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Lost

On grief, loss, the power of words, and the bond between a mother and child.

By L.C. SchäferPublished about a year ago Updated 7 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - April 2023
Lost
Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

When I was a young woman, I didn't really think of death. But if you had asked me to think of a word I associated with death, I would have come up with something interminably unimaginative, like "sadness". Or "grief".

I wouldn't have said, admin.

But here I sit, in my mother's house, going through her things.

I haven't had time to be sad. There is too much to do. I've been working solidly all morning, and now I am taking just a few minutes for myself. A cup of hot tea to wash away the dust in my throat, and a moment to look through this box.

This is a box I don't remember seeing before. Curiosity. That's another word. Something I didn't expect to feel right now.

What did mum keep in this box, and why don't I remember it?

I can feel... Something. Some bit of me doesn't want to open it at all, and another bit wants to, very much. Perhaps I shouldn't look. Perhaps this is Pandora's box. Whatever I see in here, I won't be able to unsee.

It rustles. It sounds like it's full of paper. Probably bills. What terrible bores adults can be.

I think that is the only reason I finally open it and look to see what's in there. Because my boring grown-up brain has convinced me that it would be something equally boring - safe - inside.

It's hard to describe to you the moment I see them. It's sort of a shock, slightly. There's a sense of familiarity, like deja vu. A memory long buried stirs and flicks her tail.

Drawings. Childish drawings. Some in crayon, some in felt tip. My drawings. All almost the same, or at least, of the same thing. The same person. There are... so many. I was a little bit obsessed, I think. Some were done in biro or pencil. Whatever I could set my chubby little fingers on.

I remember. I remember now.

It's all flooding back to me, leaving me gasping. The realness of it.

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"I don't understand how it happened," she was saying. The frantic, crushing grip of her arms loosened, and I could breathe easily again. Her eyes looked too bright, her face flushed. She got to her feet, still talking, babbling almost, in her relief. "I must have turned away just for a second, only a second I swear... One minute she was right there, and the next minute - gone..." Her hand was gripping mine just a little too tightly. It almost hurt. "Terror? I've never known anything like it..."

I heard that story from her lips many times. How she lost me at the aquarium.

I'd always liked it there. It was warm and dark, with pretty lights and mysterious twisting corridors. There was something peaceful about it. People spoke in hushed voices, like they were in a library. It had its own smell. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you'd catch sight of a turtle as you turned a corner. Or the belly of a shark swimming far above you. Well. If you were my size it would be far above.

I was little for my age. I was about four or five, I think. Do you remember that little girl in Monsters Inc? Dark pigtails, big eyes, button nose? That was me.

I talked about that day non-stop at first. Where I'd been when I was "lost". What I'd seen. The adults laughed and tousled my hair. I didn't like that. What an imagination the girl has, they said.

Patronising. That was a word I didn't know at the time.

I was constantly asking to go back to the Sealife Centre after that day. Mum resisted at first, because of how easily she'd lost me, but I wouldn't relent. I'd spend hours, if they let me, peering into every tank, gobbling every inch of it with my eyes, staring into the shadowy corners. Walking every corridor dozens of times. They had to shoo me away from STAFF ONLY doors, because I acted as if every corridor was mine to explore. Every time I got home Dad or Auntie Sue would look up from what they were doing, smile indulgently and say, "Did you see it today?" and I would sigh in a very grown up way and say, "No, not today. Maybe next time!"

There was a boy, you see. The first time, I mean. A pale little boy with shaggy coppery hair, a down-turned mouth, and dark eyes slightly too large for his face. I'm not sure why I followed him. Maybe some bit of me saw how he was so small, and his face looked so old and sad. He didn't match himself. He drew your eye and your sympathy. He made you wonder. Or maybe because he looked the same age as me, and I was nosey.

He slipped through a door I hadn't noticed before. Shiny metal that, when shut, looked a lot like the occasional slivers of walls between the huge tanks. I went after him, and stopped dead. It was darker here. No tanks. No lights. I could see the familiar bluish glow shining from around the bend, so I did the thing that seemed logical: I walked towards it.

Maybe I thought, in a vague way, that it would circle back to the corridor I'd just left.

But when I reached the tank, the source of the blue light, I barely even noticed the strange boy. My eyes were riveted to the lady he was talking to. I stared for three reasons. First, she was beautiful. More beautiful than anything I'd ever seen. Second, she naked, and it registered with me that this was a bit unusual. People at the Sealife Centre were always fully dressed. Third, she was inside the tank.

