Monday, March 14, 2016

First short story: Anna

(This is the short story that was submitted as my final assignment for my writing course. Some minor edits have been suggested which I have not completed.)

Anna sat waiting in the grey wingback chair. Despite her age, she still had good posture and sat with a straight back. Some called her disciplined, some would dare to whisper she’s cold, but never would anyone have called her emotional.  No one was aware of the inner turmoil that she would fight down regularly. A small clue of her emotional state was the way she would absently rub her left wrist.  

Frustrated she quickly got up and walked to the window to peer through the curtains at the dark street. Her hazel eyes squinted at the dark street, the street lights reflecting in her wire-rim glasses. She absently tucked loose grey hair behind her ear, her fingers thin and strong. She walked back to the chair and sat down again. She started rubbing her wrist again and absently looked down at the scar that crossed it like a bracelet cut in half.

Her phone started to vibrate to the tune of a Beethoven concerto. The screen did not display the number she expected and she quickly answered with expert fingers.

“Hello,” she answered in a clipped tone.

“Good evening, Mam,” the distorted voice on the other side replied. “Is this Anna?”

“Yes it is,” she replied as a cold hand started to squeeze at her heart.

“This is Robert Hill. I’m an EMT from ER Ambulance services. Do you know a Susan Steward?”

A numbing cloud covered her as she clutched the phone tighter.  “My daughter’s name is Susan Steward” she replied in a steady voice.

“We found your name in your daughter’s phone", the EMT replied. "She’s been in an accident. There’s significant trauma to her head and she has a broken left leg and some ribs which we have stabilised. She is unconscious, but stable and we are transferring her now to Sunninghill Hospital. Do you understand?”

Anna willed her voice to be calm and her breath to return. “Yes. I do. I will be on my way and meet you there. Thank you.”

“OK, I will see you at the Casualty reception once we have handed her over to the staff. Goodbye.”

The phone went dead and she sat still for a moment, the conversation running at high speed over in her mind. She stood up slowly, straightened her back and with a determined set to her chin she picked up her handbag and keys and walked out into the uncertainty of the future.
The beeps and mechanical whooshing were not the only sounds in the room. Anna's own heart was beating so hard she felt she could hear it in her ears. She willed her heart to beat hard enough for them both, but looking at her daughter's pale and tight face, she knew she had no power at all in the face of death.

Anna's hand was damp as she held onto her daughter's hand, trying not to hurt the frail skin around the IV needle. With her free hand she took off her glasses and wiped tears from her cheeks. She wasn’t used to tears that wouldn't stop flowing, no matter how often she would wipe them away. As she looked up at the monitor, she squinted and put her glasses back on. The beeps and whooshing continued steadily, as if they were trying to slow down her own heart beat and breathing to match that of her daughter's.

An alarm made her quickly jump up and two nurses came rushing into the room. Anna moved into the corner and stood watching as they checked vitals and machines. Her helplessness was like a shroud preparing for the cold of death.

“She just coughed”, they assured her as they reset buttons and made their patient comfortable.

As they left the room, Anna lowered herself slowly in the well-worn chair, picked up her daughter’s hand and continued listening and waiting.

A memory came flooding into her mind, like the fluid flowing down the IV line. Her daughter, only months old, sleeping on her chest. Their heartbeats in sync, their breathing slowed in a matching rhythm.

A knock on the door interrupted the brief relief of her memory and she watched as the neurologist entered the room.

“Mrs. Steward, may we have a word?”

She nodded and followed the doctor to the ICU family lounge and sat down on the soft couch. The doctor sat down and looked at her. She saw something different in his eyes, a look of sadness that she didn't want to see. He had already told her that there was little hope of recovery so what else can there be?

“Just say it”, she said with a quivering voice that had lost its control over the past 2 days.

“We've just had a call from the detective investigating Susan’s accident. He thought it might be easier if I tell you.”

She could see he was trying to find the right words, so she waited, rubbing at the scar on her wrist.

 “An eyewitness has come forward and said that Susan deliberately drove into the wall. He saw how she left her lane and accelerated towards the wall.”

Instead of replying she slowly got up, moving like she had aged 20 years in the past couple of days. She slowly walked back to her daughter’s room and stood in the doorway, looking at the still and white face that was waiting for the relief of death that was inevitable.  She sat down again and took her daughter’s hand. She saw the scar on her wrist and tears started flowing more bitterly, but this time it came with howls of grief breaking from her body that echoed through the ward.

“I should have seen! I should have known!” she cried out. “Who better to know? I could've helped had I just taken the time!”

She dropped her head on her daughter’s chest the moment that the monitor let out a long and forlorn wail that matched her own.


  1. Well done, Riette, you got a full, tightly told tale out of your character sketch.

  2. A taut, well written story that kept my interest all the way through. You have a wonderful gift for detail and describing deep emotions, Riette. Nicely done!