Friday, May 10, 2013

Fiction Friday Challenge ~ The Impossible Pursuit of Perfection

I turned the car down the familiar street, one I'd driven down for most of my life. No fancy navigation systems necessary, the car just knew it's way home.

We passed round-a-bout in the center of the neighborhood where the enormous tree stood, the one that buckled the street in places.  Huge roots above and below ground, the men with the huge trucks of asphalt had tried to combat it every few years. No matter how many fresh, hot layers they poured, the cracks would always show back up within mere months until one day when the street would inevitably urge up into the air as the tree created it's very own mangled speed bump.

A Moreton Bay Fig, they say it's rare, that there aren't many of them around. It's an old tree, and as a child, I always believed that it had a soul. That it had eyes. That it knew and remembered things we didn't.

No one really knew how old it was, but the tree was older than the houses in the area.  Even though it had wreaked havoc on the street, the sidewalks, the irrigation systems and some of the sewer lines in places, no one had the heart to tear it down.

Stubbornly clinging to this enormous tree, the neighborhood was.

It was just a piece of us.

It made sense, at least in my head. For all of my life, this tree had been here, shading almost the entire street surrounding the grassy area. I climbed it almost habitually as a child, sat in the recesses of the exposed roots alone with my thoughts. It was perfect for playing hide and seek around. Long limbs twisting and reaching out across the street, forming a canopy over the place I learned to throw a baseball and where I first rode my bike without training wheels.

This tree was as much a part of my childhood as anything else that existed on that street, as much as the house itself, as much as the memories inside, as much as my mother, sitting beside me now, gazing out the window.

A reminder of days gone by when trees like this weren't torn down for houses, and when neighborhoods were built around them. When the beauty of nature was not just left unharmed, but made the focal point. When good was left alone.

I pulled the car into the driveway, lamenting the fact that the lawn was so overgrown. I kicked myself for not offering to help more often. I knew she would never ask for help. I knew that she would have sternly refused it anyway, but still I felt the pinch of guilt that I hadn't forced it. The rose garden that she'd spent hours and hours pruning and weeding in my childhood now full of bushes fighting back intruders. They hadn't been properly cut back in years.

I brought the car to a stop and put the transmission in park. As I turned the engine off, I looked over at her and I asked, aren't you glad to be home?

She took a deep breath and a silent tear rolled down her cheek. I could feel my lips tighten as I instantly became overwhelmed with emotion. She said nothing, even when I asked again. My hand had gripped the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles were drained of color. Seeing that, I released my hand and opened the door.

The walk around the back of the car seemed like an eternity as I wrestled with my own mind internally. What was I supposed to say, what was I supposed to do? What was going to happen to her, to me?

She had opened the door and rested one foot on the ground, but remained seated in the car, staring forward. Refusing to look up at me. I reached out a hand to help her up and saw that she was crying even more.

Mom, come inside. I'll make you some tea and your sandwich. Please. Give me your hand.

Her delicate fingers reached out to me slowly, her hand trembling. Helping her up took almost no effort. Her frame was so tiny, she was light as a feather. She took her left hand and wiped the tears from her cheeks as she stepped away from the car.

I held her arm as we traveled along the brick path to the front door. Every weed protruding from between the pieces of brick mocking me, telling me that I had failed as a daughter, that I should have paid more attention, that I should have offered more help.

I slid the key into the deadbolt and turned it. The air from inside rushed out at us, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the staleness of it. She had only been away from this place for a few days, but it seemed like it had been an eternity, like it must have been an eternity.

She made sure that I heard her sigh as she stepped up over the threshold.

I eased her into her favorite chair then started to walk toward the kitchen, intending to make the tea and sandwich that she ate every day for lunch. Before I made it halfway to the kitchen, she stopped me.

Anna. Sit. I have something to tell you. Her eyes motioned me to the sofa.

As though I was still a little girl, I obediently listened and walked to the couch immediately. I sat, taking note of my posture as I always did. Years of reminders to sit up straight had worked their way into my psyche. I crossed my ankles and rested my hands on my lap. Twenty nine years old, and I'm sitting on this couch like some perfect doll being posed. I knew it was ridiculous, and yet here I was folding my hands just so like a lady. I cleared my throat.

Yes, mother?

There are some things that you need to know about us. About our family. About your father. Things weren't actually as perfect as they seemed....her voice trailed off.

My father had been gone for several years now, it would be coming up on six years next month. I had no idea what she might be talking about, but I knew immediately that whatever it was that she intended to say to me now was something long overdue. Something that I deserved to know long before this moment.

I was right.

This post is a part of a collaborative project including many writers from different backgrounds, all writing on the same prompt each week. After taking a break from the challenge, I am back (and hope to stay a while). The first post in this story can be found here. Please check out the pieces written by the others in the group. I will add their links as they post.

The prompt for this week was a simple one, let your characters work through the old saying, "Perfect is the enemy of good." 


  1. Interesting, a cliffhanger!

  2. This made me sad. This situation, unfortunately, is too real. You held me all the way through. "More! More! More!" she chanted.

  3. I loved how you got her out of the car. How she put one foot out and stayed there. There's so much you can tell about a person and how they're feeling just by how they get out of a car.

    And here I thought this was just going to be about a woman taking care of her ailing mother...


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