Pickle

pickle-@

            Anne wasn’t hit by a bus. She was standing still, staring at a painting she didn’t give a shit about, when her eyes glazed and she dropped her purse. It took Don five minutes to realize that something was wrong, to remember that Anne didn’t care about paintings or museums. Anne only really cared about the baby growing inside her.

            That evening, Don had been in the hospital with Uncle Charlie, the sole member of Anne’s family that had medical training.

            “It’s probably nothing,” he said, sipping a coffee.

            Paramedics wheeled in a stretcher with an old lady on it. Don tried to spy her face, and wondered why they weren’t moving faster. “Shouldn’t they be moving faster?”

            “It’s probably nothing,” said Uncle Charlie. Another sip.

            An hour later, the doctor came. Hypovolemia – a sudden loss of blood. He said something about salt, to which Don said that he thought salt was a bad thing. Only if you have too much; if you have too little, that’s also bad, the doctor said. Next to him, Uncle Charlie nodded sagely, as if to say: “This is true. But it’s probably nothing.”

            That night, Don slept on a plastic chair. The next morning, the doctor came back. “She’s in a coma. Yes, it’s serious. No, we don’t know about the baby, but we’re checking.”

*****

            Pickle. Anne was sleeping, but it was a strange type of sleep, and she felt that she was snoring loudly, but it was hard to tell. Her mind flitted to the baby. It was the only part of her body that she could feel. Am I drunk? she asked. No reply. The baby, it seemed, could not yet diagnose her sobriety. Kids, she snorted; but really, there was no snort.

            Two months ago, she’d walked to the back porch and found the gazebo draped with curtains. That had been odd, but then she’d walked inside to find Christmas lights everywhere. On the floor were mattresses and pillows. And a naked Don. “No way,” she’d said, but that hadn’t prevented her from losing her clothes. There they’d fumbled, a sheet of vinyl separating them from the outside world and the neighbors locally dwelling within it.

            “Pickle,” Don’d said, to get a laugh. “We’ll call him Pickle!”

            Anne had jumped on top of him to tell him what she thought about that. For Don, it had been mission accomplished, his wife bouncing up and down with the furious, laughing conviction that their third child would never, ever be called Pickle.

*****

            Don read to her. He’d started with Knusgaard’s “A Death in the Family”, which he’d heard was genius because it used cute kid phrases. He’d stopped after fifty pages, because genius – what? Plus the relevance of the title to his current predicament had come crashing down on him in the open-mouthed stare of a nurse who’d glimpsed what he was reading.

            Uncle Charlie sat in the corner with it now. Don was reciting “The Big Honey Hunt”, because the doctors had assured him that Anne’s mental activities were suspended. She was able to breathe and her bodily functions proceeded with help from hospital instrumentation, but the rest was done, so he might as well read a kids’ book. He’d picked a classic.

            “This is terrible,” said Uncle Charlie, dropping Knusgaard. “Can I read one of yours?” He picked up Fox in Socks. Smiled.

            Todd and Rayne came in. “She move?” Todd asked.

            “She can’t,” said Don.

            “Could happen though,” noted Rayne, snuggling next to her mother. “There’s a statistical chance.”

            “Come on Mom,” added Todd. “You bought lottery tickets, and those odds were shit. It’s not like you didn’t think you could win.” He took a picture of Rayne on the bed. “Look at this,” he said, handing the phone to his dad.

            On the screen, Rayne’s was almost like a second head under Anne’s, some kind of adorable mutant creature made of bed sheets and gown linen. Rayne’s eyes were open, and in the flash from the phone, it looked like Anne’s were too.

*****

            It was undefined, the amount of time it took for Anne to understand what had happened. You can only go so long without consciously going for a poop, she reasoned. Or eating. Most of all, she missed eating. There was something about chewing on food that made you feel human, and in her present condition, she was unsure of where she stood on the humanity scale. Low, she estimated. Very low.

            Force your eyes open! she became fond of telling herself. She said it in three languages that she could claim to know, and after that, in new languages she made up, creating grammar and vocabulary on the spot until she was fluent.

