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April Story Chat: “The Power of Verticality” by Anne Goodwin

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?

About Anne

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.


TWITTER: @Annecdotist

TIKTOK: @annegoodwinauthor



99 replies »

  1. HI Marsha, this is an interesting story. I would assume the person is in a coma. Perhaps it is a woman who had a car accident resulting in her being in a coma. Obviously, the doctors do not think there is much chance of a recovery. Perhaps the visitor is a jealous sister who is taking malicious pleasure in her sibling’s suffering and taking the opportunity to be deliberately unkind.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What I appreciate about Anne Goodwin’s story is that there is no definitive answer to who “she” is. We, as witnesses to this moment, experience the uncertainties of a mind locked in limbo. The narrator’s memory loss and physical confinement limit what we can know and understand with certainty. The agony of not being able to communicate is keenly felt in those last three questions. Ah! This is why I love Anne’s writing. She allows readers the space to experience the inner world of another with no right or wrong interpretation. We are left with an alternative to “the end.” Anne gives us a chance to withdraw from “this is.” And as readers, we leave but continue to mull over what we bore witness to.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Marsha and Anne,

    Firstly, wow what an interesting story, I read it through twice!
    I really enjoy tales like this that force you to walk in another’s shoes so to speak (anti-social or confessions of a GP tell this kind of story well). Although in this case, we are dealing with an unreliable narrator. Intelligent clearly, but experiencing some kind of brain fog that keeps them revealing the truth of their situation (as they don’t seem to fully know it themselves).

    The hint of abuse is incredibly sad but captured very well by the author. The protagonist displaying not just physical pain but emotional too. Provoking us to consider ourselves or our loved ones in a similar setting or scenario.

    The only improvement I would suggest would be for the opening three paragraphs, whilst beautifully written prose, are possibly a little long-winded for a short story. They don’t tell you an awful lot about the story and could probably be condensed a little to improve the initial hook of the reader.

    An enjoyable, thought-provoking and intriguing read.

    KL ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nice analysis, KL. I was so hooked. It sounds like you are convinced that the narrator is unreliable. I didn’t think that. I just figured she couldn’t speak or communicate. Of course, that would make one a little crazy. Do you suppose the cruelty is imagined, then?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Apologies, I meant unreliable narrator in the literary sense (it was a term we got taught at Uni). In this case, I would say she is Naively Unreliable: Narrators who are honest but lack all the information, they simply lack a traditional, “greater understanding.”
        I suspect the cruelty is real but with lack of understanding of who (mother/daughter/another?) is causing it or why it’s difficult to say.
        KL ❤

        Liked by 2 people

          • Social sciences sounds much more fun ☺️. I’ve just been reading through some of the other commentators Marsha, it’s a brilliant collection of insights and interpretations. KL ❤️

            Liked by 1 person

      • You are most welcome, it was an enjoyable and unusual read. Thank you for sharing it with us. That’s a very good point. I guess we are lured into trusting most narrators but with this one we know we can’t as she can’t be too sure herself who she is. KL ❤

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Well I had to put my mama in home. And I went to see her everyday. Some days she knew me and then others she didn’t. But I had 2 years with her before she passed. I miss her so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I only had loving words for my mother, Marsha. I talked to her a lot, usually about everyday things and stories of the past. Early on in her condition, there were days when she had no idea who I was. This got worse and worse as time went on. However, at that final moment, when she opened her eyes and looked up at me and smiled, I had an overwhelming feeling that she knew who I was and that I was there to gently see her off on her next journey.

    It would have been her 85th birthday yesterday, but I still sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I decided not to read any of the comments for this story until I’ve left my comments.

    It wasn’t long into the story before I saw a familiar life-experiencing theme. The storyteller in this story was like my mother, who sadly had dementia and passed away in 2015. However, I hope that my mother was never experiencing any of the emotions of the storyteller, although I know that my mother will have been very confused at times. When I visited her at the nursing home, although my mother was often asleep, I was always told to talk to her because she would be able to hear my voice and know what I was saying. ‘She may look asleep’, the staff told me, ‘but she can’t be asleep 24-hours a day.’ I don’t know how the nursing staff knew that, but I talked to my mother nonetheless. Even though she could not open her eyes and talk back to me, I can only guess that this terrible disease she suffered from allowed her to still have thoughts that the illness could not control.

