A List of What Matters by Roberta Beary (Prompt 2/ 424 words)

by | Oct 17, 2020 | Dean Cleaning One | 13 comments

The yellow cloth bunny no longer exists, thanks to the workaholic father who sometimes read to his baby son but most nights came home too late.

The two volume set of Remembrance of Things Past belongs to a daughter, and sibling, the middle one in the birth order, who buries her head in books she is too young to understand. When she becomes a mother with two postgraduate degrees, she says she doesn’t care that her favourite book is a much maligned English translation of the original French.

The twinset of real pearls will be locked in a safe deposit box until their owner, who is a mother and grandmother, dies. Two daughters will fight over ownership, while the grandchildren, a brother and sister, will stay out of it. If you thought the eldest sister would win, you would be wrong. Birth order isn’t everything.

There are two diamond rings. There is one husband. The larger diamond ring is not from the husband. It is a family heirloom. One sister wears it every day. The other sister is in her home a continent away, with a diamond watch, two pairs of diamond earrings, and a diamond bracelet, all once the property of their deceased mother. The diamond watch, two pairs of diamond earrings, and diamond bracelet are not enough. She makes regular calls to her sister, demanding their mother’s ring.

There is a brown toy teddy bear, Teddy, that a friend brought to a baby shower 35 years ago. Teddy’s owner, living in a large house filled with sharp edges and books on interior design, went into finance. Every night she sleeps next to Teddy, who has retained his rotund shape.

There is a stainless steel refrigerator that tells a wife it is not time for a snack, and immediately orders her to put down that plate of chocolate chip cookies. It has a camera which cannot be turned off, and uploads images to the husband’s home office and company office.

There is an iPhone which receives a text from the husband, which the wife ignores, while admiring her twinset pearls in the mirror. She turns off the phone, in case her sister calls, which she does around this time of day because of the time difference. She opens Swann’s Way, her favourite book in Volume I. Looking at the diamond ring on her right hand doesn’t make her hunger pangs go away. She would kill for a chocolate chip cookie. She wishes her children would call, but knows they won’t. They never do.

13 Comments

  1. Kella

    ROBERTA! Phew, this piece has a slow burn that I adore. You nail the contention between siblings when a parent dies and heirlooms and jewels are “claimed.” I am still mad that an aunt (by marriage–of course, I had to add that detail) took my grandmother’s wooden rolling pin. She couldn’t even cook or bake. Just petty AF. So, what you write is so relatable and beautiful.

    Here are some passages that blew me away in their truth & beauty:
    “If you thought the eldest sister would win, you would be wrong. Birth order isn’t everything.” (Yesssssss, and I’m the eldest of four, lol)
    “Teddy’s owner, living in a large house filled with sharp edges and books on interior design, went into finance. Every night she sleeps next to Teddy, who has retained his rotund shape.” (love the juxtaposition of the sharp to the soft, the classically elegant to the supremely comforting love object that is slept with)
    “There is a stainless steel refrigerator that tells a wife it is not time for a snack, and immediately orders her to put down that plate of chocolate chip cookies. It has a camera which cannot be turned off, and uploads images to the husband’s home office and company office.” (maybe it’s the recently divorced fat woman that is me, but I want to liberate this character from this surveillance state and feed her the chocolate chip cookies I just baked last night AND this morning)

    Oh, and the longing you write of is so palpable and true (and makes me want to enjoy my 3-year-old daughter as she is right freaking now):
    “Looking at the diamond ring on her right hand doesn’t make her hunger pangs go away. She would kill for a chocolate chip cookie. She wishes her children would call, but knows they won’t. They never do.”

    This class is about investigating talisman and I love that the central message of this piece, at least for me, is that the things we get are not always what we want. Lovely, lovely writing, Roberta. So excited to read more! ~Kella

    • Paul Beckman

      Roberta-The infighting of siblings over a deceased parents’ possessions is as common as the death. However; the way you wrote this showed a new light with one sister not ever being satisfied but she would never trade either. All or nothing.
      And this is a terrific ending: “Looking at the diamond ring on her right hand doesn’t make her hunger pangs go away. She would kill for a chocolate chip cookie. She wishes her children would call, but knows they won’t. They never do.”

