I don’t normally write short stories, but I thought I’d share this one that is based on a writing prompt from Writer’s Digest. Hope you like it!
The storage unit is fifteen by twenty, and that is large. So they said. We’re lucky that it’s available on such short notice. They told us that too.
Jim smiled when he picked up the key from the manager, and he handed over the first month’s rent as though the cash in his pocket was his own and not his mother’s. Now he chats with the movers as though the relocation had been long-planned and not a mad dash to get our things off of the street and out of the rain.
But they’re not fooled. How could they be? Nor do they care, I suppose, since they’ve seen this scenario before. Just as a psychiatrist must sigh upon hearing her umpteenth irrational anxiety, and just as a doctor must quiet the urge to scream at patients who won’t stop self-diagnosing – so the movers and storage manager must resist the temptation to roll their eyes at my husband’s charade; at our miserable predicament.
And what must they think of me? They see my Louis Vuitton purse. They suppose that it’s real – though it’s not – and they suppose that I played a hand in our downfall. They assume that I squandered our money on shopping sprees, vacations, and cars. They assume that I quit my job to watch daytime TV and attend Yoga classes, not to take care of the kids since we couldn’t afford daycare.
They don’t know that I trusted Jim.
They don’t know that I drive a ten-year-old Mazda, that the purse was a prize at a church fundraiser, that our kids go to public school.
Thank God the kids are in school today.
They think that our move to Grandma’s house will be fun.
But I know that on some level they know.
I look toward the voice, which belongs to my mother-in-law.
“Do you want to bring this to the house?” she asks me, opening a small cardboard box.
I move to her side and peer down.
I see the china that I registered for sixteen years ago.
“This one’s chipped,” I say, running my finger along the plate.
“It needs to be packed better,” Maureen tells me. “The plates should lie on their sides. Not flat.”
“Not to mention paper,” I tell her. “There should be paper and bubble wrap.”
“We’ll get some.”
“Just leave ‘em.”
“Carol,” her voice prods.
“Where did Jim go?”
“To settle up with the movers.”
“Oh,” I offer a wilting smile. “You mean the movers that we can’t afford?”
“Of course we can.”
“How much money did you give him, Maureen?”
She places a hand on mine. “I’m glad to help.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be,” I tell her. “You should be sick of us by now. You sure as hell should be sick of your son,” I seethe and keep my voice low. “How many times has he had to ask you for help over the years? You made the down payment on that house, for God’s sake, and what did he do? He lost it. And he didn’t even warn us.”
“I’m sure it was hard for him.”
“I don’t give a damn how hard this has been for him.”
“Don’t lecture me, Maureen. If he had an ounce of respect or concern for us, I might have some for him. But he didn’t. And I don’t.”
Maureen’s face falls and softens. “Don’t give up on him, Carol. He’s a good man,” she tells me. “He loves you. He loves all of us. But sometimes I think that his love gets him into more trouble than hate ever could.”
They are a mother’s words; the words of an old woman who once dreamt of the man her boy would become only to see it all fall flat. They are the words of a woman who has chosen to romanticize the nature of her son’s failings rather than face the truth that he is simply a disappointment.
At least I can face the truth.
And in this moment I feel sorrier for her than I do for me.