If you love to read short stories, you will enjoy Story Chat. For links to all of the stories bookmark the Story Chat Y2 Page.
Something to Think About
In “The Power of Verticality,” the protagonist reveals her raw feelings and inner responses to the world around her.
- How do those expressed feelings make YOU feel?
- Do you think it would make a difference if she expressed her feelings out loud?
- How do you visualize the situation?
- Who is the most critical person in the story?
- How would you explain the cruelty?
- What is the significance of the daisy?
- Who is SHE?
“The Power of Verticality” by Anne Goodwin
I had a husband once. Sisters. Friends. One by one they fell away, like petals from a daisy. She loves me. She loves me not. She comes. She goes.
She arrives hot-breathed, panting. Tobacco habit? Angina? Lift on the blink and too many stairs? It hurts my head to contemplate the options, the galaxy of possibilities within the world outside.
Inevitably, she carries fragments of the vast beyondness. The scent of mint from her toothpaste. The patina of mist in her hair. The power of verticality. The rough chill of her hands.
Mostly, she brings words. Words from her heart and words she reads from the screen of her phone or from print.
She claims these words are helping me. I mustn’t lose touch with current affairs. Yet she forgets her reading glasses, and even with them, she muddles Dhaka and Dakar; Slovakia and Slovenia; Uruguay and Paraguay. Worse, as the story nears its climax, she buries it in her bag. “You’re getting agitated. Let’s have a nice cup of tea.”
She brings a thermos, a rusty canister from summer picnics long ago. She brings a thermos because no one makes tea the way she drinks it. The way tea is meant to be. She pours one for me “to be sociable”. When it’s grown cold sitting on the locker, she drains it down the sink.
Sometimes she reads aloud from women’s glossies. Make-up tips and mindfulness and how to tell if he’s the one. In my dreams, I check the dictionary, separate ironic and incongruous from malicious and sly.
She reminds me she’s all I’ve got now. Of course, she doesn’t count the staff. Once there were doctors and specialist nurses; as hope peeled away, status went with it, like dead skin. Now there are women with brisk hands and tilted English, strong women supporting three generations in another continent on the minimum wage. She slows her voice to speak to them, and it’s always to complain.
She doesn’t like the gown I’m in: too tight, too loose, too bright, too pale. She says she’ll bring a better one tomorrow. Threat or promise, who’s to know? Tomorrow never happens. Or M&S failed to stock the thing she had in mind. Relief or disappointment? Too late for us to learn respect for each other’s styles.
In her custody, my preferences are weaponised to undermine the staff. “She wouldn’t want her hair like that,” she says. “Easy listening? She’d rather have rock.”
When she’s not here, the staff play eerie instrumentals from their home countries, or upbeat singalongs stuffed with unfamiliar words. The only way I know it’s night is when chat and music surrender to the murmur of machines.
Alone with me, she lifts the sheet and digs her nails into my thigh. She closes in to shout obscenities in my ear. If caught, she’d say I need the stimulation. She’s the key that will unlock me from this limbo. She’s always cast her cruelty as maternal love.
Once we shared a body. Now we share this cocoon. She makes the boundary blur between me and not-me. My brain betrays me: did she nurse me through infancy or did I nurse her? Mother and daughter are words I recognise but don’t know which belongs to me. When we merge, I can’t distinguish trapped from free.
Daughters visit ailing mothers, I reason. It’s the natural way. So when she pats my hand and says it’s time to go, I believe I’ll drive back to husband, sisters, friends.
She bends to kiss my cheek. “See you tomorrow, darling.”
Inside my shell, I scream with rage and disappointment. Because I’ll miss her? Because I envy her? Because she promised to come back?
Anne Goodwin writes entertaining fiction about identity, mental health, and social justice. She is the author of three novels and a short story collection published by a small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her latest novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, is inspired by her previous incarnation as a clinical psychologist in a long-stay psychiatric hospital. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.
BOOKS, NEWSLETTER AND SOCIAL MEDIA: https://linktr.ee/annecdotist
SHORT STORY E-BOOK FREE FOR NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIBERS https://bit.ly/daughtershorts