Prompted: One Mother’s Fairy Tale…

This is my first try at Prompted, over on Tipsy Lit. Each week, a writing prompt is provided; readers are asked to write a story, based on that prompt and post it on their blog, Friday, with a link back to the other stories in the series that week. On Saturday, readers are asked to read each of the stories and vote for their favorite. In entering my story, I’m asking my readers to check out the other stories here at Tipsy Lit, and vote for the story they like best on Saturday. I’d love to see my story “win,” but having read the stories over a couple of weeks, I know that the competition is challenging. I hope you’ll read my work, then come back Saturday to vote. The story with the most votes will be published in Tipsy Lit on Sunday.

This week the writing prompt is: “View From the Fishbowl.”  Describe a scene through two very different viewpoints.

Please check out the other stories here, and then vote on Saturday!  Thanks   Here’s my entry:

One Mother’s Fairy Tale

“The kids and I were left with nothing after my first husband, Lane died.”

Lilian shifts in her chair, unable to look me in the eye. She twists a rose-colored scarf around her fingers, cutting off her circulation. I watch her fingers turn purple, as she pauses and then looks out the window.  Her vice sounds smaller as she remembers her children’s father.

“He was the love of my life; he really was. We were so happy. He was a wonderful father; my first love; my first lover. We were kids when I got pregnant with Annie– romantics. We thought it would all just work out; so we got married.”

She finally looks at me, and I set my pen down for a moment, waiting for her to get to the point. Lilian’s nervous, so I smile and nod, urging her with silent compassion to continue. She does.

“It never went to college. Once Lane got a good job, we both agreed that I could stay home and raise our kids. We had Ian then too.  I thought I knew how it would all go…”  As she pauses again; tears fill her eyes.

She turns away self-consciously, and wipes them on her sleeve.  I want to touch her, reassure her, but I don’t.

“We were young and stupid; we didn’t plan for anything. When he got sick we didn’t worry about insurance or medical costs. All I cared about was him…  getting better. Our kids were so little, I was sure it would all work out–”

I write a few notes and watch her stumble again.

“Lilian, I need you to–” My voice is reassuring, but firm.

“I know what you need. It’s just important that you understand that I was desperate. The kids and I had nothing after Lane died. I lost the house; I had no job, and no education.  It was food stamps, a shelter for a while. I left the kids with Mrs. Brown, a woman I met at the shelter. When I found a job, and got a small, crappy apartment, she agreed to keep helping me, for much less than day care would be.

“We never would have made it without Glen.  He came along and made everything seem so… possible… again.”

This time, when she looks off, her expression is different. I struggle to read it but can’t.

“He was different than Lane– in every way. He was successful, and took charge. He was so good to me, and he stepped right in with the kids, helping enroll them in the best schools, buying the kind of house I never dreamed of living in, in a neighborhood that Lane and I could never have afforded. He helped with homework, he planned family vacations– the kids had never been anywhere; he took us to Disney World, that first year we were a family. Lane was a great dad, but we were always struggling. Glen was a totally different. Everything was easier.”

Now she looks at me, really looks at me, and I can see she loves him. I admit it; I am shocked, though I’ve heard this before.

“I understand.” I don’t.  “He made life easier?”

“He didn’t just make life easier. It’s not just about money.” Her eyes are moist, but I can see the defiance in them.  “He loved me. It felt good to be loved again, after losing… everything. We had nothing, and Glen brought happiness, and security, and love back into our lives.

“He was so tender with the kids. He went to all of Ian’s games; he coached his pee-wee team.”

She is wringing the scarf again and I continue to write notes, trying not to focus on her hands, or the scarf.

“Ian loved it. Lane was always working… and then he was sick. It’s sad, but Ian doesn’t really remember much about his dad. When Lane was sick, Ian was only four. Glen’s been his dad for longer than Lane was. They adore each other.”

“And what about Annie?” I push on.

“Annie loved him too. She really did.” She’s not looking at me again, and I remain quiet, just taking notes.
“He bought her flowers, the first time he came to dinner. Pink baby roses. She was so excited; she felt so special. He came to her recitals and volunteered to do a presentation in her class for career day. To be honest, I was jealous sometimes. He spent so much time with the kids.”

