Surrender*

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A woman is dying from an unknown disease. She searches around her and within herself for the freedom that she's always wanted but never had. Living a passive life, she fails to see beyond her uncaring family and her declining situation and she suffers for it. However, her close friend might have the reason for her to never surrender...

Submitted: June 23, 2008

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Submitted: June 23, 2008

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The room that Betsy Toole occupied was darker than the night outside. At least the sky was a foggy red that left a ghost of a mist on the huge glass window. Betsy kept finding herself wide awake after her willful effort to keep her eyes shut. She stared hard at the star-studded ceiling. Stars of three different shapes were carefully stuck into different constellations. The Sagittarius, Libra and even the Big Dipper clustered together on the dark square, glowing very dimly with no light source to keep them bright throughout the night. Every birthday that had passed, Betsy had wished for the glow-in-the-dark stars and had finally got them on her sixteenth birthday over a decade ago. She had jumped higher than any person claiming to be in love, and she had smiled the whole night through--watching the glowing stars fade slowly, as dawn approached closer. As she presently lay still as a corpse on the bed, she tried to memorize the positions of each star, as she listened to the distant howl of a dog protesting the cold air outside. The sound reminded her of her mother, Mrs. Toole, and of the way she cried whenever Mr. Toole said something to her that was too painful and embarrassing to bear. Betsy’s parents rarely fought; in fact, Mrs. Toole had only cried twice the whole time Betsy has lived in the house. Mr. Toole was always the quiet one of the two and Mrs. Toole was the one who loved to exercise her voice. Mrs. Toole could not stand people who did nothing inside the house; everyone absolutely had too be doing their work, with the help of her commands, even if the house was gleaming with disinfectants and other cleaning products. However, Mrs. Toole’s orders to Betsy never ended since her room always manages to get messy in half a day, but Betsy understood that she had to get used to her mother’s loud voice since it was her fault that her own room always managed to look atrocious even when she did not notice it at all.

Betsy winced as a sharp pain shot through her whole body. She knew, being a doctor, that it was bad for her to stay awake at night; the disease inside her got worse every time she stayed up late. Betsy turned stiffly to her side and her eyes sought the bright red numbers of the alarm clock. It was almost three o’clock in the morning and still sleep was not creeping into her. Not that Betsy wanted to sleep--if she did, she could have taken her sleeping pills--but the day that awaited promised a hectic schedule, and Betsy needed all the energy she could muster; a day with her friend Roy, a lawyer, was bound to be stressful. Although she hadn’t seen him in four month’s time due to his busy schedule with his client and the court dates, he would leave a few messages for her on the phone. His last message explained why he could meet her now that the case he worked on was won.


For four more hours Betsy managed to sleep, although fitfully, willing the day to come faster. When it was time to get up, she immediately yet quietly walked to the kitchen. Betsy had gotten used to being the first one to wake up early and cook the food. Besides, it was her job as the girl in the household, as Mrs. Toole liked to tell her friends when they drop by for a visit. Mrs. Toole felt proud of making Betsy learn everything there was to know, although Betsy was a very smart person.

Betsy scratched her head as she decided what to cook for the family. She took out a pan from the dishwasher and set it on the stove top finally deciding on bacon and eggs for breakfast. Betsy set up the table for four without the slightest noise; she did not particularly like to wake the others to have them blabbing about when she felt tired and moody.

Betsy finished the cooking and was heading to her room for a shower when Mrs. Toole walked in. “Where are you going?” she inquired of Betsy.

“To my room, mother.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Mrs. Toole looked pointedly at the table, then at Betsy. “Well?”

“What am I forgetting, mother?”

“The coffee, dear, the coffee for your father. You’re that old and you still keep forgetting.” Mrs. Toole walked around the kitchen, inspecting, while Betsy stood still and waited. “Wash this pan first, will you? It’s stinking up the kitchen with the smell of burnt oil and at least open the windows; it’s pretty dark in here without the sunlight coming in.”

