The Grieve Project

Hunter Writers Centre hold an annual competition for stories and poems about grief and loss. The Grieve Project publishes a collection of these poems and stories every year. 

The Grieve Project is also an online community set up to encourage empathy, reflection and healing through the sharing of stories; there are some beautiful ones up on the site.

I am so honoured to be a part of this project and to be published in the Grieve Anthology volume 6. (An actual book, Papa!) Here is the piece, and a part of my heart.

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Time for Grief

Some telephone conversations lodge themselves in your memory and never leave. You think you hear the words ‘shadow’ and ‘lung’ and you hope the reason is the poor long-distance line and not the possibility of cancer. Your father is a smoker, after all. You pray that his body is playing a twisted trick on the x-ray machine, but your increasingly heavy heart tells you that it is probably not good news.

Stage 4 lung cancer is not good news. You begin to furiously research facts, statistics and survival rates. You wonder how long one can hold on to 5 percent hope. You realise you have already begun grieving, for life as it was before the telephone call. But this is not the time for your grief. There are questions to ask. There is compassion to show. There are spirits to lift. You lock your grief away in a safe place, to retrieve once all hope is gone.

You travel 10,000 kilometres with your 8-week-old baby because you believe that compassion transmits better through a hug and babies are exceptional at lifting spirits. Your father smiles his widest smiles for his granddaughter. You observe their mutual contentment and realise this is where you are supposed to be.

In between hospital visits, your father studies his notebooks and works through a checklist of phone calls. He notices you watching and declares that this is not the sorting out of affairs, but simply ongoing administrative tasks. You nod with false nonchalance. You wonder why you are both putting on a brave face when it is time for the masks to be lowered.

The chemotherapy works and then it doesn’t. You ask the oncologist for the truth. He suggests that your sisters come home. Grief starts knocking but you do not let it in.

It is a bittersweet family Christmas. You create beautiful memories, but they are marred by the shadow of limited time.

Your sister sits by your father’s feet as he dictates the terms of his funeral. She dutifully scribes instructions on the death announcement, coffin and rituals. Tears collect behind her eyes. She holds them there until she can turn away with the excuse of necessary filing. You wish for that kind of strength.

In your last few days together, you sit by your father’s bed and softly read his favourite poetry. You don’t know if he can hear but you hope the words of Kahlil Gibran will cut through the cancer and settle in his soul.

After the funeral, an acquaintance asks if you were close. You realise the pain in your heart is from considering not the history, but the lost potential. It doesn’t matter if you were close. What matters is that now you will never be able to get any closer. Your closeness has been capped.

You travel back to Glasgow, unlock your grief and let it engulf you like the unrelenting February snow.

©2018 Seetha Nambiar Dodd
♥♥♥

Furious Fiction

Furious Fiction is a monthly short story competition run by the Australian Writers’ Centre, with different story prompts each month. 55 hours, 500 words. This month’s challenge was launched on May the Fourth, and therefore had this criteria:
• The story had to begin with the words “A long time ago”
• The story had to include the words “star”, “war” and “force” (or a plural).
• The story had to feature something that flies.

I am delighted that my story was shortlisted and published on the AWC website!!!

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A long time ago her life had not been controlled by beeps. There were languid hours dedicated to doing absolutely nothing. There were long walks on beaches with powder-white sand and no time limit. There was the delight of getting lost in a book with no interruptions. There were nights of staring up at a sky so crowded with stars that it seemed as though a few might have to fall down to earth to make room for the brightest ones. Life was about enjoying the pauses between the moments.

Then slowly, without warning, something changed.

Her life became punctuated by noises that signified the ceasing of fun by an external force. The pauses were no longer an invitation to breathe, but an opportunity to maximise productivity.

Beep. The alarm clock set for 6am kept its promise and ruined her slumber party of one.

Beep…Beep. The phone called out to be scanned for notifications, messages and other people’s highlight reels, all of which cut into her own dressing room preparation.

She stirred her steaming coffee and inhaled its heady aroma.

Beep. The clothes in the washing machine cried out for attention or they would punish her with creases that would need to be ironed out.

Beep. Now the doorbell. She put down her coffee and signed for a parcel she couldn’t remember ordering.

Beep…Beep. Her laptop was running out of power after her late-night session browsing for paperbacks that she wanted to read but would never get around to reading. Better plug in the charger.

On her way to work, she waited for the Green Man at the traffic crossing whose sole purpose was to give permission for people to cross the road: Beep. She was envious of him for finding his calling.

She thought about how it seemed she was not enjoying her life but merely enduring it.

Then suddenly, without warning, something changed.

A doctor’s appointment that produced a new way of living. Her life became only about the beeps.

She stared out of the window. She felt like a bird that was always too afraid to soar above the clouds and now had its wings clipped.

Beep…beep…beep…she looked over at the contraption that was keeping her body functioning, with its flashing lights and synthetic noises.

The nurse strode purposefully into the room. “Are you alright, love? It’s time for your walk. We’ll bring the machine with us.”

The war would continue. She closed her eyes and decided that finally, it was time to unplug.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

The judges said….
What we liked:
A new twist on the benefits of unplugging, this story opens with a long paragraph – itself representing the freedom of being uninterrupted – before the short sharp paragraphs kick in. We loved the purposeful repetition as the story took its first, and then second turn – all tied together by the same element. A (beep)ing good story. Perhaps having no title is also significant…