A tiny little story

Here’s a short little story I wrote for homework this week.  It’s 748 words because there is a 750 word limit.  I hope you all enjoy it:

Clifford’s Tale

Clifford’s hands trembled as he saw what lay in the sedate green box his mother had presented him with.  A vacation; and not just any vacation, his dream vacation.  For just a moment Clifford allowed himself to dream about the sandy beaches dotted with brightly colored lawn chairs, and a seemingly endless expanse of water stretching out before him.

He imagined diving into the tepid ocean and hanging there, weightless, as hundreds of tropical fish swarmed around him.  To reach out and touch one… but no.  Clifford shook himself from the dream, setting the box on his coffee table as though they would further seduce him while they were in his hand.

“I’m afraid I can’t accept.  I’m sorry,” Clifford said, genuine regret coloring his voice.

“It’s a gift, Clifford.  I’d like for you to use it.  I know how much you’ve dreamed about scuba diving along the Great Barrier Reef.  Didn’t you see that is part of the package?”

Clifford looked at Anabelle, his mother, feeling as though she had just knifed him in the heart.  She knew what he wanted more than anything in the world, and she knew what stood in his way.  That hadn’t changed in more than thirty years, ever since his father had died in a plane crash.

“If I go, who will watch my fish?” Clifford asked, motioning at his prized aquarium.  It was ten feet long and six feet high, lovingly and carefully stocked with exotic fish of the tropics.  “You know how delicate they are.  They’ll die without me here to care for them.”

“Connie from Aquarium World has already agreed to care for them while you are away, starting tomorrow.”  Anabelle explained, her voice calm and firm.

“Tomorrow?!” Clifford squealed.

“Didn’t you notice the flight leaves tomorrow?” Anabelle asked innocently.

Clifford made a destressed noise and looked wildly about the room, searching for a reason his mother would accept.  “Mr. Turner!” he exclaimed.  “Mr. Turner doesn’t know I’ll be leaving.  He won’t be able to get through a month without me at work.  Who would pay salaries and handle the accounts?”

Anabelle smiled fondly at her son, “I spoke with him last week, he’s agreed to let you go, even on short notice.  He seemed to think you work hard enough to deserve a vacation.”

Clifford thrust his hands into his hair, gripping tightly as though it anchored him to sanity.  Fear clawed at his throat and clenched a fist in his stomach.  He could feel the steely jaws of a trap quivering around his being, ready to spring at any moment.  It was him against his mother.  She had the best of intentions, certainly, but she was trying to push him to his death!  A horrible and terrifying plummet in a sardine can where if the impact didn’t kill you the drowning would.  It was far too far to fly over water.   It was far too far to fly period.  Any distance was too far to fly.

“A passport!” Clifford nearly shouted, jumping up with excitement.  He had found his way out of the ambush his mother had laid for him.

He watched her as she grimmaced sadly at him.  Standing, she reached into her purse and produced a tiny blue booklet.

He stood there with his mouth hanging open as she laid the passport on top of the tickets.  He didn’t move as she hugged him and stepped to the door.  “I love you, darling.  This is your choice, but before you make it, I do hope you’ll speak to a friend of mine.”

Clifford turned to the door as his mother pulled it open, curiosity seeping through his shock.  A tall man in a suit waited there.  “Hello,” the man said, extending his hand to Clifford.  “I’m Doctor Williams, and I specialize in helping people overcome flight anxiety.”

Clifford’s gaze slipped to his mother even as the man continued talking.  With one last smile she stepped outside, closing the door behind her.  Turning his attention back to the Doctor, Clifford found him waiting, tickets and passport in hand.

“I suppose you have a choice to make here,” the man said, lightly slapping the tiny bundle against his palm.

Yes, he did have a choice.  He could face his fears and live his dream, or he could stay hidden in Maine for the rest of his life.

Looking the doctor in the eye for the first time, Clifford extended his hand, asking, “Where do we start?”

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8 Responses to A tiny little story

  1. I like this story, Kali. You did a great job, especially since the word limit is a scant 750 words. I think that you really captured Clifford’s terror of flying and the resolution was satisfying. Let us know what your instructor and classmates have to say about it. (I assume that this is one of the stories that are going to be critiqued by the group). Good luck.

  2. Incognita says:

    Clifford is definitely afraid of something. But I don’t think it’s flying.

    He’s over 30 and employed, and yet his mother has arranged with his boss for a vacation, has acquired government documents, and hired a therapist. This is quite unusual behaviour for a mother to exhibit toward her adult sons.

    In the context of the severely over-controlling mother, and clearly dependent son, his fear of flying is an effective metaphore, and he is, in fact, terrified of the responsibility and consequences of striking out on his own.

    Jung says that water represents the unconscious. Small bodies of water, lakes, ponds are our personal unconscious. The ocean is the vast collective unconscious of mankind. It is therefore quite a journey for a man who embarking on a belated journey toward real adulthood to travel over the ocean, and specifically to dive within it.

    The aquarium is Clifford’s own unconscious. It is his very self he fears leaving in the hands of others. And it’s noteworthy that he says of the fish “You know how delicate they are.” Indeed, Clifford knows how very delicate *he* is, such that to leave the safety and comfort of his immaturity would be almost like dying.

    The move into adulthood is a sort of death. It can certainly feel like one.

    I don’t know whether Clifford will grow-up. But your portrait of his timidity is a clever one.

    • tospinayarn says:

      I love when people see things in my writing that I didn’t. I just wrote it as a little story about the clash of fear and desire.

      • Incognita says:

        Interpreting stories isn’t really any different from interpreting dreams, is it? I think it’s all good fun.

        I don’t think authors intentionally crafted half the stuff we see into their writing. But I believe that if you can make a case for it, it’s still there.

        Bad stories are the ones that no one has anything to say about, other than “I liked the ending,” or “She seemed like a nice person,” or “That was very sad (poignant, sweet, scary, etc).”

      • tospinayarn says:

        I agree. I think each person will find something different in a well-crafted story, too. What each individual finds is the sum of the author and the reader, making it just a little different to each person involved. 🙂

  3. Brent Smith says:

    Hey Kali, thanks for sharing this story. I wish we were able to see what everyone writes each week. I can’t help but think that reading what other people have done within the constraints of the assignment would benefit our own writing.

    • tospinayarn says:

      Brent, I completely agree! I would also like to see what other people have written because I think it might help our own work, but perhaps that would create too much “Booth-like” feedback for each week.

  4. Tina Dempter says:

    Interesting short story Kali. I found myself dreaming of a gift just like that the other day while was at work with a bitchy customer. UGH…the downfalls of reality !

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