On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers Centre reveals a new set of story prompts. Writers have 55 hours to submit their best 500-word (or fewer) story.
Alanis Morriset sounded angry. Not exactly the calm vibe I craved, but my role was to put up balloons and streamers, and ensure the carefully curated collection of photos looped endlessly on the TV.
Liz was relaxing on the sofa. Every decision and detail of the afternoon had been hers and hers alone, from creating invitations, to organising the food, and (regrettably) the choice of music.
Alice, who turned 21 on Thursday, arrived at the door with profiteroles and champagne.
“Hi, Aunty Erin,” she said, giving me a big bear hug in the kitchen. “How will I get through the afternoon? And what’s that music?”
“Alice!” called Liz. “Good God, girl. It’s a celebration, not a funeral. There’s a birthday surprise hanging on the door in the sewing room.”
Alice tried not to be offended. After all, she’d paid a small fortune for the navy dress – classy, but conservative, just as her mother liked. But when she saw the handmade dress, she burst into tears. Exquisite.
Less than an hour later, people began streaming in, bringing food and alcohol. So much alcohol. I couldn’t tell if it was out of generosity or perceived necessity to get through the afternoon. Some brought gifts for Alice, who whisked them into another room. She wanted no attention.
Peals of laughter rang through the house, and Alanis Morisset was drowned out by animated conversations. The photos were a hoot – Liz holding Alice as a newborn, and side-by-side photos of Alice and Liz at the same age. Funny photos. Embarrassing photos. Painful photos. Pregnant Liz with Mark, who’d never met his little girl.
I sat next to Liz and shared the cheese platter, gossiping about the guests. She was fading.
“How do you think Alice is?” she asked me.
“Look at her. You’ve raised an intelligent, compassionate and resilient young woman. Her friends are here. And I’ll be here for her too.”
We looked at her, wearing the hand-painted dress Liz had created. It was a classic cut, with blues of every hue, like waves without a beginning or end. A dress with the drama of the ocean, and with the serenity of the sea. A perfect dress for the occasion.
Liz squeezed my hand, just before clinking her glass with a spoon. The mood quickly shifted, and all eyes were on the frail figure on the sofa.
“Fill your glasses,” Liz announced. Her eyes looked big, but her face looked small. “I wish to make a toast. On Thursday, Alice turned 21…”
“BUT - today isn’t about her. It’s about me. It’s about me saying goodbye.” Liz adjusted the scarf on her head, took a deep breath and raised her glass. “Wakes shouldn’t be for people who never wake up. Let’s celebrate being together. To family, friends, love and life.”
And we raised our glasses and said goodbye, sharing stories, and making memories. A few weeks later, we said goodbye again. And Alanis Morriset sang Ironic, even though it wasn’t.
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.