The following short story is one I wrote for a class last trimester at uni. It was both the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever written. Before I even started the class I knew I wanted to write something along these lines, but I didn’t know whether that would take the form of a novel or short story. When I first heard the assignment instructions – to simply write a short story about anything – I was nervous about having no limitation to what I could say. But it didn’t take long before this story took shape and became something very close to me.
Because, as it turns out, I had a lot to say and a lot of feelings. (But are we really surprised about that?)
It is fictional, but there are so many elements that hold truth. All the emotion is real. If you’ve been a reader here for a while or read my poetry on Instagram you may be familiar with how I feel about the small things in life. Writing about flowers and light and joy. Writing about the small details that can be overlooked. Writing about grief and sadness and things that don’t feel good but can still lead to goodness. I look for the light in my writing, even when it seems heavy. Hope must always be present.
You may also recognise some phrases in the story. The concept was inspired by this blog post I wrote last July. I reread it often. Of all the posts I’ve written, it’s my favourite. I see how I let nothing go to waste. Everything I was feeling turned into creativity, and one day, contentment. It’s a reminder to be proud of myself, and to experience everything as best I can, even when life gets uncomfortable.
Anyway, to the story.
The Parts that Hurt (written by Sarah Bennett)
I am looking for the light.
But it’s raining, and there is none. I open the window to let cold air clear out the stuffy house and the breeze cuts between my shoulders, the chill spinning through the exit wound in my back. I grab a cardigan from my suitcase and wrap it around my body, trapping my long hair. I am aching for warmth. I am aching to be whole again.
The funeral was meant to be my closure, not a bullet reminding me of all I am without.
I’m thankful for the rain, in the least. The drought has gone on two years too long. There are no more tears left in me to mourn the flower gardens that used to bloom that have now been plucked, plucked, plucked, until nothing but dead grass remains. Like my heart, plucked, plucked, plucked until the wound is bled dry, the earth has nothing left to give, not until the sky offers itself again.
I shake my hair loose from the cardigan, let it drape freely down my back. Gran used to have long hair, years before I was born. She looked so free. I look like her, how she was.
I am about to grab my brush to untangle the strands when an indistinct figure walks up the driveway, knocks on the door. He’s elderly, and holding an umbrella, and his eyes are softening. He knew Gran.
A dull ache blooms around the hole in my chest.
“Frank,” the man says. “The gardener. I’ve been looking after the yard while Edith’s been in the nursing home.”
In my mind’s eye I see him trimming the lavender, keeping it from growing wild into the grass. Keeping it growing tall and strong. When I was young I didn’t understand that cutting something back was for its own good. But the lavender thrived, always thrived under the gentle hand of Gran, and then the man standing in front of me.
“Of course, Frank. Thank you. I’m Olivia, her granddaughter.”
The rain is a welcome change. A necessary change. By Frank’s foot is the first stem of lavender, climbing to meet the drops. It’s a miracle they kept themselves alive these past months.
“I’m sorry, about it all. Real shame. She was lovely, she was. She was – lovely. Nice to me, always ready for a chat. Very lovely.”
He talks as though he’s found the meaning of life, talks as though the meaning of life is in giving to someone else, talks as though giving to someone else fills you up, too.
“She appreciated your work,” I say. “She trusted you. Even when she wasn’t around.” It’s been a dry season, the kind where grass crumples, thinner than paper, and flowers forget how to breathe. Frank hasn’t had much to look after, but what was offered to his care was solemnly tended to. “She could never bring herself to sell this place, even with no one to live in it.”
Despite going into a nursing home, she was adamant about not selling the house. Now it’s a home to my grief, to me. My grief and I are one, I am nothing but empty.
This time next week I’ll be driving back home, to my real home, where grief will lie dormant. I will cry, but in secret. In my car, maybe, or the shower. The tears will take me by surprise because my mind will not be thinking of her. I will have nothing to constantly taunt me and bring it up, like this house, this garden, this man.
I wonder if the wound in my chest will open again once I’m no longer here, where she was. As though the wound knows its cause.
“She kept it going for a long time, Edith. Respected hard work. Lovely woman.”
My phone vibrates in my back pocket. Once, twice. My heart leaps, wanting to talk to Mum, the woman who can – or wants to – understand anything I go through, anything I feel. She held my hand throughout the funeral, squeezed it tight as a reminder that we are still alive, we are still here.
I slide it out from my pocket, just enough to see the notification.
It’s Michael. Michael, who says he loves me.
Frank clears his throat. Frank, the man who came to see me in my grief. “Well, I just wanted to pay my respects. You won’t be needing me here anymore, will you?”