She turns and glances my way, but doesn’t make eye contact.

“I know that sounds terrible, a mother jealous of her children. But it was different than it had been with Lane.  I had Glen first; I was his focus– the person he adored. But once we were married, he threw himself into being the best father he could be. He always wanted kids, and Annie and Ian were so happy to have a dad again, to not be in that apartment, to have me home again. We were all happy.”

“Were you?” I ask this gently. It’s not meant to be an accusation, just a question. But I can see she’s taken it the other way.

“Yes! Yes, we really were happy. Annie especially.  She loved being the center of attention. Glen made her feel like a princess. It wasn’t just the flowers; it was all the special things he did to help her not miss her dad so much. Right after we got married, he had a special picture of Annie and Lane framed, and when he gave it to her– wrapped with a beautiful bow and rich velvety paper, he told her: ‘I will never replace your daddy. He loved you so much.  But I will be the best step-dad you could ever want; I love you too. We will both look out for you. He will watch you from heaven, and I will take care of you from here.’”

Lilian is crying now and I slide a box of tissues toward her, without saying anything. I am surprised by my own emotions, so different than Lilians.

“Glen was a wonderful father, and we were all so grateful that he had come.  Ian loved the attention, but Annie came to life. She blossomed, after being so withdrawn for so long, after Lane died. She waited for Glen to come home each night, drawing him pictures to take to work, and cuddling with him before she went to bed. He read The Secret Garden with her; she asked him to come read to her every night! When they finished one book, there was always another one she had waiting on her night stand.”

Now she’s crying. Her hand is shaking and while I want to reassure her, I don’t.

“She was always asking him to read.  I was so jealous of the time he spent in there with her, the drives to the library, or the walks they took… because, he said, she felt sad, and walking in the Preserve was something special they did… Annie loved it.”

I click my pen, and find myself trying not to look at her. I hate this woman, for a moment, even as she sits crying before me, her shaking hands wringing her shitty scarf.

“You were jealous of her? But you didn’t wonder about all that time they spent together? Did Annie tell you that she loved the time they spent together?” I know my voice has become hard; I can’t control it. I want to shake her, and ask her the tougher questions, but before I can say anything she turns on me, instead.’

“What would you have done? Would you have really thought anything but what I thought? Would you!”  Her voice is rapid fire, and spit flies from her lips as she clenches the scarf.

“Annie liked it! She loved Glen. She loved being his special girl. What do you think you would have done differently? He took care of us, and made our lives beautiful again– What do you know about any of this!”

I am too angry to speak, so I wait. I write her final words down on my report and try to breath evenly. When my pulse has slowed a little, I set my pen down and look her in the eye. This time she doesn’t look away, but I can see that her defiance is withering.

“I would have wondered why my husband took so much interest in my daughter. I would have wondered why my daughter stopped wanting to go to dance class, or refused to play with her friends.”

Lilian winces as I begin to state everything she has left out of her story.

“I would have asked more questions and listened a little closer when my nine year old daughter refused to sleep with the light out, and cried each time she went to the bathroom.”

Now this woman, who has been telling me her own version of a fairy tale that we both know is poison, begins to cry harder; she turns away from me.

“Stop.” She whimpers.

But I’m angry now. I hate fairy tales. As a social worker I have heard too many God damned fairy tales, and watched too many children pay the price for the stories adults choose to believe.

“I’ll tell you something Lilian, I would have listened to my little girl when she tried to tell me that her new dad was hurting her. I would not have let him tell me that she liked their time alone, or that he was helping her get past her grief, when my own daughter told me something else. I would have believed my daughter, and I would have protected her.  I would have left that ‘beautiful life’, in a heart beat. That’s what I would have done!”

