I almost passed this prompt by. It brought to mind the first thing that likely will go through your head too when you read it. Though maybe the first thing in your mind will be something completely different. That’s the point of this, after all. Eh, it’s been done, I figured, scrolling down.
Then I came back to it, wondering if there was a different angle I could attack it from. It made me think about the role of themes in our writing, and the power of words to shape those themes into something new.
Please enjoy my latest exploration into the writing prompt project, though fair word of warning, it’s a little heavier than some of the others I’ve shared.
Disclaimer: I take no credit for the writing prompt featured today. I found it as part of my exercise in turning outside ideas into something that is mine.
By Kimberley Imrie
The next day, Cale couldn’t remember much about the moment it happened.
He remembered watching the streetlights out the window as mom drove. It was late. Much later than he was usually out. The were no seats left for the early show, but she’d promised him they would see the movie on opening night. So she stared down the agent at the desk, ignoring the pointed looks as she bought a ticket to a 10 pm showing for her eight year old son.
Mom was like that, though. Dad left when he was a baby and his grandparents were long since gone, so it was just the two of them against the world. She wasn’t a big woman. She was short and slim, fully a head below most people she dealt with. But she was a warrior. She taught Cale early that strength was measured in how much you could give. Anything else was irrelevant.
Cale didn’t know what happened. He heard the blaring horn and squealing tires. He heard the crash and the whine of bending metal. It all happened in an instant, though. “Mom?!” He shouted from the backseat, but before she could respond, the sliding truck ricocheted into their car.
From there, his memory blacked out. Somehow, he wasn’t hurt, but the next thing he could recall was a fireman pulling him from the wreck. There were too many lights and sounds to see straight. People were crying and yelling, sirens were blaring too loud. Fires lit the gaps between the cars piled on top of each other, a long truck on its side wrapping the debris.
It wasn’t until a woman with dark skin and curly black hair knelt in front of him that the world snapped back into focus.
“Cale? Is that your name honey?”
Cale stared at her. He still couldn’t make his words work. He nodded.
She glanced down, swallowing and licking her lips. He’d always been good at reading people. Mom taught him that. The woman was heartbroken. “Okay. Cale, my name is Amelia. I would like to bring you somewhere safe for the night. Is that alright?”
He knew there was something he should ask, but his brain wouldn’t give him the right words. He nodded again.
Amelia didn’t lead him to a car. He was glad – he didn’t want to get in a car. She led him to the back of an ambulance and climbed in with him as the doctor closed the door. He watched the streetlights out the window as they drove.
The next morning, he still hadn’t spoken. He didn’t sleep much, the little rest he had punctuated by terrible dreams. Bending metal and screeching tires. The smell of smoke. And something else. Something happened to someone…
Amelia brought him to eat breakfast, then sat down beside him. The room was small, a table between some padded benches. Windows into the main room were blocked by blinds. Cale knew she was going to say something he didn’t want to hear.
“Cale, honey. Can I ask you a question?”
He stared at her.
“Do you have any relatives? Grandma or Grandpa? Uncle?”
He shook his head.
Amelia glanced down again. She was still sad, today. “What about your dad?”
He blinked. What dad?
“Okay. Cale, I’m going to tell you something that will be hard to hear, but I need you to listen to me. And then you can take all the time you need.”
He looked out the window, not interested in hearing anything else.
He ignored her, but she pressed on. “Your mom was driving the car last night, right?” She paused, but didn’t seem to expect a response. “Your mom died in the crash. I’m so sorry.”
He said nothing, the silence spreading between them, filling the small room. Finally, Amelia gave a soft sigh. “I’m here to help you however you need. For the next few days, you’ll stay here at the shelter with me. We’re going to find a place for you to live, where you’ll have all the support you need. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“In a few days, there will be a memorial for the victims of the crash. I know it will be hard, but I think you should go. Will you be able to do that?”
Cale didn’t move for a long time. He heard Amelia’s words again and again. The victims. His mind was struggling to remember something. An image, a sound, the sharp scent of blood. His mother’s voice, weak and faltering, her fingertips brushing his hand before falling away. “Be strong, my beautiful baby boy. You’re strong and you’re brave and you’re good. Always… remember who you… are…”
When he looked up again, the door was closed and he was alone. His eyes were puffy and his stomach hurt from crying. Amelia sat at a table just outside the room, a computer open in front of her, her watchful eyes on him through the slatted blinds as she gave him privacy to grieve. When he sat up, she returned to the room. Her arms were warm.
A few days later, Cale sat beside her in a church. A table stood at the front of the room, lined with pictures commemorating the deceased. Glowing candles cast reflections off the frames.
The priest spoke, but Cale wasn’t listening. He was watching a young boy a few seats down. The boy was maybe six, with brown hair and wide blue eyes. Tears ran down his cheeks as he stared at two pictures on the display, his teeth chattering as he trembled.
The priest said something else and a shudder passed through the boy’s shoulders, a sob bursting from his throat. He bolted from the bench, pulling away from the woman at his side and snatching a picture. All eyes fell on him, many looking down and filling with tears.
The woman jogged to his side and tried to ease the heavy frame from his small fingers, speaking in a hush as he wept. “Asher, it’s okay to feel sad, do you want to come outside with me?”
Asher tried to pull away, clutching the picture with all his strength. Cale stood without a word, Amelia sucking a soft breath as he approached the other boy and took his hand. Asher stiffened, his surprise momentarily overcoming his grief. Their eyes met and held. Cale gave him a small nod and led him back to the bench, the younger boy still clutching the picture against his chest.
Asher held Cale’s hand until the room emptied, but his sobs quieted. Outside once more, the cold sunlight surrounding them, they edged closer together as their workers stepped aside to speak. When Amelia approached again, she knelt to their level, looking between them.
“Cale, that was a kind thing you did. For now, would you two like to come back to the shelter together?”
Cale looked at Asher, and Asher looked back. They were both in pain and alone. They both lost the most important people in their lives. His mom told him to remember who he was. Well, he was strong and brave and good, and he had everything to give. Just like she did.
He nodded, tightening his hand on Asher’s. “Yes please, Amelia. I’ll help take care of him.”
He lost so much, but he had everything left to give.
I’ve been blessed to never experience the tragedy of a lost parent or child. But too many have, and too many have been children left alone to face the world. I believe grief is among the most powerful catalysts of the human experience. It can destroy us and bring us to our knees, but at the same time, it has the power to eventually strengthen us and shape us into better versions of ourselves.
Grief touches everyone’s life in one way or another. As writers, I truly feel it is part of our challenge and responsibility to give it voice. Our job is to cast light into the shadows, and to bring words to those places where words are feared.
Heavy though it was, I hope you felt something as you read. I always look forward to your comments, and your own spin on the idea I showcased.