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Heavy Load

by kmerignac 

Posted: 18 March 2004
Word Count: 3048
Summary: This is a short story I wrote a little while ago, but I'm new to this game and wanted some feedback. What do people think?

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Ruth pushed at the doorbell again with her shoulder. She looked down at the shopping in her hand as the sound rang out through the house and saw that her knuckles were white with the strain of the heavy bags.
Bloody typical.
She glanced back over her shoulder at the open boot of the car, and at the dozen or so plastic bags that were still waiting to be transported into their home. Rosy was sitting patiently in her baby seat watching, her soft blonde hair spilling forward over her eyes and her fingers toying with the rag doll on her lap. Ruth smiled, then turned back to look at the closed door. She frowned and swore under her breath.
Bloody typical.
She waited a few moments more, but there were no echoes of feet in the hall or thuds of steps down the stairs. He’d gone out again. She dropped her bags down onto the doorstep and the glass bottles clunked dangerously on the concrete floor giving her a strange sense of satisfaction: sod the orange juice. She looked back over her shoulder.
‘Daddy’s gone out, darling,’ she called. ‘This is going to take a bit longer than I thought... I’ll come and get you in a minute, sweetheart.’
If I can find my damn key.
She could feel colour rushing into her cheeks. It was blowing a gale force wind, freezing cold, and she was getting hot flushes. Where was the sense in that? Could you have your menopause at thirty-two? Probably not.
She hoisted the handbag that had been digging into her shoulder blades for the last five minutes over her head and began rummaging through its contents for her house key: mobile phone, papers, purse, tissues and make-up jumbled together making visibility impossible. She cursed again and dropped the thing onto the floor next to the shopping, then began pulling the offending objects out onto the doorstep until she was rewarded with a flash of metal and could at last retrieve the small ring of keys. She pushed everything else back inside. Her bag was too small. She immediately thought of Jack and how he’d go on—-it’s so full of clutter it’s a wonder you find anything. Except it wasn’t. It was just too small.
She held the keys in the air.
‘Found them, sweetheart. Won’t be a minute now.’
She pushed the key into the lock and turned. The door swung inwards and she walked inside, kicking at the bags on the floor by her feet as she walked past. She threw her handbag down onto the stairs on her right and looked down the hall towards the kitchen. Then she turned to look at the doors hanging open on the car, the bags waiting in the boot, and Rosy, who was still sitting quietly, her fingers pulling at Polly’s hair. She gave her daughter a big smile and pushed on down the corridor and into the kitchen. There was a note on the side in between the kettle and her husband’s dirty dishes. Gone to play tennis with Steve. Back later. She slammed the paper down onto the counter, her vision blurring with rage, then spun around and walked back to the door doing what she could to control her anger, for Rosy’s sake.
She was watching her as she came out of the house from her seat in the back of the car. Ruth looked at the bags falling out over the doorstep. Then she looked at her daughter. The little girl raised her arms out to be picked up and her heart softened. Thank God she had Rosy in her life. Thank bloody God for that.
When released, the little girl ran around to the back and began rifling through the bags in the boot for the book they’d bought at the supermarket. Ruth smiled as she followed her round, then she crouched down beside her.
‘I tell you what, sweetheart, you help me take these in and we’ll look for your book together, okay?’
The little girl let her dolly go and began pulling at the nearest bag. The heaviest one, containing tins of dog food. Polly dropped onto the floor at the little girl’s feet as she tugged at the bag. Ruth smiled.
‘Leave that one, sweetheart, it’s too heavy. Here. Have this instead,’ she said, and held out a large bag of crisps. Rosy snatched at it and ran off into the house leaving Ruth to pick up her cloth dolly. She put it under her arm and began the first of many trips into the kitchen.
By the time all the bags were in Rosy was busy pulling things out onto the floor in the kitchen. Ruth didn’t have the heart to tell her to stop, instead she reached over to get at the kettle. Her daughter found her book and waved it in the air, screeching her delight.
‘I’ve found it. I’ve found it. Look. Can I have it now, mummy?’
‘Of course you can.’
She bent to kiss her daughter on the head.
‘And that’s for being so good at the shop, sweetheart. Thank you.’
Rosy ran off, indifferent to the compliment, and Ruth was left alone, standing in the mess she’d made. She heard the television go on in the living room next door as she bent down to put the shopping away. The familiar jingle of the teletubbies filtered through into the room.