The way her hair spread out in the water, like a cloud. Her skin, so pale. It looked faintly blue in the light from the tank. Those eyes - just like his eyes. Wide and dark and sad. Set not-quite-right in her head. Along with the blue glow, it gave her an exotic look. Otherworldly, even. Her tail! Sinuous and smooth. I couldn't take my eyes off it.

The only blemish on her is depicted in every drawing in front of me. A line across her stomach. It is this detail, I think, which unnerved my mother so much that she hid away all these drawings and never stuck any of them to the fridge. Why would a child invent a detail like that? Or maybe she hoped that without these reminders of what I'd seen, it would fade. Until my grown-up brain would look back and rationalise it. Reach back across the years to tousle those pigtails and say, What an imagination...

I wish I could ask her.

If that was what she was hoping for, I think it worked.

Did she believe me, after all?

I can see that little boy, still. He is as real as if he were standing in front of me. I wonder what happened to him. I wonder if he was ever reunited with his mother, or if he could only gaze at her wistfully through the glass, unable to hear her voice.

Waves of sadness roll over me at last, and my own salt hits the waxy lines of crayon on my lap.

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END

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If you enjoyed this story, please tell me in the comments! What stood out to you? If you didn't enjoy it, please tell me that as well! What bored you? What pulled you out of the story?

There is a follow up to this story here:

Short Storyfamily

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

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"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

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Comments (29)

  • Phil Flannery4 months ago

    Yes, what an incredible imagination you have. Little kids see things adults don't, and most adults refuse to believe the fantastic. Well done again

  • What an incredibly beautiful, poignant & sad story you have written here. This has risen to the top of my favorites in this challenge. Powerfully & whelmingly told. I still have tear in my eyes.

  • Stephanie Hoogstad4 months ago

    This story really pulled me in. I didn’t expect the MC to be the one who was lost and then for that to be taken further with the lost connection between the boy and his mother. It’s such a bitterly sweet story.

  • Novel Allen5 months ago

    I felt such nostalgia, I was right there with the characters. Like Alice through the looking glass. Brilliant writing. Congrats.

  • JBaz5 months ago

    Your brilliance in this piece shines. The way you flowed seamless between thought , time an character. so smooth. Your mind went in a direction that few of us can conceive of attempting

  • Oh, wow! L.C., this is brilliant. Naturally, as with everything you write, it makes me want to know more, dig deeper, hear all the stories behind the story. LOL!

  • Anthony Staufferabout a year ago

    Quite brilliant! Two mysteries, three mysterious characters. It draws you in and shuffles you about, feeling as lost and found as the little girl in the aquarium. A fantastic read.

  • Kenya Lassiterabout a year ago

    This is a beautifully written piece.

  • Alexander McEvoyabout a year ago

    Stories like this often make me wonder what truths lie behind the questions of inquisitive children. The little comments about the man in the woods, or the magic that adults can't see any more

  • Cezanne Libellenabout a year ago

    Touching

  • Donna Fox (HKB)about a year ago

    This is a really breath taking and engaging read! I liked the monsters inc reference! Great work L.C. 💜

  • Chisi limiabout a year ago

    I cant imagine how vast your imagination is bro..

  • Blue Bhuttaabout a year ago

    While reading it I felt that I was living the life of that little girl, Just WOW! It felt like a movie honestly.

  • Alieu Turayabout a year ago

    🤩

  • Stephen Kramer Avitabileabout a year ago

    Oh wow that was excellent! The way you tell the story and move from one timeline to another was superb. Really kept me interested and invested. I also loved the use of words you’d sprinkle in, words you didn’t know or words you didn’t expect to think of or feel in certain moments. It had such a flow and was such an interesting and mystical topic!

  • Bethanie Sherwoodabout a year ago

    Incredible insights! Your narrative was beautiful and full of personality. A true joy to read. Congrats on the top story - it's well deserved. Hitting subscribe now!

  • Roy Stevensabout a year ago

    Beautiful description and just the right dose of wistful melancholy to hook me in. I'll be back for more L.C. Also, congratulations on the top story!

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    This is so well done, it's believable. Great story. Congrats on the TS

  • Dana Crandellabout a year ago

    A wonderful tale!

  • Caroline Cravenabout a year ago

    The way you describe death and grief is completely relatable and incredibly well written. I love this piece.

  • simangele Gumedeabout a year ago

    very creative,i will read it again

  • Lena Folkertabout a year ago

    Holy crap. No other words. That was so good. You must write the novel. 😍

  • Ahamed Thousifabout a year ago

    Amazing Story!!!

  • Shane Dobbieabout a year ago

    Subscribed. Must come back and read more.

  • Muniba Sajjadabout a year ago

    I really enjoyed reading it!

L.C. SchäferWritten by L.C. Schäfer

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