A Shoebox

Posted: August 5, 2010 in #fridayflash, A Shoebox, Short stories

She punched the pillow; her fists clenched so tightly her knuckles were white. With hot angry tears, streaming down her face, her shoulders aching from the tension. She couldn’t sleep again. She’d tried everything she could think of, but the rage had taken over now. She screamed a deafening painful howl.

The brainhaze took over like a thick grey fog in her head. It controlled her and once it had formed, she could do nothing but suffer its bleak tendencies. Her mum had normally been the one she could turn to when things got so bad, but this time she had to deal with it alone. Gemma felt like a child, lost and vulnerable. Like an open wound begging for an infection or germ to explore its exposure, she wailed into the night sky through her bedroom window.

The darkness and stagnant street below made her throat narrow and her chest become tighter and harder to breath. She would normally resort to drink, but she had gone three nights without a drop and it would have been a worthless act if she gave in now.

Her drinking had developed into a habit when she was made redundant last year and her boyfriend of three years had cheated on her. Her mum predicted that the drink would be the death of Gemma. Not drinking for three days, had resulted in no sleep, no appetite and excruciating stomach cramps. Cold tears ran down her hot clammy cheeks and her eyes felt like small balls of fire, dry and peppery. Blinking away the pain and the pungent searing tears of disaster, she drew the curtains and laid back down, the pillow now cold and soothing against her face.

It would be feeble to give in now she kept telling herself, but the temptation of a 24 hour off license around the corner and the tired ache in her bones from was urging her to drink.

As she got to her feet, she remembered her mum kept money hidden in her bedroom for ‘emergencies’. It felt strange being in her mum’s house, the family home, but the once busy bustling ambiance was now not even a silent whisper.

Her father had walked out around the same time Gemma had just finished her GCSE exams, none of them had heard from him since. Fifteen years on and her mum had been taken from her too. Now the oldest and executor of the will, she needed to take control. She had to be strong for the others, especially her teenage brother. But tomorrow was as good as time as any, now she just wanted a drink.

She crept into her mum’s bedroom and switched on the light. Her smell, a combination of homebaked bread and channel number 5 filled the room, as if her mum was just left the room. She opened the wardrobe. Piles of shoe boxes occupied the top shelf, neatly stacked and in size order, she began pulling them down one by one. As she opened them and piled them onto the bed, each revealed papers, cards, photographs and memories of her mum’s life. But no money.

She began leafing through the papers, scanning each document that her mum had kept. Some were love letters from her dad
“Dear Marie, I knew from the moment I first saw you, across the University cafeteria, I knew you were the woman I would marry, love and become a man with. I hope our children grow to be as beautiful and intelligent as you and have their mothers kind and caring nature. You are the only woman for me, for eternity. All my love and devotion, George xxxxx (5 kisses for the five years we have been together)”

For someone who claimed to love and adore her mum so much, it was strange that he’d upped and left without a word or reason. Bastard.

Her father had been a gentle giant, devoted to her mum. It broke her mum’s heart when he left. Gemma had never forgiven him or tried to track him down. He hadn’t even said goodbye to the children, his three daughters whom he treasured and his son, who’d only been a few months old. Her dad had longed for a son, since he was a boy himself. “A boy of my own to complete my perfect family”, she remembered him saying, so happy and fulfilled.

He’d destroyed her mum. It was like watching a tower of building blocks fall in slow motion, a small piece of her mum’s hope, love and purpose for the world came tumbling down and even though over the years she had built some blocks back, she was never as tall in life as when he’d been there.

She sorted through the boxes, almost forgetting her task to find some cash to ease the stomach pains and feed her habit and pleasure. Soon the room was full of shoe boxes opened or half opened with contents spilling out. It was like a scene from a chick flick, surrounded by shoe boxes whilst choosing the prettiest pair.

She arrived at the last box. It was one of the oldest boxes, with worn corners and supple sides. It must have been as old as Gemma. It was right at the back almost oblivious to existence. She lifted the lid and the contents were just like any of the others. She hadn’t found her mum’s secret stash of cash. She felt defeated and the urge to drink had multiplied during her mission to find some money, yet ending up surrounded by her mum’s memories.