            “This is Don’s fault,” she surmised. “Some kind of ultra-aggressive pregnancy.” Words came in eight different languages. She swore in twelve.

            Deeper inside, the baby was with her, a little boy. She could hear his thoughts. He was doing okay. Not great, but okay. He didn’t seem to be growing fast.

            “Don’t worry about that,” she told him. “Don’t you worry at all. I’ll take care of this.”

            And so she did.

*****

            “You’ve never looked thinner,” Don said to Anne. “Ninety pounds. I think you overshot your goal, though…” He kept his voice down, so the nurses wouldn’t hear. They were preparing to move her to the birthing unit. Anne’s belly was remarkable, shooting out of her diminished body like a pyramid.

            “This is it,” he said. The books were gone. Even Uncle Charlie was gone. “First kid by C-section! I’m sorry about that. And no breastfeeding this time, I guess.” He thought back to the two plus years that Todd and Rayne had breastfed. Anne had even managed it in the back-seat of the car, stretching to the limit of the seat belt to pop a nipple into a waiting mouth. She had been the best.

            “You’re the best,” he said. “And now you’re going to do it again.”

            The nurses asked that he step out of the way. “Figure you can’t hear me, luv.” A nurse stared. “Wanted you to know that I’m getting a car big enough for three kids. And a diaper service. And pretty sure that I’m not going to remarry.” The same nurse made a sound. The rest huddled around the stretcher. They pulled it towards the door.

            Don followed.

*****

            Anne felt sluggish, even for her. She’d been building a house in her head, not a big one, just enough for a family of five. She’d made a layout, placed the windows, picked paint colours and carpet. It was small but cute. Plain but sturdy. Just like her! she thought. Just like her.

            She was moving… or not. She was in a brighter place, maybe. Weren’t those hands on her body? And wasn’t that a voice, maybe Don’s? Open your eyes, she told herself. Open your eyes.

            Something pricked her. At once, she leapt inside and found her baby – baby of no name, baby still too small but doing just fine. “It’s okay,” she laughed, then curled around the child like a snake. “I’ve got this.” And then something tore into her, a tremendous volcano of something that made her constrict around the little life-form. For a moment, she saw herself, how small she’d become. Somehow, she’d gotten smaller as her baby had grown, as if they were growing towards each other – as though they were eventually going to be the same, somehow. As the tearing increased, she squeezed. “I’ve got this,” she laughed for the little boy. “I do.”

*****

            Don sat on the bed, baby in his arms. His wife’s eyes were closed. The wires and tubes that had kept her alive were to the side, like a sagging tree that hadn’t been watered.

            “Knew you could do it,” he said to her. “Have to say, this one looks like me. Or Uncle Charlie, take your pick. He’s the heaviest baby we’ve had – didn’t see that coming.”

            Baby made a sound. Anne was sleeping, it seemed. Her hair was in curls, and her mouth open on the pillow. In three months, she would have been 36. In thirty years, she would have been a grandmother. Don put baby next to her. “I know you’re wondering,” he said, taking a breath. “I know you want to know if I picked a name. Well, I did, and I think you’ll like it.”

            He leaned over and whispered it into her ear. As he did, baby raised a hand and brushed his whiskers. The gesture seemed to say, “Hey Dad, don’t worry. I know this one’s tough, and I don’t have much to offer you just yet. But we got this. Really, we do.”

            Don looked at the little life-form that was touching him. “Yeah, I know,” he said, and for a moment felt strange for talking like that to a baby. But the moment passed, as all moments did, and this one in particular so quickly that he barely remembered it having happened at all.

223 thoughts on “Pickle

  1. So sad. Well written Trent – I like the fact that even though we don’t recognize her, the mother is still a part of the process. Thank you.

    • Thanks Paul. After the first bit, just talking about the mom, I couldn’t picture not hearing what she had to say or what she was doing, or how she related to her husband, or how she would have a voice back in the real world (through her baby in this case). She seemed to strong to not have a voice, even after she passed away. It’s funny when characters in stories adopt personalities like this, makes me feel like I have to listen to them and write out their narratives, no matter how improbable.

