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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: The Imaginarium

A short story inspired by the Imaginarium House March picture prompt, No. 3

Submitted: March 24, 2018

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Submitted: March 24, 2018




“Do I have to go to Grandma’s? Her house smells funny and I want to stay and play with my friends.” Eliza stamped her feet, and stuck out her lip in defiance.

“Please Lizzy, it’s her birthday. Just think how you’d feel if she didn’t want to see you or give you a present on your birthday… she has feelings too, you know.” Her Mother ran her fingers through her silky, blond hair in frustration.

“Can I take my tablet?”

“If you must.  Now come and write the card I’ve bought for you, and help me wrap this box of chocolates.”

At nine years old, Eliza found her Grandmother’s shows of affection suffocating… her prickly, whiskery kisses and bear hugs that involved being swathed in soft, fat arms, her face smothered in her squashy bosom. Then there was her overpowering perfume that always made her sneeze and her cakes with their horrible sultanas that looked like dead flies, which she had to pretend to enjoy.

None of Eliza’s friends had such an old fashioned Grandma. With the apron she always wore and the hairnet that covered her stiff helmet of iron grey curls, she reminded her of pictures in old story books. Eliza guessed she must be at least a hundred years old today.

“Your Grandma was quite old when she had me. I was a late surprise,” her mother had explained. “If I hadn’t been born, then neither would you, so we should both be very grateful.”

“What’s a late surprise?” asked Eliza.

“Well, your Grandma and Grandpa had always wanted children, and just when she thought she was too old to have a baby, she found out she was having me.”

“Was she an old lady when you were born?” Eliza asked with wide, incredulous eyes.

“Not exactly an old lady… just older than most ladies when they have babies?”

“How old was she?”

“She was forty five, so when I was your age, she was fifty four.”

“That’s sounds really old. How old are you?”

“I’m thirty six, so that makes Grandma ninety years old, that’s why it’s such a special birthday for her today. Sadly, as you know, your Grandpa died before you were born.”

“Only ninety,” Eliza exclaimed. “I thought she was a lot older than that.”

“Oh, Lizzy, please don’t tell her that. Just wish her a Happy Birthday, give her a big hug and help her blow out the candles on her cake. Okay?”

Eliza wrinkled her nose. “Okay.”

After they pulled on the drive of Grandma’s house, Eliza helped her Dad carry in the birthday gifts while her Mum cradled an enormous bouquet of flowers.

“Mum, we’re here. Happy Birthday.” As Eliza watched her Mum kiss her Grandma, she noticed the tears that made their eyes sparkle and the way they clung to each other like they didn’t want to let go.

She really loves her, like I love Mum, Eliza realised.

For the first time in her life, Eliza felt a stab of guilt at the way she had always felt ashamed of her Grandma. She ran up to her and hugged her like she had never done before.

“Thank you Lizzy, sweetheart. That was the best birthday present I’ve ever had.” The tears in her Grandma’s grey eyes sparkled even brighter, before spilling down her wrinkled cheeks.

After a lavish birthday tea, Eliza helped her Grandma blow out the nine candles… one for every decade of her life.

“Livvy, I’ve also got a present for you... here, help me up.” Her Grandma reached out her hand for Eliza to grab, and when she steadied herself, dutifully followed her as she shuffled into the front room. Perched on a chair was an old china doll with a monochrome face framed by dark matted hair, luminous wide eyes and crimson painted lips. A floppy, lacy hat sat on top of her head at a jaunty angle.

“I want you to have her. Her name is Mary and she was given to me by my Grandma when I was about your age. She is a family heir-loom, so please take good care of her.”

Eliza stared at the doll, unsure what to make of it. It definitely wasn’t a toy… more of an ornament, but she found herself mesmerised by its eyes.

“She has such expressive eyes, doesn’t she?” her Grandma asked softly.

“Yeah… I know what you mean.”


Sixteen year old Eliza visited her Grandma in the nursing home with her Mum. She had become increasingly frail and for the last twelve months had been bedridden. Eliza gently took her wizened hand and whispered… “Gran, its Livvy and Mum.”

Sunken eyes fluttered open in her skeletal face, her skin waxy, almost transparent but on her lips, was the merest hint of a smile.

“Mum, she’s awake, maybe we can get her to have a drink.”

Eliza’s Mum picked up a beaker and carefully placed the spout between her Mother’s thin, parched lips. She took a few sips, before closing her eyes and giving up with the effort.

“I hate to see her like this.” Eliza walked over to the window, staring out with unseeing eyes. She felt her Mother’s arms around her… they hugged, taking comfort from one another.

That night, as Eliza was getting ready for bed she noticed something odd… no it couldn’t be.  As she looked closer, she could not believe her eyes. Mary the china doll had tears rolling down her cheeks.

She rushed out of her bedroom. “Mum, Mum…”

“Lizzy, whatever’s the matter.”

“Gran just died.”

“What do you mean?”

“Phone the home, Mum.”

Just as she reached for the phone, it rang. “When? In her sleep? I see. Thank you for letting me know.”

Her Mum turned to her, tears like rivers streaming down her face. “You were right.”

© Copyright 2018 Sue Harris. All rights reserved.

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