She looked around the room and all the contents of her mum’s life, filed away neatly and unfussy. She supposed she’d have to contact her dad now, he didn’t deserve to know but she felt compelled to find him and tell him.

Before putting the lid on the last box she noticed the pile of birth certificates for her and her 2 sisters and brother. She unfolded each one and lay them in front of her, balanced on boxes. These were her mum’s biggest achievements. She cherished each of her children more than an artist would admire their creations or a gardener would treasure their biggest plumpest vegetables. They were hers and she loved each of them for who they were. But as Gemma looked closely she saw her brother’s was different to the girls. His had a different father’s name printed on it.

  1. An excellent job of describing the disorientation of DTs (not that I have any experience with those, of course). I liked the mysterious ending too. HMM! Nice job. 🙂

  2. Wow, what an ending! That solves the mystery, at least in my mind. Good story!

  3. lauraeno says:

    The ending shows how we can misjudge actions so badly without the full picture. Good story!

  4. Mari Juniper says:

    Wow, you got me on the ending. Nice story!

  5. Gracie says:

    It’s tough going through someone’s things after they die. You always find out something you never wanted to know. That’s why I’m burning all my personal stuff first. O.o

    Seriously, though, this is a good story. You captured her disorganized state of mind perfectly. And the ending– pow.

  6. Maria Kelly says:

    Nice ending. Now we know why the father left. Tragic. Nicely done.

  7. a.m.harte says:

    I don’t know what a detox feels like, but you had me cringing in sympathy! And I liked the idea of shoeboxes of memories — I think I’ve already accumulated a ton of those! Quite a twist for the ending, too.

  8. Linda says:

    Great job layering the alcoholic theme through the story. A one-two punch ending. Superbly played. Peace…

  9. You delivered big on this one. Great sucker-punch ending… Loved it.

  10. yearzerowriters says:

    the control in your storytelling here was exemplary. Each drip of reveal precisely timed release. Well done.

    Marc Nash

  11. Rachel says:

    A poignant reminder that there are two sides to every story and it is unwise to take sides. I could feel a little twist involving a discovery at the very end being gently suggested and it made it satisfying when it was revealed. Well done 🙂

  12. The Four Part Land says:

    Now that is a truly well done and depressing story. I was expecting her to found something about her farther in that pile, not her mother, and especially not that.

  13. Woah, I wasn’t expecting that ending!
    Two sides to every story indeed (or is it three? yours, mine and the truth!)
    A great journey into a troubled woman’s mind

  14. Jen Knox says:

    incredible ending, and very poignant story overall.

  15. Rebecca says:

    What a fabulous piece. I love it! A great reveal at the end too.
    I am so glad that she discovered that piece of information.

    It would be good to know if she tracked her father down one day…

  16. .oh oh. And no one to ask. Well done.

  17. Sam says:

    Oh, nicely done, what an ending! *applause*

  18. peggy says:

    I think I felt the same sucker punch as Gemma. Nicely done.

  19. Some nicely described scenes here. From the sights and smells or her mother’s place to the pain of withdrawal she was going through was well done. The ending is begging for a sequel about her meeting with her father…

  20. Valerie says:

    What a shoe to drop at the end. Nice reversal. Makes you wonder whether that knowledge will bring the family closer or vice versa. Well done.

  21. Pamila Payne says:

    Finding family secrets can be more devastating than a death. Fine storytelling.

  22. Ouch – that has to hurt, to have all your assumptions, all your truths, come crashing down around you. Perhaps now she will find it in her to re-approach her father. Nice twist there.

  23. Great scene here. I’ve seen someone have the DTs, and you do a good job of describing it. Those family secrets can be devastating. The underbelly of the Normal Rockwell picture so many try and fail to achieve.

  24. PJ Kaiser says:

    I’m circling back to start at the beginning of your series – this is a great episode. You depict her frustration and her emotions so clearly i feel as if i’m in the room with her. And a real zinger at the end – putting the puzzle pieces into place.

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