ECHO • by AJ Smith

When I finally went to see my mom in the hospital, I was shocked at her emaciated state. She’d spent her whole life dieting and now she couldn’t keep the weight on. I could count Ma’s bones right through the thin hospital gown. God, it was hard to look at her.

She never asked why it took so long to get around to visiting. We both knew she was a poor attempt at a mother.

“Do you have cable in here?” I asked.

“Yeah. Lotsa channels, but nothin’ decent to watch. So much reality T.V. these days — Survivor, The Biggest Loser, Fear Factor. How many of these shows can a person watch? I prefer radio. Always somethin’ good on NPR.”

After we exhausted all useless chitchat, painful silence filled the room. Were there really any words left? I’d begged her so many times to leave that man.  She had an excuse for each one of his ‘incidences’.  Where was he now, as she lay withering with no hair?

I kept my head down unable to look anymore at her wasted body. I was grateful when the nurse came in and broke the uncomfortable quiet. “Ruby, you okay? You havin’ any pain?”

“No. I’m all right.”

“Your mother’s tough as nails. You know that?”

I lifted my head. My eyes found the nurse’s. There it was; that look of utter horror and disgust at my burned, scarred face. I saw her eyes try to look beyond mine.

“Sorry,” echoed in the tiny room.

AJ Smith writes poetry and short stories. She is hard at work on her first novel.

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Every Day Fiction

  • This story has more questions than answers – even if you read between the lines.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Seems like they both had enough reality to last a lifetime. Nice writing Amy.

  • I have to say that this story is no story at all. No stars.

  • Angela

    Clever & intense. I liked it, but did have to reread to get the twist…chilling!!!

  • I wasn’t sure/couldn’t believe what I read the first time, so I read it again. The second reading reaffirmed the horror of the first read. Hugely impactful in just a few short words; fabulous. Five stars.

  • Jen

    Wow, what a sad but good story. Makes you wonder if Ruby was burned by the man her mum was married too.

  • Re Jen’s comment #6: from what I gathered, Ruby is the mother’s name (and appears to be terminally ill in hospital) and it’s the narrator who got burned by the father.

  • Three stars……and I’m not sure,
    that may be too many??
    Questions , questions
    No answers…….
    Whatever happened to…
    What, where, when, How and to Who
    Clarity !!!!! Not here !!!

  • Jen

    Ah sorry, I meant the daughter but the name thing confused me.

  • Fairchild

    That last line was a gut-punch, for me. This story was quite evocative and effective, and I didn’t have any questions, because, sadly, this is a story society knows well.

  • Bob

    Just doesn’t hang together well enough to qualify as a good story. The reader shouldn’t have to read through twice to “get” it; they should want to read through twice to savor it.

  • ajcap

    I agree with Bob. ‘Echo’ is almost good, but not quite. The ending needed more build-up and I needed to feel something more for the narrator and her mother. I think more fleshing out of the characters would be beneficial. A little more of everything.

  • AJ Smith

    Thanks for the read and comments, everyone! I appreciate all of it.

  • This is like the perfect story for me. One that you have to read twice to make sure you read it right, has a twisted ending, and leaves you wondering. It’s like life in general. Sometimes there is more questions than answers. Great piece.

  • I thought this was good: I gave it 4. I do understand the “not a story” concerns mentioned above, and while there are a lot of unanswered questions, I think there’s just enough for it to be a story. Probably.

  • So I think what I am reading here is that both the mother and the daughter have been abused by their partners and one’s folly (presumably the daughter’s), echoes the other’s … but I am not entirely sure whether the daughter has been abused by her stepfather(s) or her mother’s boyfriend or by her own partner, and that answer makes a big difference.

  • Wow, Shelle’s comment just threw me, with the use of “her”. The story doesn’t reaveal the gender of the first-person character. For some reason, it never occured to me that the character was female, but clearly Shelle assumes that “she” is.

    I’d like to preempt any argument that because the author is female, the first-person character must therefore be assumed to be female. You should be able to get everything you need out of the story from the story; the author’s gender (or age, or race, or location) is external to that.

  • When a writer withholds important information from the reader until the very end of the story, that writer risk the reader feeling that he or she has been tricked. This explains in part why some of the commentators felt the story was not all it could have been. The concerns of these commentators are my concerns, too. I would not have published this story in my magazine. Hopefully, the writer will take this critique to heart because there is talent here. It needs to be nutured.

  • AJ Smith

    Thanks again, everyone.

    Guy, I had to chuckle at your typo at the end. It seemed to be a nice cross between nurtured and neutered.

  • It’s good to see you have a sense of humor. We writers can be so boringly serious at times.

  • Those last lines resound. I wish there had been a stronger clue early in the story so that I felt I could have figured it out if I’d only been clever enough, but the only clue is that the narrator keeps his/her head down as the nurse enters. That comes too late for me. Thus I end up feeling cheated at the end, even though I have SO much admiration for the ending itself. Such a strong observation of action/reaction and delicious irony that Ruby is perceived as tough as nails when she’s the one (I presume) who let this happen out of weakness. It’s the “I presume” that’s causing me problems.

  • Found it complete and haunting.