SAMSARA • by Paul Friesen

Outside the rain fell hard. A pair of headlights cut through the downpour as a car approached the foster home. A moment later the lights extinguished and a woman emerged. The bell rang and heavy footsteps moved to the door.

“Ms. Engel, please, come in.”

“Where is she?” Ms. Engel asked as she stepped inside.

“She’s fine, she’s fine. I’m Ms. Green. I run this household. Fiona enjoys the little nook we have by the kitchen window — spends hours every day there since she arrived three weeks ago.”

“Sorry, I got here as fast as I could — when I heard the news.”

“Oh, she’s been no trouble at all. Anyway I’m sure you’re tired from the drive. I’ll get you some coffee.”

“I was hoping we could get on the road as soon as possible.”

“I understand, Ms. Engel, but you can’t just grab Fiona and go.”

“I thought this was only a short-term facility?”

“It is,” Ms. Green lowered her voice, “but Fiona’s had quite a shock for a thirteen-year-old, and there is paper work to cover.”

Ms. Engel nodded and followed Ms. Green into the kitchen.

“Fiona, honey,” Ms. Green said, “could you come here for a minute. I’d like to introduce you to someone.”

“She knows who I am,” Ms. Engel said.

Fiona got up from her spot by the window and shuffled over to the two women.

“At least she…” Ms. Engel uttered. “She’s grown so much.”

“Sweetie, do you know Ms. Engel?”

Fiona shrugged her shoulders.

“I’m your Aunt,” Ms. Engel said, “Aunt May.”

“Yes, and your aunt would like you to come live with her in Winnipeg. Like we talked about — remember? It’s far from Calgary.”

Fiona shrugged again.

Aunt May crouched to make her height the same as Fiona’s. “Look, I don’t know how to… How ‘bout, can I give you a hug?”

Fiona’s arms hung at her sides — not a ‘yes’, but not a ‘no’ either. Aunt May threw her arms around her niece and squeezed.

***

The drive from Calgary to Winnipeg was long, too long for one night. Fiona and Aunt May stayed in a motel on the outskirts of Saskatoon. Now the morning arrived. The gray clouds continued to dominate the sky as they headed back on the highway, but at least the rain had stopped. Fiona leaned her head on the window and gazed as the fields of wheat flew by.

“Fiona,” Aunt May said, “do you want a juice box?”

“…”

Aunt May handed Fiona the juice box, which Fiona took without turning.

“I got them for you. You won’t mind if I have one too?”

“…”

“Apple and kiwi. I didn’t know what kind you like.”

“… Grape,” Fiona said.

“Grape, yes, well, I’ll make sure we fill the apartment with grape juice.”

“Dad didn’t allow grape juice at home.”

“No?”

“He said grapes were made for wine, and not to be had on a daily basis.”

“I see… Look, Fiona — I know what it must’ve been like.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. I remember all of it: Nostradamus, Revelations, ancient Aztec calendars. I didn’t want to hear about the end times anymore.”

“Exactly. I haven’t seen you since I was six.”

“You’re right, but I can imagine.”

“Can you imagine three a.m. bomb shelter drills?”

“He built a bomb shelter?”

“Yup. What we’d do in there if the entire world around us was dead, I don’t know. I got bored just doing our camp-outs.”

“I guess he wanted to prepare.”

“Prepare,” Fiona echoed. “And if a meteor hits the earth, or the sun goes nova, what good is a crappy homemade bomb shelter anyway? Not to mention all my friends at school would laugh. They saw him buy hoards of toilet paper, carts full of canned spam. They’d say my Dad was planning to lock me away.”

“They don’t sound like true friends to me.”

“At least they weren’t crazy.”

“You shouldn’t call your Dad crazy. It couldn’t have been easy as a single parent.”

“He’d tell me this time he was sure Armageddon would be this date or that. I couldn’t sleep for weeks before — then nothing.”

“What was he so afraid for?”

“Ask him.”

“… You know I can’t do that.”

“Yeah,” Fiona turned back to the window, “I know.”

***

The clouds were just breaking as the car approached Winnipeg, and the city embraced the penetrating beams of sunlight. The car stopped at the Forks — the main pedestrian hub where the two rivers that run through Winnipeg meet. It was a good place to go for a walk and stretch after such a long drive.

“So,” Aunt May asked, “do you do any sports?”

“Not really.”

“Okay, umm…”

“But I love track and field.”

“Track and field, that’s sports.”

“I don’t consider it sports.”

“What’s your event?”

“High jump.”

“High jump! I can see that. You’ve got long legs.”

“Grasshopper legs.”

“You’ll drive boys crazy one day.”

