It Happened One Night - Debbie Cohen
The little girl sat up in bed. She was wearing her white nightgown with little strawberries on it. It was her favorite nightgown to sleep in. Before bed, she twirled and danced, the ruffles on the hem of her nightgown whirling around making beautiful shapes. The ruffles were magical. The strawberries frolicked with each spin. She imagined she was a famous dancer on T.V. or in her very own movie. Her room was a stage- her stuffed animals were her audience. Life before bed had been a daydream. Now, it was the middle of the night and her room was black, empty, but she heard voices. She poked her head out of her doorway and down the long hallway of orange shag carpeting.
She hadn’t heard grown-up voices being exchanged since her dad went away to the hospital months before. Her memories of having two parents at home were fading a bit each day. The daily household routines that had been so ingrained in her had changed.
Her dad used to be the one who would brush and style her hair each morning- making a side ponytail with different colored yarn bows to choose from- and take her for rides to the bakery to pick up her favorite chocolate doughnuts on Sunday mornings. These kinds of days were slipping farther and farther away, like the reflection from a rearview mirror as a car keeps driving off into the distance.
As her head peeked out from her doorway, it wasn’t her dad’s voice she heard, but it was a man’s. She carefully took one step out of her room, unsure of what to do. She knew grown-up voices in the middle of night must mean that something interesting was happening, like a
grown-up party she hadn’t been invited to.
She stopped at the doorway to her parent’s room. People were gathered in a semi circle around the bed. It was very quiet, like an important ritual was happening. Usually when she and friends made a circle, they were playing some kind of game, laughing and passing a ball around, but this was no game. The little girl didn’t hear any giggles.
She kept walking, carefully making it down the hall of the apartment to the living room; people were also in that room, their heads low- and still, and they were crying. Unsure of what to do, she turned around and decided to go into her parent’s room.
Her mother almost seemed like she wasn’t in this world anymore. The little girl had never seen her mother stare straight up at the ceiling like that. Her mother’s eyes were fixed and large, but looked empty at the same time. People leaned over her mother like they didn’t know what to say, what to do. One by one, they entered and exited the room; each entrance and exit like weak, strained breaths being inhaled and exhaled.
At that moment, the little girl didn’t know her place in her parent’s room- it was as if she had never been there before. A room she had laughed in, cuddled in, and escaped nightmares in now seemed to be a gathering of gray clouds that were pouring rain. The room was still thereblue and green flowers on the curtains, same yellow, ruffled bedspread, but the familiar feeling of the room had ended. A new, unusual feel enveloped the room. Everything seemed different.
The little girl decided to join her mother. She gingerly climbed into the left side, now the empty side, of the bed, lying very still. Her mother said nothing to her; it was almost like her mother didn’t know her little girl was there, as if her mother’s body was left just as a hollow shell, insides gutted out completely. The silence blanketed the little girl. Time froze.
Then the little girl saw her grandma, Nana, slowly walking towards her. Nana’s tear-stained face leaned over the little girl, and she whispered in the little girl’s ear, “Daddy’s in heaven now. Daddy went to heaven.” At those words, the little girl looked over at her mother, and without speaking still, her mother slowly outstretched her arm and the little girl crawled in, tucked deep in what looked like a fluffy, warm, soft arm, but felt more like weakened, stiff tree branch that could snap at any time. Her mother still couldn't speak, couldn’t move, her body wouldn’t let her... her arm stretching out was all the strength she had.
In just a few small moments, the little girl entered a strange new world.
The next time that the little girl wore her white nightgown with little strawberries, the strawberries didn’t frolic. As the little girl spun and twirled, her ruffles still made shapes, but they had lost their magic.
Debbie Cohen is excited to share this flash fiction piece, "It Happened One Night." Debbie first and foremost the mother to an incredible, funny, and creative eleven year old daughter. Debbie has been published in Chicago Parent, Chicken Soup for the Soul, on Herstry.com, and on Bustle.com. Debbie recently published a children's book entitled "Lights, Camera, Action: It's Cassie Lewett" about a young girl who overcomes stage fright to pursue her dream of being in a play. As a reading and writing teacher to middle school students, Debbie enjoys encouraging and inspiring her students to gain self-confidence in their abilities. Debbie lives just outside of Chicago with her husband, daughter.