The first storm of the summer rolled in as Karen walked home from her day job, waiting tables at the corner bar for two bucks an hour plus tips. From her right hand dangled a plastic grocery bag containing a jar of peanut butter, a partially smashed loaf of bread, two packs of smokes, and a pint of Jack Daniels. She was still two blocks from her door when the rain started in earnest.

With her dress clinging to her wet skin like an unwanted lover, she splashed down the sidewalk. She jammed the key into the lock and stepped into the tiny apartment where she lived alone, with her son. The smell of stale cigarettes and tired dust greeted her at the door. Slipping off her shoes, she kicked them across the kitchen and proceeded to pour two fingers of Jack into a dirty glass. She stared out the window at the rain slanting across the parking lot, and poured two more.

As the storm thundered outside, she strode down the short hallway to her son’s room, ignoring the fist-sized holes in the plaster and the family portrait-shaped squares of faded paint on the wall. She pushed open the door without knocking. “Turn off the fucking video game and make us some dinner, would you?”

Shaun switched off the set and looked up at her hopefully. “Hi, Mom. How was your day? Do you have to work tonight?”

So much like his father, she thought. Right down to the cowlick and the eager fawning look in his eyes. “Just get out there,” she said, and went to her room to change.

From the pocket of her waitress uniform she extracted a soggy ten, two fives, and four ones, tossing them on the bed; it was all she had left after the groceries. Dripping rainwater on her way to the closet, she undressed to her slip and stood on tip-toes to reach behind a teetering pile of phone books, dusty holiday decorations and last year’s People Magazines until her ragged bitten fingernails touched the cold metal shape hidden in back.

It stood ten inches tall, tarnished gold, and near the base was an engraving which once read “Margaret, Loving Mother” until the night Karen scratched it away with a nail file and consecrated its ashy contents to the Minneapolis septic system. On the bed, she clasped the vase between her thighs, shivering at the cold feel of it, and thought of Dave.

They let me out in August, he’d told her. I’m going back to Memphis. If you want to come, fine, but leave your kid at home. Send him back to his father, send him to the moon, I don’t care, but come alone and don’t come penniless. I’m not going to be your moneyman.

She smoothed out the damp bills and estimated that, with what was inside, it would be three months more until she had enough to go. It would be a fresh start: the new beginning she’d needed for years. Shaun would be fine with his loser father; in fact, they’d be like two peas in a pod. With that thought in mind, she removed the lid of the urn… and screamed.

As the storm intensified outside and the lights of the apartment flickered overhead, she stumbled out to the kitchen where Shaun stood preparing sandwiches. Her breasts were dark shapes visible through the damp clinging fabric of her slip; he averted his eyes as she held the urn out before her like some terrible offering. “Where is it?” Her voice cracked, thundered, “You little bastard, where is my money?”

He hung his head, saying nothing; he was afraid to look at her, and his reticence only infuriated her more. Without warning she flung the urn across the room, catching him squarely in the forehead and dropping him to the ground. It bounced away with a hollow gong and rolled across the floor to fetch against the coffee table. In a weird stork-like gait, she strode across the chipped linoleum and kicked him once, then leaned over and began to scream incoherently at this boy who reminded her so much of his father.

With his head pounding and the whiskey reek filling his nostrils, he stared up past the tapering white towers of her legs into her dark wrath. He moaned and tried to roll away, but she hit him repeatedly, her doubled fists clubbing his gashed forehead; blood spattered onto the cheap laminate cabinets. “Mom, stop it, please. No Mom,” he cried, his voice dissolving into hitching gasps as her stormy rage went unchecked.

Finally her fury subsided; he was left with the sound of her sobbing next to him. “What have you done? How will I get to him now?” she wept, clinging to her son. Shaun pushed her away and climbed to his feet, then pulled from his pocket the necklace he’d bought that afternoon with the urn money. “Happy Birthday, Mom.” Tears streaming down his bloody cheeks, he placed it clumsily over her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know any other way to keep you from leaving.” With the sound of his mother’s sobs trailing behind him, Shaun walked slowly back to his room and closed the door.

Kip is chronicling the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King at He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Sheila Cornelius


  • Oonah V Joslin

    I’m a wreck, Kip. Reads like I saw the film.

  • fishlovesca

    Brilliant writing. I hated the mother, I loved the boy. Actually I wanted to kill the mother and adopt the boy. Did I say brilliant writing?

    Five stars.

  • Excellent title.

  • Immersive and compelling, although maybe a little melodramatic.

    Tightly constructed, the writing flows very well, although there are a few points where the PoV blurs — the story is primarily told from the mother’s inner perspective, but there are some lines which are written from the son’s PoV (“Her breasts were dark shapes visible through the damp clinging fabric; he averted his eyes…”, “He was afraid to look at her”, “With his head pounding and the whiskey reek filling his nostrils…”). It’s primarily a taste thing as opposed to ‘right or wrong’ — I generally prefer staying within one character for at least the duration of a scene rather then utilizing an omniscient PoV.

    I like how the use of Margaret’s urn helps illustrate some of the complexity of Karen, but for the most part, she is a very hard character to sympathize with, which makes the story a challenge for the reader. Yet I stayed gripped throughout the story, and ended with a strong emotional reaction — a very positive thing for any story.

    Also, I liked how the rain and storm intensifying outside is echoed by the mood and building rage within the mother — It’s a nice touch, although it might be considered cliché.

    Overall, I found this a strong effort. Thank you very much for sharing, Kip.

  • ajcap

    It’s this kind of writing that makes me want to burn my notebooks and chuck the ashes in an urn.

    Not overly sentimental, just enough to rip your heart open.

    Five stars.

