Minx set us a nice little writing challenge: no more than 500 words inspired by a gorgeous painting by Jack Vettriano. My story didn't get the big gong (congratulations to Canterbury Soul and Mutley), but I thought I would share mine with you here anyway. Check out the painting before reading the piece. I chose picture three.
Her time alone.
It was mother’s time. Every morning between five and seven. No one was allowed to spoil it. Terence, Keith and I had no choice but to obey. We knew that to do anything else would’ve been too painful. She never had to hit us to make us stay in bed; she simply had to cry. Her power had always been in her tears. She would weep with sharp little intakes of breath, just like she did that night the phone rang and all colour seemed to disappear, when people streamed through the house with wide, strained eyes, repeating lots of exaggerated things about my father.
Mysteries for children, though, are unbearable. One summer morning, way before the alarm sounded, I decided that I had to see for myself how mother spent those few hours alone. It had never occurred to me that all I had to do was sneak along the edge of the landing and in behind the statue that my father had brought back from Moscow. Between the smooth legs of some handsome Russian oligarch, I had a splendid view of the living and dining rooms.
At first I didn’t spot her, probably because I had expected to see some kind of obvious activity such as letter writing or the altering of one of her dresses. When I finally spotted her shape by the window, way off to my left, I was surprised at how elegant and relaxed she looked in her dressing gown. My mother was standing before me and nothing looked familiar. I had never seen her chest area so uncovered. I had never seen her with a hand on her hip, actually looking rather sexy. I had to fight the urge to go and wake up Terence and Keith.
I remained in the same position for a good ten minutes, with my knees scrunched up to my chin. I just watched her. It didn’t feel wrong. It didn’t feel like anything. After a while I tried to imagine what her eyes might be fixed on. She hardly moved, except to raise her mug to her lips a few times. I kept looking. She kept looking. I imagined that our breathing shared the same measured, relaxed pace.
Then, without any warning, she put a hand up and started waving. There was something unreal and disturbing about the wave though; the movement was slow and deliberate, as if she weren’t sure if the other person could see her. I immediately understood.
When mother turned around to place her mug on the table, I could tell that she’d been crying: the tears had made her chest all shiny and the skin beneath her eyes was swollen. I desperately wanted to race down the stairs and comfort her, to tell her that things would get easier with time, just as she’d told the three of us. But I didn’t. I dared not move, afraid of how she might react. This was her time alone.
© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.