There were three reasons to be grateful for waking up that morning, and three hundred not to. Rachael listed the three so-called positives in a litany all day, convincing herself it was worth it.
It had to be worth it.
One: Benjamin. She bent to pick up his discarded pants, jocks, tee, socks… “Ben!” No answer. “Benjamin!”
“Wha?” The teenager barely turned from his game, fingers pounding the controls, firing virtual guns at virtual enemies. “Yes! Round the next—watch your head idiot—get ‘em, get ‘em!”
Battle noises staccatoed from the headset. Rachael debated throwing his jocks onto the screen, but that hadn’t worked yesterday so what was the point of trying again?
She sighed. “Dinner in ten.” Ben didn’t acknowledge her. She left.
Two: Annaline. Rachael watched through the kitchen window, hands in soap suds, as her middle child danced cartwheels on the lawn. Roll, flip, spin, cartwheel. Up on the mini trampoline, backflip. Oof — awkward landing. Her smile fell as Anna tumbled to the floor.
“Are you okay, honey?” she called from the faded back door. Should have known better.
Anna’s face wore tears of disappointment and hate. “Leave me alone! Don’t watch me! It’s your fault I fell!” She rubbed her ankle, stood, and turned her back on Rachael.
Her own face grew damp. “Dinner in five,” she said, and closed the door.
Three: Chloë. The toddler sat on the couch, watching unicorns explore friendship in colourful animation. Her thumb was in her mouth again. Rachael sighed—an almost constant expression she barely noticed anymore. At least the episode had just finished.
She stepped over blocks and cars to turn off the TV.
“Nooooo,” Chloë wailed. “I want more ponies!” Chestnut curls she refused to have brushed hung tangled around her head. She jumped at Rachael, trying to tear the remote away. “More ponies! I. Want. TV!”
Remote placed high and away, Chloë threw herself to the floor. Not again, thought Rachael. She hadn’t the energy.
“Dinnertime, baby girl,” she said, and picked up the thrashing child from the tired carpet.
She’d set the table for five again. Stupid hope. Stupid grief. But even though Chloë screamed, and Anna limped in, and Ben turned up five minutes late, they all managed to sit down together. Lasagne steamed, salad wilted, children bickered over tomatoes and elbow room. The fifth place sat empty. Rachael ate, watching. Repeated her gratitudes.
They say having children is the greatest achievement in life. They never say how hard it is to manage on your own.
The clock struck six-thirty, a chime that used to mean something. The sound of the key, the door opening, warm air filtering in behind a warmer body.
She stood and cleared the plates.
There were three hundred reasons not to get out of bed every morning. But she had three to cherish. To hold close to her heart. No matter what, she still had those three.
She found a smile, and took out dessert.
This week’s slice-of-life flash fiction is brought to you by a prompt to write about ‘celebration’. Thank you for reading. 🙂