Monday, May 26, 2008

Bleeding Hearts (Short Story for English 30-1)

For English, I had to write a short story "about the human experience and a message to your reader". Tada! It's sort of sad, if you read it, but has a good moral. I got the idea from a story my mom told me once, the Bleeding Heart Tale. If you take apart the parts of the flower, you get bunnies, earrings, slippers, and a sword. To see the different flower parts, click here.

When I was younger, my mother would pull me onto her lap with a blossom from the bleeding heart plant and tell me a story. I remember nestling against her indigo skirt as she pulled apart the petals. “Once upon a time, there was a prince who loved a princess very much, so he gave her two bunnies, some earrings, and a pair of beautiful slippers.”
“What were the bunnies’ names, mama?” I would ask, as I rubbed my fingers along the top of the delicate petals.
“What do you want them to be called?” she would tease.
Each time, I would examine the rabbits, and place a name to their character. There were Emilys, Amys, Josaphines, and Julies. I would squirm out of my mother’s lap, and carefully lift the rabbits from the grass and let them bounce through the air.
“Listen honey, this is important.” She gently pulled me back onto her lap. “The princess still ignored the prince, and he was devastated, so he took the sword and put it through his heart. When the princess found out, she realized how much she loved the prince, and said, ‘My heart will always bleed for him.’ That’s why the flower is called the bleeding heart.”
“Why did she ignore him, mama?” I would ask, looking into her kind, sapphire eyes.
“I’m not sure honey. The point is, she shouldn’t have. You understand?”
I would nod, but it’s not until this year that I did.
The next year, I started school. My mother always greeted me when I got home with a smile, wiping her floured hands onto her apron and taking me up in her arms. As she poured me a glass of milk, she would ask questions about my day, and listen with keen interest as I described the drama that kindergarten entails. I can imagine her laughing, as I recall the importance I placed upon my life, but she never let me see her. She let me believe that my life was important, and taught humility through example.
One day she woke up dizzy. As she sat up, the ground rushed to the sky and hit her face like a frying pan. That afternoon, I was so absorbed in my colors that I did not notice her arms stabilizing herself as she poured my milk and brought it to me. I don’t remember if I thanked her. Years later, my father mentioned it to me; I don’t remember this day at all.
As I entered middle school, my friends became the epicenter of my life. Their opinions defined me, and I despised my mother. I pretended to like the dresses she made for me, but would bring a change of clothes to school. The hand packed sandwiches would be replaced with chips from the convenience store across the street. I wouldn’t tell her about school plays or awards ceremonies I was in, because then I would never have to worry about her staring up at me from the audience, a daughter she didn’t know. I felt like I should protect her from finding out what I had become.
In high school, my priorities changed again. I would lock myself in my room for hours reading and studying. If I needed help I would walk to the library and ask the librarian or a friend that I would find there. I never asked my mother for help. Frequently after an afternoon of studying, I would come into the kitchen for a cup of tea, and find her in her rocking chair, knitting or reading. “What are you studying, honey?” she would ask. I would answer, and quickly finish my tea, sacrificing my burnt tongue to return to my room.
One night, as I was sliding the dishwasher rack back and closing the door, I saw her stand up from the chair. She looked older than I remembered. As she walked forward, her joints popped with age. “Ha, listen to me. My body’s a symphony.” I turned, but she stopped me. “You know, you don’t have to do all that for me.”
“The schoolwork. I don’t expect you to be perfect.”
“I know.”
“Just don’t push yourself too hard, you understand?”
“Yes, mam.” I do it for me, I thought as I walked out of the kitchen.
With my grades, I got into our state university with a full scholarship. Even though it was only a thirty minute drive from our house, I moved onto residence. I was absorbed by the college life, attending every football game and guest lecture possible. I would come home occasionally to have dinner with my parents, but always found an excuse about having to leave early. “I have a test tomorrow morning, early,” I added.
Then I met Paul, and didn’t come home as often. He treated me like his princess. He bought me a pair of diamond earrings, which reminded me of the princess from my childhood. I made sure he knew I adored him. A year after we met, he bought me a ring to match the earrings.
We were married two months after we graduated. My mother helped me pick out my dress, and offered to do the alterations to save money. As I stood on her stool, balancing in my heels, I peeked down to watch her work. Her hands shook, and she pricked herself with pins as she marked the new hem. “You don’t have to do this, mama. It doesn’t cost that much to have someone else do it.”
She straightened up, and looked at me with the same sapphire eyes I had seen before. “I want to.” She looked me up and down with a sad smile, and bent down to examine the hemming job she had done. “It won’t be that much longer anyways.”
Shortly after we were married, Paul’s job had us transferred to another state. Our visits became annual, till this year, when I got a call from my father.
After the funeral, my father pulled me into the master bedroom. He sat on the bed, slouched like a rejected man, defeated from nights without sleep. He pulled open the drawer on my mother’s side of the bed, and pulled out a journal.
“She told me she wanted you to have this,” he said.
“I didn’t know she kept a journal.” I flipped open the cover and something fell out of the pages. It floated towards the carpet, like a light snowflake. I bent down to pick it up, and found a bleeding heart that she had pressed in its pages.
The next spring, as I was pulling weeds from the garden, my daughter came out to watch. I studied her face as she watched the bees fly between the flowers, and as she picked the flowers for a bouquet. She presented them to me, saying, “Here mommy, I made this for you. There are daisies, and roses, and pink flowers.”
“Do you know what the pink flowers are called?” I asked. She shook her head slowly. “They’re bleeding hearts. See, once there was a prince who loved a princess very much, and he gave her lots of things to get her attention,” I said, picking off the outer petal.

Photos by drp ( and Nick Atkins Photography ( Both Attribution, Noncommercial, Nonderivative licences.


Matthew Camell said...

That was a very sweet, excellently written story Chelsea! However, if I could make one suggestion. I think it would be even better at the end if you made a slight change when the daughter retells the story to her mother. Perhaps "Once upon a time, there was a mother who loved her daughter very much..."
After all, as wonderful as meeting "the prince" is, that doesn't really seam to be what the story is about, but rather a girl who estranged herself from her mother, and then realized how much her mother loved her.
I think a change in the closing would provide a slight twist that would provide an excellent conclusion and draw our attention to the moral of the story.

I really think you did a great job - it's very beautiful and almost poetic.

Chelsea said...

Thanks, I didn't even think about changing it. I wanted to keep it to the original, traditional story, but the change at the end is a good idea. The only thing is it's supposed to be an implied extended metaphor, so that may be making it too literal. It would have to be done craftily... :)