I’m sick. I know Annie is in the hospital, safe from this monster who has molested her and stolen her sense of safety and love.  But I also know that things have just begun to be a new kind of hard for her. Listening to her mother, Lilian’s story, it is clear that this little girl will have to be very brave, to stand up to the fairy tales that grown ups in her life have used to deny her truth. She will have to live with foster parents while she does this, until I can work out arrangements for her paternal grandparents to take her in. Her brother Ian will suffer too, and I know that Annie has probably already heard that all of this is her fault. I am sick, imagining all that this girl has been through, and will now go through. But as I pass the report to her mother and ask her to sign it, I also know that she and I do not believe the same fairy tales.

By Dawn Quyle Landau at Tales From the Motherland

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Courage, Death of parent, Life, Mothers, Tales From the Motherland, Writing, Writing challenge and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

101 Responses to Prompted: One Mother’s Fairy Tale…

  1. Ericka Clay says:

    Glad you’re joining us this week! 🙂


  2. You’re making all this fiction writing sound so natural, I’m almost tempted to try these prompts myself.


  3. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Great story, Dawn. The two perspectives are presented well here. Your pacing and dialogue feel authentic and you brought the story to a believable completion through the voice of your narrator. Well done!


    • Thanks Cathy. It was a fun challenge I think I could have gone a lot longer with the story, but then no one would read it! It was a challenge to keep it short and still bring the story full circle. I really appreciate your honest feedback. Thanks!


  4. Honie Briggs says:

    Gripping. Real. I thought for sure she had murdered this monster, but she was protecting him. Happens all the time. What a shame. Nice work with the prompt.


  5. zeudytigre says:

    This was hard to read as I just knew it was going to have a painful end. So well written though, you drew me in and I had to keep going. I cared. Well done.


  6. The Good News says:

    You built up great tension with your fairy tale. I didn’t have any sympathy for the mother, either. Your characters are vivid and engaging.


  7. WendyStrain says:

    Very glad you joined us this week. This is such a powerful story. I really like the way you incorporated the two different viewpoints in the scene.


  8. Fantastic job of building the tension here. I thought I could do bleak, but this is a doozie of bleak. Well done. And an interesting take on the Prompt.


  9. My Muted Voice says:

    As a social worker, I have definitely lived that situation before. It’s brutal, although I didn’t speak up the way your character did, the way I also would’ve wanted to! From that view point, I was cheering on! From a personal view point, this hit very close to home and was hard to read, but engaging none the less. I really liked it and love how you chose to utilize the prompt.


  10. Pingback: Polling Prompted: View from the Fishbowl | Tipsy Lit

  11. unfetteredbs says:

    So good. I’m filled with disgust for your character.. Very well written.


  12. Carrie Rubin says:

    My vote is cast. Good luck!


  13. The Waiting says:

    Oh man, Dawn, GAME ON. This was fantastic. Your dialogue is so vivid, and the tension you spin up is deliciously painful. I’m rooting for you ;D


  14. Jennie Saia says:

    Oh, that was fantastic. Usually, I can’t get through stories with this subject matter, Bu you timed it all so deftly, and gave us the narrator’s rage exactly when we were starting to feel it ourselves… really sparkling work about something so hard to do well!


  15. Mike Lince says:

    Your story started out as a hard case. I began to feel relief for Lilian, like her life was going to turn out okay. Then the sense of foreboding kicked, thanks to the twisted scarf between her fingers. My woe was realized when the truth began to be revealed in the story and I began to feel ill for both Lilian and Annie.
    Yours was the story that touched me most, so I voted for you. You earned it without preference points. – Mike


    • Thanks Mike! I love that it was an honest vote. It’s not looking like I can beat Duncan, but I’m happy to have the votes I have and I feel good about the story. Your feedback gives me a really good sense of what works and what I might work on. Thanks for your support! xo


  16. Holy moly, Dawn. That was intense. Voted!


  17. Jim Devine says:

    Wow, Dawn. Very powerful.


  18. Great story, Dawn. Well executed. It’s so sad and realistic. Best of luck with the contest!


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  20. Pingback: One Mother’s Fairy Tale | Tipsy Lit

  21. LOVE it!!! But doh! I missed the vote! Looks like you did okay without me though 🙂



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