Here is one of the five finalists for the Write It Your Way August competition. Read it now (and the other finalists) and vote by October 1 to help us pick a winner. The theme for this Write It Your Way competition was “New Beginnings” and entrants were allowed to take that theme in any direction they liked. Click here for a list of upcoming Writer’s Digest writing competitions.
When the plus sign on the test stick leached bright blue, Madelyn Henry threw up. Stunned, she leaned on the bathroom sink for support. What a pickle this is, she thought.The only upside to the whole disaster was she finally knew why she had felt so sick lately. She wasbeing taken down by something no bigger than a lima bean. A loud knocking on the door startled her.
“Who are you? Elvis?”Madelyn’s sister, Tina, didn’t wait for an answer. “If you’re still alive in there, would youmind hurrying up?” Hersarcasm seeped like noxious fumes through the door cracks. “We’re already way late for work. We’ve missed the train twice this week and it’s only Tuesday! Go figure.”
“Sorry,” Madelyn muttered. “I’ll be right out.” Her hands shook as she wrapped the test strip in tissue and dropped the mummified evidence ofnew life in the trash bin. Shedidn’t want to face her sister, not yet. Hearing the familiar clacking of Tina’s three-inch Prada’sgoing down the hardwood stairs, Madelyn exited the bathroom andtiptoed in the opposite direction toward the bedroom at the end of the hall.
After a gentletap on the oak door, Madelynentered. Her father appeared asleep as she made her way across the modestly furnished master bedroom. She eased down on the edge of his bed and smoothed back his fine silver hair. He grinned, one eye closed and the other conspicuously squinting up at her.
“Morning, Dad.” Madelyn spoke in hushed tones. “Tina’s angry with me because I’m running late and we missed the train again.”
“It’s New Jersey into New York, for heaven’s sake. Get the next train, there’s always a next train.” He was suddenly wide awake. Gesturing to the pillow at the foot of the bed, he asked, “Sweetie, could you put that behind my head?”
As the goose-down settled behind him, Madelyn caught the familiar scent of yesterday’safter-shave mixed withthe sweetsmell her father had just before his insulin kicked in. She spied the used syringe on the bureau, along with an alcohol pad and its packaging crumpled together like origami. Tina had obviouslyhandled the injection while justdown the hall her kid sister had her head in the toilet.
“Ah, perfect.” He looked about as comfortable as possible given his arthritis. “What a gift you are. Both my girls are angels. Tina’s just a bit more…,” he rubbed his bristly chin, “….feisty, controlling, a real pain in the backside but a damn good attorney.”
He reached for his magnifiers at the bedside. With trembling fingers, he propped them low on his nose; a sharp nose like a pointed finger thatseemed to grow more prominent while the rest of his body receded inward. He tilted his head upward and stared thoughtfully into his daughter’s face as if memorizing her features. Lately, his eyes were always watery and Madelyn couldn’t tell if it was cataracts or had he been crying? Either way, when it came to her father’s mortality, it was as if her heart had a slow leak.
Though reluctant to deal with the day ahead, Madelyn forced a waxen smile, leaned in, kissed her father’s forehead and whispered so-long, at the exact moment Tina barged through the door.
“What? Am I missing something profound;the ole man’slast words; hisfinal breath?” Tina smiled broadly in her father’s direction and then shot her sister a scowl. “Tomorrow, I’m having a driver take me to thetrain. You’re welcome to join me but we’ll be early! What a concept!” Tina paced, one poised hand on her chin and the other on her hip; courtroom mode. “How many timesdo you expect me to fall in the same hole before I smarten up and walk around it? Huh?”
Madelyn was certain her father was enjoying this scene; the drama queen that was his Tina, his oldest daughter. Try and she might, Madelyn could not make a lucid connection to the holes Tina was going on about. The question was obviously rhetorical.
Tina pointed at Madelyn. “I can’t believe I asked my firm to hire you! What was I thinking? We’ll be lucky if we get there by lunchtime.”She turned on a heel the diameter of a knitting needle, closed her eyes, shook her head and sighed, “It’s been the family joke, forever; Madelyn will be late for her own funeral.” Tina mimicked the phrase.“For the record, you’d never be late for your own funeral because I’ll have made the arrangements. On the other hand, I’ll end up wrapped in trash bags in your trunk until you bury me somewhere in the yard.” Tina sighed and turned to leave, apparentlyresting her case. “Bye, Dad, for the second time this morning!”
“Fifth, but who’s counting?” Dad winked at Tina.
“Hilarious, pops.” Tina said dryly. “I’ll be waiting in the car, Madelyn, emphasis on waiting.” Tina strode from the room.
“Why would anyone want to be on time for their own funeral?” Her father asked no one in particular. “I’d want to be so late you’d have to reschedule mine.”
“I know I need to get better at being on time. I’ll start tomorrow.” Madelyn winked at her father. It felt odd winking at him; his wink always meaning so much more while simply conveying; everything’s okay, kiddo.
When she heard the bleating sound of her car horn, Madelyn turned to go.
“Hey, you listen to me.” he said. “Who says we have to obey time? Where’s the spontaneity, the romance? I couldn’t tell you what todayis, I’m hard-pressed to remember themonth and year! No more of this late for your funeral nonsense,I don’t want to hear that anymore. Truth is, Madelyn, you need to stop worrying about me so much and have fun, go on dates. C’mon, there must be one decent guy in that World Trade Center you work in worthy of my little girl.”
There had been someone. A business man fromthe North Towerhad showed an interest in Madelyn a few months back.They rode the elevator together once in a while, got to talking. She grew to trust him. Then,he brutally raped her and she was now pregnant with his baby. Things couldn’t be worse, she thought. Already, this unborn entity was wreaking havoc on her life, making her sick andlate for work, clumsy, not to mention dishonest. So why did the thought of the abortion she’d schedule cause a lump to rise in the back of her throat?
Suppressing tears, Madelyn made her way to the door and lightened the subject.“Just for the record, Dad, it’s Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, but you knew that, silly.”
“Well, it looks like it’s going to be a gorgeous day so enjoy it.” He dismissed her with a blown kiss and she pretended, as always, to catch it. She slid out the bedroom door and the car horn blared again.As she closed the bedroom door behind her, Madelyngiggledwhen she heard her dad say, “Jeez, Tina, relax! You’d be early for your own execution.”
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