  2. Oh my. This has taken over the top spot for me. I know what name Don whispered in Anne’s ear…Pickle…and even if it wasn’t…for me, it was. The construction of this story is incredible NB; so much happened so fast and in such few words…yet it came alive in the telling and feels as real as any family story could. Just wow and now I want to go weep for Anne and pray for Don.

  3. Beautifully written, Trend. I read a story yesterday in the news about a woman who woke from a coma when her newborn cried. I was hoping that this mom would, too.

    • I know, Jones – and thanks. There is some beauty in pain, no? Sometimes we have to look to find it, even when things are bad. Sometimes, it’s just there, I guess. And sometimes we even get it down on paper (or not-paper).

    • Nancy, I can honestly say that I need more fan-girling in my life… in fact, I can’t say as how I’ve ever had any fan-girling in my life, but it sounds like fun.

      And thanks for the note, I think this story was very intentionally meant to pack a fair amount within a short space. Kind of fun to write.

  4. So, I think for the first time I’ve read one of your stories and am left unsatisfied. So many of your stories soar and this one didn’t for me. One thing that seemed off was that the two children seemed far more adult, older, than they would seem to be, unless of course she had those two kids at a pretty early age. There’s plenty here that I like — as always, you paint pictures with your words. Pictures that are full of emotion and feeling and depth, but, I think, unlike everything else I’ve read of yours, this has an unfinished feel to me. That’s the best way I can describe it.

    • Wow Mark, I appreciate that feedback. For the first time in a while, I felt like I actually finished a story! I really liked this one, actually, not sure why – something clicked for me in writing it, and I felt pretty good about it. Now that said, I can see how it might not feel finished, I think the struggle with fiction is always where to end – is it actually earlier? Is it later and if so, by how much? It seldom seems that there’s an obvious answer. I guess we keep trying, and wait for that moment that just feels right.

      • Particularly with short stories … where and how to end is a big issue. Friends and family who read my short stories comment regularly that they feel like my short stories aren’t really “done.” My younger son reads a lot of what I write and frequently says that … “but it didn’t end.” And I comment that short stories really aren’t about writing a complete story. They are about a moment and that’s it.

        The other thing sit that you shouldn’t necessarily read too much into my concerns … every writer is different, every reader is different. We are all looking for something in what we read. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. But maybe realizing something the writer thought worked might not have worked for a reader (or two) can lead to something even better next time.

        • I agree, not sure stories need resolution – those that leave us hanging and filling in the next parts are always so interesting. That said, ending stories is a trick, and when it works, it feels kind of marvellous.

          Really really really appreciate your feedback, Mark. Getting feedback of this nature is so important, it just makes us all better, right?

  5. I still have to wrap my head around this one. I’m slow. This is so sad. The last sentence has me worried. As parents, do those moments pass so quickly or is it because of this situation?

    What happens when someone slips into a coma? What do they think? Do they think? Doctors seem to think no. Maybe I’m just overthinking. Mom and a friend went to see a friend who was in a coma. Mom swore that the friend reacted…just like how Anne’s eyes seemed to be open. The doctor said no. Sorry…

    I want more…no surprise.

    • I think that last sentence was meant to be a bit uncomfortable, which is sort of what I felt writing this. As I noted to Kelly, this one came out in a hurry, and wasn’t sure where it was going, but just couldn’t let it end tidy in the end.

      I don’t know about the coma situation. Maybe we’re not able to know the truth of that. I just couldn’t imagine that woman laying there without thinking, I wanted to know what she was doing, what was happening in there… surely had to be something.

  6. I think taking on the heavy subject of maternal mortality and telling the tragic story of one family’s experience in the space of a blog post is remarkable, Trent. I could write an entire post on what I liked about the character details, but especially liked the bit about the photo with Anne… that was very “you.”