“Yes, mother.” At that moment, a shiver ran through her whole body. Betsy was now very much inside herself trying to stop the pain that jerked and settled in her chest and trying hard not to let her face show the pain she was feeling. As a result, she moved almost automatically, making the coffee, washing the pan and opening the windows.

Little did she know, Mrs. Toole noticed her silence and asked, “What’s wrong? Are you feeling all right, Betsy?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m going to take a shower now. You can eat now if you want or you could wait for the others to come.”

“No, wake them up; both of them. It’s about time, anyway.”

So Betsy walked up to her parents’ room and found Mr. Toole still asleep--not to mention snoring.

“Father, mother says you should wake up now. Father,” Betsy shook Mr. Toole firmly and only stopped when he groaned in annoyance. After going to her parents’ room, she walked up to her brother’s door and knocked--it was always locked as though he kept a big secret from the whole family--loud enough to be annoying. “Wake up! It’s time for breakfast!” Betsy left knowing that her younger brother would not awaken until she came back again from the shower to bang at his door and make the loudest noise possible.
Betsy was combing her dark wet hair in front of the foggy mirror when she noticed her face; it was very pale. No matter how much she takes care of herself, the disease was still growing and slowly taking over her body, causing her to shrink into her bones. This was extremely stressful since no one in her family knew about it. Betsy did not want them to know especially now that she was the one making money for the whole family. She should not disappoint the family by telling them she had a disease that was slowly consuming her; it was just not right.

Betsy continued to look at herself in the mirror then shook her head to vanquish the annoying thought of a life that the family would live without her. She dressed herself comfortably and yet professionally before heading for the dining room where her parents and her brother sat having coffee. Betsy sat on an empty chair and helped herself to the food while halfheartedly listening to the conversation that had grown most interesting in her absence.

“...it absolutely fits me, mother,” her brother was saying excitedly. “I would be in the newspapers! W. Toole: the greatest writer in the country; what do you say, Betsy?”

“Definitely right for you.”

Mrs. Toole put her hands together looking as if she was thanking the heavens for this opportunity for her son to be famous. “Betsy, you’re very good in grammar; you can help him with his career!” Mrs. Toole remarked.

“Of course, mother.” Betsy finished her food and downed her supplements with a glass of water, as the conversation revolved around her brother. Thinking to herself, Betsy noted that this was the fifth writing job her brother decided to take even if he never once wrote a book or a story in his life. However, this was fine with Mr. and Mrs. Toole since Betsy was the one who they expected to be helping with their finances considering she was the eldest of the two and not to mention she had a high paying career as well. Betsy silently agreed that even she could not argue with that fact.

It bothered her, however, that they always took so long to finish their breakfast whenever they started talking. Betsy recalled her appointment with Roy at one in the afternoon. She cleared her throat before saying, “Excuse me, but you have to finish up soon, everyone. It’s almost eleven. I want to get this day over with.”

“You have a date with Roy.” Coming from Mrs. Toole, it was more of a statement rather than a question.

“If you say so, mother,” Betsy sighed in exasperation. Mrs, Toole developed a dislike for Roy when he suggested Betsy should live in an Asian country away from home to bask in the tropics, ‘for some adventure’ Roy had said, and from then on Mrs. Toole frowned at him whenever they faced each other.

“If you’re still thinking of leaving us, I’m telling you now: you won’t like it there. Besides, how can you help your family when you’re at the other side of the world?”

“Mother, a lot of people need my help, too.”

Mrs. Toole’s eyes widened, appalled. “Don’t talk back at me, young lady. Even if you are what you are now, that doesn’t make you...that does not allow you to speak to me in such a manner.” Mrs. Toole looked at Betsy reproachfully.

Betsy knew the role to play; she kept her mouth closed as her mother addressed her brother for the next half hour as if Betsy had never said anything at all. Soon enough, the table talk ended and everyone except Betsy left the kitchen. She was obliged to do the cleaning under her mother’s roof. When she had her apartment years ago, her mother never stopped hinting at how the family house must have been such an ugly home that she would not stay there. Hence, she came back unwillingly but not ungratefully.

