Short Story Exercise Week #4

I decided to just post the picture at the end of the week. Keeps things less cluttered that way. This week’s painting is titled Mother, and is by the great Thomas Eakins. I was looking through some of his stuff, and I love it. Plus he’s from Philadelphia, which is cool. I’ve never really done a story like this before, so I’m interested in how people think it turned out and whether or not I hit the mark I was going for. 911 words.

Mother sat as she always did, staring out through the window. She never seemed to move, rarely made a sound. Her name was Vivian, but everyone called her Mother. I don’t think any of the other orderlies even knew if she did, in fact, have any children. But that’s what what she was known as, ever since the doll was found. It was discovered a few weeks before I started here, and was part of the reason why I did. Mother’s old nurse, Jen, had quit the day the doll was found, and I was hired as her replacement. Nobody really talked about the doll, or Jen for that matter. What little information I had was gleaned from overheard conversations and terse answers to my questions. I was the new girl, and still an outsider. So I went about my work, trying not to let the whispers and glances bother me.

I rested my hand on Mother’s shoulder, which gave the slightest of shudders. But otherwise she did not respond. Getting Mother to take her medicine was troubling sometimes. She’d look at me with her pale watery eyes as if searching for something, all the while keeping her mouth firmly clamped shut. After some pleading and cajoling she’d give in. She would close her eyes and lower her head, defeated. Then she’d slowly put her hand out for the medicine. That’s what happened today, though her standoff was rather short. Within a few moments her cupped hand was in front of me, and I reached over to drop the pills in. With startling speed her fingers wrapped around mine, gnarled nails digging into my my knuckles. Instinctively I yanked my hand back, the flesh scratching away as I did so. I stifled a yelp and clutched my hand. It was bleeding slightly. Nothing to be alarmed at, but my heart was still hammering against my chest.

Mother didn’t make a sound, but her eyes rose to meet mine, and I had to look away. Her left eye looked normal, but where her right eye should have been white, it was dark red. It looked like if she were to blink, a tear of blood would have streamed down her face. I glanced back at her, afraid of what I was going to see, but her eyes were normal. She had a quizzical look on her face, like she couldn’t understand why I was acting this way. She put the pills in her mouth and reached out for her water.

Struggling to get a hold of myself, I looked around the room. No one seemed to have noticed anything strange, and with each passing second I was beginning to think I had imagined the whole thing. I grabbed the glass of water from the tray on the table and handed it to her. As I did so the pain in my fingers flared up again, and I froze a few inches from her outstretched hand. She looked up at me, confused again. I quickly placed it in her hand and took a step back. She calmly took a drink, then put the glass in her lap. Her gaze returned to the trees outside. A breeze had started up, and the later summer sun shone bright and yellow. But I was freezing.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. I had a friend help me bathe Mother and get her into bed. My eyes kept darting to hers, but they never met mine, and they were always the same pale blue and white. I ate dinner then huddled down at the front desk as one by one the patients were taken to their rooms for the night. By midnight the whole place was quiet. John had just gone off to do rounds, and I was playing solitaire on the computer. Suddenly an image of Mother’s eye slammed into my mind. I looked at the scratches on my hand. They seemed darker somehow. Just then I heard a noise from down the hallway. John had just walked down there. Maybe it was him coming back. I didn’t dare look, but there was the sound again. I slowly raised out of my seat, but the hallway was empty. My mind was just playing tricks, I was sure of it.

I sat back down, keeping my eyes on the darkness at the end of the hallway, until finally I had convinced myself that nothing was there. I turned back to the computer and reached for the mouse. My hand brushed something soft, and as I looked down my heart nearly burst through my chest. There was a small stuffed doll, laying face down next to the mouse. It looked like it was made from an old pillowcase, stained and brown, with dark yarn for the hair. My hand reached out instinctively and turned it over, and I couldn’t hold my scream in. The doll stared up at me, its left eye a white button, its right a bright red one.  Suddenly I felt a wetness on my cheek, like a tear had slid from my eye. I touched my finger to it, and when I pulled away, saw dark scarlet blood smeared across it.  I threw the doll and backed up against the wall. I tried to scream, but nothing would come out. Then I heard the sound again. I looked to the hallway, praying to see John. But there was only the silhouette of Mother.

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