Ruth’s thoughts turned to her recent argument with Jack-—after everything they’d said, she couldn’t believe he’d gone and left her on her own again. Either he hadn’t heard what she’d been saying, or he just didn’t care. She could feel tears smarting behind her eyes and stood up straight to look up at the ceiling, willing the buggers to stay away. When she looked down again she saw Polly’s head poking out from under one of the bags and she bent over to pick her up, then walked into the living room to give the dolly back to her daughter. Rosy was sitting at the coffee table, her new book open before her, her eyes on the television, her mouth half open in wonder. Ruth paused in the doorway to watch her. She looked down at the dolly in her hands. The poor thing could do with a wash again.
‘Do you want Polly?’
Rosy turned to look at her mother, a huge and immediate smile on her lips. She held her hands out and Ruth handed the girl’s dolly over.
‘Something to eat, poppet? Daddy’s playing tennis--he’ll probably be a bit late for tea so if you’re hungry you’d better have something now.’
‘Daddy’s in the car.’
‘Sorry, sweetheart?’
Rosy ignored her completely, her eyes glued to the screen and Po with his tutu. Ruth smiled and walked back into the kitchen to flick the radio on. Someone was being interviewed about the benefits of yoga.
The kettle boiled. She poured herself a mug of tea and sat on one of the stools next to the breakfast bar, gazing out of the window at the washing in the next-door’s garden. Her thoughts drifted to the argument she’d had with Jack the previous night and how they’d eaten in silence, neither of them particularly wanting to argue in front of their little girl but both wanting to scream their frustration. Rosy had watched them in silence, holding her fork in one hand and clutching Polly tight in the other, and Ruth still felt guilty about that. She knew the tension was beginning to rub off on the little girl, but she didn’t know what to do about it. There were as many specialists encouraging unhappy parents to separate as there were telling them to stay together for the sake of the child.
She felt a tug at her trouser leg and looked down to see the wide-eyed innocent face of her daughter staring up in something resembling awe. Ruth smiled and reached down to pull the little girl up onto her lap.
‘Alright, sweetie?’
‘Where’s daddy?’
‘He’s gone to play tennis with Ben’s dad, my darling. He shouldn’t be long though.’
Rosy shook her head and Ruth smiled. She kissed the top of her daughter’s head and then pulled her tight. Rosy gazed vacantly over her mother’s shoulder and out of the window into the garden next door.
‘Lots of people, mummy.’
Ruth glanced over her shoulder. The garden was still empty, but the previous evening there’d been nine or ten of them out there having a barbecue.
‘That was last night, sweetheart. They’ve gone out now... I expect they went shopping too.’
‘It’s hot, mummy.’
Ruth put a hand against her forehead. She didn’t feel hot. That would be just her luck, for her to be ill now. She couldn’t be ill now. The girl who normally looked after her was away and there was a lot going on this week.
‘Maybe you got a bit hot in the car, sweetheart.’
Rosy nodded.
‘In the car.’
‘Why don’t we do your bath, and then you can help me get dinner ready if you like.’
Rosy’s wide blue eyes looked up at her mother, studying the woman’s expression. Ruth smiled. Rosy frowned slightly.
She slipped off her mother’s lap and onto the floor while Ruth drained her mug, then they walked out into the hallway and up the stairs, hand in hand.
‘What toys would you like in the bath?’
Rosy shrugged.
‘Don’t know.’
‘Shall we do bubbles?’
The little girl nodded.
Ruth pushed the bathroom door open and began running warm water into the bath while Rosy looked on, pulling half-heartedly at her jumper.
‘Do you want a hand? You look tired, sweetheart. Are you feeling alright.’
Rosy nodded. Ruth looked up at her as she undid the buckles on her shoes. She was even quieter than usual. Maybe she was coming down with something after all... she’d have a word with Jack. If their arguments were doing this to her they were going to have to do something about it.
‘Daddy isn’t smiling anymore.’
Ruth paused. Then moved onto the next shoe and busied herself with its buckle. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
‘Why do you say that, darling?’
‘Where’s daddy, mummy?’
Ruth held her daughter at arm’s length and looked her gently in the eyes.
‘Daddy’s playing tennis with a friend, sweetheart. I told you that. He’ll be back soon to give you a big kiss, and we can all play a game together if you like. Would you like that?’
She’d have to give the man a ring to make sure he came back early. With a bit of luck he’d be back before she went to bed, to say goodnight and reassure her. Tell her he loved her... although she sometimes wondered. She stood up quickly, uncomfortable. Of course he loved her. He just had a different way of showing it, that's all.
Ruth lifted Rosy into the bath. She began playing thoughtfully with the bubbles.
‘Do you want me to get Polly for you?’
Rosy nodded. Ruth stood to leave.
She left the bathroom door ajar and walked back down the stairs, her head swimming with where to go now, what to do next, how to make things better between her and Jack. Polly was lying on the counter next to where they’d been sitting and Ruth picked her up. Held her at arm’s length. The poor thing was going to need a few more stitches soon. Strange to think she’d had a full head of hair once. And that her dress had been red instead of this tired shade of pink. Ruth smiled. Even as a baby Rosy had needed her doll to go to sleep. She pulled at a single, dirty white strand of what was left of her hair. Jack had given her this one. It was one of the first things he’d ever bought for her. He used to get up to feed her in the middle of the night when she’d been too exhausted to do it herself, and he’d sit and play with her and Polly until sleep got the upper hand. He’d looked after her as a baby as well when she’d wanted to go away with her girlfriends for a break. The house had been spotless when she came back. Had she even said thank you? She brushed angrily at the tears she could feel forming as a newsflash cut suddenly into the radio program, putting an abrupt end to her reverie, and then cringed as details of the accident were spat out into the calm of the kitchen. Her eyes darted to the door as she realised that Rosy was still up in the bath on her own; she rushed from the kitchen and up the stairs.