From her years of doing the same routine repeatedly, Betsy learned to be quick about her chores; dishes were no longer a hassle and her efficiency made it possible for her to finish in under fifteen minutes. As if on cue, her brother and Mrs. Toole appeared at the doorway, interrupting her precious silence.

“Betsy, why don’t you ever use the dishwasher?” Betsy’s brother asked as he fixed his tie.

“Well, Betsy’s always been good at doing the dishes and besides, the dishwasher uses too much electricity,” Mrs. Toole answered him. “Come along now, dear; Your father’s waiting outside.” Mrs. Toole moved towards the front door but soon stopped. “Betsy, when you come back, make some dinner for us, will you? We’ll be out late.”

“Sure.” Betsy nodded and watched the three of them get into an old red car that her father bought when she was only eleven. It had been Mr. Toole’s favourite automobile; he cleaned it every other day to keep the dust and mud off the tires and off the paint. Mr. Toole loved to spend hours outside, especially during summer, to shine his beloved car. Betsy never liked the car; she liked silver ones but she never told Mr. Toole, fearing he might dislike her instead. However, Betsy had always been careful around Mr. Toole--she knew he was not very scary when he got mad unlike Mrs. Toole, who would unleash hell when something went wrong and it did not matter if it was a minor or major problem; it had to be dealt with by force. Once when the family went to a shopping spree that Mr. Toole declared was on him but later at the cash register found that he had forgotten his wallet, Mrs. Toole became so upset, her eyes crossed. Betsy had tried to calm her down by saying it wasn’t a big deal but she received a sharp slap on the face. “Don’t you know how embarrassing that was? Lining up to pay at the cashier and finding out you have no money with you at all! Such humiliation!” Mrs. Toole had fervently said, as they walked down the long side walk to their car. It was all just a memory of the past that managed to come into Betsy’s thoughts whenever Mrs. Toole got into the red car. Betsy’s ruminations were interrupted when the clock struck eleven. She immediately fixed herself and the house so everything looked neat as a show room. Then Betsy ran to her car, needless to say, it was silver, after locking the doors. She still had a long way to drive and the slow traffic was not very helpful, either; it was almost one by then and she was still nowhere near the meeting place. Fortunately, Roy was in a good mood when Betsy arrived late.

“Bets, you’re fifteen minutes late.” He smiled. “Where have you been?” He stood up and greeted her with a friendly hug.

“Hello, Roy. So sorry; the traffic, as usual.” Betsy smiled weakly as she sat down on the seat opposite of Roy.

He squinted at her face while his hand was raised, signaling for a waitress to come to their table. “Are you well? You don’t look so good, Bets.” He lowered his hand, not even looking if anyone was coming, and took Betsy’s hand in both of his. “Don’t tell me you’re fine; your face is saying otherwise.”

Betsy sighed. This was Roy, always perceptive, thus always annoying. He never failed to notice changes in her, even if it was only her thoughts that had changed. “I think I’m sick, Roy.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“I don’t know for sure.” Betsy shook her head in defeat. Roy must have realized that the subject was only making the situation worse because he attempted a joke. “What’s this, the best doctor I’ve ever met doesn’t know what illness she has?” He chuckled unsteadily. Betsy took her hand away. “Roy, I did not come here to discuss my health issues.” Betsy knew it was cruel of her to say so since she knew that her friend was only worried about her well-being but she was truly scared of having to think that she did not know what it was that ailed her.

“Quite. So,” Roy thought for a while before going on, “What did you like about the book?”

“Well,” Betsy, being momentarily stumped by the unexpected question, willed herself to remember the book; her friend’s approval at the author’s great audacity to talk about how every single person lived in the whole world without ever attaining complete happiness and never will. The book stimulated a debate in the reader’s mind that caused a questioning of beliefs and even denial in some cases.

“Well, what?” Roy asked impatiently or eagerly, Betsy could not tell.

“I would have a simpler answer if only you had asked me was there anything I didn’t like about the book.”

“And that would be?” Roy took out a piece of paper from the breast pocket of his shirt.