      • Roberta Beary

        Paul, Thanks for reading and commenting. This is one of those times I’m writing a different take on the same story I’ve told before, at least once but more likely thrice.

  2. Roberta Beary

    Many thanks for your thoughtful read and insights, Kella!

    Enjoy your 3 year old. 3 turned into 35 without me noticing, somehow. A mystery…

  3. Tommy Dean

    Wow, that first line! So much work being done from that first sentence! Not only the object but the movement of time, the regret or anger toward the father… just great!

    I love how you turned this into a list with each segment affecting a pronoun named person of the family! How this happens a lot, but how fresh it is here, as they fight and others stay out of it and how for once birth order doesn’t matter! That feels so central to this piece!

    “There are two diamond rings. There is one husband.” Love the play with defamiliarization here, going against the grain of expectation! I feel like there’s a title hiding in these two lines! Yes, love how it’s not enough!

    ” living in a large house filled with sharp edges and books on interior design, went into finance” Love the opposites and dichotomies hiding among this line! There’s so much done for character and feeling here, just a great use of subtle brevity!

    “There is a stainless steel refrigerator that tells a wife it is not time for a snack, and immediately orders her to put down that plate of chocolate chip cookies. It has a camera which cannot be turned off, and uploads images to the husband’s home office and company office.” Love this shift toward new age technology, how these items are now sentient in a way, making decisions for the characters here! How diamonds are replaced by AI!

    and this final paragraph crescendo is perfect! I love how it all swirls together, everything that is against her and how she tries to put it all away, but she can’t because what is priceless jewels if you can’t eat a cookie! Love the theme of riches here, and how the one person she doesn’t want to hear from calls every day while her kids never do! This is so good!

    • Roberta Beary

      Thanks,Tommy. I was trying for a lot here and your comments are helpful. I’ll think about your title suggestions. In case you couldn’t tell, I loved your prompt.

  4. Constance Malloy

    Roberta, your opening line is a stunner! It does everything an opening line should, and then some. The hope, the disappointment, the loss of the bunny, the loss of the father. Right away I was in. And then the end, BINGO! Everything in between brings me to this place of understanding the tugs and pulls of this woman’s family, and why she knows her children won’t call. And, the reader knows she knows why they never do. Thanks for sharing!

    • Roberta Beary

      Thanks, I was worried it was a bit on the schmaltzy side. Glad it worked for you, Constance. That bunny has shown up in a few of my stories.

  5. Christina Rosso-Schneider

    The last sentence is what really gets me, though there are so many powerful lines in this piece. You’ve done an incredible job of breathing life into this family, the siblings, and things passed down or coveted.

    • Roberta Beary

      Thanks, Christina. Glad you got the family dynamic. Two things I love about BG workshops are the prompts and feedback.

  6. Meg Tuite

    Hi Roberta,
    OH what a beauty! So right on! There will never be enough to fill the caverns of these sisters. I worked hospice for over 30 years and whenever there was money, jewelry, anything of worth or not, there would be war! So heartbreaking when the family member dying is left by the wayside. You portray this brilliantly! LOVE IT!!

  7. Trent

    Roberta –

    Glad to see some writing, that shows a point not always made~ How death & other conditions, bring out pettiness.

    I happen to like safe deposit boxes – one thing that would add even more pop, is some additional detail, with that.
    How an employee at the bank manages a list, for instance, but is oblivious to what takes place, behind the scenes.

    Without anything like that, though – very realistic, and full of great detail.

  8. Clementine Burnley

    Hi Roberta, This was an amazing piece. I felt like I got to know the complex relationships and emotions of a lifetime for the whole family in 424 words. I’d dearly like to write something that does this with contrasts and so much attention to the layers of meaning. Its a piece I’m going to remember.

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