    I know you say you just write whatever comes out, but I thought the structure was strong in this one – you filled in the elements incredibly well, again, in the space of a blog post. It was easy to follow (for me) and evoked a wide range of emotions. The playfulness and humor balanced the tragic storyline, in my opinion.

    And personally, I liked the way you handled the resolution at the end – not overly sad, but hopeful that things were going to be okay… Felt the mom living on through the strength you portrayed in the baby – that provoked tears.

    Childbirth is something you kind of take for granted, thinking of course everything will be all right, until it isn’t, and then it gets really, really serious very quickly. That was my own experience (twice) and I’ve experienced that in my work as a nurse as well.

    Sorry for the long comment, could easily go on, but I will reel myself in now! Hope all is well!🙂

    • I kind of liked the photo reference, too. Thanks Kelly, for the notes. This one was written in a hurry, and the structure sort of just happened… I can never figure out how that happens. I think one of the big struggles in fiction is to say something meaningful while never losing track of the humour inherent to the characters, so I appreciate you noting the playfulness.

      Fully appreciate the seriousness of childbirth – sounds like you’ve had many experience along these lines, it wasn’t really easy to write about a fictional one to tell the truth.

      Don’t worry about reeling yourself in! I love long comments, and yours are always great.

      • I’m relieved that you don’t mind long comments… I tend to get carried away with my thoughts on your writing because I’m such a big fan of it… not a new revelation, as I’m sure you know!
        (So there’s some fangirling for you… prompted by Nancy’s comment, as only Nance would say!)
        And one more thing – the way you portrayed what the mom was thinking, how she was reacting, reminded me of something called anesthesia awareness. It’s rare, but extremely traumatic for those that have experienced it. Very scary to think about… something that should be strictly fictional, but isn’t!

  7. Hey Trent. I think you captured the surreal feeling of tragic moments– like the ones you feel you are floating through. That fine line between grasping reality but not wanting to. As always..you drew me effortlessly.

    ( genius-reference made me chuckle– nice jab)

    • Thanks Audra. I’m never sure what I’m capturing, and just sit back after and try to figure it out – almost like I’m reading something created by someone else. Glad you liked this one, I’m fond of it.

      I wasn’t trying to jab at that book, honest… but I kind of had to, because I had a hard time making my way through it. Have you read it, or tried to?

      • I think that’s why you’re so talented, Trent. You don’t “try” — it’s just in you and it flows out. It’s called being an artist– truly creative. And that fact that you stay to true to it, well, I respect that a great deal.

        Too much minutia in those books..not my style for sure.

        • Audra, I think you’re way too kind, but I can’t help but blush at that. And I don’t blush easy! Honestly, it’s so much fun to just write, without wondering where you’re going or why you’re doing it. Doesn’t feel like effort at all.

  8. Great writing, Trent. I was stunned at the end and wanted to cry. It couldn’t have been easy to write about childbirth and I think you handled it really well. I particularly like the surreal quality of the mother’s voice. You do that surreal thing so well. Lovely read!

    • Thanks so much, Amy – was not the easiest story to write, and it makes me sad myself, but just felt like it had to be written. Glad you like the surreal parts!

      Really appreciate your comments, Amy – truly.

  9. Once the tingling had left my body, I felt better able to respond to this beautiful piece. Her voice brought this together so well. That death and the finality of life could be made so vividly serene, is testament to your abilities as a writer. I don’t have the words to do this justice. Thank you.

  10. Incredible story, very well written and well thought out. I really enjoyed it.
    Im very new to word press, maybe 3 days now but if theres stories like this all over the site i’ll never stop lol.

    • 3 days in! Well you’re in for a world-changing experience, there is so much content on WordPress that it’s hard to believe. Literally something for everything.

  11. Reblogged this on In Retrospect and commented:
    One of the very first blogs I have read on this site.. and I am glad that it was this one! So beautiful.. this story may seem tragic at first glance but think of the strength each character exudes. This gives me hope.

