Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

And Now For...

A complete change of pace!

A couple of months ago I heard about the NPR Three Minute Fiction Contest. This is the contest's sixth year, and every year thousands of people enter. The challenge: To write in 600 words or less a very short story.

Each year there are different rules for the story. For this year the story had to have a joke and one character must cry. I'm not sure how my story was received, it wasn't one of the top twenty, but I had fun writing it. I'm thinking of including this in my book Dispatches From an Only Planet, a collection of short stories and essays with themes revolving around travel.

I thought I'd share it on the blog, a quick story to start, or end your day.

And so without further ado.

A Mother’s Fortune

Loey Werking Wells

Ashley wheeled into the room to find her mother, in tears again. “You need to stop this,” she said. “Don’t you think the medicine man might be wrong, that Peter and I are supposed to marry?”

“Of course he could be wrong, but he was so right about your poor body, we have to at least consider the possibility that he was also correct when he said this marriage wouldn’t last.” Kathleen dabbed away tears.

Ashley sighed. At least the four-tiered cake surpassed her expectations, thanks to the rock sugar diamonds that nestled among the fragile peonies, reflecting the late June sunlight.

It wasn’t that Ashley and Peter weren’t perfectly suited for each other; they were. And it wasn’t because they were too young, or too naïve: almost thirty, they had seen enough marriages go bad to know the risks. For thirty years, Kathleen had believed her job was to inoculate her children against risk.

More cerebral than physical, Ashley never developed athletic grace or endurance, but at fourteen, she began to trip and drop things. After countless doctor visits, the terrible verdict was delivered: multiple sclerosis. Ashley’s dad insisted they visit every specialist, try every course of treatment. But desperate, Kathleen suspected that fate guided Ashley’s course as much as free will and wanted to seek someone who could help bring hope, or better yet a miracle.

Between trips to the Mayo Clinic and Mexico, the rounds of beta interferon and bee sting therapy, they eventually exhausted every resource. Kathleen and Ashley even traveled to the Philippines, to heed counsel from a renowned fifteenth-generation medicine man. Kathleen remembered his sparrow-like frame perched on a plastic stool, hunched over a grimy table in his “office,” a back corner of his relative’s restaurant. He laid his hands on Ashley’s back, rubbed her feet, and after prescribing some salves and breathing exercises, the healer offered to read her future. “Well,” Kathleen said, as she scribbled notes into the tiny notebook that she kept in her backpack, “what do you see?” The medicine man clicked his nubby brown teeth, “One—no, two—marriages, this one will have,” he waved his hand to indicate the girl. After his treatment, Ashley could take a few steps, free from the constant numbness that attacked her legs.

“You remember the prophecy. I can protect you,” Kathleen whispered.

“From what? A life?”

“From pain, disappointment, heartache. You used to believe.”

“I was a kid, I did what you told me to. And even if Peter ends up breaking my heart, it will mend. I know about breaking and healing.”

“You’re better.”

“I’m not worse,” Ashley snapped. “That’s different than better. Why not credit the drugs? The therapies? The doctors who say I’m in remission?” The stresses of planning the wedding and her mother’s behavior were pulling her patience to a taffy thinness.

Ashley smoothed her gown the best she could over her lap, as the satin billowed up the sides of her wheelchair. “You know Peter loves me, don’t you? “

“Yes. “

“Do you know why I love him?” she asked. “Did I ever tell you about the first time we met?”

“Yes. Wait, no. Remind me.”

“He told me a joke, a stupid joke. These two vultures are sitting in a tree. One vulture sees a man rolling down the road in a wheelchair. He taps the other vulture and says “Say look, Ed, meals on wheels!” Ashley chuckled and Kathleen smiled.

“He made me feel like a normal person, no one to be pitied. Peter is worth that risk. No psychic could see that.”