By Yevheniia Dubrova, VI Form
“Waves”: A Short Story
Editor’s Note: The following short story was submitted as a final project in “The Rise of the Short Story: Creative Short Fiction Writing.”
Before Pat was born, my mother and I used to talk. She let me sleep in her bed when dad worked night shifts, and although I never really understood what his job was, I knew it was some kind of important thing because he worked a lot, and that says something. It didn’t bother me much back then, and sometimes, I even wished he would stay at work more often so that I could sleep at my mom’s. She left orange peels on her nightstand until they dried out and wrinkled up. My dad would say they look like pork rinds and throw them away, but it smelled like Christmas, and I liked it. Her bed was solid and soft at the same time, and I swear I could drown in her heavy blankets and crisp linens. We rarely cuddled — mom doesn’t like cuddling — but she talked to me about all sorts of things, and her voice would always put me to sleep, even though I tried to stay awake for as long as possible to listen to her some more.
She didn’t talk much about her youth, except for that one time she told me about finding her mother’s book on childbirth. She saw the pictures. The pictures must have made a lasting impression on my mom because she swore to never have a baby. I asked her if the real thing was as bad as the pictures. She said if she had known it would be that bad, she would never have had me in the first place. She then brushed my hair with her fingers and said she was glad she had me after all, but that birth thing was really bad.
“Can you imagine? All that pain and blood? And with a head like yours… Oh, sweet Jesus Christ, I thought you were going to rip my hips apart!”
I couldn’t imagine it because I never saw the pictures, and I was glad I never did. I curled myself into a ball, put my head on her lap, and asked her if she was afraid to give birth to another baby. She said it scared the hell out of her, but it was too late to change anything. Her belly looked really swollen now, and it was fun to touch it. I moved my ear closer to her belly button and closed my eyes. The baby was making funny noises. I asked my mom if he was having hiccups. I said he because I really wanted to have a brother to fight off boys at school. The boys at school teased other girls and me, but my mom told me it was okay because boys were meant to be mean until they grow up. I said I hoped they would grow up already because it was starting to get annoying.
My mother had a girl instead. Her head was even larger than mine, and they had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days before they were allowed to come home. She had a patch of fluffy ginger hair, and I thought it was pretty funny because I’ve never seen hair like that. We called the girl Pat, and she had hiccups when I first saw her. I showed her how to hold her breath to stop them, but she didn’t learn it properly until she was three or so.
Mom said it wasn’t just the childbirth that scared her, but the fact that she was about to lose the remains of her youth and beauty now that she had two children on her hands. I didn’t know about that — she was just as beautiful to me as ever, but she did seem to have more sad days after Pat’s birth. We stopped talking, and she didn’t invite me to her bed anymore, even though dad worked quite a lot of night shifts. She stayed there all alone, and I often wondered if she was alright. But moms are meant to be alright.
I missed the solid bed and the smell of the orange peels, but Pat slept in my room now, and it felt nice to take care of someone. She was growing really fast, and I was getting jealous of her ginger hair. Not just because of the color — it was as vibrant as it gets — but mostly because it was really easy to detangle. I didn’t mind my tight curls most of the time, but on Sundays, when dad took us swimming, I would dive all the way in and get my hair wet, and my mom would spend hours combing out the knots.
Man, I loved Sundays. On our way to the beach, dad would stop at the gas station to buy some Sour Patch Kids for Pat and me. We would divide them between the two of us, and Pat always gave one of hers to dad. I was afraid that dad would like her more than me, but now that I think about it, she liked to be kind for no particular reason and never expected a reward for it, and dad would always give a kiss to both of us, even though I never shared my candy with him.
Dad taught us how to swim, and I was much better at it than Pat. She knew it too, I think, and scared me with a giant shrimp once when I was resting on the beach. I raised my head to let the sun soak in and closed my eyes, and Pat put the shrimp on my forehead. It started moving, and I remember screaming so loudly, my dad thought I had been stung by a jellyfish. He said I was being silly, but I refused to go swimming for a couple of weeks, and to this day, I can’t even look at mom’s garlic shrimp pasta.