  12. Cracking opening line Trent. Not that that means the rest was crap you understand…but they do say the opening line is the make or break. Although they also say that about book cover, blurb and synopsis if you are hunting down agents…and those things tend all go before reading the opening line 🤔

    Logical extrapolation therefore suggests the opening line is down the pecking order…nevertheless I stand by my original comment….cracking opening line Trent!

    Look forward to reading more of your writing.

    • You know man, I do like that opening line. I was so ready to write this story, had it in my brain, and I knew what was approximately going to happen, but how do you start something like that? I guess you start with what doesn’t happen, but hopefully in that comparison show how serious it all must be anyway.

      Really appreciate it, my friend. Hope to read some of your stuff too – I’m assuming you’re a writer?

      • I find starting the hard bit…so much so I often don’t start at the but work backwards and forwards from some random event that triggers the write not think mode. That opener deserves a book following it my friend….it’s seriously good. They don’t crop up often so it’s a real keeper that one !

        Me, a writer? I craft words yes but I feel it’s for others to judge not me…. You’re welcome to pop over and have a look though.

        https://fictionisfood.wordpress.com

          • Feel free to throw in feedback, like or run away. I pretty much a newbie in blog land and have no clue what I’m doing…but we all start somewhere right?

            Re random event…good if you’re stuck in a flow sequence that’s leading to a block. Now and then I’ve thrown up a random event, realised it stinks and thought ‘damn fine job I didn’t write four chapters to find that out!’ Granted there is a hint of hyperbole there but if you get scenes that really buzz then working away from them I find easier. Most of the other stuff I do kind or writes itself though. At times it feels like I am the biographer of a scizophrenic mind 🤔

            • I’ve always said for writers that you have to embrace your inner madness… I think we’re all crazy.

              I will come over and give you feedback. On the opposite, if I give you too much, just tell me to bug off. I like to engage and participate, when I’m in I’m really in…

              • Not mad…I’m entirely normal…it’s everyone else thats crazy 😜

                Look forward to it but don’t expect great things…my inner self struggles as my finest critic and is highly sceptical when I read things back 🤔

              • Gotta start somewhere, man. Just tell yourself you’re a writer, remind yourself of it regularly, and go nuts on the keyboard. The very fact that you’re your own worst critic is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because you’re pushing for good writing, but it’s bad if that voice is so loud that you don’t produce anything, or stop yourself before you’ve started.

                I figure most writers have these battles. It’s such an unpredictable, unstructured activity that it’s hard to prescribe a process for it. Just have to keep going and keep practicing, and more than anything, let your voice come through.

              • You’re not wrong there…the more I look round the more posts I see on insecurity, self doubt and worse. Seems to be the bane of the writer. I’m finding editing is my personal hate…marmite I guess..love it or hate it. I like writing not editing and editing stops me writing. Sucks but this time li,e you said shout loud and get it done. Seven chapters left on the first edit…this week…must complete that this week…I’ve stuff that needs to be written and it’s not happy at waiting! Sound advice Trent…sound advice indeed

              • Have at it, my man. I used to hate editing, until someone told me that the first draft is just that – it’s the mountain. The editing unravels the actual shape, what it really looks like, and if you treat it like that, maybe the editing will become as interesting as the writing… maybe. I kind of like it now. I also was told never to hold on too hard to your own writing – any piece is expendable, even the parts you really like, if that removal serves the story.

                Get er done! By the way, I hate marmite too. Gross.

              • I had that very same conversation at my board meeting of one as CEO author brand me. This week good Sir…this week…first edit must leave little left. Then I read again. I think you are right…it’s practice….once this becomes part of the writing journey then it will become part of the process. I may be missing in social media land for a few days. It’s too easy to prevaricate and avoid…. As for marmite…the Devils food…vile stuff that it is

  13. This was incredible. Beautiful, haunting, and tragic … I’m not sure if those are all the right words, but they’re among the first to come to mind. Incredibly well done.

  14. I accidentally stumbled on this sight and…wow. I’m glad I did! When I first saw the pickle image I was a bit confused, but it slowly started to make sense. Nice work!