“A no.” Betsy followed his hands with her eyes as he flipped the piece of paper over and over.

“I see.”

“No, you don’t see. Your question, as I know from personal experience, wants a specific answer that would have to be concise and concrete, which I am not in the mood for today; I don’t really feel like thinking my brains out for a debate, Roy.” Which, she mentally added, never fails to happen when we’re were discussing a book.

Roy smiled then. He seemed to like her answer and not her attitude at the same time, but he looked down at the paper in his hands so Betsy could not tell what he was thinking behind those shrewd eyes. “All right. Let’s change the subject. See this?” Roy held out the crisp white paper that had folding marks on it, Roy looked at her for a long moment before continuing, “Bets, I’m taking on a job in a firm in Japan. You might want to come, if you think it’s all right.”

Betsy was already shaking her head. “Roy, you know I can’t leave the family.”

“But the change will do you good, Bets. Think of the endless ocean, the exotic landscapes! Do this for yourself for once and stop feeling so guilty about leaving your family; they can manage without you and--”

“I know they can manage without me; I’ve always known that, Roy. That’s why I don’t want to leave them.” It was why she feared leaving them. If they lived without ever needing her, it would be just like dying.

Roy just stared at her for more than a few minutes that the waitress, who had been standing not a few feet away, hastily stepped to their table and took their orders. The doctor and the lawyer both watched her go to tattle everything she had heard to her coworkers.

Betsy turned to look at Roy and decided to answer his silent question. “I don’t think I could live with the fact that the family can actually live without me.”

“Bets, if they don’t need you, then they don’t. Other people need your help, too, Bets. People who are sick and dying and--”

“We’re talking about family here, Roy. Family.” To Betsy, her feeling of gratitude towards her family was her ultimate weakness. In her mind, the only way to repay them was to help them in every way she can. To her, family was the next thing to God and she could not bear to leave them even if she wanted to. Betsy did not need to say all this; Roy knew even though Betsy never talked to him about it. Both of them were very aware of that fact.

Again, Roy fell silent as he observed the waitress set their lunch on the small table. He waited until she left before saying, “Do you honestly don’t want to come? No, don’t answer the question. Think about it, get used to the idea and see what happens. I’m not set to leave until the next month.”

“Fine.” The two friends ate in silence with Betsy mentally trying to gauge the other’s train of thought as their eyes met frequently. Roy was the kind of man who would just watch you live for a day and immediately know your character. It was this that had drawn Betsy to him; she had been impressed by his quick intuition. Although he was actually courting her a few years ago, Betsy did not feel the same way about him; only his thoughts and words captivated Betsy. Yet Roy still thought of their friendship as a way to stay close to her and to be excessively caring and concerned about her well-being. Thus, the extra perceptive side of Roy came out, clearly on a mission to keep Betsy stress-free but not entirely unknown to him, Betsy was having the opposite reaction.

Sometimes Betsy just wanted to run away with Roy to a far away place where she could just forget who she was and be what she had always wanted to be: a painter or an artist. A decision like that would have set Mrs. Toole against her until the time she died. Still, having such freedom was surely worth it; it surely cannot be any worse than her present situation. Betsy sighed; these kinds of thoughts were of no help in her current situation and yet she still hoped she had the courage to do just that. Going away with Roy and having no guilt in her mind to torture her would surely be a one of a kind experience.

Roy was watching her stare through him for a while and decided to call his friend back to the present. He leaned forward and waved a hand in front of Betsy’s face. “Hello, are you still there, Bets? Come back to me, will you?” He smiled playfully.

Betsy heard his voice but failed to listen to the words. She blinked away the distracting thoughts from her mind. “Huh? What did you say?”

Roy shook his head. “Bets, you didn’t even notice my new shirt.” He motioned to his crisp white polo shirt with metallic buttons that shone like silver in the sun. “I was waiting for a compliment but it seemed like you would never notice...”

Betsy took a good look at the shirt and nodded. “It’s very nice. I like those buttons on it.” She smiled, hoping to assure her friend that there was no need to worry about her.

