I am thrilled to have my short story “The Step-Mother” published by The Academy of the Heart and Mind. Thank you, editor Thomas Page!
Madalyn did not like having to be alone with her step-mother all the time. She was irked with her father for having to travel far away from home for work so often. Her step-mother was not mean or cruel like the evil step-mother in the stories that she read, like Cinderella. Sometimes Madalyn almost wished that she was evil, so that she could justify not liking her. She was not her real mother, and never would be. She did not need any more reason than that.
Why did her mother have to go to Heaven and leave her and her father? Why did that terrible cancer have to take her away from them? Madalyn cried herself to sleep every night since her mother died three years ago. Madalyn was only four years old when it happened, but she never forgot those months of her mother being weak and ill. And then the final weeks of visiting her in the hospital with all those tubes sticking in her. How could she not cry?
Madalyn’s father remarried a year ago. Madelyn refused to call her step-mother mom, and her father forbade her from calling her by her first name, Sandra. After all, a little girl must have respect for their elders. So, Madalyn called her ‘Step-Mother’ every time she had to address her. This hurt Sandra since she tried so hard to be loving and generous to Madalyn. Sandra knew it would take a long time for Madalyn to heal from her loss, and to accept her as family. Madalyn refrained from talking with Sandra as much she could, and when she had to, it would only be abrupt “yes” or “no” responses.
Madalyn’s father hoped that she would bond with Sandra during his times away. Sandra was an angel and he loved her with all of his heart. She would never replace his first wife, but having her in his life now was a blessing. He needed someone to help him raise his little girl, especially since he was away so much on business. Sandra was a wonderful cook and housekeeper, and she adored putzing around in the garden, planting a colorful array of flowers and yummy vegetables to eat. Sandra was also an accomplished artist who sold her paintings at the local gallery. Sandra could do all of that from home, and be there for Madalyn, since she did not work in an office or a store.
August rolled around, and soon it would be the anniversary of Madalyn’s mother’s death. She and her father would always go to the cemetery with a huge bouquet of daisies, her mother’s favorite flower. They would bring a blanket and stay for a while, sharing stories about when they were all together. Last year Madalyn got angry when her father invited Sandra to come and join them. Sandra could see how displeased Madalyn was, and said that she needed to stay home to finish framing some paintings for an upcoming gallery show.
This year, her father’s job demanded that he be away on the anniversary date. Madalyn took a fit and yelled and screamed at him, then locked herself in her room and cried for hours on end. She waited until he was packed and on his way. Then she grabbed a blanket, and packed a few things of her own in a small suitcase. She stopped out back to grab a few daisies from Sandra’s garden. After all, the yard did belong to her and to her real mother, before Sandra came to live there. Madalyn quietly snuck out of the yard and walked the one mile to the cemetery all by herself. She was careful crossing streets, and avoiding strangers.
After she found her mother’s grave, she lovingly placed the daisies on the grass in front of the stone. She sat there for an hour talking to her mother and telling her all the stories that she remembered from when they were all together. Madalyn grew tired, and curled up on the blanket. She had brought money with her from her allowance, and planned to take a bus to grandma’s house when she left the cemetery. She would beg grandma to let here live there. She knew that Grandma would understand.
While she was resting her eyes, and still talking to her mother, she started to fall asleep. All of a sudden, she was startled by an angelic image. She saw her mother kneeling next to her. The ghostly apparition gently touched Madalyn on her head and ran her fingers through her soft amber hair. Madalyn sat up and grabbed her mother and hugged her with all her might. Tears running down both their faces. She looked up at her mother and said “Can spirits cry?’ Her mother said, “Yes, we can when we feel the pain of our loved ones.” Madalyn said “Oh, mother I miss you so much. I want to come be with you, please?” Her mother smiled and said “You have a new mother now, and she loves you very much. She will be so worried when she finds you are gone” Her mother hugged her and said “I will always be with you right inside your heart. You need to make room in there for Sandra too. She loves you and your father, and he needs her now that I am gone.” Madalyn started to say “But mother,” as her mother slowly vanished. What was she to do now?
Madalyn did not want to leave her mother, especially after she appeared to her. So, she rolled the blanket around herself and decided she would stay right there. She finally fell asleep again after crying for a long time.
Then a tender hand touched her head, and Madalyn jumped up hoping it was her mother again, but sitting there next to her was Sandra with tears in her eyes. “I thought I might find you here. I did not want to intrude, but it is getting so late, and soon it will be dark. I could not leave you here. You mean so much to me.” Madalyn sat up and said “How did you know I would be here?” Sandra smiled and said “An angel came to tell me where to find you. She was the most beautiful angel I could ever imagine. She told me that she was your mother.” Madalyn saw that Sandra brought a large bouquet of her prized daisies tied with a beautiful purple satin ribbon, to place upon her mother’s grave. Purple was Madalyn’s mother’s favorite color, and hers too.
Sandra reached out her hand to Madalyn, and they both stood up and hugged. Madalyn hopped up into Sandra’s arms. As Sandra carried her to the car, Madalyn put her head on Sandra’s shoulder and said, “Let’s go home Mom.” Tears ran down both their faces as they did.