    Before my mother passed away, she briefly opened her eyes, looked up at me, and smiled before fading away. Like the other person in this story, I wonder if she had heard everything I told her?

    So, there you have it. I have to add that it is excellent storytelling, Anne. You hooked me in straight away. It makes me wonder if you have encountered somebody will dementia?

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a sad, but loving story, Hugh. I have also learned that people can hear you even in nearly a vegetative state. It is the last sense people lose. I am sure that you did not say mean things to your mother, though. Vince’s mother had dementia as did my first husband’s mother. Mark’s mother had no one except me and the fifth wife of her brother-in-law to care for her after my husband died. Mark and I had tried to move her to our home in CA, but she resisted before he died. After he died a few months later, she didn’t even know who I was when I went to see her and settle her affairs legally so that she would be cared for. She asked me if I had lost my husband, but didn’t realize that he was her son. I called her a few times after I visited her, but because she didn’t know me anymore, it scared her. I was like a spammer, so I had to quit. I talked to my husband’s aunt who visited her at least weekly and did her hair and made sure she was well treated. She lived to be 90. I related to Anne’s story as well but hope I was never mean!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Hugh, and that sounds like a peaceful ending for you with your mother. Yes, I’ve know people with dementia in my work and personal life, although not anyone I’ve been very close to. That wasn’t actually in my mid as I was writing this story but I’m pleased that it can work for readers from that perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess different parts of life cross over each other sometimes, Anne. I couldn’t help but think about my mother as I read your story. It reminded me of what I thought she would have been going through, especially given what the medical staff told me about talking to her, even though the pain relief she was getting made her sleep.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello. I enjoyed Anne’s story here.
    I read a few comments and had to stop because it was changing my view and I want to leave my thoughts before I grow and expand them (so I stopped reading the rich comment threads here and will be back to finish) but as noted – Gary’s word of “intriguing” was my top word for the story.
    At times it was poetic, warm, chilling (even haunting), and let us feel the settings so vibrantly:
    Ie murmer of the machines and music of the underpaid staff.

    The clear sections and the vague parts of this well-crafted story allowed me to come in and out of personal connecting.
    I say this because after having my late father n law beat us for his last few years – some of the scenes really hit home (kind of like when we rewatched Breaking Bad after being with my father n law – tje hubs and I both related to the nursing home scenes and the brief mention of thhe way the resident was complaining about sweet n low packets being taken).

    The social connections and generational connections had me then ponder my own life phases and then back to staying with this story that never bored!

    Two side notes
    At one point I did sense mental illness and after the story when i read the author had a background with a psych center – I think that rich experience trickled in here.
    And – I know some folks do not want any photos or questions before a story (as they can be subtle spoilers) but I always get more from those startling bits (and sometimes with a movie, I like to see the summary and usually get more from it if I have an overview). And so Marsha, your questions were so helpful for me personally.
    And Anne, really enjoyed this story (10 out of 10) but felt it al flowed horizontally and never quite felt the verticals.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The Professor said that readers become better when the professor points them in the right direction. Then they begin to see things they might not already have noticed. (Mushroom hunting with his dad.) Prequestioning is a great technique for learning rather than being a spoiler. Granted our readers are adults and most of them writers, but my aim is to enrich the conversations between them, and the conversations are super RICH! Your comments are incredible. The nursing home comments hit home. My great-grandma complained that the nurses were kissing her husband, my step-great grandpa, who wore diapers at that point in their lives. We laughed so hard.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well questions have much value but can be spoilers (for the purists or those who want zero priming) but I agree with the professor (is that Vince?) and all that you said!
        And thanks for the laugh with the suspicions of kissing her husband (oh so funny) and one of FIL’s complaints was that one of the staff was taking coins from his coin bottle holder (most were pennies). He could have been correct….
        And parts of this story were so memorable –
        Like that sentence “She.” Came to
        Mind when I was putting in some flowers today (some Snapdragons and lantana) and so that says more about the story
        – when you Churn it about!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Anne – my comment about the horizontal and across didn’t mean it was flat or even on the same plane – because it didn’t feel that way at all. There were many variations in this across and timeline-over kind of feel.
        This is a cheesy analogy but in the movie Stuart Little – the time the mouse is getting a new wardrobe has a fun scene where they say “there are many moods to Ben” (something like that) and that is how I felt here — many moods and stages – inner dialogue and comments on setting etc
        And so the horizontal note was just cos it felt so in contrast to vertical in the title (but I read Gloria’s comment and she seemed to connect with the title in a free way) and I guess as you mentioned somewhere here…. different readers will extract different things

        Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi Anne.