  • They’re both evil, but the boy more fundamentally so. The mother is prey to her weaknesses, and acts out her rage, but the boy is morally empty and unaware of the complete violation and vacuousness of what he supposes were actions in furtherance of good intentions: buying his mother a present at her own expense and to cripple her own purposes is no good deed.

  • Marion Clarke

    That really packs a bloodied punch. Very strong writing. She really is a despicable character but she is driven by love for a man who obviously is not a very savoury character either. The son has spent the money in order to keep her, and we wonder why he has done this, as she has obviously never shown him any love, but it is a case of history repeating itself. Some people are destined to keep coming back for more…even if it hurts them.

  • This story is excellent. As soon as I submit this comment I’m going to give the story five stars. The one thing that nagged at me as soon as I knew the mother wanted to join her lover was, why had she not already sent the boy to his father? What was she waiting for? She was going to do it anyway and if he was with his father now she could save more money faster. It made me feel that the writer kept him there as a story structure device.

  • I would give ya five stars but I can’t (on my iPhone).

    Well done.

  • fishlovesca

    @7, I think that comment shows, on one level, a complete lack of understanding of the internal dynamics of abuse, on another level, of good and evil, and for our purposes, a fundamental misreading of this story. The story immediately recalls the O. Henry classic, Gifts of the Magi, and asks the same question: What is it that we think we are buying with our money?

    The mother thinks she is buying her freedom. The son thinks he is buying her love, or at least delaying her escape from the house. Like all children, the things that happen to him are largely out of his control, and whether he likes it or not, the situation he is in now is terrible, but ending up with his father may be even worse. He is desperate, and willing to try to force her to give up on her scheme, even at the cost of opening himself up to her anger and abuse. In essence, he may be saving her from a big mistake, from herself, by trying to save himself. His gift, the gift of sacrificial love, truly can not be bought; there is no greater gift.

    Whatever the flaws in the story, the core of the tale is incredibly fine and worthy of five stars, IMHO.

  • fishlovesca

    Oops, how did that “s” get in there? Gift of the Magi, not Gifts. Sorry bout that.

  • ajcap

    #9, Guy; my take on this is that Mom would have to get out of town fast once she dropped the boy off at Dad’s, or else Dad would just drop the boy back off at Mom’s.

    Thus, she needed the money first.

  • Nina

    Difficult subject matter. Well done.

  • JenM

    Poor Shaun, Karen’s a lousy parent. I really like tihs peice though, it really captures their daily lives. The tunderstorm really adds to the atomosphere.

  • @fishlovesca (#11):

    Great comment!! Well-thought out, articluate, insightful, and positively-expressed. It really adds to the discussion and gives some excellent points to consider.

    This kind of discussion is what makes EDF such a great site, IMO. The quality of fiction here is very good, but I especially enjoy the comments, too. I love seeing the differing points of view and tastes and truly welcome the positive exchange of ideas.

  • @fishlovesca (#11), continued:

    …well, at least after the first sentence. That opening sentence was a little harsh…

  • Simone

    The rich detail brings this story alive: jammed the key into the lock; The smell of stale cigarettes and tired dust; fist-sized holes in the plaster and the family portrait-shaped squares of faded paint on the wall; Dripping rainwater on her way to the closet; behind a teetering pile of phone books, dusty holiday decorations and last year’s People Magazines; It bounced away with a hollow gong; she strode across the chipped linoleum; and, blood spattered onto the cheap laminate cabinets.

    Karen’s contempt for her son is palpable here: So much like his father, she thought. Right down to the cowlick and the eager fawning look in his eyes.

    Excellent writing!

    The one thing that seemed odd to me was: she lived alone, with her son. If she lives with her son, she doesn’t really live alone.

    The one nit I have (and it’s completely my peeve) is the use of “storm thundered outside” and “storm intensified outside” – you can ditch the outsides and readers will still know that’s where the storm is happening.

    Overall, an intense, touching story that made my mascara run. Happy now?

  • I guess I’ll be the wet blanket on this one. Way, way too melodramatic for me, felt like a soap opera, and I found the writing just okay. But, hey, that’s just me. As the song says, “You can’t please everyone….” But, everyone has an opinion.

  • Bob

    Highly sentimental, over-the-top, unbelievable tearjerker.

  • I found the writing and characterization rock-solid, but couldn’t get beyond three stars.

    Like Seattle Jim I chalk it up to melodrama. Than again I’m sure scenes like this play out every day in homes all over the world… which is the really long way of saying I just didn’t connect with this one personally.

  • I liked the story. The Mom was a difficult character and I really felt that she was very hard to like. I felt more sympathy for the kid. The writing was great. There were a few word choices that were a little jarring. Overall, a fabulous story. Moody and authentic.

  • Guinevere

    A little more restraint, a little less melodrama, and this story would have been much more effective for me. As it is, I didn’t believe the characterization – the unredeemingly evil mother with her smokes and Jim Bean, and the son who worships her anyway? I like the concept, but a little more nuance would have elevated this story to something that conveyed genuine emotion to me.

  • The writing was very high quality, but… I’ve heard the story in many variations before, not just the O’Henry story, but in other variations where the kid buys the abusive parent a present. It also felt a little too over the top portraying Mommie Waitress Dearest as the embodiment of all evil.

  • Jackie McMurray

    Kip – I liked the idea of the story. I work with children and it is true that regardless of being beaten senseless, most children want to stay with the parent they know best. The description of feeling the vase makes it sound like a gun so that added some tension. You used the word strode two times and both times I had to reread the sentences. Just a word choice issue for me.

  • Kip

    Thanks for all the feedback, good and bad. I appreciate it.

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  • With more subtlety, finesse and more character development, this could be a winner. As it is it is way too “in-your-face.”