Fiona blushed and turned away. The two of them walked along the river in silence for a minute. Then Fiona stopped and turned back to her Aunt.

“Dad wasn’t really afraid of that,” Fiona said.

“Afraid of what?”

“Armageddon.”

“… No?”

“He wanted it to happen.”

“Well I wouldn’t say…”

“He did. Otherwise — he’d still be here, instead of swallowing all those pills. He saved some for me too, you know. He couldn’t even wait to see that he was wrong about the end — again.”

“Fiona,” Aunt May hesitated, “your Dad…”

“He thought it would be so spectacular to go out in a big bang like that, and believed that life couldn’t possibly go on once he’s gone.”

Fiona turned toward the river. Then Aunt May pulled Fiona to face her.

“Life will go on,” Aunt May said. “You have to believe that, Fiona.”

Fiona began to cry, burying her face in her Aunt’s chest.

“I know,” she said.

The sobs quickened, until Fiona’s whole body shook. Aunt May grabbed Fiona’s hand.

Fiona squeezed back — hard.


Writing is Paul Friesen‘s passion, and nothing feels better than having one of his stories read. He says: “I thank all those who have found my small smatterings of prose here on the net.”


Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • An interesting, well written and touching story. Thank you!

  • Arthur. K.

    One of the best stories I’ve read on EDF so far.

  • a convincing story of how one resolves to face the future with the lessons of the past.

    well done

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Very interesting, and it rang emotionally true – nice work, Paul!

  • I think this story deserves more than the 3+ stars it’s showing right now. There may be a few POV issues perhaps, particularly at the beginning, but the child’s character development and the child/aunt relationship build convincingly, and that’s difficult to achieve IMO.

  • Talia

    Sometimes instead of harping on the little things, you have to concentrate on the content and creativity of the story- and this story made me choke up. Very emotional…

  • Joanne

    In a small space, Fiona went from a complete puzzle to an absolutely real character. My heart aches for her. Very nicely done.

  • JenM

    this is so completley dark, but I absolutley love it. It’s amazing! Five stars.

  • I disagree that the point-of-view (POV) issues are little things. They are very disorienting, and caused me to stop and re-read some sections several times. For example, in the first paragraph: how did the bell ring? Did someone ring it, and if so who? I also struggle with the narrator alternating between Ms Engel and Fiona.

    While I’m making a nuiscance of myself, this phrase almost made me wet myself, “The gray clouds continued to dominate the sky as they headed back on the highway”. What were the gray clouds doing on the highway?

    Also, “every day” should be “every day”.

  • Al.F

    Very well written. You have to feel sorry for Fiona . It may be fiction but true.There are many others who are like her father. Nice title to the story.

  • Eric Conrad

    I really enjoyed this piece. As for POV, the story is never from Fiona’s or the Aunts perspective. It seems the POV stands outside the two protagonists, probably a proper term for that, but it fails me at the moment. The clouds comment seems nit-picking and frivolous to me. But Bernard, can you clarify what you meant by “every day” should be “every day”. I’m squinting my eyes, they look identical???

  • Not sure if it was intentional or not but I read this part as a take on our current cultural fascination with all things dystopian/post-apocalyptic. Might the popularity of The Hunger Games indicate there is a little of Fiona’s dad in all of us?

    A thought-provoking read.

  • @Eric: you’re quite right: I made a typo reporting the typo. I’ll try to get this right: “everyday” should be “every day”. I also spelled nuisance wrong.

    I appreciate your nit-picking statement, and it does feel like that sometimes. The importance of this type of glitch depends on the reader, and how their mind works. Many readers (including me), get pulled straight out of the story by a sentence like that.

  • Here [sic], hear, BSJ!

  • Since we unfortunately aren’t able to give out medals for typo-spotting, we’d prefer to have them reported via our contact form so we can correct them unobtrusively.

    All opinions are valid and welcome here at EDF as long as they’re framed respectfully.

  • Paul Friesen

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. And I appreciated Camille reiterating the protocol for reporting a typo.

  • Simone

    Authors have no way of knowing what pulls a reader out of a story unless they’re told. Once they become aware, then they’ll become even better writers.

    With that in mind, the first sentence stopped me because I’ve never seen it rain inside – well, not without the roof leaking. This is NOT meant to be nitpicky – it’s meant to help.

    Not to beat a dead horse, but it also pulls me out of story when someone writes ‘thought to myself’ instead of simply ‘thought’ or ‘past history’ instead of ‘history.’

    But maybe that’s just me.

  • Fantastic story, and rather deep subject material, all done well. Thanks for sharing. I’ll need to ruminate on this one for a while.

  • Fantastic story, and rather deep subject material, all done well. Thanks for sharing. I’ll need to ruminate on this one for a while.