Friday, April 29, 2011


Kathy’s brown eyes stung and her stomach clenched. She quietly hung up the kitchen phone. She had always heard that slamming the receiver only made an abusive caller even more abusive. Wasn’t it enough that Dad was in the hospital nearly a hundred miles away? That she and Mom were also caring for Nana and Grandpa 24 hours every day, and that Kathy was in the middle of college midterms? 

Then cleansing, hot tears flowed as Kathy mentally replayed the caustic monologue:

Mom and Kathy had waited all morning to hear the outcome of Daddy’s eye surgery. When the phone finally rang at around noon, Mom answered, and after an apparently friendly exchange said, “Oh, we’re holding up okay. Kathy? Sure, she’s right here.” Something didn’t feel right as Kathy took the phone. “It’s Denise,” Mom explained. Denise was Dad’s daughter from his first marriage.

“Hello?” Kathy said cautiously.  

“Kathy, this is Denise. I‘m addressing this to you because I don’t want to be disrespectful to your mother...” Oh, boy, that didn’t sound good. Kathy’s head felt detached from the rest of her body as Denise pressed on.

“…But since you are my half-sister, I want you to know that I’m totally pissed off with both of you. My father…” In spite of the earthquake in her core, Kathy replaced the receiver as gently as she could. 

Within thirty seconds, she was sitting at her makeshift kitchen-table desk, absently reading term paper notes. In the living room, her petite Nana sat in her overstuffed chair with her hands folded. Grandpa had dozed off in his recliner across from Nana, next to the picture window. In spite of the warm spring breeze, the furnace was running. Grandpa instinctively knew when the indoor temperature dropped below 81 degrees. 

Mom didn’t have to ask about the phone conversation. A few minutes later, another call. They stared at each other – what now – before Mom answered the phone. From several feet away, Kathy recognized Dad’s resonant voice at the other end. The surgery had been delayed, he explained, and by the way Denise couldn’t understand why Kathy had hung up on her. Denise was worried sick about him and felt very hurt. 

That was too much for Mom.

“Whatever is going on, I want it to stop,” Mom said. Surprised silence from the other end. “Denise was very rude, and anyway, you said you’d help me...” Mom’s voice trembled to a halt as she recalled Daddy’s faint promises from fourteen years earlier, when Nana’s dementia, and later Grandpa’s blindness and cancer, ate a hole in the family. 

The next evening, Denise drove Dad home. She stayed in her car as Mom and Kathy helped Dad out of the car. He held his eye patch in place with one hand as he handed Kathy his bag with the other hand.  Without acknowledging anyone else’s presence, Denise stared out the driver side window.

As soon as Denise drove away without a word, Dad stumbled into the house, put his hand to his forehead, and began to cry. Mom wrapped her arms around him. In her room down the hall, Nana quietly sat up in bed, even tinier than the day before, not understanding why her dinner had been interrupted. Grandpa sat next to Nana and patted her hand. 

Kathy stood alone in the darkened hallway, haunted by the image of Denise’s solitary silhouette in the car.  

Written for Red Writing Hood prompt: Write about a fight -- the reasons behind it, the repercussions, etc. Show us. Use descriptions.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece, Judy. Thanks for posting.

Kim said...

Family is rich with material for this prompt. I wanted to know more here. I was dying to know what the half sister said! Great writing.

Stephanie/The Drama Mama said...

You've got some great characters building up here!! Nice take on the prompt.

Anonymous said...

Wow Judy, what a great piece of writing you have here. I kept wondering what was happening next. This story is suspenseful and full of creative characters, please, continue on with the story.

angela said...

Family is so very complicated. Great job showing the stress of the family connections and the outside factors, like health issues, that compound that stress exponentially!

Anonymous said...

I had to read this again, it was even better the second time around. I enjoyed twice as much. Best wishes with your writing and I think you should continue on with this story. Thanks for such a great read Judy.

Anonymous said...

You had us glued. And the curiosity has still not been satiated. That's a great way to tell a story where the reader can take off from where the writer lands. :-)