Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships
During our early days on this earth, we tend to think adulthood will confer on us essential knowledge and understanding. Later, we are forced to learn the most saddening lessons of life via gruelling experiences.
My first story is under 900 words and titled “The Wiles of the Weasel”. Here a single mother realises her eight-year-old son has begun to deploy those lies which lubricate day-to-day diplomacy.
My second story is under 1200 words and titled “His Song”. It describes an Asian woman’s discovery that freeing herself from one set of shackles can involve new chains which prove equally daunting. This impels her to question whether there can be any true liberty.
The Wiles of The Weasel
Easing my eight-year-old Chris into sleep, I pointed to the row of cuddly toys, lined up upon the shelf above his pillow.
“Which one?” I asked, although I knew, or nearly almost anyway, what he would answer.
“My weasel, please,“ he said, yawning a little. Both Chris and I knew he could, with one quick reach, have grasped it for himself. Still, the one bedtime ritual we had retained was his allowing me to tuck his chosen toy close to his chest. At times, I might venture a good-night hug and cuddle.
Despite his telling me, when he turned eight, he was too old for hugs and bedtime stories; I still believed he often missed them both as much as I did. I ached to read him one more story, or shape one of my own he might enjoy. Often, I did not know how it would end, until we two had interwoven it together.
As to the weasel, his dad had given it to him to commend his improved school reports. After his dad’s departure, there had been a drop in grades, and a few warning notes sent home, regarding rudeness and his sudden tendency to be disruptive. Suspension had been hinted at, but now, after several conferences, Chris had become almost the sprightly little boy he was before, or seemed to be; we could only hope it would continue.
For my part, I tried to think and speak of my former paramour as “Chris’ dad,” rather than by his name. Though I hoped this would ignite/expedite my joy in freedom, thus far it had not.
In fairness, from our first days together, this man and I agreed if one of us wearied of the other, we would be honest, with no guilt or blame. Hence, when he ended things, I kept my vow, and if that meant some camouflage, well then, so be it.
I realized I had lost myself too long in my own thoughts when Chris asked with a slightly louder yawn, “Mom, could I have my weasel now? I feel real sleepy.”
“I’m sorry, sweet,” I said. “I got distracted. You must be drowsy after your fun day with Dad and with-well, Mom2.”
It was unfortunate, though no-one’s fault, that 2 and too had the same sound, and might, I feared, be intertwining into Chris’ thinking.
His “Mom2”, would soon be presenting him with a sibling, or half-sibling; it seemed much the same.
Reaching the top shelf, in the last rays of sunlight, I viewed this weasel in more detail than I had before. Its torso, I saw now, had been well-crafted from the finest suede, its arms and legs sewn from the smoothest satin. In truth, this weasel could have easily become a mantel ornament as a child’s toy.
The one flaw in its design lay in the braided yarn of its long tail. Lacking elasticity, it was always knotted. Knots within larger knots could prove too tight to disentangle, much like our human ones.
A lurid lore has grown around the weasel, making it seem more wily in its ways of capturing and devouring less clever creatures than other jungle beasts. Yet, was this fair? Maybe we each, to some degree, transfer those traits we hate most in ourselves and fear in others, onto an animal, or reptile even.
At the same time, we tend to think, with warmth, of dear as dears, and swans as having inner dignity, reflected in their outward grace; oh yes, surfaces matter. These thoughts sped through my mind, until, seeing Chris’ eyelids droop a little, I tucked his cuddly toy close to his chest, then watched him smile, warmed by what must have been its comfort.
To my delight, before I could stand up, Chris wrapped his arms around my neck and shoulders, as he said, “Mom, I love you, and I’m not just saying that to get my way, or to be sneaky or tricky.”
So there it stood, in its raw honesty. Such an admission forced me to see, my gentle boy, just passed the cusp of eight, had learned the ways pretended tenderness could overcome whatever hurdles lay between his current wish, and its fruition.
Feeling the sunlight seeping out of me, I could not stay to let Chris see me cry. Instead I asked, as calmly as I could, “Chris, have there been a lot of times when you have said those words as little fibs, or maybe make-believe, like bedtime stories?” Quickly, I wished I could call back my question. It seemed to leave him scared, confused and sad.
After a moment, he replied, “When I say anything, I feel it’s true. That’s not the same as lying, is it, Mom?”
“Not really, pet,” I said. “I guess we all need to say things sometimes, to activate a switch, or press a button, to make things go the way we want them to.”
How could I call my precious child a liar? He had become, through no choice of his own, part of two families. He had one dad and two mums, with possible additions; who could know?
Hearing his breathing deepening and slowing, I walked downstairs to pour a glass of wine. As I sipped slowly, I could only wonder. I liked to think I had been genuine, or nearly always. Yet, how could I deny those hollow smiles, gifts given but begrudged, or compliments devoid of any truth.
At those times, these strategies had seemed to be no more than social currency which must go on, in hopes of flowing towards a finer future. Pouring myself a second glass of wine, I felt echoes of my own innermost weasel.
There were mornings when, in the half light, Song studied the deeply scarred face of the man beside her. Despite their recent wedding vows, it was difficult for her to think of him as a husband. For the most part, he seemed to be either a rancorous father or fear-ridden child, far beyond consolation.
