Letting in The Light: Part One
It seems our resident laureate, billybuc, has started a trend. As you may know, he is currently serializing several of his stories here on HP. This has prompted lawrence01 to do likewise. I too am jumping on that bandwagon.
The following began as a simple writing exercise. A short story in 20 minutes utilizing a selection of unrelated objects as prompts. While I didn’t finish my story, I read aloud what I had to the writers’ group. I received positive feedback and was encouraged to complete it.
With the bulk of the work done, it should have been simple enough to tack on an ending. Yes…should have been. However, this tale has taken on a life of its own. New people are appearing and a minor character is threatening to hijack the story. Don’t you love writing? You just never know where it’s going to take you.
Remembrances of Things Future
‘…Happy Birthday to You!’
Amid polite applause and calls of ‘make a wish’, the young girl blew out the candles on her cake in one breath. Her father took pictures to commemorate the day. As single strands of smoke rose from the candles to form a thin cloud above the cake, the mother beckoned her daughter to the gift table. She then announced the birthday girl would now open her presents. Stepping back, she let Maude take centre stage.
Denise looked on as Maude opened her gifts. She was pleased the child smiled and said, ‘Thank you’ as Denise had instructed. The child’s voice trembled as she spoke, however. ‘Thirteen now’, Denise thought, ‘and still timid as a deer.’
Maude’s eyes widened as she opened her last gift. A shy smile spread slowly across her face. She looked up, whispered, ‘Thanks, Mom and Dad,’ and gave them each an extra big hug.
‘You’re welcome, honey. Now if you don’t like it just say so. We can take it back and get you something else. Your father still has the receipt.’ She turned to her husband and said brusquely, ‘Isn’t that right, dear.’ He nodded absently.
‘No, don’t do that. I really, really like it. It’s perfect.’
Denise and Jake Bennett had no way of knowing their innocuous gift of a camera would be the first step on a journey of self-discovery for their only child. She would visit places undiscovered, meet fantastical people and learn how to let the light into her own life. For now, they would be grateful if their present helped Maude come out of her shell. They hoped a hobby would encourage her to get out more, meet new people. Perhaps, even make a friend.
By late afternoon, the guests had departed. Jake was out back helping Maude use her new camera. Denise was indoors cleaning up. Reviewing the day’s events in her mind, Denise had to face the truth. Much as it pained her to admit it, the party had been a bust. She had gone to great lengths to mark Maudie’s passage from child to teenager. The house should have been filled with friends and well-wishers helping her celebrate this milestone. Everyone should have been basking in Maude's glory, whooping it up and having a blast.
Instead, the guests consisted of Jake and Denise’s friends. True, there were a few children in attendance. But it was obvious they didn’t want to be there. Down the street, another girl was having her birthday party. She was popular, pretty and came from a well-to-do family. It promised to be a killer event and invitations were at a premium. Only those the birthday girl deemed worthy received them. Apparently, these children didn’t make the cut. Rather than sit at home, they reluctantly accompanied their parents to Maude’s party. Maude recognized these kids from school but didn’t really know them. After greeting them with a barely audible ‘Hello’, Maude retreated to the safety of her father’s side. The kids pulled out their phones and began texting, surfing, streaming, anything to make the time pass faster.
The party had dragged on at a tiresome pace. Had Denise not been the hostess, she would have made her excuses and left as soon as it was socially acceptable to do so. The adults chatted amiably to one another, helping themselves to the buffet. The kids stayed glued to their phones, coming up for air only to judge the cool factor of Maude’s presents and eat some cake. Despite Denise’s insistence that she mingle with her guests, Maude just could not muster up the courage. The thought of speaking to anyone terrified her into tongue-tied silence. Denise watched her socially-awkward daughter stumble through the ‘festivities’ and was embarrassed for her.
Dismissing her thoughts with a quick shake of her head, Denise continued taking down streamers and balloons. Later, as she did the washing up, her thoughts drifted to Maude’s actual birth day.