Roy tilted his head to one side. “Thanks, and that smile should stay there. It suits you. Now, we should get going.”

The two of them left the restaurant after Roy payed the bill. Agreeing to follow Roy, Betsy got in her car and waited for Roy to lead her. His car was a clean shiny white. He had wanted the color to signify justice, a clean slate. He also never failed to clean the car until it was spotless and shiny as new.

Driving down in the road, Betsy made sure to keep the white car within view. They crisscrossed across the city and eventually they stopped at a ferry docking station where the piers were barely visited by the busy city people. They walked somberly towards the quietest area. With the sunset turning all shades of red orange, they stood side by side staring at the distant horizon. For a while, neither one spoke, content with just the presence right beside them. Roy sighed, turning to look at his friend. “Do you truly have no idea what’s causing it?”

Knowing what her friend meant, Betsy avoided his eyes. “What’s causing what?” she asked, trying to avoid the topic but couldn’t quite make herself stop thinking about it.

“Bets.” He waited.

With the pressure getting to her, Betsy sighed in defeat and answered. “I really don’t know, Roy. Can we please avoid this topic once and for all?”

“Until you’re dying and it’s too late?” Roy looked and sounded hurt by her request. He looked down at his shoes where he glared at a speck of dirt that clung to the leather. Betsy felt a tug in her chest; he looked like a spoiled school boy who wasn’t given a cookie.

Betsy hooked her arm around his and leaned on his shoulder. “I can take care of myself. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Even if I want to?” His question was met by a heavy silence that dragged on until he sighed again.

Betsy let go of his arm and took one last look at the sinking sun before looking at Roy. “I have to go back.”

That night, Betsy laid awake in her bed, a faint red glow grabbing her attention from the side of the room. Her eyes were hurting but she refused to close them. The ceiling was dark, everything was quiet except for her mind. Thoughts came and flew, giving her distorted images as figures walked, cried and laughed. Music was trying to play in the background but she made it stop. Titles of her favourite songs went past, but Betsy ignored them and tried to focus on the silent air. Special events, though few in her years, replayed themselves clear and strong, as though not wanting their bearer to forget. Betsy slowly let her tears fall, not knowing why she felt a heavy burden that weighed down on her chest. Silently, the tears turned cold in the midnight air. Betsy swiped at them softly as she sat up on her bed. Looking around, she waited. For something, someone, she didn’t know; she didn’t even know why she was waiting. Moving out of the bed, she walked to the glass doors, her footsteps never making the wooden floor creak. Sliding the cold glass aside, she stepped barefooted onto the cold terrace floor. With the wind barely stirring, she was the only soul awake in the darkness of the night. She sighed, her breath forming a small cloud that vanished in a second. Betsy looked around, searching for anything, any sign of wakefulness around her. The lamp posts glowed a sick orange that made the fog seem heavier. Nothing stirred. Once before, when sleep refused to visit her, she had stood at the same spot, not knowing that she was waiting for anything to happen when she saw a man, clutching his cloak close to himself, passing by. He suddenly looked up at her. She stared back at the man, who didn’t even stop in his tracks, but kept his eyes on her, hugging himself tighter with the dark cloak until he passed the house. She remained silent, watching his back disappear as he turned left onto another street. The night before and the night that she now witnessed was exactly the same; dead silence screamed in her ears but she had grown accustomed to it. She was getting accustomed to the sharp stabbing pain in her body as well. She noticed the thinning of her arms, the weakening of her entire body night after night, day by day.

