A recent Writers Co-op Show Case presented six successful views of Failure. My revised version is below, but I hope you’ll visit Writers Co-op and read them all. Maybe submit your own piece for the next Show Case. The guidelines are: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, January 24, 2022. The next prompt is:
And please share these worthy works with your family and friends!
Who is Failure?
by S.T. Ranscht
Pointing at one bubble shape on the monitor and then the other, “Two placentas,” the doctor announced. “Fraternal twins. Do you want to know their sex?”
The woman and the man looked to each other. He took her hand, his nod scarcely noticeable. Smiling, she said, “Yes, we do.”
“One son, one daughter.”
The man closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He lifted his face heavenward and breathed out, “Thank God, a son.”
“And a daughter,” the woman added.
“As a precaution,” the doctor admonished her, “to lessen the chances of another miscarriage — considering your age and barring chromosomal problems — this time you really must take the pre-natal vitamins. Cut out caffeine and alcohol. No smoking or drugs.” He made a note to the file. “I wish you lived closer to a hospital.”
The man looked puzzled. “But those other five were all girls. This time is different.”
“Is it?” the woman asked.
The doctor shrugged. “Let’s start by seeing if you can make it through the first 20 weeks. Then there’s reason to hope.”
Together the woman and the man started working on the nursery at the end of week 20.
Now, almost four months later, they stood in its doorway admiring the room they had painted and furnished to embody the woods where Hansel and Gretel had conquered a wicked witch. The man had built a gingerbread doll house for his daughter and a bas relief climbing tree against one wall for his son. The woman had painted a mural of trees with birds and woodland creatures all the way around the room.
On the son’s side, the man added a child-sized tool kit and sporting equipment from every team sport he had played growing up. On the daughter’s side, the woman displayed dolls and stuffed animals and framed photographs of women Olympic athletes. In the center, they placed a rustic bookshelf the man had built filled with books they had chosen together.
“This is a room children will grow up strong in,” he said. “They’ll know they can do anything. Be anything.”
The woman gasped. “It’s time to go,” she said.
“Meet your daughter,” the nurse said as she placed the first baby on the woman’s chest. The man leaned over them to see his daughter’s face.
“She’s perfect,” the woman said.
“She’s so tiny,” the man said. He looked up to watch for his son.
The doctor whispered something to the nurse, who came to take the man by his arm. “Will you come with me for just a moment please?” she asked. She left him in the hall and closed the door behind her.
Silence hung in the air until the woman’s wail pierced the door.
The man had taken the tools and sporting equipment out of the room as soon as they brought the baby home. When he started taking the climbing tree down, the woman said, “Please leave it. Girls can climb trees. I used to climb trees.”
The man never went into the room after that.
Now, cradling the girl in his arms the man said, “She never looks me in the eye. Don’t two-year-olds look people in the eye? Is she blind?” He handed her to the woman.
The woman passed a purple stuffed dinosaur over the girl’s face. The girl followed it with her eyes. “She’s not blind.”
“Shouldn’t she be saying at least a few words by now?” the man asked. “Shouldn’t she know how to walk?”
The woman’s voice wavered, “Children learn at different rates.”
The man’s eyes filled. “What’s wrong with her?” He left the house. He did not pick the girl up after that.
The woman held her daughter inches in front of her. The girl’s eyes drifted across and up and down, but never focused on her mother’s face.
The woman’s eyes filled. She put the girl to bed with the purple dinosaur.
“She’s four years old. Why doesn’t she talk yet? Is she deaf?” Fast and hard, the girl’s father smacked his hands together.
The girl’s mother jammed the blade into another potato, guillotining it against the cutting board. “She’s not deaf.”
“Then what’s wrong with her?” he asked yet again, peering into eyes that saw but didn’t comprehend. He turned his back and left the kitchen.
Wrong with her. The girl smacked her hands together. Again. And again. Again and again. And again and again.
The knife clattered on the counter and the girl’s mother stooped to hold her daughter’s hands apart. “Stop,” she said, begging, “Don’t you understand me?”
The girl’s arms yanked away. Her legs lurched her unsteadily out of the kitchen, her hands flapping beside her shoulders like wounded birds. Stop. Stop. Stop.
“Of course the school can’t handle her,” the girl’s father grunted from behind his cereal box. “She doesn’t talk and she can’t understand any better than a wild animal. Look at her.”
Look, look, look. Undeniably no longer a girl, the young woman stood in the doorway, one foot stamping, stamping, stamping, driven by the hammering thrust of her head-banging bounce. Body wild. Inside see me. See. See. Face swiveling toward him, eyes locking on his for one sticky instant as, arms outstretched, her hands smacked together.
He looked away.
The young woman’s mother smoothed the school’s letter on the table. “It says there’s a school over in Columbus could take her. Says it’s expensive, but they could help her.”
“You know I can’t pay for some expensive school.”
“Or they can send someone to show us how to help her.”
“How much is that?” he asked.
“ ‘No cost to you.’ ”
“Do that one. They can show you how to help.”
The young woman smacked her hands together. Help. Help. Help.
The young woman’s arms flung semaphoric gibberish above teetering steps defying direction.
Her mother hung back while the home care worker followed close. “When Angeline can’t stop herself,” the worker instructed, “she needs someone to help her.” From behind the young woman, the home care worker embraced her to clasp her arms against her sides and pressed one hand on the top of her head, compelling her feet to stand.
Eyes wide, the young woman alerted. Solid. Body silent listening. I am real. Do they see me?
Her mother fretted, “What if she feels like you’re over-powering her? Can she even understand what you’re doing for her? Won’t that make her want to keep away from you?”
The worker smiled. “She has developed an awareness of people outside herself. Although it might not be possible for us to understand how Angeline judges our interactions with her, she can recognize how her body is reacting even though she can’t always control it.”
“But she can’t tell us what she’s thinking.”
“It’s true she hasn’t developed language the way you and I understand it,” the worker said. “No one is born with language. We usually learn to communicate by watching and listening to people speak — their facial expressions, body language, words and inflections. Your daughter doesn’t read our faces or bodies or vocal tone, but as an infant, she developed her own language.”
“Her own language? Then why doesn’t she speak?”
“The language of her thoughts would be based on emotions, wants and needs, and primarily visual stimuli rather than words she hears you saying. Her syntax wouldn’t be the same as our spoken language.”
“What does that mean?”
“Her thoughts might be more metaphorical than literal. She might identify objects or feelings as combinations of things she knows that give them fuller symbolic meaning than their names would.”
Angeline’s mother tried to meet her daughter’s eyes. “Will we ever be able to understand her?”
“Many non-speaking autistic people learn to read. If you can teach Angeline to read, you may unlock her ability to express her thoughts. It might not be with speech, but she might use a spelling board or sign language you develop together.”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“Let’s help her learn to be still, first.” The care worker released the young woman.
Angeline remained standing as she was for three heartbeats before staggering on.
Days and weeks repeated until the home care worker’s help moved on.
“So she’s gone. She gave up,” the father accused.
The mother wrung her hands. “She said we don’t need her anymore.”
“Right,” he said, “a total waste of time. The girl still doesn’t talk. She still can’t understand anything that’s going on. She’ll never be anything.” He shook his head watching her lie on the ground.
Still. Sunshine feels my face and fills me. Heart music carries me. Sky presses my arms and legs lying on leafy bed. My body smiles.
They fail seeing I am not failure. I am real.
Her mother sat down beside her with a picture book and took her hand. “Look, Angeline, I want to show you something.”
Angeline’s father stopped shaking his head and watched.