  15. Pingback: The Week’s End // A Few of My Favorite Internet Things – ZEN AND Π

  16. Trent curiosity got me reading Pickle. Such a grippingly real and sad tale. You got the nuances of feelings captured so beautifully. Couldn’t tear myself away till I completed it. Keep them coming I’m looking forward to much more.

  17. Very sad ending. Love your specific choice of wording in those last few sentences. In some ways, I almost want the name to be something completely different and just have Pickle linger as one more memory.

    • You know, I gotta tell you, it wasn’t really my intention to infer that the baby’s name was Pickle… I guess you could easily see it that way, but it wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind.

      The last few sentences were a bit hard to create, I wasn’t sure what I wanted exactly, but pretty happy how it worked out.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting – really appreciate it.

  18. This was awesome on many levels. We don’t know how much is going on inside the mind of someone in a coma. There is so much we don’t know about the human mind… or the connection between a pregnant mother and the child inside her. There was, as usual with your writing, a lot of tenderness and love, and a real feeling to it. I thought you gave it the perfect length… you could have trimmed it, or stretched it, but it wouldn’t have added anything.

  19. This is one of the best reads in a long time. The tragedy of the story does not drown the depth each character has. On the contrary, every character seems personal by the end of the story. It’s been a long time since I almost welled up and I’m glad this story was the reason. Thanks a lot. You inspire me to write.

    • Thanks Ross. Been a fun weekend, actually, lots of voices talking about something I wrote… so weird, but really awesome.

      Hoping to shy away from shying away from emotion in stories. Not sure if that makes sense, but it’s easy to go for ‘cold’ and ‘dispassionate’, and that’s not really the type of person I am, and don’t want my writing to be in that vein either.

      • You can be compassionate without being glurgy. Maybe it has to do with empathy for your characters. Anyway, a worthy goal. Congrats again. Glad you’re digging the voices.

  20. Pingback: Pickle – Dellano 254

  21. Very nice writing. Lovely story. I love how vivid you are. Grief , smh how I enjoy the reads I cross and it allows me to heal and grow as I learn to grieve.

  22. I came to your blog from the Commonwealth page. Congratulations on being shortlisted! As a mother of many children, I’m really challenged to see a male write so vividly about pregnancy and child birth. Writing is truly not gender specific. I enjoyed the sad but interesting story.

    • Ohita – thank you for the congratulations on the Commonwealth shortlisting! It was very pleasant news.

      And thank you for the comment regarding this story. I agree, writing is not gender-specific. For me, it’s about putting yourself in the head of someone you are not, even if that person does not exist, won’t ever exist, even if they can never exist – but that doesn’t lesson the possibility of them, or diminish their story. I think writing transcends race, gender, and even our basic concepts of what it means to be human. In fact, I think that’s how we find our humanity at times – something I wish we did more frequently.

      Glad you liked the story, and thanks so much for stopping by.

  23. Lovely. This post caught my eye because I called my son Pickle. In my case things happened the opposite way. My Pickle left me early. I whispered my apologies to him, and told him we would never forget him.

    • Well I drink a lot… is that considered lateral thinking methodology?

      Thanks for the comment – I don’t even know how to answer that. I never think of the pieces as great or anything, just expressions of me that seem to want to come out (often at the most inconvenient times).

  24. So, I knew it would be great because it’s all great. But I didn’t know I would be crying. Why didn’t you tell me I’d be crying? I tried to stop myself because I was embarrassed but then I remembered I was alone and I just let it happen. I’m not sure if you realize how incredible that is. Your words really get in there, they don’t just sit on top like oil on water. I can’t think of anything that would be more satisfying. Except maybe a blow job.

    • Fay – I’m sorry I made you cry, but really actually, I don’t know. Just want to write stuff that makes people feel something. You have no idea how much I appreciate a comment about not being like oil on water. I almost always have a meaning in my stuff, even if it’s not apparent, and I love it when people feel whatever that is.

      As for your satisfaction… oh Fay. You make me laugh. Hard.

Leave a comment. Don't get cheeky. Or do, it's all good.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s