the fine lines on his face.
‘Could you not rather warn us when we are born about what we should do in the future? Then these lessons won’t be so difficult to learn? Asked Nicola
‘I wonder how mankind would cope if each newborn child arrived with a tag attached that read: ‘Early death to follow ‘or ‘Potential addict’ or something equally challenging? No one would have any children for fear of the future.’ The Potter’s wise words swirled around her ears.
‘So it is better for our souls that we are not forewarned?’ Nicola said with a wry smile.
‘You have learnt well today Child. Go and use the wisdom that I have given you tonight to teach others… Teach them to let go.’
Nicola turned to look for the broken pieces that she had given to the Potter.
‘You don’t need those broken bits anymore. I’ll crush them to a powder and reshape them into another jar for a future mother as a container for her family.’

Nicola woke to the sound of early morning bird song outside her window. She was glad to be alive. She wondered if she’d ever meet the Potter again. The gentleness in his pale blue eyes would be with her forever.
‘I need to call Terry and tell her about my dream. Perhaps my crushed jar will become hers one day too.’ She wondered.
‘I never knew I could cope with SO much in one week and survive. God certainly works in mysterious ways.’ Nicola smiled.

Jeremiah by Laura Kirsten

They stood close together, arms entwined, squinting at the sharp ray of sunlight that projected across the aqua swimming pool.

‘I really do love you, you know,’ Jonathan whispered.

‘I know you do Jon, it’s just that….’ her voice trailed off as they both heard the gentlest plop in the pool.

Their simultaneous exclamation ‘Jeremiah’ shocked them out of the brief tender moment. They rushed towards the pool gate, hoping that the gate was still locked safely. Jonathan got to the pool ahead of Kimberley and wailed as he saw their precious little boy at the bottom of the pool.

‘Why don’t you get him out of there?’ she screamed.

‘You know I can’t swim Jonathan.’ The worst anguish and fear welled up in her chest. She covered her eyes, not wanting to see what Jonathan brought up out of the pool.

Jonathan surfaced with the lifeless body of their first-born.

‘Save him dammit, Jonathan, only you can do this!’

‘Oh God, Kim, I do not know if I can…’

‘Can’t you remember your first aid training….save him, just save him pleeease, I beg you, don’t let him die…’ Sobs wracked her small frame. Droplets of water formed little rivers and trickled off Jonathan’s wavy brown hair onto Jeremiah as he lay peacefully on the paving.

Jonathan hesitated for a moment, as if trying to recall where to start this crucial feat. As if in a wind tunnel, Kimberley heard the muffled sounds as Jonathan struggled. Repeatedly, he tried to raise up some semblance of life.

‘Jeremiah, please wake up! We love you so much!’ Jonathan begged life back into his son’s little body. He took a deep breath and continued resuscitation.

Kimberley rushed over and scooped the toddler up into her arms, rocking him with all her might in a last ditch effort to bring back his little light.

Jonathan circled them both as they howled together in the back yard of their home.

‘We need the paramedics Jon…perhaps they can do a better job and save him…better than us…’ Kimberley motioned to her husband to get inside and summon the emergency services. She continued to rock her baby from side to side.

‘Oh God… he is all that we have and you know how hard we tried to actually get pregnant with him? Don’t you God, don’t you? Please save him for us, I’m begging you…’

Sirens came to a halt outside.

Kimberly was startled by the rushing feet on the paving stones that circled the swimming pool.

‘Ma’m please could you hand us the child? We need to work on him. Give him to me now please.” The middle-aged paramedic pried the mother’s fingers off the child’s body.

‘Please just give us some space now.’ His voice was kind but firm.

Jonathan held Kimberley close to his chest. He could feel her heart pounding nervously in unison with his own. Fear galloped between them.

They turned as one being as they heard the voice of the paramedic.

‘Ma’m, we need to take him with us to the hospital. We are very sorry for your loss.’

‘No, no, no, no! Please don’t take him away from me!’

‘It is okay Mrs. Taylor. You can hold him all the way to the hospital.’ The paramedic sighed as he ushered the distraught mother into the ambulance.

Neighbours, who had gathered to support the couple, cradled Jonathan and promised to escort him to the hospital.

As the ambulance swayed from side to side, Kimberley prayed, ‘I’m not ready to give him to you yet Lord; I’m going to need your help. Please, please don’t expect me to do this on my own.’ she sobbed.

‘I feel so helpless, Jon. I’m not sure how I’m going to survive this’. She stared down the corridors. Her eyes saw nothing.

Jonathan sat on the wooden bench and sobbed into his wife’s lap.

Kimberley got up, dropping her husband’s head on the wooden slats. She nervously paced the floor, staring at the huge black and white hospital clock above her head. Medical staff went about their duties, oblivious of the torment that the young couple had to endure.

‘How much longer Jon? I can’t stand this anymore.’

Jonathan was numb with fear. Numb with the unbearable sorrow that had moved into his chest cavity.

‘I can’t talk to you right now, Kim. I can’t even breathe properly!’ He gasped as he got up and stumbled towards the nurses’ station.

’ Wait Jonathan, they want us to sign off on Jeremiah forever! And they need your …’

Jonathan slammed his fist down on the white melamine top at the nurse’s desk. The Sister on duty grimaced as the files on her desk slid to the floor.

‘Mr. Taylor, I am terribly sorry for your loss…’ She glanced around nervously. ‘But this behavior will not do you or your lovely wife any good.’

She moved around the desk and gently guided Jonathan back to the bench.

‘Losing a child is the worst tragedy ever… and especially when it is such a young one. I am truly sorry…’

‘But Sister, we struggled to have Jeremiah at all. We tried for years to get pregnant with him… what are we going to do now…?’ Kimberley had joined them on the bench.

The Sister patted the grieving mother gently on her knee.

‘God always has a plan my girl…you will see.’

‘We are ready for them now Sister Lucy. The documents are ready.’ A younger nurse approached with a file in her hands and passed them to Sister Lucy.

‘Would you please come with me, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor? You will need to sign these hospital documents and then you are free to leave the hospital.’

Jonathan sat with his head in his hands.

Kimberley moved to her husband’s side and gently touched him as his shoulders heaved with sobs.‘I am so sorry my Love… but you have to do this. They only need your signature…’