IN EVERYTHING I WRITE, truth rests. In creative nonfiction, more than any other genre, truth writes the story. In poetry and fiction, life experiences, observations and emotions weave into poems and stories. Not necessarily the full truth, but based on reality. The adage “write what you know” rings true for me.
In 2017, I wrote a short story, “The Weekly Phone Call,” and entered it in the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc annual competition. That work of creative nonfiction along with two poems, two fictional short stories and another piece of creative nonfiction were chosen for publication in Fine Lines, The Talking Stick Volume 26. It marked my most successful year with TS, an annual anthology featuring work by Minnesota writers or those with a connection to Minnesota.
The book title, Fine Lines fits my selected entry, a story about the Sunday evening phone calls I made to my mom. Every. Week. I looked forward to them, as did Mom. My short story is one of raw emotions, of grief and pain. And today, days before Mother’s Day, seems an appropriate time to share this piece of my writing.
I hope it sparks an understanding that simple connections linking us to those we love are to be valued. When Mom could no longer hold or talk on a phone in the years before her January 2022 death, I felt a deep loss. I missed her voice. I missed her stories. I missed sharing my life with her. And today, I miss her, as I try to recall her voice, the words she spoke, yet always remembering the love we shared.
The Weekly Phone Call
It’s 6:30 p.m. on Sunday when I punch the green phone icon.
“Hello, Arlene speaking,” she answers, the indiscernible dialogue of a television blaring in the background.
“Hi, this is Audrey,” I say, then wait while she turns off her TV. “How are you doing?”
Her answer never deviates. She is tired and blames the weather. Already sadness threads through my thoughts. Inside the sheltered walls of a care center, she can’t feel the bite of a winter prairie wind, the drench of rainfall, the smothering humidity of a July afternoon. She feels only artificial heat and cold while sequestered in her over-sized dorm style room.
My mind drifts as Mom laments an in-house obsession with BINGO, recounts an escape attempt by a friend—big and exciting news—and complains of failed jets in the whirlpool tub. I listen, insert appropriate responses, and await the usual repetition of information.
When she repeats herself, I say nothing. There is no point. My love prevails in silence. But inside, my anger rises at her declining memory. I want the mom who never forgot a birthday, who remembered what she ate for lunch, who knew names. I miss her undeniably kind and positive spirit. I am grieving.
But I tell her none of this. Instead, I end our conversation with “I love you” and a promise to call her next Sunday, at 6:30 p.m.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Original 2017 publication credit: Fine Lines, The Talking Stick Volume 26