The sight of her new-born baby had moved Denise to tears. She was in awe of her child’s perfection. Golden highlights were already visible in the soft, downy hair. The infant opened her eyes briefly and Denise saw they were a milky blue. She also noted the perfect Cupid’s bow the tiny lips formed.
‘She’s gorgeous, isn’t she,' Denise said breathlessly.
‘Beautiful,’ Jake replied as he focused his camera.
‘You’re not using a flash, are you, Jake? It’ll hurt her eyes.’
‘No, dear.’ He pressed the shutter button.
‘Good. Now put that camera down and come hold our daughter.’ Our daughter. Denise still couldn’t believe she was actually saying those words.
Jake placed his camera on the bedside table, then took the child in his arms. As he cradled her, a quiet tenderness enveloped him. He placed his forefinger in her open palm and the child closed her tiny fingers around it. At that moment, an unbreakable bond was formed. As he tenderly kissed her forehead, he silently vowed to keep her safe and happy.
‘What are we naming her,' Jake asked.
‘I still like Jacqueline Diana…’
‘Oh…right. That’s a pretty name.’
Jake was crestfallen. He wanted to call the child Maude, after his beloved grandmother. Denise, however, felt the name was too old-fashioned. They discussed it several times during the pregnancy but Denise remained adamant. But now, seeing how Jake doted on the child, how right they looked together and sensing his disappointment, Denise relented.
‘You didn’t let me finish, Jake. I still like Jacqueline Diana, but how do you feel about calling her Maude Jacqueline Diana?’
Jake’s eyes lit up. ‘Really? I think it’s a good name. I like it just fine. Are you sure, Denise? I mean, Maude Jacqueline Diana Bennett is a lot of names for a little girl.’
‘Of course, I’m sure. And don’t worry. She’ll grow into it.’
‘Thank you, Denise. Thank you for making me the happiest man on earth.’
Maudie began crying. Jake raised the child to his shoulder and patted her back. ‘It’s all right, sweetheart,’ he crooned. ‘Daddy’s gotcha.’ The baby fell to dozing again.
Maude slept soundly in Jake’s arms while Denise spoke about their child’s bright future.
‘I can see it already, Jake. She’s going to be a beauty.’
‘Just like her Mama.’
Denise giggled, batting her eyelashes. ‘Thank you, Jake. ‘She’ll have golden blonde hair curling gently around her face. Her eyes are already blue and soon they’ll be bright like sapphires.’
‘All babies are born with blue eyes,’ said Jake. ‘They may change as she gets older.’
‘No, they’ll just get bluer. I just know it. Think how that lovely blue colour will set off her pretty smile.’
‘She’ll be delightful and charming and everyone will absolutely fall in love with her. She’ll have beautiful dresses, lots of dolls and toys. And so many friends she may have to turn down some birthday invites because she just can't be in two places at once.'
Glancing at the sleeping baby, Denise cooed, 'Don’t you worry about that, precious. Mommy will take care of all that for you. Mommy will make sure you go to all the right parties.’
‘The right parties? What are the wrong parties, Denise?’
‘Well, Jake, Maudie will get invites from children of prominent families as well as ordinary kids. If there are two parties on the same day, naturally she’ll attend the prominent party. But we’ll send a very nice gift to the ordinary child to make up for it.’
‘That sounds somewhat snobby to me. Favouring one child's party over another just because that child comes from a more affluent family than the another. And how can you be sure Maudie will be invited to the "right parties"? We’re not exactly in the upper echelons of society.’
‘You forget that my family has a name that goes back for generations. People in this town know and respect that. Maudie will be invited. Now please, Jake, let me finish.’
‘When Maudie starts school, her teachers will brag to us about how smart and well behaved she is. And when it comes time for her first Christmas play, the teacher will have her play Mary. She’ll be wonderful. So angelic and radiant. Afterwards, the other parents will tell us how amazing she was and that she’ll be a great actress someday.
