The Exhausted Mother



The Exhausted Mother by August Heyn

This is a story I wrote during lockdown when we were all stuck inside, many of us with lots of children to feed and entertain.  Motherhood has never been easy.  Inspired by the painting by August Heyn

They hadn’t been out of the house for months.  Stay at home.  Don’t spread the disease.  They said it was the plague.  Painted crosses had started appearing on houses further down the street.  Whatever it was, was spreading.  That was all very well but there were seven of them living in two rooms on an upper floor of an overcrowded street of timber framed makeshift prisons.  Most people didn’t bother to go out anymore – they didn’t want to risk catching anything and bringing it into the home.  The streets were deserted except for the scavengers.  The big houses had already had their kitchens stripped bare – their owners had long since scarpered for the country.  Her baby now had her own cot which some little lord or lady must have slept in; they all had shiny new clothes “borrowed”, her husband said, from a stranger’s wardrobe; and she and her husband had fine new tapestried chairs to sit on.  The novelty of having new things had soon worn off.
She encouraged her husband in his enterprises and to go out because if he didn’t go out every now and again she would probably end up killing him. There was always the worry that he was bringing the disease home but they had been lucky so far.  When he was home he paced around the living room like a caged bear.  He took no interest in looking after the children – that was women’s work.  He wouldn’t read to them or teach them to write their letters.  There was no work to be had.  Everything had shut down.  He did what he did to feel like the man of the house.  He was providing for them.  She just wished he would provide the right things. 
How were you supposed to explain to four children under ten that they couldn’t go outside; they couldn’t see their friends; there was no tea tonight.  They’d grown lethargic in recent days and had stopped asking to go out.  That was worse.  They were tired and hungry. The baby was the least of her worries – she couldn’t ask questions yet and didn’t know any different.  She probably thought it was normal having all your family around you all the time. 
The next youngest stood looking up at her in her borrowed finery.  “Mummy, I’m hungry.”  And she just put her head in her hands and wept.

That’s Amore…?

I have started drafting a new character for a story set in Italy about different generations of women and the men in their lives.  Nonna is obviously not happy with her choice of man!

Nonna slapped the espresso machine into existence and steam gathered in a cloud on the mirror over the bar.  She glared in the mirror into the middle distance and swore under her breath.  Her good-for-nothing husband was sitting there as usual like a fat salami in the square with all his friends.  She shoved the milk jug under the frother like she was holding his head under a tap.  He sat there enjoying himself while she did all the hard work as usual.   Her assault on the coffee machine came to a halt and she poured two caffe lattes out into massive china bowls.  She carried them over to a table and came back to the counter for two brioche and some paper serviettes.  “Gianna, come down amore.  Breakfast!”  She sat down in the booth and waited for her grand-daughter to appear.  She wouldn’t bother to make her husband breakfast or sit down and eat it with him. 

Up and Down

This post was inspired by my new favourite course provider – Writers’ HQ and the Flash Face Off theme Up and Down. I chose the following picture as my inspiration: 

I wanted to fly.  Everything was pulling me upwards into the sky.  I breathed deeply and pulled my arms backwards as if I was in a swan dive off the top board.  I stepped up onto the ledge ready to take flight.  I stepped up from the graffiti covered concrete roof top and my toes felt their way to the edge.  I pulled myself up to my full height and breathed again.  The air was so clear and fresh.  What a difference 23 floors made.  I allowed myself to linger.  The world seemed to pause with me.  I couldn’t hear anything – the traffic was muted; the wind had stilled; the hum of the air-conditioning unit held its breath.  

The feeling of standing on the edge was intoxicating.  Gravity pulled me forward and down.  Everything inside me wanted to fly.  I resisted the natural urge to be pulled to the ground.  Adrenalin kicked in and survival instinct made me want to take a step back to safety.  Stay there for another minute! Do what you came to do!  I shouted at myself.  The coward in me whimpered and had already gone back to cower at their desk on the 15th floor. 

I stayed.  I opened my eyes to look around me at the other office blocks which jostled for position in the overcrowded city.   I wondered if other people would be on the roofs with their own personal challenges.  But there was always just me.  Getting a little bit braver every day. 

I took another breath and stepped back into my normal life on the 15th floor.  My day would come very soon.  They’d never know what hit them.