“M” by Iva Ticic
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Iva Ticic volunteers at an orphanage.
She ran up to me kind of sideways, half willing herself to approach me and half strangely drawn to me. Even from across the room, she yelled out for all to hear:
“Why did you come?!”
And really, why had I come? Six years old and strangely more grown-up than many of the overprotected teenagers I’d been tutoring at the time, she was so onto me. But she wasn’t another job. She was just M. And I was just going to grad school and feeling incredibly lost that year, thinking volunteering at the orphanage might provide me with some sense of purpose. Ha—try explaining that to M. She saw absolutely no point to me and made sure that I knew this.
“How did I end up with the only orphan in this place that isn’t clingy?” I grumbled to myself, then instantly felt guilty for such a thought. M was a character. I was told that both she and her sisters came to the orphanage with long lice-filled knots of hair, so like in some episode of Annie or Curly Sue, a disinterested care provider unskillfully cut it all off at once. She looked malnourished, and her small thin arms sported black-and-blue bruises the first time I saw her, a disturbing silent testament to the violence she had endured. However, her deep-set blue eyes and pale oval face convinced me that she had the very real potential of becoming a beautiful child.
The weeks that followed this introduction felt like a prolonged taming session. I danced around her in circles like the Little Prince and his fox, plotting my next move. I wanted this willful, difficult child to at least like me, for I felt love was still far off. So I’d come by twice a week, usually after class, usually tired, stressed, and generally unhappy, as I seemed to have invariably been in those days. She’d run up to me asking why I came, and off we would go to read the first fairytales of her life, to devour dubious amounts of chocolate, and to swing on the backyard swings. Often, I felt that it made no difference. More often, I wanted to quit. But I didn’t know how—this child had no one in the world, and to stop coming seemed cruel, even if she assured me periodically that my presence was baffling to her.
Months passed. One day, I came to the orphanage and M’s psychologist jumped out in front of me right at the door. Like I was exactly the person she wanted to see, I noticed uneasily. She said that she had some big news and my feet went wobbly. I didn’t want M to be gone. I felt confused and somehow cheated.
But not so fast. I was told I could meet the adoptive parents before they took the girls home. This was my chance to assert myself, the psychologist stressed; to offer my phone number and yet not be surprised if they never chose to call back. A lot of the adoptive parents like to pretend the love-hungry, orphaned part of their brand-new children never existed.
I entered the room with a heavy heart. M ran up to me, but not with the usual Why did you come? Instead she gave me a big toothless grin and said:
“Guess what? New mommy and daddy!”
I grinned back at her, able only to exclaim a very general mumbling sound of approval. I was eyeing the lady sitting at the kid-sized table, holding M’s little sister in her lap. Then a male figure approached me and smiled reassuringly. We shook hands. He seemed equally nervous as he thanked me for my efforts while clumsily looking for a pen to take my number. They were good people, solid. A couple that needed M more than she needed them. But then again, so did I.
All of this happened years back. However, M continues to be my little force of nature. She recently called me from her family’s barbecue and told me the latest in a confidential voice, making sure her caring and mindful new mother would not overhear: “Guess what, Iva! Not only is my second grade teacher mean, but she is also ugly! Kisses!”
She ran off right after that but left the phone unhooked and I sat there, across the world, listening to the chattering of a garden party periodically permeated by the excited squealing of children.
IVA TICIC is an internationally published bilingual poet, writer, and storyteller. She holds MAs in American literature and public speaking from the University of Zagreb, Croatia, with the newest addition being an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Iva is passionate about the written and spoken word as well as about promoting the power of literature in the lives of young women and girls. Last year this passion took her to Central America, where in Honduras she taught poetry to orphaned girls. She recently moved back to Zagreb, Croatia after three years of living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @IvaHasWords.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 3, 2015
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