UPON THE DOORSTEPS • by K.C. Ball

The January sky, with its waning moon, was a glistening onyx dome, hard polished and pin-pricked with the light of faraway suns. The young woman sat within shadow upon the wide concrete steps of the church; clutching a woolen blanket about her, little enough protection against the cold.

An older woman, worn around the edges, waded through the yellowed light pooled at the curb. Her breath fogged the air, as she made her slow way toward the church. She was bundled in an oversize cloth coat and tattered scarf, and she carried a gift-wrapped box, held before her in both hands, as if it were an offering. The night was still, as she stopped at the bottom of the steps.

“Want some company?” she asked. Her voice carried the rasped edge of a smoker.

The young woman turned a pale hand toward the bare concrete beside her; the older woman made the climb and lowered herself to the top step, gathering her coat about her as she did so.

“Here we are,” she said. “Again.”

“Is that supposed to be funny?” the young woman asked.

“Maybe,” the older woman said. “God knows we could use a laugh or two during these get-togethers.”

She thrust one hand deep into her coat pocket and fished out a fliptop box of cigarettes and a battered Zippo lighter. Her hands rolled through habitual motions, as her eyes remained upon the young woman. The cigarettes and lighter were back in her pocket, even as she drew her first taste of the nicotine.

“You could offer me one,” the young woman said.

“They’re no good for you.”

“Neither is sitting for hours on cold concrete,” the young woman said. The older woman sighed.

“You could call me Mom,” she said. She drew in another lungful of smoke.

“No, thank you.”

The older woman stubbed her half-smoked cigarette upon a worn step edge and transferred the gift from her lap to the open patch of concrete between them. The young woman turned her head to look at it.

“Happy birthday,” the older woman said. She waited, but the young woman remained silent. “It’s a — ”

“It’s the same thing you brought me last year,” the young woman said; interrupting. She pulled the blanket even tighter about her. “And we’re going to sit here and repeat the same things we said last year, too.”

“Why do you say mean things like that?” the older woman asked. The young woman shrugged; the movement was all but hidden by her blanket.

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” she replied. The older woman reached out but the young woman drew away.

“Oh, Baby,” the older woman said. “Please understand. I was just a kid and all alone; no one even knew I was pregnant.”

“Is this the part where you tell me how you crawled into the bushes outside your dormitory and delivered me all by yourself?”

“There’s no need to be a smart ass,” the older woman said.

“And then trudged here through the snow, with me swaddled in a blanket, and left me for someone else to take care of?”

“You would think,” the older woman said, “that after twenty-two years, we could manage some sort of peace.”

The young woman did not respond. They sat in silence for a time. At last, the young woman put her hand upon the steps, next to the gift.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Tell me the story.”

“Not tonight. And you can yell at me, if you want; God knows I do it enough.”

The older woman coughed and fumbled in her pocket for her smoking gear; she drew it forth but then sat without moving, staring at a single remaining cigarette.

“I swear,” she said; not looking away from the cigarette. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought this church would be a safe haven; that somebody else could take better care of you than I could, could give you a better life.”

She returned the lighter and the solitary cigarette to her coat pocket.

“Will you forgive me?” she asked; still not looking at the young woman.

“You ask that every year,” the young woman replied.

“Will you?”

“No.”

The older woman stood; she moved down the steps, wobbling, as if she just was learning to walk. At the bottom, she stopped but did not turn to face the church.

“Maybe next year?” she said.

“Maybe.”

“See you then.”

The older woman shuffled toward the street. The young woman remained upon the steps.

“I’ll be here,” she said. And her words were no more than an echo.


K.C. Ball is a retired newspaper reporter and media relations coordinator. She lives in Seattle, a stone throw from Puget Sound and she writes because if she doesn’t, she”ll just burst. In addition to Every Day Fiction, her flash fiction has been accepted for publication in Boston Literary Magazine, Fear and Trembling, Murky Depths and Morpheus Tales. K.C. blogs at nowplayinginseattle.blogspot.com.


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Every Day Fiction

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  • Gerard Demayne

    I thought that was excellent. Don’t know who’s giving that less than a 4 or 5.

