Here's Christina's challenge:
It is dawn. The first thin fingers of the morning sun are reaching across the distant waves toward the shore. She has emerged from the darkness to stand alone in quiet testament to the ability to survive and endure all the night holds.
Instinctively she knows the worst has yet to come.
"What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?" she murmured quietly as the gentle morning waves of Lake Michigan lapped at her feet.
She pulled her sweater closer around her to stop her shivers, but she kept her chilled bare feet in the water and watched the still-dark sky for the first signs of dawn. What better place to contemplate her sins -- or were they? -- than this quiet, lonely place, in an hour devoid of stars and moon and sun alike? All of her difficult choices had been made in hours just like this -- in the many shades of gray and shadow.
She believed that few good decisions were really based on black and white issues. Why make them in the brightest light of day or the deepest hours of the night? No. Better to wait until you could sift and weigh the darkest to the palest nuances of gray. The answers were there if you knew to look into the hidden corners and unturned pockets of questions and conscience.
She turned and walked south along the wet sand, her feet rhythmically slapping out all the arguments for and against her actions. It will cause a rift in the family. I can't live like this any more. My mother will be heartbroken. I deserve better than this. My father would have... WHAT? What would my father have done if he were still here?
She stopped abruptly and looked east to see the first signs of the coming sunrise. The sky began to rim the lake with deep rose, crimson and lilac. The visual sigh of soft, soothing colors sent message straight to her heart.
Before the sun could break the horizon, she decided. It is done. I can't change it now. I will not change it now.
The first affirmative rays of sunlight flashed on the water's surface. She blew out a breath, turned, squared her shoulders and slowly sloggedd up the beach to the path that would lead her home.
She quietly opened the back door, wiped her sandy feet on the sea grass doormat and entered the silent kitchen. She took the tea kettle from the stove and opened the top to add water.
“Where were you? I was worried about you,” her mother said hoarsely from behind her.
She stiffened. Was the tone accusing? Angry? Hurt? Annoyed? Concerned? It was very difficult for her to tell.
Without turning she said, “I had a lot to think about. You know I always do my best thinking near the lake. And I like the beach best when there’s no one around but the seagulls.” She added water to the kettle from the tap, set it on the stove and turned on the flame. She had to grip the knob firmly to hide the shaking of her hands.
Here it comes again, she thought. The motherlode of guilt, love, obedience, respect, fear. Always the fear.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I thought I'd be back before you were awake."
"I don't sleep well any more. It's one of the curses of growing old. Especially when my children aren't getting along. Another curse of aging."
With her back still turned to her mother, she carefully turned to the sink and turned on the taps again. Washed her hands. Reached for a water glass. Damn. Her hands still shook, and she could feel her heart begin to pound. She set the glass down again, turned, and gripped the counter behind her.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Her voice was strangled, and she had to fight the urge to wrap her arms around herself and rock. Oh, no! Not now! She looked at the table, rather than at her mother.
"Sit down, Mom. I'll warm the pot and make us some tea." She turned once more towards the sink, reached into the cabinet to the upper left, and retrieved a teapot. I can do this. She turned on the hot water tap and waited for the water to warm. Keep busy. Keep your back turned.
She could hear the soft thwap of her mother's slippers on the hardwood floors. The squeak of a chair pulled away from the kitchen table.
She filled the china pot with hot water, and two teacups, as well. She turned of the taps and reached for another cupboard door.
"English Breakfast, Darjeeling or Chamomile?"
"Chamomile, I think. It's soothing to the stomach. And you look like you could use it."
Damn it to hell, the woman can read me like a book.
The kettle startled her with a shrieking whistle and she whirled to turn off the burner. She dumped out the water in the teapot, spooned in loose, dried buds, and poured in steaming water from the kettle, then reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out a fuzzy knitted cozy and fitted it over the teapot. The pounding had reached from her heart to between her ears. The early warning signs of a tension headache traced tentative fingers up the back of her skull and up to her temples.
"Another panic attack, dear?"
"No!" She almost shouted. Then she caught herself, and notice for the first time the exhaustion and concern on her mother's face. "I'm sorry. Yes. I can't help it."
"You know that I love all of my children the same, don't you?"
No, Mom. I don't. You love Stephen for his brashness. You love Michael for his neediness. And you love me because I'm supposed to be responsible and forgiving, just like you.
"Of course I do."
"Then tell me what happened. I heard you on the phone with Michael last night."
I couldn't forgive him any more, Mom. I couldn't forgive his selfishness. I couldn't forgive his arrogance. I couldn't take hearing one more time how he lived his life very well without my input... or my love. And I couldn't allow him to use you one more time. So I told him he wasn't my brother any more. He laughed. He LAUGHED!
So I did it. So you have three children, but I now only have one brother.
"A small misunderstanding." She placed the teapot, cups and tea strainer on a tray and carried them to the table. She held the strainer over her mother's cup and poured.
"Drink your tea, Mom. It'll warm you."
And I'm giving up my guilt for anger, Mom. It'll warm me.