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LAce Posted Monday, March 9th, 2009
Motherhood is One Test You Can’t Retake
Paula Ray

Myra looked up from her book and watched Toby ride his broomstick horse across the linoleum floor with a thump, slide, tap, and squeal of glee. His fuzzy brown hair was so thin he looked like he had a kiwi scalp.

“Mommy, watch!” his sugar cookie face wrinkled around his pug nose and butterscotch freckles were dotted across the bridge. She was looking, in fact, he was so adorably sweet she was having a hard time not looking.

“Way to go!” she put down her pencil and applauded . Toby galloped his horsy around the kitchen island where his mom’s book bag sat with its mouth agape, waiting to be fed before going to school. The baby-sitter was late. Myra decided to give her a ring and find out what was taking so long. Today was the final exam. Last spring, a girl was fifteen minutes late to her final and had to retake the entire class--causing her graduation to be postponed a semester. Myra had made it through four years with a 3.4 grade point average, in spite of working, having a baby, and raising him on her own. This was the last step to complete her degree.

She dialed the sitter’s number,“Cindy, where are you?…I can’t wait that long!…Why didn’t you call me earlier?..No, my test is at noon and I have to be there!…Damn, do you know anyone who can get here in time?…What’s the number?”

She hung up the phone, looked over at Toby--combing his horse’s hair with his pudgy fingers, and began dialing the number Cindy had given her, but there was no answer. Furious that her sitter had gone to Raleigh with some friends and was stuck in traffic 40 miles away, when she should have been there to baby-sit, Myra screamed in frustration. She slammed the phone on the kitchen table, Toby started crying, she calmed him down, and then began dialing the numbers of any and everyone she could think of who may be able to baby-sit long enough for her to take her test. She’d only be gone two hours.

There was no one available. She even asked the daycare worker at the gym, but unless Myra was there to work out, she couldn’t leave Toby, no matter how much money she offered under the table. She couldn’t take him with her to class or leave him in the car, it was too hot and even if she left the car running and air conditioner on it was too dangerous, someone might kidnap him.

“Toby, wanna go play in your fish bowl?” Toby looked up and grinned big.

He ran over to his mother, sock feet slip-sliding, and plump cheeks glowing with joy. He buried his face in his mother’s lap and squeezed his little arms around her thighs. She lifted him up and let him straddle her waist, his rump rested on her hip as they headed off to his bedroom, face to face--singing ‘ There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fy!” She opened his closet, inside looked like an underwater fantasy world with sea-creature stuffed animals, neon jelly fish lights, blue swirled painted walls, seaweed carpet flooring, foam shell pillows, and a treasure chest of toys. Toby reached and let his fingers drag across the tendrils made of fluorescent rubber tubes that glowed under black light. He giggled as they tickled his hand like spaghetti. “You feeling the noodle fish are you?” Myra snuggled Toby close and kissed his cheek, then sat him down on the big clam bean bag. “Mommy’s got to study now. You play in the fish bowl and I’ll come get you when it’s time to go to the park.”

She swallowed the spider that wiggled and jiggled and giggled inside her, sang Myra as she tickled her son ‘til he let out a laugh he could barely breathe around. Satisfied, she closed the door, like she usually did, but this time she locked it.

Toby won’t even know I’m gone. He’ll play and take his nap. No one will hurt him. There is nothing in there he can get hurt on. I’ll be back to take him to the park--like every other day. Myra rationalized her actions and thought about how normal the day would seem to Toby. The big difference was that all the other days, if Toby cried she heard him on the baby monitor in the closet and came running or if he woke up and wanted out--he simply opened the door and came out.

She tried to block out maternal thoughts from her mind as she crammed her knapsack with books she needed to return to the library, grabbed a bottle of water, her cell phone, and headed to the car. Pulling out of the driveway she thought she heard Toby crying, but knew it was guilt playing tricks on her.

Traffic on College Road was backed up at the light in front of the K-Mart. where she had purchased Toby’s broomstick horse last Christmas. Waiting for the light to turn green, she sang ‘There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly’ to herself and gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. When she sang, “perhaps she’ll die” the light turned green and she heard horns blaring.


Myra found herself in the hospital, tubes coming out of her like she was a sea-creature herself. The nurse walked in and smiled. “Hi there. You’re finally waking up I see.”

“Where’s Toby? How long have I been like this?” She didn’t remember the accident well, but she remembered locking Toby in the closet and she needed to know he was okay.

The nurse said, “You’ve been in a coma for several weeks, sweetie. I’ll tell the doctor to come check on you.” She sashayed out quickly, as if trying to avoid further questioning.

Awake and alone, Myra’s mind filled with horrible visions of her son--crying, starving, trapped in that closet, scratching at the door like he was buried alive.

HONK, HONK. Myra snapped out of her nightmarish-daydream. A train of cars were behind her with drivers blasting their horns and yelling obscenities for her to GO! She looked over at the K-Mart, whipped into the parking lot, did a u-turn, and rushed back home when the intersection cleared.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Donna Levy [ ] on Friday, March 13th, 2009 at 5:03 PM
Yesterday I was again involved in an old discussion about why more women haven't won Nobel prizes. Your story answers the question. Well done, Paula. Love, Donna

Posted by Kim Townsel [ ] on Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 at 4:56 PM
Great story, Paula. I'd love to adapt this as a short screenplay. Of course, you get credit, and if it ever sells, we'd both be smiling.

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