    Wow! What a strange story you’ve woven.

    I had to read it twice with a couple of day between to let my thoughts simmer some.

    You had me thinking all the way through, trying to orient who this protagonist is and who her pain-giver is.

    At different times I thought mother & daughter, daughter and mother, a woman and her mildly evil caregiver from a 3rd world country, all one person with a multiple personality disorder, one person with an injury so massive that she can’t communicate and only through the magic of story telling are we hearing her explanation of how things are.

    That last one gave me an idea that goes back to a basic rule of telling a story as a narrator versus telling it as first person. I think a narrator has a special right to do lots of things with a story but a narrator should never lie or state something wrong that could have been checked and verified unless the narrator is part of the story somehow. A protagonist telling the story is a whole different kind of thing. A protagonist is not expected to be omniscient and can make mistakes,even lie if it suited her.

    So – if this is a flawed protagonist telling the story – all her words could be suspect and this case, I have a problem. I have no point of reference from which to measure truth, no way to zero in on what is really happening. At some points the speaker sounds rational – but this changes a lot paragraph after paragraph.

    I’ll leave out the question for your response. Is this protagonist flawed and saying things that are wrong, mistaken or lies? How should I have determined what (within the world of the story) is real?

    It was interesting how you laid out this discourse, but I found it also frustrating because I couldn’t find solid ground to understand how this all came together leaving me to wonder if that’s part of the point – everything can’t come together because of something I missed or just did not catch.

    I found others comments helpful, but would like to have figured it out enough that I could build the scene in my mind. All I’ve got is the medical care facility that others mentioned.

    I’ll follow the discussion as I’d like to know what I should have caught.

    I think the word, “Intriguing” doesn’t go far enough. I was on the edge of lost in the poetry of how this protagonist unfolded her story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gary, I read this story so many times and fell in love with it. The first time I read it, I was sure SHE was the mother, then after reading comments, I wasn’t too sure that it wasn’t the daughter. I had not thought about HER being flawed in her narration, though. She very well could be – a touch of senility or brain illness. Have you read Still Alice? It’s a great book from the perspective of the patient with Alzheimer’s as she progresses through the illness. The author, who is a neurologist, did an incredible amount of research talking to people who actually had the disease to see things from their viewpoint. You can tell when her viewpoint becomes flawed. In this story, you are right, you can’t quite tell if she is flawed in any way. It would certainly explain the cruelty. Very interesting take on it.


      • Hi Marsha, I did read, Still Alice and found her perspective fascinating, knowing what she did about the brain as her was facing then her recovery when the very new treatment worked for her, what an amazing journey.
        Anne’s story was a challenge but a wonderful treatment if we have a sick narrator or something similar going on to explain these troubling narrative details- like listening to a loved one who is very confused about what’s happening to her, moments of understanding intermixed with confusion perhaps…
        I trust Anne will straighten me out.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I was fortunate enough to listen to the author at a Town Hall meting in Fresno. I was so taken with Anne’s story. With short stories, I think there is an expectation that all things are not going to be explained, and your brain gets to chew on them and we get so many different takes on the same story. To me, that was one of Anne’s strengths – that ability to write a story that could be interpreted in more than one way and still read the same way. Brilliant.


    • Thanks for reading and sharing your detailed reflections, Gary. I’m glad this story got under your skin but it sounds like not in a good way? I think as readers we need to feel a point of connection for the story to work for us, even if we don’t get the whole of it. And, because our minds all work differently, sometimes that connect doesn’t happen.