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    Thanks, K.C., for another great story. You never fail to deliver. Just one thought: the younger woman / older woman tags did wear a little thin. Could the characters not have names (I do understand that this would destroy the present ‘ubiquitousness’ of setting), to bring us in closer to them? We would deduce there relationship from the dialogue. Just a thought. A lovely story, anyway.

    Thanks

    🙂 scar

  • Yup, another good one, K.C. Very poignant.

  • Kathy

    Wonderful story, K.C. Gave it a 5.

  • Beautiful.

  • Sad story, KC. Makes me wonder how things might have been different if the daughter had chosen forgiveness.

  • Jen

    I feel so bad for them both. Excellent emotions.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    It’s hard to believe anyone could have ideas and write that fast. On reading the short bio placed beneath the story, I realized that this very good writer has a backup of very good unpublished work, probably uses excerpts from them. Keep them coming! They are not only instructive to the less mature writer, they deepen the day.

  • Happy Birthday, KC!!!!

  • Rock and roll. AND your birthday? Happy birthday!

    Great story.

  • Thank you, Jordan. 🙂

  • Thank you, Kevin. 🙂

  • A really nice tale, KC–and Happy Birthday from me as well.
    PS: I agree with Gerard on the ratings.

    –dj

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    Happy birthday K.C.

    🙂 scar

  • Let’s all sing
    Happy Birthday, K C … 🙂

  • Happy Birthday to you!!!

    And what a nice way to celebrate. A beautiful and poignant story. Good work, KC.

  • TW

    It’s a very well-wrought sketch. It’s evocative and plucks the strings of universal themes instantly recognizable by all readers.

    But is it a story? Hmmm. The characters leave the scene as they entered it, unchanged and unchanging. (The younger woman’s final pledge to return next year, doesn’t constitute “movement”, I believe, because it isn’t shown to be regret for lost chances or a softening of her intransigence.)

  • Happy Birthday, K.C. 🙂

  • Nicely done, KC. Strong imagery and deft character strokes deliver a moving piece.

    Oh, and Happy Birthday! I’d say all this praise is a pretty good gift… 🙂

  • Happy Birthday, KC! And thank for the gift of this delicate, poised piece of writing.

  • Very well-done, KC–and more important, enjoyable as I headed out the door this a.m. A vignette? Perhaps, but enough tension and resolution that I see “Doorsteps” as a complete story.

  • Happy Birthday, K.C.!

  • Celeste

    What a beautiful beautiful story. So visual. I could see them sitting on the steps – that’s the magic of GOOD writing. Expertly told, KC. I really love all your FIVE STAR stories. And great that it was published on your birthday.

  • Such a poignant tale, K.C. I really feel for both of the women and their soul-deep issues. The most painful part is how they are locked into the annual cycle with no sense that relief will ever come.

    Since they were both women and they didn’t have names, I had to read very carefully to figure out who was talking. Pronouns got a little confusing because I had to backtrack to see who was the last “she” mentioned. But, overall, a very small quibble with a lovely, emotional, compelling story.

  • KM Rockwood

    What an evocative piece! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    The situation is so sad and believable, and you handle it so well. The emotion is raw, but not the least bit cloying.

  • I’m really torn about this piece. Bits of it I loved, like when the old woman reveals she is the young woman’s mother. And the time she refused to offer her a cigarette, her motherly instinct showing through, even though she doesn’t seem to have been able to be the girl’s mom.

    On the other hand, I found there was just too much visual description for such a short piece. I feel that I would care about the characters a little more, and the dialoge would have more impact, if there were say 200 words devoted to flushing out the characters and storyline a bit more. Especially the first two paragraphs, they read a little like you were describing a set for a play.

  • Wonderful. It really works. And belated Happy Birthday!

  • Aneisha

    Extremely well emoted….loved it….

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  • gay

    WOW! “The January sky, with its waning moon, was a glistening onyx dome, hard polished and pin-pricked with the light of faraway suns.” This is gorgeous.

    As for the overall story, K.C. this is what I’m talking about. Really a strong wonderful story. I love it. Wish I could give it a 10!

  • gay

    Just read the comments so I want to add. This IS a story. Even though the outcome is the same, the tension suggests in the story that it might not be. PLus a whole relationship arc is established in these few 1000 words. For me it’s not just a story, but an excellent one.

  • Thank you, Gay.