Writing: Five bucks left on the table, and a lime green deckchair

I do writing exercises with my writing circle – sometimes an exercise we found on the internet, or sometimes something we made up ourselves.

This week we had prompt cards, and we each received two prompts to weave into our story. We had fifteen minutes to write. Mine were ‘five bucks left on the table’ and ‘a lime green deckchair.’ 

I recently read the excellent The Dutch House by Anne Patchett and for some reason the mother from that sprung to my mind. She keeps going AWOL – disappearing for months at a time and then coming back again. Finally one day she abandons her children altogether.

This piece was loosely inspired by that premise.

She never left much of a trace after she’d visited, but what she did leave was untouched for days afterwards, as all of us attempted to preserve the fleeting memory of her presence. The last time, I got home from school to find five bucks on the table and her lime green deckchair still sitting out on the patio, under a parasol.

“How do we split it?” said Carly, who was eight to my ten and had a habit of looking up at me with eyes wide as saucers, something which made me feel tall and important but also squeamish with nerves all at the same time. 

I looked from her to five-year-old Benny, and saw what she meant. It wasn’t easy to split five bucks between three people, assuming that had been Mom’s intention. But Mom never thought these things through. Unless it was supposed to be a contribution for Dad, toward the food she’d eaten while she was here? But she’d never offered to compensate him before, and when Dad got home from work he merely grunted in the direction of the money, showing no interest whatsoever.

“We could take two each and give one to Benny since he’s the youngest?” I said. Carly nodded. Benny didn’t say anything. I’m not sure he understood.

I walked around the house, trying to find other evidence she’d been there. If it were a novel her scent would be lingering in the air, honeysuckle and fresh-roast coffee perhaps. But it wasn’t, and I knew what she really smelled of was anxiety and mildewy clothes. She hadn’t even left any hairs in the sink or the bathtub either, or at least it was impossible to tell the difference between her hair and my own long blond strands. 

So it came to this: these crumpled pieces of green paper, which I fluttered against my face – though my teacher had told me they were covered in germs – before replacing them on the table, and a lime-green deck chair, rickety and slightly rusted, set to ‘recline’ under the parasol on the patio. The only physical evidence of my mother. 

Since Dad cleared away neither the money nor the deckchair, they both became shrines. Carly, Benny and I would stand looking at the money, Benny barely able to see from his short height, wondering what she’d wanted us to do with it. And then I’d lift Benny, put him on my hip, and together we’d go outside to where the deckchair shone fluorescent in the sun, almost blinding. I’d climb into it, the meshy fabric sagging slightly from Benny’s weight in my lap, and we’d sit, and look at the sky, the same sky which she was looking at, somewhere, and gradually the clouds would drift by and we’d begin to drift off into sleep, held in the deckchair’s embrace.