I was asked to write a short "heartwarming" story for an activity held by my church women's group. They were having a gift exchange and wanted the gifts passed right and left in a circle, so the story necessarily has the words "right" and "left" repeated throughout. I don't really do heartwarming--I usually read and write more complicated things. But I gave it a shot, and I thought it would be fun to share. Enjoy.
It was raining--again. The leaves left imprints on the softened earth. They traveled slowly in the wind and on bottoms of shoes until they were left deposited in her entryway--rusty red, burnt gold, every kind of brown. As she hit her alarm for the fifth time and rolled out of bed she could see to her right the window, shining harsh and cloud-filtered in the morning light, lined with the rain she did not want to face. She was already late. This was not the right way to start a day, wishing yourself back in the bed you so recently left, knowing that the mess in your house will be lurking all day, waiting for the right moment to make you feel supremely guilty.
The quiet in the house, the creaking floors, the soft dripping of a faucet gradually left as the cacophony of morning sounds crashed upon her--baby crying, toddler shrieking, dishes clanking, husband yelling goodbye, school-bag grabbed, lunch forgot, lunch retrieved, ending in the long sigh of the school-bus engine, shifting into gear and grinding away to its next stop. She turned, took a miniature mittened hand in hers-, and led smaller galoshes than her own down the street and to the left from the bus stop, back into their house. Someone had left the milk on the table. She sat the active little hands down with some coloring books, and tried to get the littlest one left down for a nap.
As she rocked the tiny eyes drooping, sweet hands clasping a long lock of her hair, the house was once again filled with that momentary peace. Only happy chatter from the kitchen, soft baby breathing, and raindrops gently tapping filled the room where she sat. This--this was right. As she leaned over the crib, slowly lowering a sleeping child she heard an unsettling noise, and then a voice.
She squeezed her eyes tight, her brain telegraphing with her might don't wake up the baby don't wake up the baby don't wake up the baby! . . .
She heard small, awkward footsteps approching.
"Mummy come ri' now tda doggy, da doggy bad. Bad doggy sick."
She pressed her lips together, and let out a frustrated sigh as small cries broke out, right hand quivering, fluttering, grasping for a hold on her sweater.
"Baby, what happened?"
"Bad doggy Mummy, da kitchen bad."
She took a deep breath, trying to prepare herself for what she could only imagine was left lying in the kitchen which would bring a three year old toddling down the hall to find her. Baby in arms, little one in tow, she peeked around the corner. Small curls bounced towards a mass in the middle of the floor.
"See, Mummy? Bad!" Right index finger pointed, as sternly accusatory as a wee one could muster. She stared, horrified. Fridge door opened wide, the prepared dinner ready to stick in the oven before she left to fetch Maggie from her music lesson, all that effort now strewn, broken, mashed, paw marked, apparently eaten, and promptly vomited. All on her floor. Right on top of her wallet which she must have accidentally knocked off the table in her hurry to get the youngest down for her nap.
The finger stretched harder, pointed at the ghastly sight. "Mummy, Yuck!"
"Don't touch sweety. Mummy will be right back. Don't touch!" She found a binky, turned on the ipod docking in the living room, placed baby in the swing, ook the important rings off her left hand, set them on the mantle, and rolled up her sleeves. Hair swept up out of her face, tied back, leading curious eyes and still pointing fingers out of the catastrophe that was previously her kitchen and found some new books from the library. "Read to Lily, ok babe?"
"Ok Mummy! I read!"
Happy babble, newborn squawks, raindrops marching right left right left across the window pane, unhappy puppy now left on clean towels in the laundry room, small whimpers from time to time as that collosal tummy ache had time to settle. And she had time to clean. Still two more hours until nap time, and all she wanted was to sleep. Blissful, uninterrupted sleep. The weight of her fatigue settled heavy on her as she reached to the left of fridge, gingerly stepping through the minefield of food and vomit, fingers stretching for the broom handle and a roll of paper towels. She stood there for a moment, right in the middle of the madness, holding the towels, and wishing that she was the little one reading stories about dragons and princesses in the other room, and not the Mommy. Not the one that hadn't slept in how many months, not the one that had to clean up the mess.
Suddenly she was sitting on the laminate, face buried in the paper towels, crying. She didn't have the energy to clean it up. She didn't have the energy to make another dinner. She didn't have anything left to give.
And then she felt little hands around her neck, patting her wet face. "Mummy? Mummy here. I hep Mummy." She felt an awkward rip, and then one tiny hand started smearing potato curry and vomit with a corner of towel. And suddenly, all was right.
She grabbed those sweet eyes and chubby cheeks in her arms and gave him a squeeze. "You know what, baby? I think this is a Daddy job. What do you think?"
"Daddy? Daddy help right!"
She laughed. "Yes, Daddy help. But first, we are going to Grandma's this afternoon. You want to go to Grandma's house?" Big, exaggerated nod. "Ok. But first, you and I are going to make dinner." More nods. She reached for her purse on the table, fumbled inside for the phone, squinted for the right number from a coupon on the fridge, and dialed. "How does pizza sound baby?" This time, a nod and a giant grin met her tired eyes, and made her smile right back.
As she turned the key to the right in the lock on the front door, baby carrier in hand, rain dripping on their hats and mittened hands, the leaves silently glowing up at them on the pavement to the car, she thought of what she left behind, and what she was taking with her. And she smiled.
He entered the kitchen, fully warned, but not prepared for what his wife had left. It did indeed do justice to the horror vividly described in both her words and his son's animated gestures. He bravely ripped, stooped down, started scooping gloopy masses of goo and vomit, and promptly threw up his pizza on top of the mess.
He ripped off a new paper towel, wiped his face, walked to the sink, and rinsed his mouth.
He called down the hall, as softly as he could. "Babe! . . . I kind of need you right now!"
No answer came from the direction of their room. He tiptoed past the nursery, and down the hall where he had left her, watching the evening news in her yoga clothes, drinking tea. There she was, hair in a bun, sprawled out over half the bed, fast asleep. He leaned over, kissed her softly on her right temple, and tiptoed out of the room. He went down to the garage, found a mask from his woodworking bench, sprayed some of his wife's perfume on it, and went back to face the mess.
She was right. This was intensely disgusting. And someday, after the smell had faded, it would probably be hilarious.