Title: Peripheral Visions and Other Stories (Unsolicited Press)
Author: Nancy Christie
Genre: Literary Fiction: Short story collection
What do you do when the hand that life deals you isn’t the one you wanted? In Peripheral Visions and Other Stories, the characters choose to play the best game they can with the cards they’ve received. For some, it’s making the most of the circumstances in which they find themselves, even if it’s not the life they planned. For others, it’s following an unconventional path–not the easiest course or the one that others would take, but the one that’s right for them. From humorous to serious, the characters in these twenty stories experience the range of human emotions—from fear, grief and regret to courage and acceptance—all while believing that life will get better if they can just hold on and stay strong.
Excerpt [From “Remember Mama”]:
“Maggie, where’s my tea?”
Maggie set down the dishcloth and moved to answer her mother’s call. The rest of the china, like so many other tasks half-completed, would have to wait.
“You had your tea already, Mama. Remember? I brought you a cup of tea and you finished it and said you didn’t want any more.”
But the old woman shook her head obstinately.
“No, I didn’t. You never brought it. I’ve been waiting for hours” the now-familiar note of self-pity creeping into her voice, “and you never brought it to me.”
Maggie smothered a sigh. There was no point in arguing with her mother. She could show her the cup she drank from and her mother still wouldn’t remember.
Couldn’t, Maggie corrected herself. Her mother couldn’t remember. She had to keep reminding herself of that fact or the frustration would soon grow too strong to handle.
“Where is—where is—” Her mother struggled for a name and then gave up. “Where did he go?”
“Paul”—the name emphasized just a bit, “had to go away on a business trip. To California. I told you all about it, Mama. Remember?”
Paul, who had shown infinite patience and tenderness with his mother-in-law. He pretended everything was normal and persisted in carrying on one-sided conversations with her about the weather, current events, upcoming plans for the weekend.
But lately, her mother couldn’t even remember his name.
“Oh, yes, now I remember.” But her mother’s voice held no conviction. “It just slipped my mind for a moment.” She looked at her daughter, obviously hoping that the excuse would be accepted.
Maggie nodded her head, joining her mother in the delusion. “Mama’s poor memory”—how often she and her father had teased her mother about her inability to recall names, dates, places. It had been humorous once, but no longer. Now it was a tragic reality.
After Maggie’s father had died, her mother had become distracted and forgetful, and initially Maggie put much of the blame on grief. But even sorrow, she was finally forced to admit, couldn’t wreak such havoc on a person’s mental abilities. Even grief couldn’t keep you from recalling where you lived, where you were going, whether or not you’d eaten or slept or changed your clothes. Only sickness could do that.
Remembering this, Maggie asked with more patience, “Do you want another cup of tea now, Mama?” as she straightened the soft throw across her mother’s narrow, blue-veined feet. Maggie recalled watching her mother knit the soft mix of blue and cream and orchid yarns during the long nights in the hospital, the clicking sound of the needles a counterpoint to the noise of the respirator that filled her father’s lungs with air.
Someday, she would think, she would have to ask her mother to show her how to knit like that.
But there was never a free moment to learn. And now, her mother couldn’t even tie her own shoes.
“No, I’m not thirsty anymore. But I am hungry, Maggie. How soon is dinner?”
“Not for a long time, Mama. We just had lunch.” Her mother frowned, and Maggie knew she didn’t recall the omelet filled with cheese and herbs that her daughter had carefully prepared just half an hour ago. She went on quickly.
“I thought I’d make a roast for dinner, with new potatoes and green beans with dill. Would you like that for dinner, Mama?” knowing the question was pointless even as it was asked. No matter what her mother’s initial response was, she was certain to change her mind by the time the food was ready. But Maggie had to keep the fiction alive that her mother’s opinions and desires counted for something, as inconsistent as they were.
Her mother was silent for a moment, considering, and then shook her head. “I don’t like beans—they’ve got strings. Why can’t we have carrots instead?”
Maggie smiled. “Okay, Mama, I’ll make carrots. Carrots in honey sauce, like you used to do. Why don’t you take a little rest now while I finish washing the dishes?” and she stroked her mother’s hair as the old woman obediently closed her eyes.
Slipping her fingers through the fine white strands, Maggie gazed with love and pity at her mother’s face. With her eyes closed, her mother could be like any other old woman, just growing a bit more forgetful as years passed. Sometimes, Maggie could almost convince herself that this particular fantasy was real.
But then her mother would open her eyes to gaze blankly at her surroundings. The confusion that had been hidden behind those paper-thin lids would be painful to see, as Maggie watched her mother struggle to recall some recognizable pattern from the fading fabric of memory.
Suddenly, her mother moved her head, pulling it free from her daughter’s caressing fingers.
“Leave me be,” she said petulantly. “How can I sleep if you stand there bothering me?”
Maggie bit her lip, hurt by the sudden rejection.
“All right, Mama, I’ll leave you alone. But call me if you need anything,” and she slowly left her mother’s side, returning to the kitchen where a pile of glasses and dishes waited to be washed and put away… It was true the china cabinet was overdue for cleaning, but since her mother had come to stay, there was never enough time or energy for all those extra household chores…
She plunged the dishes into the sudsy water one by one, and as the dust was washed away, the colors glowed in the light. Maggie wished, not for the first time, there was something she could give her mother to wash away this cruel disease and bring back the living colors and shades of her memory.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Unsolicited Press: https://www.unsolicitedpress.com/store/p262/PeripheralVisions.html
What makes your featured book a must-read?
The stories in Peripheral Visions and Other Stories are a mix of humor and seriousness, of making the best of life situations or choosing to follow the road less traveled. More importantly, they are illustrations of all the ways love can come into one’s life, and how important it is to hold onto it when it comes and keep fast to the memories when the loved one is no longer there.
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Nancy Christie is the award-winning author of two short story collections: Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories and Peripheral Visions and Other Stories (both published by Unsolicited Press); two books for writers: Rut-Busting Book for Writers and Rut-Busting Book for Authors (both published by Mill City Press) and the inspirational book, The Gifts of Change (Atria/Beyond Words). Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary publications, with several earning contest placements.
The host of the Living the Writing Life podcast and founder of the annual “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day, she is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Florida Writers Association.
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