This is a dialogue-only short story, written for the Bartleby Snopes dialogue only competition. Though this did not make the cut, I found this to be an interesting writing exercise. Trying to juggle believable dialogue, distinct voices, character development, and include a story was difficult, and I think I learned a great deal from this. Enjoy. (Please excuse the formatting – sometimes WordPress doesn’t like me, no matter how nice I try to be to it.)
Mum? Are you awake?
Hmm? Oh, look who’s finally decided to grace me with her presence. A high honour indeed. And me without my tiara.
Don’t you ‘mum’ me, Juney. I’ve been withering away here, waiting for some company. Someone to chat with and take my mind off the pain. Maybe bring me a decent cup of tea and not the dishwater those nurses keep mistaking for it.
It’s all fine and well, you strolling in whenever you please, but have a thought for an old woman who’s ill. It’s all I can do to sit up under my own power these days. Lord knows how I’ve struggled, looking after myself and that big old house without my only child to help me.
Oh, don’t start.
I’m not starting. I’m just saying that you could have helped me more before I landed in here.
Say pardon, not what, Juney.
Mum, I tried to help, but you wouldn’t even open the door the last time. The time before that you were in a blind rage when I dared to pick up a mouldy teacup.
Mouldy! You always were one for exaggeration. It was just cold from that morning.
That’s what you said then. What I don’t get is how you can make yourself a cup of tea but can’t clear it up after yourself again. The dishes were piling up everywhere you went.
Well, let’s not speak of that again, then. It’s obviously a sore point for you, so we will discuss something else. Shall we?
I’m glad that you’re ready to talk. We need to discuss the house.
Always the house. You could ask how I am. You could comment on the weather, or make a disparaging comment about the staff here and how they aren’t looking after me well enough, but no. Straight to the house. Pleasantries and small talk wouldn’t go amiss once in a while.
I’ll never win with you, will I?
Not what, pardon.
Stop muttering. I raised you better than that.
The house. I need to know what you intended to do with the house. Whether you had planned for any … contingencies.
Bloody vulture you are. I’m in hospital for a week, and you’re already circling. My body’s still warm, you bottom-feeder. You always were money-hungry, nothing else would satisfy you. Couldn’t wait to get a job of your own, but you wasted it on slutty clothes and cider, getting drunk to hook a man, get knocked up and lock him to you with a wedding.
Stop it. That’s not what – oh, fuck it.
Get back here, Juney, and watch that foul mouth of yours. What would your father think, you using language like that?
Where do you think I learned it?
Don’t you dare blame him for your shortcomings.
He’s been dead fifteen years! Stop trying to make out that he was a saint. You know damned well he wasn’t.
Again with the language. I never believed you could be more crass. But I can’t say I’m not surprised. That husband of yours–
Shut up. It isn’t anything to do with him.
–always cussing and effing and blinding. And your child is a feral heathen, running wild in the streets–
I’m not listening to this. I’m done. You can go homeless for all I care.
What? Wait! What are you talking about?
Apologise and mean it, or I’m gone. And you never had a daughter.
Don’t you threaten me, missy, I’m still your mother and I’ll–
Mean it. You know I have a wonderful husband and a beautiful son and you’re just so bitter and twisted that you refuse to see that I’m happy. Maybe it’s the tumour–
Yes, that’s it.
Or maybe it’s because you know I’m not yours anymore. To bid and grind down. To yell at and blame for everything that went wrong in your life. That I’m happy and it’s not because of you.
I’m happy, away from you and your poisoned, venomous mind.
Juney, I …
I’m waiting. Fine, you stubborn cow, you want to know what’s going on? Here’s your truth before I go. You’ve been in hospital for six weeks, not one. The tumour has spread and multiplied, so ‘if’ has disappeared into ‘when’ you die. You’re going to be moved to hospice care, but I can’t afford it. With the extra hospital costs, and now the funeral costs–
What a thing to say!
Funeral costs! Get used to that. You’ll be hearing a lot of it. You’re moving to hospice, and I can’t afford it. That house–
Your home! My home!
Shut up. That house is sitting there empty, and you won’t ever be able to go back to it. You’re too sick, and you’ll never be well again. I’m selling it, to pay for everything. No, you don’t get to speak. You don’t get a say anymore. You lived there too long, squatting in filth because you couldn’t look after yourself. And even though you love bossing me around, you couldn’t bear to ask for help. Because that meant I would have been helping, as an equal – no, not an equal. I’m the able-bodied one, the strong one now, not your slave anymore. I would have been in charge, and you just couldn’t stand the thought of having to do what I say for once.
I asked you to come round, to visit, catch up.
Stop whining. You’re lying again. You know full well that you have used each visit to poke at me, to insult my family. Every visit has been that way.
It would have been different this time!
Why? How? The tumour? That would have made you nicer to me? You just said it’s been making you meaner. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t wring sympathy from whomever you want, using whatever reason you want. You haven’t changed a bit. You’re lying there, catheterized and–
Don’t be vulgar.
Why not? I can see the bag of your own bloody urine hanging right there in plain sight. You’ve got piss in a bag on view to the world, and you still feel you have the right to call me and my family a pack of dirty animals.
I’ve had to pay an obscene amount to have the house cleaned properly after what you did to it – after what you didn’t do – in order to make it presentable for respectable human beings, and now it’s on the market. It will be sold. My only question is: do you want anything from the house?
You ungrateful little bitch.
Pardon? Did you just swear at me? How times have changed. Fine. If you don’t tell me, I’ll just keep your raspberry pantsuit and send everything else to charity.
Why that horrible thing?
To bury you in.
Not the pantsuit! The navy blue dress, with the white trim. And my pearl necklace.
Not what, pardon. Say please.
Raspberry pantsuit it is. See you graveside.