There’s a lump in my throat, so I offer my hand and clasp his own. It’s over in a second; I let go of his clammy hands and swallow the lump, forcing it into my stomach where it turns to butterflies. This is where grief meets anxiety.
I quickly pull my long brown hair into a bun at the nape of my neck. Something to do, something to distract. I look like her, I look like her.
Once upon a time and she would smooth my hair down, her aged fingers combing through the strands. This is how she loved me. She would tuck my hair behind my left ear, and I would keep it like that all day. This is how I loved her.
“You’re very kind. Thank you.” I fold my arms together. “Once the solicitors go through the will, we’ll sell it. I just wanted a chance to go through her things by myself.”
Frank twists his body slightly, a hint he’s about to leave. Tea should have been offered. A biscuit tin opened. But I can’t stand it, the small talk, all politeness and watery smiles. The mention of Gran – Edith – every few minutes as though we can keep her alive by saying her name. And even if I wanted to talk, Michael’s text is the brain fog I can’t see past, is the racing of my heart that stilts conversation.
“The lavender is going alright,” Frank comments, an attempt to make us forget the reason for his visit.
It doesn’t work, but the hole in my chest is a little smaller. Or perhaps it has simply become a shared space, a little less lonely. Maybe I need to plant some lavender there and fill my body with flowers, with sweetness, with something good. Something to make me whole again. Something to keep me going once Frank walks away.
“It was good of you to stop by.”
He disappears into the grey, dull veil of rain. It’s coming down fine, the drops small, a continuous sheet of water folding down over the house.
It was good of him to stop by.
I don’t close the door; instead, I pull out my phone and open Michael’s text.
Give me a call, whenever you’re free. I’ve got something important to tell you, something very important. I love you, still.
Still, as though I’m damaged somehow. Still, as though he’s doing me a favour by loving me.
My cardigan is thin yet I don’t feel the rain when I stand under it. It continues to water Gran’s garden, the garden I will always consider to be hers. The lavender, hers. No matter who else lives here, who tends to the flowers, it will always belong to Gran.
It was ours though, together, in the holidays when I would visit, and the lavender was always happy. So was I.
I would hide amongst it, only I did not have to shrink myself down to fit there. I would simply sit while Gran was weeding and find my heart beating in time with the earth.
I bend down, pluck lavender from the dirt. I am looking for the light.
I miss being young enough to lie with the flowers. I miss not knowing that people die and don’t come back. I miss being twelve, when being understood was more important than being kissed, when being heard was more important than being desired.
I miss being alone, with no one to sell me empty words about love.
Some of my hair escapes the bun and sticks to my cheeks. Michael wouldn’t like me like this.
I look at my phone again, reread the text he sent. Reread the still. Still, he loves me.
But not enough.
There in the rain, I tap out a reply. Raindrops bounce off my phone screen, making it hard to type out the message I need to send. Maybe it would be hard anyway.
I do not expect him to respond.
There’s a park near Gran’s, the opposite direction of the beach. It overlooks the lake, one where men gut fish and pelicans hover, hoping for a catch. The lake is usually still, the water a serene mirror to the sky.
By the water are two swings, lonely, together. Gran would join me, then when she was too frail, Mum. Not Michael, never Michael. I think he’s too dignified for that sort of thing. But I also don’t think I would ever give him the chance to sit beside me and watch the water. I bled out, the day she died, and I can’t force Michael back into the gaping emptiness of my chest.
A few months ago and I would have tried. But a few months ago, I had forgotten the scent of lavender.
When I walk back inside, I search the linen cupboard. Worn towels, ripped sheets. Gran didn’t throw much away but kept everything until it couldn’t be used anymore. She believed in second chances, third chances, two thousand chances.
Mum and I visited Gran, a few months ago, when she was still in the nursing home. We cleared out a lot of the rubbish, mostly cracked containers and rusted cutlery from the kitchen. We left the linen cupboard for another time, thinking we would be back on a holiday, filled with energy to spend sorting out the other rooms and visiting Gran when the summer heat made it too hot to shuffle furniture around.
I didn’t expect to be here so soon. I didn’t think that would be the last time –
But that’s how it usually goes, isn’t it? That’s one part of history that repeats itself, isn’t it?
My hands clasp around what I’m looking for, behind washers and handtowels. An old, empty vase standing at the back of the cupboard.
I wipe it down, set it on the kitchen table. I trim the stems of lavender, pull away the dead petals. The lavender suffered from the drought. The lavender is going alright. I might be crying. I might be okay.
The vase is bursting with purple, and the scent lingers. It says there’s more to me than the parts that hurt.
The light, it is here.
Thank you so much for reading this. As my favourite story I’ve ever written, your time and attention is appreciated. Feel free to leave some feedback, I’d love to know what you think.