Rosy hadn’t moved.
She was staring at bubbles on her hand, and Ruth stood in the doorway to watch for a moment before walking inside. She held Polly up for the little girl to see.
‘Shall we put her here?’
She sat the dolly on the edge of the sink and Rosy smiled. She lifted her hands to her mother.
‘I want to get out.’
‘You finished already? All right then.’
Ruth turned to pick a dry towel out of the cupboard and then she moved towards the bath.
‘Stand up.’
Rosy stood, and bubbles ran down her wet body and back into the bath. She watched them fall. Ruth pulled the plug then rubbed her daughter’s arms and body dry, lifted her out of the bath and began on her legs.
‘Do you want to help me with dinner then?’
Rosy nodded her little blonde head up and down.
‘And we’ll have to finish putting the shopping away too.’
Ruth pulled the pink, cotton nightie down over her head, then the two of them walked out of the bathroom and down the stairs. Hand in hand. Ruth glanced up at the clock on the wall in the kitchen. It was half past six already and there was still no sign of Jack.
‘Do you know where these go, sweetheart?’ she said, pointing at the bag of dog food on the floor. Nod.
‘Do you want to put them away for me?’
‘Thank you, sweetheart.’
Ruth gave her a kiss, then went to the telephone on the breakfast bar. She tapped in Jack’s number.
‘How are you getting on?’ she called over her shoulder.
The phone rang and rang. Jack didn’t pick up. Eventually the answer machine kicked in and Ruth rolled her eyes. Probably still on the tennis court. She looked up at the clock again: it didn’t look like there was much hope of him making it back before bedtime. She cursed him under her breath for the n-ieth time that day then whispered into the phone:
‘Jack? It’s Ruth. Where the hell are you?’ She glanced over her shoulder at her little girl who was bent over the bag on the floor. ‘Rosy really needs to see you tonight. I think she’s coming down with something. If you get this message for God’s sake give me a ring... if you can’t make it back here in time to say goodnight you’ll just have to do it by phone.’
She hung up and frowned. Then turned to take care of Rosy.
‘Do you want a hand?’
The little girl watched as she bent to pick up the last tin, her bright blue eyes serious and unsmiling.
‘Where’s daddy, mummy?’
‘I’ve just phoned him, sweetheart. He’s still playing tennis. He’ll phone before you go to bed... shall we get dinner ready?’
Rosy said nothing and Ruth stopped what she was doing to look at her.
‘I’m scared, mummy.’
Ruth quickly took her daughter’s hand.
‘Oh, sweetheart, you mustn’t be scared. Daddy’s fine. Daddies always are. He’s big, and strong, and very clever...’
She picked her up and carried her to the nearest stool to sit her on her knee and hug her tight, then she kissed the top of the four-year-old’s soft little head.
‘Don’t worry, my darling, there’s nothing to be scared about. Mummy and daddy both love you very much.’
The phone rang and Ruth leant over to pick it up.
‘Hello, Mrs. King?’
‘Hello. I’m sorry to bother you, Mrs King. This is Barbara Jackson from the Ashbrook General Hospital… this is a bit awkward, I’m afraid... is there someone there in the house with you?’
Ruth stroked her daughter’s head.
‘Yes...’ she looked down at the little girl and smiled, ‘...well, no. Why? What’s happened?’
It must have been a short silence, but as she waited for the stranger to speak Ruth could feel her heart speeding up. A lump forming in her chest. At last the voice was back, somewhat more determined than before.
‘I’m phoning about the accident there’s been on the M5, Mrs King. I’m afraid your car was found in the wreckage.’
Ruth’s vision took a shaky lurch.
She tried to get her head around the implications of the words but a soggy mush in her head seemed to be getting in the way... Jack... had something happened to Jack?
‘Has something happened to Jack?’
‘Mrs King, is there anyone there with you?’
Ruth hugged her daughter tight.
She could think of nothing to say.
‘Mrs King? Are you still there?... Maybe you should come down to the Ashbrook Hospital, Mrs King.’
A short silence.
‘A fuel lorry tipped over this afternoon on the M5, Mrs King...’
A scream in Ruth’s mind for the stranger to stop.
To shut up.
‘...and there’s been a lot of fire damage. I can’t give you any information over the phone, Mrs. King, but you husband was involved in the accident... I really think you should comedowntothehospi...’
The words weren’t making any sense anymore. Nausea swept over her in a wave and she had to clutch at her daughter’s shoulder to keep from falling. She looked down at the little girl on her lap, words still falling from the telephone in her hand. Solemn blue eyes stared back. Studying her confusion. And a single tear began tracing its way down her small cheek.

