Short Stories about Loneliness and Isolation
Loneliness, to some degree, is a part of nearly everyone’s lives. It can come about due to the breakdown of a relationship, the passing of a friend or relative, relocating to a different part of the globe, or an over-all sense of social exclusion. One of its cruelest forms occurs when a child becomes a confused and unwilling pawn in a battle between adults. A sense of isolation arises where feeling or voicing love for one parent is seen as disloyalty towards the other. It was this type of pain and bewilderment which impelled me to write the first story which is under 600 words and titled "Seashells"
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the despair felt by those who feel doomed to unending emptiness, longevity having rendered their lives devoid of joy. As writer Ayn Rand once said, “I have nothing more to look forward to.”
My second story is under 750 words and titled “April in England”. It resulted from overhearing a shop assistant mention that some elderly customers come into her store every day to ask where the same items are kept. She said this interaction often seems to comprise their sole social contact. Longevity can sometimes lead to the anguish of feeling alone and abandoned. Perhaps we as a society need to find more fruitful ways of preventing these fine, worthwhile human beings from feeling like lost outsiders.
One should not be alone, even in paradise— Joan Mayer
His eyes are like seashells; they seem as if there was something alive in them before, only now they're all hollow. I call him “Dad”, or “Daddy” when I forget. Now that I’m 8, I’m too old for “Daddy”.
Today around noontime, Dad came to the house. Grandpa stood with me at the front door. He opened it only wide enough for me to walk through. Grandpa said, “Be sure you get her back here on time.”
Dad said “I will, I promise.”
I raced ahead of him, out to the car, where the side door was already open for me. Dad climbed in beside me. Then, as he drove down the road, he said, “Would you like to go to the ocean?”
“I'd love to!”
“Good, I'm glad,” he said. “I packed us a picnic basket with grapes, raspberries, lemonade and tuna fish sandwiches. You still like tuna, don’t you?”
“Right,” I said. “It’s my favorite.”
At the beach, we ate our lunch, and then Dad said, “Would you like to take a stroll towards the waves?”
“That sounds great.” I reached out and took his hand. That made him smile, but his eyes still looked sad.
“Bring your pail,” he said. “That way we can fill it with shells and stones which hold some sense of the ocean. Then, when you look at them, you can remember this afternoon we both enjoyed with each other.”
After a few steps, I felt the cold sea spray on my toes.
“I used to be scared of sea water,” I said.
“I don't need to be anymore, because you said it was OK to be scared, as long as I was careful, and knew I could go back to the shore whenever I wanted to. Besides, I always feel safe when I'm with you, Daddy.”
He said, “That makes me happy.”
I asked, “Then why are you crying?”
“Because at the same time it makes me sad.”
Gripping my hand a bit tighter, he said, “Please, I need you to listen right now. We don't have much time left. Tomorrow I will need to go to a place far away from here.”
“Can I go there with you?”
“If you knew what sort of place it is, you would never want to. This will not be Oz or Wonderland, pet. It is a horror called rehab."
“How long will you stay there, Daddy?”
“I can't feel sure”
“Can I visit you there?”
“I hope so, in time. First I must earn that privilege. Meantime, please send me whatever you can-things you've molded out of clay, shaped from crepe paper or driftwood-anything that tells me, you still think about Daddy.”
“I will, I promise.”
Somehow I will. Now, in bed at home, I keep thinking about all the things he said.
I’m not good at making things with my hands. Still, I can find pretty things he might like and send them to him. Grandma and Grandpa won't go to a beach. They only like to sit near the pond in their front garden. Still, even if it means I need to run off by myself, out towards the ocean and into the sea, I will find Seashells for Daddy.
April in England
“Help you with those?” The girl strode towards my trolley. Almost before I’d had a chance to answer, she had begun to shift my groceries from their trolley onto my mobility scooter.
“Yes.” I replied, noticing as I had before, in similar encounters, the way youth-speak seems to echo texts, where brevity is valued, words condensed, the courtesy of conversation lost to the immediate. In any case, chat hardly mattered now; this girl’s hands moved with the swift agility. I stood aside; she gave a nod in thanks as she continued loading my scooter with what I'd bought those bulky ones beneath the lighter items.
I asked, although I had no reason to, “What is your name, young lady?”
At that, she glanced at me, seeming bemused by such a question from a stranger who she had halted long enough to help, without one thought of further interaction. Then she said, “April.”
I mulled that for a moment, then observed, “April, that’s perfect for you.”
“Sorry?” she said. Then, “right, this is late March; you mean next month is April.”
I said, in truth more to myself than her, “It’s good in England, now that April’s here.” She seemed a shade annoyed at what she saw as pointless nattering. No doubt it was, within her framework. I said, “Just a line by Robert Browning which lingered in my mind from my school days.”
She shrugged, then said, “One of them poet guys, you mean, I guess.”, as if he were some ghost or ancestor, dull and irrelevant.
Having strapped down the lid over my groceries upon the back of my scooter, she turned towards me. Although I had already gotten myself seated, she ensured I was seat-belted and secured. Having done so, she gave my arm a pat, then said, “I guess there must be someone where you live to help you get these groceries inside?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “My building manager is always kind.”
(That is not true. His help depends upon gratuity; if tipped less than he deems enough, he can grow surly, watching anyone of us, though over eighty, struggle until we have paid more than he knows we can afford. Poor silly little man, I sometimes think, delighting in his tiny patch of power. Still, sometimes when he thinks no-one will notice, I sense a loneliness he hopes to hide. Surely when he was at that age when chances seemed abundant, he did not view his future at a desk, employed to help the elderly to carry goods to their apartments.)
At any rate, I had no right to detain this girl a moment longer. Both of us knowing this, I smiled and said, “Thanks for your help, April.”
Over her shoulder, she replied, “No worries; any time. Bye; see you, sometime maybe.”
Or maybe not; it made no difference to her, and why it should to me is hard to say. I watched her mount her motorbike as if it were a horse, bound towards adventure, desert, brook, or pasture- in short, a life.
My scooter has five wheels; her bike has two. It seems she could speed off on only one, a unicycle. No doubt she will, if the urge takes her.
I see her speed away, while on my scooter, I feel all but immobilized, until a car horn forces me to recollect most people need to be somewhere at an appointed time, or risk their jobs. Remembering, I envy them those deadlines. The fear of being sacked from your job at least makes clear one was at least worth hiring. I ache, recalling.
Now, I will drive my scooter back to where I live, if it can be called living, in a flat where there is nothing more than further flatness. At home, I brew a cup of jasmine tea. Still, its scent or flavor does not bring the slightest joy. A glass of wine, a nip of gin or brandy would lift my misery, but only briefly. All too soon, I would be even sadder.
I must forget about that free young sprite, that spirit, “April”. More than half a century ago, I was as she is now, with what I thought to be infinite opportunities. How then can I keep myself from envying, resenting her sense of freedom? I cannot, and will not try to.
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© 2014 Colleen Swan