Thus the days flew by, swift as a blink; one by one, wasting away like a lit candle barely able to keep its flame going in the wind. Betsy avoided seeing Roy, making up all sorts of excuses, from extreme headaches to busy schedules. She wasn’t ready to face him, even if a part of her yearned to experience the freedom being offered to her. However, Roy was just as stubborn, never failing to visit her house or call or leave messages. His pestering was getting on her nerves and yet she felt a sigh of happiness knowing that he was willing to go that far to persuade her. As a result of Roy’s persistence, Mrs. Toole was getting angrier and angrier at her with every day that passed. She would easily be inclined to say “Why don’t you just leave him be?” or “He’s bothering this household too much. It’s unacceptable.” Meanwhile, Mr. Toole and Betsy’s brother did not seem to care at all, which only put gasoline on the fire. Mrs. Toole would rant about how disagreeable Betsy’s friend was or how much he annoyed her. Betsy tried not to mind it too much; it was always like that when Mrs. Toole talked about Roy, and besides, with the disease still undiagnosed--causing her to weaken with every day that passed--she was too weak to argue.

“Don’t you eat anymore? You’ve been dieting?” Mrs. Toole once commented out of the blue when she was watching Betsy clean the kitchen.

“No, mother. I just haven’t been feeling well.”

“Well, you should get yourself better soon; you don’t want everyone catching whatever you have.”

Betsy smiled bitterly at her mother’s words. If only she knew, Betsy thought, as she continued her chore. The routine felt ancient, as though it was neverending and always going in circles. Betsy could feel a distance--a kind of barrier--growing between her and her family whenever she laid eyes on their animated faces. It was pushing her away from them and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t push against it; she could only stare at them in order to memorize their features and their expressions. Yet the images woudn’t stick to her mind; it kept mutating into a nostalgic scenery where a bright orange sunset was reflected on the sea’s surface and a person’s silhoutte kept reaching out to her.

Finally, on the day before Roy’s scheduled flight, he finally gave up and instead asked her to at least see him off at the airport. Betsy agreed. It was only right that she see him off, seeing as how she caused him a lot of trouble. In her sleep, she dreamed that she was sleeping and Roy was trying to wake her up. She didn’t want to wake up or she could not. As the alarm went off at three in the morning, Betsy opened her eyes, forgetting that she even had a dream. Blind in the darkness, she reached out to find the the light switch, turned it on and got herself ready. In about an hour, she was all set when Mrs. Toole came out, staring at her with a slight frown. “Are you seeing him off this early in the day?” she asked, her voice haggard from sleep.

“Yes, mother. He doesn’t even know when he’ll have time to come back here.” Betsy pulled on her thick wool cloak, feeling the cold morning air right down to her bones.

“Are you still sick? I told you to get yourself better, but no, you don’t want to listen.” Mrs. Toole headed back to the room, but stopped and turned to look at Betsy. “Close the door slowly; don’t make too much noise while you’re up and about so early in the morning.”

Betsy nodded. Soon the car tha Roy rented stopped in front of the house. Betsy got in after Roy greeted her with a smile. She sat next to her friend and yawned.

“A little too early?” He chuckled. “I’m sorry, I should have picked a better time for my flight.”

Betsy shook her head, but stopped when she suddenly felt nauseated. “It’s okay.” She looked up at Roy and was about to ask him a question when he suddeny spoke.

“Betsy, you’re not getting any better. The whole situation’s getting worse.” His eyes expressed pure concern. “Maybe if you come with me, the doctors there can do something about it.”

Betsy smiled weakly. “How do you know they’d know what illness I have?”

Roy gripped her hand tightly. “I don’t know for sure, but don’t you want to try? Maybe they can help.”

Betsy stared at her friend for the longest time, his face full of shadows as the car passed numerous orange lamp posts. “Roy, do you really want me to go with you?”

Roy sighed. “You already know the answer to that question.” He looked down at her pale skinny hand and softly clasped it between his own.

Betsy leaned on his shoulder as she closed her eyes. “I want to go.” Then she smiled. “I’ll go.”

Roy was left speechless; he could only stare at her form. Looking ahead, he could already imagine how it would be to have Betsy close to him. Too caught up in his thoughts, he let her sleep, light and shadow passing them by. The night sky seemed to know the cold that crept to Betsy’s skin and the shallowness of her breathing as Roy gently put his arm around her, oblivious to it all. With a small smile, Betsy finally obtained her freedom with a loving whisper before she rested peacefully.

“I’ll go.”


© Copyright 2017 tin2twinkling. All rights reserved.

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