Kate’s List is a draft of a scene from a larger story. It came out of a writing prompt exercise from this month’s Southeast Review Writing Regimen. Kate and Stormy are a couple of the characters who have been talking to me lately. I like them a lot. I think you will, too, once you get to know them.
“Name three things a person could have faith in, Mom,” Stormy called to Kate. The coltish twelve year old sat at the family’s 1950’s style alcove diner, curly strawberry blond head bent over an old-fashioned black and white speckled composition book. Stormy tapped the eraser end of her pencil against her straight, white teeth. She looked at her Mom, who was working at her laptop across the room at the built-in desk in the kitchen. “Mom? Can you help me?”
Kate looked up, “Sure, sweetie. I’ll be right there.” She quickly saved her work, poured a small glass of milk and joined Stormy in the diner. “What’s up, Storm-girl?” Kate asked, as she picked up a warm oatmeal cookie from the pile.
“It’s for Mrs. Myers’s class. She wants us to write three things a person might have faith in.”
“You mean, like God?” Kate asked.
“Well, yeah, but she said it could be other things, too, even like a football team.” Stormy snorted in disgust. “Yeah, right, like I would have faith in a football team. Yuck. What is faith, anyway?”
“Oh, boy,” Kate thought. “This is headed toward the deep end of the pool.” She put her cookie down. “Faith is a big subject. It’s complicated. Faith is believing with your whole heart in something, even when you can’t prove it.”
Stormy grinned. “I have faith in you and Dad, even when you don’t always let me stay up late!”
“That’s one,” Kate said, smiling. “What else?”
“I have faith that God loves me, like I learned in church. Is it okay to make God number two?”
“Sure,” Kate said. “Now, just one more. What’s number three?”
“Oh, man. I don’t know. . . wait! I know!” Stormy reached for a scruffy-looking pink stuffed animal. “I have faith in Cheer Bear! Yay, Cheer Bear!” she shouted, pumping Cheer Bear into the air and laughing out loud.
“Hmmn, I don’t know about Cheer Bear. . .” Kate started.
“Yes. Cheer Bear,” Stormy said. “I know I’m 12, and some of my friends tease me about still having Cheer Bear, but Cheer Bear has been with me almost my whole life, no matter what, if I’m sick or sad, or anything, Cheer Bear’s always there for me,” she said all in one breathless rush.
Kate held up her hands in a defensive gesture. “Okay, okay. Cheer Bear it is.”
“Here’s my list: #1 Mom and Dad #2 God #3 Cheer Bear. Okay. Now what’s your list? What do you have faith in?”
“Oh, well, you know, the usual things, “Kate said, hoping to wiggle out of this line of questioning and get back to her own work.
“No, really, Mom.” Stormy pinned her with those serious gray eyes. “What are yours?”
No escape. “All right, but let’s grab some hot chocolate, first, and go sit by the fire. I want to tell you a story.”
“Yay! Hot chocolate! Marshmallows, too?” Stormy was already in the nearby panty, pulling out the hot chocolate mix.
Warm mugs in hand, Kate and Stormy sat close on the old cinnamon-colored leather sofa in front of the fireplace. “When I was a young girl — just your age, in fact — my Daddy suddenly died one night. He had a heart attack. It was awful. Remember me telling you about that?”
“I remember, Mom,” Stormy said. She put her mug down and stretched out on the sofa with her head on a yellow suede pillow and her feet on Kate’s lap.
“Well, a few years after that, my Mom was still very sad, and she got so confused that she forgot how to be a Mom. After awhile, she forgot how to be a person, too. She went away to some dark place inside herself. A doctor told my brothers and me that she was mentally ill. You know what that is, don’t you?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Stormy said. “What did you and your brothers do?”
“We just did the best we could. I was lucky, because I played the piano. I practiced for hours every day. It was my safe place, where I could be happy. And I was really lucky, too, because some teachers at my school helped me a lot. They even helped me get a scholarship to college!”
“So, what’s number one?” Stormy poked Kate with her candy-heart-pink painted toes. “Do you have faith in the piano? In teachers?”
“Well, yes, I do, but they are only part of something bigger. It’s more complicated than that. Kate hesitated, then made her decision, took a deep breath, and said, “I want to tell you another story — one I’ve never told you before.”
“Oooh, “Stormy breathed. “Tell me, Mommy.”
“A long time ago, when I was still in college, I married a nice young man.”
“I know,” said Stormy. “But that was a long, long time ago. Before you met Daddy.”
“Yes, that’s right. But even though I was married, I was very, very lonely. My husband was an only child and had grown up in a boarding school. He just didn’t seem to know how to love me.” Kate sighed. “After we had been married for several years, I began to long for a real home, one with laughter and children, and so I asked my husband if he would like to have a family. He said, ‘Sure. We’ll have children when it’s time.'”
Stormy sat straight up, listening hard now. “And did you? Did you have another family before you had us?”
“Let me finish, sweetie.”
“Okay, Mom. But. . . . okay. Go ahead and finish.” Stormy pulled up her legs and hugged them while she stared at Kate intently.
“Every time I would bring up having a baby, my husband would say the same thing: ‘We’ll have children when it’s time.’ Finally, one Sunday I fixed a fancy brunch for him, with a pretty fruit salad, an omelet, and muffins. I set our small table with our best dishes. He was delighted, and sat down to enjoy the meal, with a big smile on his face. He didn’t know it was a trap.”
“A trap!” Stormy’s gray eyes were flinty and bright, now. She loved puzzles and mysteries.
“Yes, a trap. Just as he was halfway through this yummy brunch, I sprang the trap. I said, ‘You know how every time we talk about starting a family, you say that we’ll do it when it’s time?’ He stopped eating, fork halfway to his mouth, and cocked his head slightly. ‘Um, yes?'”
“Well, I just want to know,” I continued. “Who is going to know when it’s time? You? Or me?”
“Mom! You didn’t!” Stormy giggled.
“I did. I sure did,” Kate said.
“And what did he say, then?” Stormy asked.
“After almost choking on his eggs, he regained his composure and said we could talk about it. I made the case that now was a good time. I guess he didn’t know what else to do, so he agreed. Right after our brunch, he had to pack his suitcase for a short business trip, and so we didn’t see each other for another three days. When he came home, he seemed nervous and upset. Finally, he busted wide open, like a balloon with too much air in it.
“What happened? What did he do? Stormy scooted closer.
“He told me he was sorry, but that he did not want to have any children. He liked things just the way they were, and that if I absolutely had to have babies, to ‘go do it with someone else.'”
“Oh, Mom! That’s mean!” Stormy had fire in her eyes, now.
“Well, I guess he was just scared, but, whatever, that is the day our marriage ended, even though the divorce wasn’t final for another year. ” Kate took Stormy’s hand. “But, then, I met your Dad. He’s a person who really knows something about love.”
“Yay, Daddy!” Stormy squeezed my hand.
“Oh, yes. Yay, Daddy, for sure.”
“So, Mom. You never told me the three things you have faith in. What are they?” Stormy snuggled closer.
Kate looked at the dancing firelight for several long minutes. She felt the warmth of her young daughter next to her. “I have steadfast faith in love. That’s number one. I wholeheartedly believe in a person’s ability to reinvent themselves and create a new life. That’s number two. And I believe that complete healing from the deep emotional wounds that we may experience in life is possible. Does that make sense to you, Stormy? Stormy?”
Kate looked down and saw that Stormy was asleep. She smiled, closed her own eyes, and was still dozing when her husband came in and bent to kiss her awake.