Yet, when the peace of sleep eased away his almost habitual grimace, his bone structure held its own unique beauty. His scars, resulting from a childhood road accident, became far less visible.
Still, as she rose from their bed, she moved as quietly as she could, never guessing when his questions might start, each of them failing to mask his true plea, “Song, do you think you might ever love me?”
Now, as she stood in the daylight of their kitchen, she plugged in the coffee pot. Despite her efforts to wean him from the caffeine which seemed to exacerbate his aggravations, he said her herbal teas tasted like sweetened hot water; besides, he missed the uplift of coffee.
Hence, coffee there would be every morning, freshly ground; she did wish to uplift him. Some moments later, hearing his tread on the stairs, she poured a mugful, and then set it down at his usual place at their dining-room table.
As he sat down, he asked, “Am I inhaling freshly ground coffee?”
“Yes, Trevor; I had a sense you might like it that way.”
He nodded, unable to speak for a moment. Then, when he felt ready, he said, “Thank you, Song; this does mean a lot to me.”
Saddened by his gratitude at such a small gesture, she kissed his cheek while smoothing his beard.
Then, as she bent over the stove, he said, “I’ve been thinking of planting daffodils, Song. What do you think about that?”
Song paused a moment before she replied, “daffodils are the loveliest flowers, as a centrepiece on a table, or in a vase anywhere in a bouquet. . . I only wonder if, in late December, their bulbs could take root underneath frost and ice.”
Seeing him nod as he took a sip of his coffee, she added, “This morning, I saw frost on some trees, and patches of ice where there had been grass yesterday, or the day before maybe.”
“Forget I mentioned it then “he replied. Those bulbs would probably die anyway, before they came close to growing.”
(He added, more to himself than to her, “Or maybe I would over-water them, like I have in other ways.”
Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.
— Mark Twain
Song flinched. Had she been clumsy and rude?
“I am sorry” she said. I have not planted bulbs in the ground for so long I forgot those grown under earth, in the cold, are often the quickest to bud in spring time.”
“Whatever,” he shrugged.
Watching her set the oven timer in readiness for their omelet, he said, “Song, if you saw that frost and ice at that hour, you must have been walking about by yourself, gazing through our bay window, before I woke up. Was there something or someone you hoped you might see?”
She replied, “There was nothing or any-one I hoped to see. I can only say, as windows are meant to be looked through, I chose the most wide and brightest, here in our home, in order to watch the sunlight begin.”
“Why didn’t you wake me to walk through our house with you?”
She said, “It is the way of an Asian wife to wear silken slippers, in order to think first of her husband’s comfort, and his need to sleep for as long as he likes.”
Then, feeling ashamed of her lie, she walked towards him. Smoothing his forehead and eyebrows, she said, “I have always liked those deep folds on your forehead. When you are thinking, as you nearly always are, your forehead folds up like a little fan, or an accordion.
Later, when you let them unfold, I see lines which show you are truly at peace, and being part of that peace makes me happy.” As he slowly let his forehead unfold, she traced each line, first with her forefinger, then, somewhat to her own surprise, followed it with the tip of her tongue.
“I have wanted this for so long,” Trevor said, “but I could never let myself hope it could happen.”
His hands, massaging her shoulders, encircled her waist, and then began to slide towards her lower back. Aware of his wish, Song could not comply. She had done so before, and might do so again. Still, this time she could not, and she would not.
Confess to your faults and retain your innocence.
— Clayton T Grassant
Thus, half-wrenching herself from his grasp, she said, “Trevor, I need to be alone for a walk. I promise I will not be gone long, but for now, I must walk without anyone near.”
“By yourself, in this icy weather, Song; where?”
“Yes, by myself, anywhere.”
He said, in a tone nearing defeat, “You told me you saw ice through the window.”
“Only ice patches. They well might have melted by now, and I will wear my shoes with cleats, which you bought me for Christmas.”
Once outside, Song cried into the wind, or rather made sounds which if shaped into words would have been, “I left my birth land because of its lies. As school children, while hail stones dropped from the sky, we were ordered back into our classroom to pretend to be glad of the florescent light of the sun. A few years later, we were made to praise bird-songs which sprang from bird-shaped speakers, half-hidden in the highest branches of trees.”
Now, she could find only ice in her soul. Still, her cries began to crystallise into words, blending his and her languages,
“I hate you, Trevor. I never believed I could, but I do. You are trying to swallow my soul, but we both know you cannot.”
At that, having shrieked out those words, she felt, if not calm, more detached than before. What now were her choices?
Self-exiled from her home country, she had made herself a pariah. As her thoughts cleared, she saw Trevor as he must have been, a toddler leaping and romping about in his parents’ car, ignoring their silly warnings.
Grown-ups liked to scold about crossing traffic-racked streets by himself, eating too much chocolate, or fighting with his brothers or friends. For the most part, Adults were nothing more than a bunch of joy spoilers. And then it had happened, that bus, smashing the glass of his parents’ windshield, and leaving his face disfigured.
In her quest not to wound him more than life’s lacerations certainly had, she had not asked him to say more. For her part, she had hesitated to share her own sense of being an outsider/outcast, due to her refusal to be smothered or drowned by direct lies or surreptitious silences.
Perhaps, if she went back to Trevor and urged him to speak to her about his past anguish, freeing her to voice her own, might there still be daffodils? Only time held that answer.
© 2019 Colleen Swan