Two Days With Ismene

A Short Story by JannaTWrites:

Laurie Papadakis propped her fuzzy-slippered feet onto the ottoman and held a freshly poured mug of hazelnut coffee by her chin.  The steam warned her it was still too hot, so she savored the aroma with a slow inhale.  Hold.  Hint of a smile.  Exhale.

She closed her eyes and listened:  nothing.  During the last two days, Laurie learned she didn’t know much, but she knew enough to appreciate the well-timed and much needed peace surrounding her.  She brought the cup to her lips and the liquid numbed her tongue before sliding down her throat.  Tension expelled from her shoulders in one lengthy sigh.

Laurie took inventory of the influx of opinions that pelted her over the last forty-eight hours.  Some new and others tired, they came as steady as waves onto a beach.  Just as she recovered from one, another poised to knock her back down.

For years, she had known her mothering skills short-changed her children.  It started with the temperature of baby formula, graduated to absence of manners, and settled on lack of discipline.  Discipline stood an excellent chance of attaining permanent status on the “improvement list.”  Laurie swigged more coffee to wash down that bitter pill.

She smiled as the sweetness from the stevia lingered on her tongue.  At the moment, Laurie didn’t care if stevia harmed her more than sugar, as Ismene swore Doctor Oz had warned.  She also enjoyed the satisfaction of ignoring Ismene’s advice to separate her bananas and store her grapes in ice water.  No, she preferred clustered bananas and dry grapes.

Laurie exerted resistance in subtle ways.  Butter stayed in the fridge and Greek Salt disappeared from the cupboard.  She remained steadfast in her refusal to iron her husband’s clothes and derived pleasure from the fact this bothered Ismene.  Laurie chuckled, spilling coffee on the sofa cushion next to her.

When Laurie pulled the washcloth from the kitchen drawer, she remembered the day before.  Ismene corrected her by calling it a dishrag.  “No, ma’am.  This here’s a washcloth,” Laurie said out loud even though no one would hear.  In company, her silence kept peace, but her quiet defiance served as loose stitches holding her sanity intact.

Laurie blotted the coffee spot and ran her hand across the damp cushion.  The tacky film puzzled her, until she remembered it had to be spray sunscreen.  Ismene chose to use it indoors after Laurie explained her desire to keep the oily glaze off the carpet and furniture.  Laurie suspected that Ismene practiced her own quiet defiance.  This could, perhaps, be the second thing they had in common.

Laurie settled back into the sofa and took consolation in the fact her husband had not emerged unscathed.   After conceding to Ismene’s insistence that he wear a polo shirt, Ismene didn’t like the color he chose.  Laurie had been surprised when his sarcastic, “would you like to pick my clothes for me?” wasn’t met with Ismene pawing through his drawers.

Over the years, Laurie met givers and takers; Ismene Papadakis was a giver.  At every opportunity, she shared a piece of her mind. So generous in fact, Laurie wondered if she might one day run out of mind to give.  Two days with her mother-in-law left Laurie proud that her thinned patience survived yet another test.  She accepted she had much left to learn, but prayed she never knew as much as Ismene.

Laurie heard the key in the front door.  She set her mug on the table and headed to greet her husband and children.  In the back of her mind, she wondered:  what will I do today to draw Ismene’s admonition tomorrow?  

As Laurie hugged her kids, she basked in everything she’d done well.  The rightness eclipsed the mistakes she’d made along the way.

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24 thoughts on “Two Days With Ismene

  1. Tori Nelson August 11, 2011 / 7:23 AM

    “…loose stitches holding her sanity intact”. Lady. THIS. IS. STELLAR.

    • jannatwrites August 11, 2011 / 7:39 PM

      “Stellar” is a huge compliment, and rather than argue with you and explain why it’s not that good (like I have the tendency to do in person), I’ll just leave it at, “thank you.”

      I appreciate you stopping by to read it, Tori!

      • pattisj August 15, 2011 / 1:20 PM

        Oh, yes, that phrase definitely hit a home run with me. (and I don’t even like baseball)

        • jannatwrites August 15, 2011 / 8:38 PM

          Aw, thanks Patti. I’m glad you liked it!

  2. Carl D'Agostino August 11, 2011 / 10:58 AM

    Like steady as waves-good imagery. Would suggest just one idea for line 6 “slidng down her throat.” When I think of sliding I think of something solid not liquid. Maybe draining, cascading rivuleting(inventing this as a verb), et.al.

    • jannatwrites August 11, 2011 / 7:50 PM

      I can see how sliding would go with solids. I like ‘cascading’ the best, but it still doesn’t feel quite right. I wonder if “slipping” would work? Or maybe “trickling”. Or perhaps I might rewrite the sentence to remove the verb in question. So many choices 🙂

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and offer your feedback, Carl!

      • momsomniac August 12, 2011 / 4:14 PM

        At first, I read it as “slicing”, which might ruin the mood, but I thought, “yeh, GOOD hot coffee does DO that.”

