Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sadness in three minutes or less




** Imported from Facebook Notes with this update:
See http://www.npr.org/series/105660765/three-minute-fiction for more about NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest and to read the eight submissions that have so far been chosen as "favorites." Mine isn't among them, which might be a good thing since they don't choose a winner from among the favorites, but it could also be a bad thing since it's not, well, anything. **

Ok, so here is a short story with a long backstory.
For someone whose nonfiction work has been read by thousands, I’m unaccountably shy about showing people my fiction.
But, I have to do it sometime if I ever want to get paid to do it, so I thought this would be a good trial balloon. I’m submitting the following piece to NPR’s Three-Minute Story contest. The rules are that it has to be less than 600 words (this is 451), contain a joke and a character who cries.
There are some obvious autobiographical themes.
A word of warning: this is a sad story. If you prefer it to have a happy ending, forget what I’ve written past <<“Guys!”>>.
DO NOT READ if you find death upsetting, as unfortunately too many of you have had to experience it lately.
Please be gentle but honest. Armchair critics will be much harsher and I’d rather hear it from friends.


What are the chances?
By Shasta Kearns Moore
It felt good to be among family. The Christmas tree sparkled, the fake fire flickered, the wrapping paper glittered. All that was left were the stockings to open.
She tried not to think about last Christmas. She was so happy then, trying for a baby, a week or two pregnant but didn’t know it yet. The intervening year was marred with fear and chaos: twins, complications, career abandoned, bedrest, preterm labor… too early, much too early.
Two tiny babies alone in plastic boxes. Breathing machines, heart monitors.
One box taken away. No more breathing machine, no more heart monitor.
Life would never be normal again.
She blinked back tears and concentrated on the banter around her. They were talking about what they would buy with the $30,000 grand prize from the Scratch-Its Grandma always tucked into the stockings.
“I’mma get a new car upholstered in terry cloth,” her brother-in-law was saying. “That way, when I get out of the shower, I can just jump in and roll around until I’m dry.”
Everyone laughed.
The lottery dust rained on the floor as the cards yielded their secrets to the patient insistence of tarnished pennies. The other speculators cast their bids for shopping sprees, vacations and financial solvency.
She merely wanted a reason to believe that things could be better, that luck could still be on her side, sometimes. She needed a reason to hope.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. She kissed the son in her lap on top of his head and tried not to imagine his missing double.
The iridescent shimmer on the bubble of the lottery players’ dreams gleamed brightest right before it popped. Disappointed, they turned to pumpkin pie.
“Wait,” Grandma said. “There’s one more. An extra.”
She was the last one to leave the living room, so Grandma gave it to her.
Balancing a baby on one hip, she revealed the pictures lurking behind the latex ink. One, two, three. The matching pictures were there. She blinked.
“Uh… guys,” she said. “Guys!”
A whirl of glee, excitement, smiles, hugs, endless chatter about what she should buy. Should it be practical? Or something to make her feel better? Yes, that’s it. Something nice, something that said: Life can be good after all.
Weeks later, she glanced in the rearview mirror at her baby babbling happily to a toy in the backseat of her brand-new SUV — no terry cloth upholstery.
Life was good after all. Life could be good after so much pain, so many tears.
She looked back to the road, too late. Glass crunched, tires screamed, sirens wailed.
The baby cried.
Breathing machine, heart monitor.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

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