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Comments by other Members

darkstar at 21:36 on 19 March 2004  Report this post
I liked this. It had a nice build up - as soon as the newsflash on the TV was mentioned, there was obviously something up with Jack. The bit at the end with the phone call was written really well, and hammered home the awfulness of the situation.

I could just picture Ruth's subsequent guilt over leaving that angry message on the answering machine and how her and Jack's last evening together had been spent arguing. We never find out what the problems were between them, but it doesn't matter because by the end it's no longer important.

I do have one question though, is that how they do it, just phone you up like that?


Account Closed at 22:01 on 19 March 2004  Report this post
Great description, I could really relate to the opening scene! Children do pick up on things more than we think and I like the idea that she had a 6th sense feeling about her dad being in danger.

Maybe the exchange between the mother and daughter went on a little too long and you could cut some of it out - what do other people think?

Keep posting


ps I like the title - it has a lot of possible meanings in this story

kmerignac at 17:24 on 20 March 2004  Report this post

Ha, ha, ha! I don't know, but I expect not. It's probably much more long winded, but I wanted a short sharp end!!
Thanks for your comments though and I'm glad you thought the end worked because I did play around with it a bit. It's always good to get positive feedback!


I'm glad you like the title because that's something I hate doing - choosing a title! I find it very difficult indeed.
Possibly right about the exchanges, but it just sort of happened. I wrote it in one go, and the pair of them just kind of took over! Worth considering a rewrite though maybe, so thanks for your views and remarks. And I am interested in what others think of that.


Becca at 15:17 on 21 March 2004  Report this post
Kate, 'Heavy Load' is a good title for this story. I think it got into its stride towards the last half. The writing is controlled and clear, and you focus on the subject matter when it would be fairly easy to wander off in a story like this.

It's a story about a couple with a child not getting on well, and then the death maybe? of the father in an accident. So I felt the sequence about getting food out of the car could be edited down a bit, and the rather skilfull splicing of the sections that make reference to the crash and the daughter's knowledge of that, could be played on more. The end part must be hard to write about, all the drama and the emotion is contained in there, but it is the hub of the story. So it's the balance/shape of the story I'm talking about here. Hope this makes some sense to you.


kmerignac at 11:55 on 26 March 2004  Report this post
Hi Becca,
It's good to hear your voice again! It's been a very busy time for me just lately which is why I've been absent, but have been following things. Sorry I didn't react sooner but I didn't get an e-mail notification that there'd been a comment like I did with the others?!!
Thanks for these comments, as interesting as ever. I haven't done many short stories but wanted to develop the characters a bit which is why I maybe stuck with the shopping thing at the beginning - to try and create a picture in the reader's mind. More of an 'hour in the life of' than a résumé of everything they've done til now - does that make sense?
I had fun writing it though.

Becca at 05:26 on 27 March 2004  Report this post
Hi Kate, yes the car scene sets the first context, and dealing with the shopping in the kitchen the second, so that a picture is built up. It's just that if you compare it to the other actions in the story, like the bath scene, it's a tad top heavy I felt. The car scene stays in my memmory when I think it should be the time when the child starts to say seemingly odd things.

kmerignac at 13:55 on 27 March 2004  Report this post
Point taken Becca,

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