Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Sins of the Mothers

Below is my round eight entry for NPRs Three Minute Fiction. For reasons I will not discuss, I have chosen to withdraw it for consideration in the contest. This has nothing to do with the fine staff at NPR who coordinate and run this contest.

Sins of the Mothers

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Her decision was made.

She stepped outside onto the wide wraparound porch and stared out across the land. The fallow field ran back to the distant tree line. Somewhere an owl hooted and was still. She hugged herself against the crisp night air.

The wind shifted, bringing with it the dry dusty smell of corn from a neighboring field.

Her baby kicked. She placed her hand on her belly, could feel its tiny feet beneath her skin. Five months along, two months longer than her first pregnancy. This was her miracle baby.

A wave of nausea swept over her. She sank down onto the porch steps. Crooning an old familiar Scottish lullaby, she rocked back and forth, soothing herself as much as her baby.

She had grown up here, had entertained thoughts of moving back and raising her child here. This land was MacMillan land.

Her husband didn’t understand. He’d grown up in the city, had never felt dirt squish between his toes or plunged his hands into rich dark soil warm from the summer sun.

“It’s a fair offer,” her attorney had said, when he called her. “The land isn’t good for anything.”

“It’s my family’s land,” she‘d said. Though truth was, it had been years since she’d set foot on it.

“Think about it,” he’d said, before disconnecting.

Her husband wanted her to sell it.

“It’s my decision,” she’d argued, packing a suitcase. “I’m the last one.”

She found the book jammed behind an empty shoebox in the back of once had been her parent’s closet. She shivered as her fingers brushed across the worn leather. She pulled it out and turned the small volume over in her hands. Embossed on the cover in gold calligraphy was “The Book of Naming.” Her fingertips tingled as she cracked it open.

Inside was an accounting. The book was a litany of horrors. A story of human sacrifices, ancient rituals practiced to a forgotten fertility god, rites passed down in her family from one generation to the next.


















She stared up at the harvest moon and whispered each name. Sixteen children. Sixteen small sacrifices. Their forgotten bones buried in the field behind the house.

Wynda. She spoke the last name aloud. Her name.

She picked out Orion’s Belt, the Summer Triangle, and the Big Dipper. She used the pointer stars in the Big Dipper to find the North Star. Her father had taught her the names of the constellations before they’d moved away when she was five, too young to understand. She only remembered raised voices, sudden silences when she walked into a room and, more than once, her mother crying, silent sobs shaking her shoulders.

Her parents chose to give her the gift of life. They paid a high price for their disobedience. The land failed them. They had sacrificed everything for her, as they struggled to eke out a hardscrabble existence.

Tomorrow this land would belong to the TRC Development Corporation. The sins of the mothers buried beneath concrete and asphalt.

Her baby kicked again, harder. She rubbed her belly, watching the Milky Way wheel overhead.

She doubled over with a hard cramp. It felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach with an iron fist. Her baby’s kicking stuttered, paused, ceased.

She struggled to her feet, as she felt wetness between her legs.


Late Night Ruminations

I’m scared. So I am writing and eating Hershey’s Kisses milk chocolate. Putting my fears and worries down in writing helps me make sense of them. Eating chocolate, well, one can always find a reason to justify eating chocolate, even Hershey chocolate.

As I write this, I’m on the southbound Amtrak heading for St. Louis. My mother has an intestinal blockage and was hospitalized this evening. She is in Barnes Jewish West. This isn’t the first time. She was hospitalized for another blockage last year. One thing I can say about my mom, she’s a survivor. She’s been through a lot the past few years.

She is a ten year plus colorectal cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at stage four, after the cancer had already spread to her lungs. Lately, however, she has had numerous health issues, including persistent chronic leg edema that has left her unable to walk without a walker. She is in constant pain and her health is on the decline. 

Tonight, I found out she has been having medical issues I haven’t been aware of. I just wish I either lived closer to her or had a car. She needs someone with her with a medical background. Unless her doctors can figure out what is going on, I’m afraid her family is going to have to make some hard medical decisions.

Reminders of mortality are everywhere. I’m turning 50 next year and have a friend who is celebrating his 50th this year. He has been taking stock of his life, ruminating on where he has been, where he is now and where he is going.

I have been taking an accounting of my own life. And, to tell you the truth, I feel like an abject failure at times. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I had dreams of going to medical school. I cannot tell you the conversations I had with our family doctor, Dr. Bill. He was so proud I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.

I gave all that up for the life of a writer, and have spent the past two decades running away from writing. When I was 17, I was in such a hurry to grow up and be on my own. Going to school, juggling three jobs and supporting myself, I kept pushing that dream further and further away. I never had time to write, as I pursued a collective litany of jobs that led nowhere and provided little satisfaction. Writing, like any tool, if unused, gets rusty. I gave up on the dream, but, fortunately, the dream didn’t give up on me.

I wonder what I would have accomplished if I hadn’t given up on the dream. Where would I be now? The missteps you make in your youth can come back and haunt you when you’re older. We can play the game of “if only I” or we can move forward.

In the overall scheme of things, we are insignificant specks in the grand universe. Consider this. Does what we do truly matter to anyone except ourselves?