Even so, Sundays were the best part of the week for me. Then one night mom came to my room and said she thought our dad was going to leave her. I chuckled. I didn’t know if she was being serious. I didn’t think so anyway.
Adults must be able to sense these things somehow because our dad did leave in a couple of weeks, right after Pat turned five. Mom didn’t get out of her room to see him off, but he kissed me and Pat goodbye and said he would call us every day. He made a pinky promise. I asked him if he would still take us to the beach on Sundays. He said he would try his best.
He called for the first month or so, but then told us he was moving to another city, and I never heard from him afterward, except that one time he sent us a card for New Year’s Eve. Pat wanted to keep it on her desk, but it got lost somehow. Mom said it must have fallen out of the window that one night when the wind was particularly strong.
After dad left, mom seemed to be really upset for a while, but then she met Tim. I can’t say I didn’t like him, Tim was alright, but there was something about him that made me miss dad every now and then. Mom told me and Pat to stop talking about him in the house because it insulted Tim. I didn’t think Tim paid any attention to stuff like that, but we never mentioned dad out loud again.
Tim moved to our house and started working from home. It had something to do with calling people and asking them what they thought about different ice cream flavors. He said he sacrificed everything to be close to our mom and us, but he didn’t seem to mind his new job very much. He usually got tired from all the calls by early evening and barely left the bedroom. Mom said she wanted to redecorate their room to start anew, but Tim said he didn’t really care either way. She bought some new pillows, but everything else stayed the same.
He tried to be nice to Pat and me, I could tell. He promised to take us to the beach almost every morning but kept forgetting about it. But when my birthday came, he took a day off and said that we were really good children to him and didn’t cause much trouble. I’ve never felt that happy in my life and thought that maybe Tim wasn’t so bad after all and that we’d make a pretty good family.
We didn’t stop at the gas station to buy Sour Patch Kids, but I didn’t know if I should say anything about it. I decided not to. Mom stayed at home because she had one of her sad days. Tim said she just needed to be alone and that she would get better soon.
I swam really well that day and opened my eyes underwater for the first time. I knew mom would be angry at me for getting my hair wet, so I went ashore to dry it with a towel. Tim was reading a magazine when I came up. I said I swam really well, and he tapped me on my shoulder. He then asked me where Pat was, and I said she was probably still swimming. Tim looked up from his magazine and told me he couldn’t see Pat. I said that couldn’t be true because I had seen her there several minutes ago. It was hard to miss her ginger head even if you were standing pretty far away. Tim stood up and ran to the water. Pat wasn’t there, and I think he started crying, but maybe it was just the sound of waves hitting the shore.
I felt sick to my stomach because I sensed that something bad had just happened and because mom was making garlic shrimp pasta when Tim and I came home. She did seem to be feeling better. Everyone was quiet for a while, then Tim took her hand and said that Pat was gone, and that’s when it hit me. I didn’t want Pat to be gone, even though I was still angry at her for scaring me with a shrimp that one time. She was my best friend, and I didn’t want to be alone.
Mom didn’t leave her room for the next few months, and we got another card from dad, but she never showed it to me. But Tim was really sweet and bought me a pack of Sour Patch Kids, although I was upset that I couldn’t share it with Pat now. Mom said I was not allowed to talk about Pat anymore because it did nothing but hurt everyone. And some days, I barely think about her. But sometimes, when Tim takes me to the beach, and the water touches my feet, it all comes back to me. And I hear her voice and feel her hair brushing my cheek, and just for a second, I’m not alone anymore.
Yevheniia Dubrova is a VI Form boarding student from Ukraine. She is passionate about creative writing and history. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading, and overseeing several social initiatives she started back in Ukraine.