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.
THIS MONTH'S CRITERIA
“Five!” Olivia held up 4 fingers before realising her mistake and raised her thumb as well. “I’m five!”
She ran around in circles, chasing her flowing dressing gown like a dog chasing his tail. “Five! Five!! Five!!!”
She ran into my outstretched arms and we collapsed onto the lounge in a giggling, tickle-monster, fluffy slippers tangle.
“Happy birthday, my gorgeous, gorgeous grown-up girl! Turning 5 on the 5th of May. My little twinnie.”
“Happy birthday, Granny! How old are you today?”
I held up my hand with fingers stretched wide and slapped the air twice. “Fifty-five. I’m fifty-five today.”
Each year, on my daughter’s birthday, I would remember the day she came into my world. How could such a tiny, beautiful, perfect being be mine? Olivia’s birthday was different. Yes, a tiny, beautiful, perfect grand-daughter had arrived, but my own beautiful daughter had left on the same day. Surely ‘dying in childbirth’ was something that happened in the olden days, before modern medicine, or to hippies who opted for home births. Why was it still a thing in the 21st century?
We sat at the kitchen table, eating birthday Nutella pancakes for breakfast. Just the two of us. As it had always been. I’d never really forgiven Tom for running away. It was as if his grief was worse than mine. Selfish, that’s what it was. He ran away from his own daughter, a helpless little creature less than a week old. Weak. Pathetic. Good riddance. He didn’t deserve her anyway.
I sprayed more detangling spray on Olivia’s mop of thick hair. A daily ritual. I patiently waited while she struggled with her shoelaces before giving up, and then it was off to preschool with two boxes of iceblocks. The icy wind picked up. Iceblocks in May. Ridiculous. Cupcakes were banned in the ‘egg-aware’ preschool. Next thing you know they’ll be banning Christmas because they’re ‘religion-aware’. All the fun things were being replaced due to some kind of increased awareness. Sugar. Eggs. Even playground equipment was lower to the ground these days.
A peck on the cheek and she was off, shouting ‘Five! I’m five!!” at the top of her voice. I exchanged pleasantries with the assortment of young mums: Alannah, helplessly negotiating with the toddler who wanted to stay; Nicole in expensive gym gear showcasing a flawless figure and impossible vitality; Kate who tottered off in her suit, running late for her day at the office. Justine should be here, not me.
Sal was waiting for me at the coffee shop, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers. “Happy birthday, you old fossil.” She stood up, and hugged me. Tears pricked my eyes. “I know, I know,” she whispered. “It’s a strange old day.”
Five years ago, Olivia arrived and Justine left. I railed against those who called Olivia the silver lining. They were simplistic and stupid. Silver, even gold, could never describe her. Olivia was luminous. Justine was gone, but what a gift she left behind.
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.