‘Then when she moves on to high school, she’ll be so popular there’ll be a waiting list of people wanting to be her friend. And her looks! She’s going to be absolutely stunning and her smile will just melt your heart. All the boys will be stepping over each other to date her. But Maudie won’t settle for just anybody, oh no. Her beaux will be handsome and athletic. Team captains, no doubt. And, of course, they’ll come from well-respected families.
‘She’ll be head cheerleader, homecoming queen and president of the student council. She’ll also be class valedictorian and voted ‘Most Likely to Succeed’. That’ll get her a scholarship to an Ivy League college. Maybe Vassar.’
‘I don’t think Vassar offers scholarships,’ said Jake adjusting Maudie to a more comfortable position.
‘And while she’s there, she will find her own true love. He’ll be studying law or medicine. Their eyes will meet and they will know they have found The One. And just like Maudie he’ll have blond hair, blue eyes and a winning smile. They’ll marry straight after graduation. He will get a lucrative position in his chosen career and they’ll set up house together.
‘He will work hard, get promoted, get hefty pay rises. They'll buy a plot of land and have their dream home built on it. Maudie will work with an interior decorator making sure the house is fashionable and tasteful. It will be in the gentrified part of town filled with influential people. Most of them will probably be old friends of my family. Maudie and her husband will be more than welcomed into their exclusive social circle.
‘Then the grandchildren will come. Blonde, blue-eyed and smart as whips. Just like their Mom and Dad.’
‘What, no dog?’
‘Of course, there’ll be a dog. No family would be complete without one. A beautiful purebred, pedigree dog. Maybe a Cocker Spaniel or a Lassie dog.’
‘Lassie isn’t a breed. Lassie is a character. The dog that portrayed Lassie is called a Collie. A Rough Collie, to be exact. That’s to differentiate it from a Smooth Collie. Rough and Smooth refers to the type of coat---.'
‘A Cocker Spaniel, then.’
‘American or English?’
Denise continued as if she hadn’t heard. ‘Every weekend Maudie and her family will come to visit us.' The grandchildren will entertain us with little plays they made up themselves. We’ll clap and tell them how wonderful they are. We’ll give them candy, buy them treats and spoil them rotten. Maudie and her husband will tell us off for it, but we won’t mind. We’ll know they don’t really mean it.
'What about the dog?'
'He's at the groomer's,' snapped Denise.
'And the holidays, Jake. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. Oh, they’re going to be so magical. They’re going to have it all, Jake. Just you wait.’
Jake watched Denise become more animated as she spoke. When she finished, he remarked, ‘You’ve got some mighty big plans for such a small baby. I mean, she’s not even a day old and you’re piling so much on her.’
Denise sniffed and declared, ‘Don’t be silly. I was raised the same way. I almost had it all too.’ She ignored the hurt look Jake gave her.
‘But Maudie isn’t you, Denise. You can’t just plan her life and expect her to follow blindly?’
‘And why not? ‘I’m just doing what’s best for her.’
‘I know you feel that you are, Denise. But don’t you think what might be better for Maudie is to let her decide what’s best for herself?’
‘Jake, Maudie is our miracle child. The child the doctors swore blind we would never have. But here she is. She's exceptional, Jake and deserves the very best life has to offer. And if she listens to me the way I should have listened to my mother, everything will happen just as I say.’
The fierce determination in Denise’s eyes coupled with her cutting remark discouraged Jake from pursuing the subject any further. He continued to cradle his child; a sense of foreboding growing within him.
©2016 Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon
Thanks For Reading
It looks like Maude is going to have a fabulous life if Denise has anything to say about it. And I’m sure she will. Let’s hope Jake can convince her to let Maude find her own path.
My thanks to you for taking the time to read this. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to leave a comment saying why. If you think it could do with some tweaking, I’d be interested in hearing your suggestions.