        • jannatwrites August 12, 2011 / 8:51 PM

          Slicing…sliding – close enough 🙂

          Maybe I should actually drink hot coffee and the “perfect” verb will come to me. I’m not a coffee drinker, so it could help!

  3. nrhatch August 11, 2011 / 12:22 PM

    Beautiful story.

    I am so thankful that my MIL didn’t voice any concerns she had about me to me. 😀

    • jannatwrites August 11, 2011 / 7:51 PM

      Thanks, Nancy! Maybe you were just perfect for your hubby and your MIL had no concerns? (Better watch that ego now ;))

  4. crumbl August 12, 2011 / 5:35 AM

    There’s the “voice” again. Works for me. Although I take Carl’s point, I wouldn’t dither a lot over “sliding” if you’re comfortable with it.

    Fortunately for LRHG, she doesn’t have to deal with a bossy M.i.L., nor do I, although as substitute, I have a bossy S.i.L. who, fortunately for me, lives 2,000 miles away. 🙂

    • jannatwrites August 12, 2011 / 9:01 PM

      Thanks, Crumbl. “Voice” drives me nuts because I can’t identify it in my own writing. Oh well…at least it showed up for this story.

      You guys are lucky to not have bossy in-laws to deal with. The distance between you and the sister-in-law certainly helps. I imagine caller ID is beneficial, too 🙂

      • crumbl August 13, 2011 / 4:38 AM

        Smarter still, I don’t let her have my number, but yeah, caller ID is a blessing. We have no land line … cell phones and voice over internet (Skype or Google) so she can call LRHG, and LRHG calls her with the computer. The only possible excuse I can think of for a land line is to connect a fax card, and who uses fax anymore? Get an email address! Sheesh!

        I imagine it’s easier for an outside party to recognize the “voice” than is it for you. I know I read and re-read everything I write, sometimes to the point of obsession, to ensure I said what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it.

        We’ve chosen a pitiless path, JT, full of self doubt and second guessing and over analyzing, but every once in a while, we get it right, and there’s no better feeling. This one, you got right.

        • jannatwrites August 13, 2011 / 8:42 PM

          Keeping your number a secret is the best solution (unless she could find it on the internet.) You can laugh, but I actually use a fax machine on occaison. There are some insurance forms I have to send in where my choices are fax and snail mail.

          Yep, writing is full of reading and re-reading and it’s still hard to figure out when “finished” happens and the story is right! I don’t post them here until I feel at peace with them. Glad this one felt right to you, Crumbl.

  5. deehsarsiavo August 12, 2011 / 11:57 AM

    “In company, her silence kept peace, but her quiet defiance served as loose stitches holding her sanity intact”

    That was just beautiful. lovely story. I like the attention to the smaller details; the smell of the coffee, the dampness of the cloth. It makes the whole story come across as more personal.

    • jannatwrites August 12, 2011 / 9:06 PM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story! I appreciate you taking time to read and comment on it, Deehsarsiavo.

  6. Carol Ann Hoel August 12, 2011 / 12:55 PM

    Interesting story. We all know what it feels like to be constantly criticized. Good writing, Janna. Blessings to you…

    • jannatwrites August 12, 2011 / 9:17 PM

      Thanks for stopping by to read the story, Carol. Sometimes, silence really is golden 🙂

  7. momsomniac August 12, 2011 / 4:15 PM

    The balance of tension and imagery…tell us again why you’re not famous?

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • jannatwrites August 12, 2011 / 9:30 PM

      Wow, thanks for the kind words, Momsomniac. I appreciate you reading the story.

      There are too many reasons why I’m not famous to even begin to list 🙂

  8. pattisj August 15, 2011 / 1:28 PM

    I loved this, Janna. At first I thought Ismene was a friend, but her role became clearer as the story went along. Nice touch. My husband would applaud your choice of hazelnut coffee, especially knowing you are not a coffee drinker. Nicely done.

    • jannatwrites August 15, 2011 / 8:41 PM

      Thanks, Patti. I didn’t want the relationship obvious until close to the end, so I’m glad to find out that it wasn’t clear. It’s odd, but I love the smell of coffee – especially hazelnut, but can’t stand the taste. I’ve tried varying amounts of cream and sugar, but no go. I guess I’m just a tea person after all 🙂

      I’m thinking of writing a follow up story to this from Ismene’s point of view, but I’ve got other projects I want to finish first.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on the story. I appreciate it.

  9. SAS Fiction Girl August 15, 2011 / 2:08 PM

    I’ll bet Ismene’s mother-in-law was the same way and she’s just paying it forward. 😉 Let’s hope Laurie doesn’t fall into that trap.

    • jannatwrites August 15, 2011 / 8:45 PM

      It could be…or it may be a general personality trait. I’ll have to see if/when I do future stories with these characters. At any rate, I hope the “buck stops here.”

      I’m glad you stopped by to read/comment, Jen. Thanks!

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