      Now I’m intrigued by your distinction between narrator and person telling the story as to me they’re the same thing in a first person narrative. I’d say the narrator shouldn’t lie to the reader but they can mislead through omissions and their personal biases. They can also communicate in a way that wouldn’t be possible in real life – for example, a piece of furniture could be a narrator, although none to my knowledge can actually talk or type.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Hi Anne, I wouldn’t characterize my reaction as “not good” but I was confused and a tad frustrated. But that’s just one reader and Marsha will tell you I tend to dig into her story chats and avail myself of the access to each author. I’m also look for things the may not work and thus use them as things to talk about, questions that deserve an answer and such.
        About my narrator distinction, maybe I should have clarified an omniscient narrator who’s not in the story as opposed to a first person narrator who is. The former should not lie or overtly mislead, but not telling the whole story early on is okay as part of building to big-reveals and surprises, but there is a point past honesty that this type of narrator should not go past. Readers should be able to trust them. Story characters can have all kinds of flaws and how they tell the story is different, more fun and challenging because they can be much more human, make mistakes and be dishonest (but I find even this hard to write or read).
        In this story, you gave lots of interesting clues to what was going on. I just failed to satisfy myself that I put it all together by the time I got to the end.
        I’ve left questions open in my stories but I’m not as familiar with leaving such big questions unanswered or so unclear. I’d love to hear you talk more about this because I doubt I could do it successfully.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Anne and Marsha. My thoughts as I read this rather absorbing story;

    The protagonist is perhaps a victim of a stroke or an accident that has left her unable to communicate. Is she in a vegetative state? Maybe an illness?
    It seems like she’s been this way for a long time. She compares the daisy to the friends and family that used to support and love her, but now they don’t. ‘Loved me once, loves me no more.’ If she’s an elderly person maybe these loved ones have passed away or are themselves ailing.
    But who is She? Daughter, sister, mother? Only when I got near the end of the story did I decide that She is the mother. (Once they shared a body…this she seems certain of. A daughter visiting an ailing mother is how it usually is, a natural occurrence in the stages of life—but that’s not how it is.)
    The only person who continues to visit her—in what seems to be a care home—is her mother. Which of them is bitter about the situation? Both of them?
    “The power of verticality” the daughter thinks. Mother unintentionally carries with her elements of the outside world, a reminder of what she’s no longer a part of.
    Mother keeps her daughter up to date on current affairs. She tortures her by not revealing the conclusions to the stories she tells. Purposely?
    I think yes, the mother is being mean. She brings the old thermos to remind her daughter of what life used to be like. (Sometimes that can help with certain patients but I don’t think it does in this case) Why read about make-up and relationships when it’s no longer relevant to someone who can’t leave their bed? Then again, does the mother have high hopes for her daughter’s recovery and feels this would encourage her to get well?
    Sometimes I’m thinking that the daughter imagines the cruelty because of bitterness and anger, but when she mentioned that She digs her nails into her thighs and whispers obscenities, it makes me believe that yes, the mother is cruel. Surely, this isn’t the mother’s way of attempting to bring her daughter back to what she once was? ‘Cruel to be kind.’
    But what reason would she have to be cruel to her sick daughter? Nothing is revealed as to why they would have a past that would cause one to be cruel to the other. I’m as confused as the woman in the bed!
    Whoever she is, she’s in a sad place emotionally as well as physically. This is a sad story and makes me very grateful to have my health.
    Great story Anne and very thought provoking. I like the mystery of it and trying to work out the answers. Even if there are no definite answers!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The story is a mystery, almost poetically framed.
    Mention of the ‘world outside’ is our first clue, described as a ‘vast beyondness’.
    Her visitor has the ‘power of verticality’ that provides our title, so must be significant.
    Is she a social worker or a relative? Maybe a daughter?
    Pouring her some tea ‘to be sociable’ doesn’t sound like a daughter. But ‘a rusty canister from summer picnics long ago’ speaks of history together. She’s ‘all I’ve got now’ sounds like a relation, or a former close friend.
    Staff suggest a care home or a hospice. ‘Hope peeled away … like dead skin’, along with her status reveal her feeling of worthlessness. She has nothing to give back. But, helpless, she is anyway unable to respond – not even to pinches and obscenities.
    Maternal love is cited, but even the protagonist isn’t sure which of them is the mother. Trapped inside her own head, is she the daughter trapped in a coma? (a disappointment to her mother due to drugs or other failures) or – more likely, I think – a mother floundering in the fog of Alzheimers?
    Information is gradually released in a masterful way, but still nothing is certain – as the protagonist is no longer certain of anything.
    Very well done!

    Liked by 3 people




Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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