"I had nowhere to escape to."
In the months following her daughter's death, writer Diane Simmons' family gradually began to return to their normal lives, but Diane didn’t seem able to move on. She couldn't write — though the image of a grieving mother at a river bank kept returning to her.
She reads the story that found its way out of that image.
Diane Simmons studied creative writing with the Open University. Her fiction has featured in a variety of anthologies and publications including: Mslexia, New Flash Fiction Review, Flash I Love You (Paper Swans), To Carry Her Home (BFFA), The Lobsters Run Free (BFFA), Firefly Magazine, The Yellow Room and five NFFD anthologies. She has been placed in numerous story competitions such as National Flash Fiction Day micro, Writers’ Forum, Woman and Home, Ink Tears, Worcs Lit Fest, ITV’s This Morning/She, 99 Fiction and The Frome Festival as well as being short or longlisted for competitions such as The Fish, Exeter Flash and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her recently completed novella-in-flash was long listed for the 2018 Bath Novella-in-Flash competition. Diane has helped judge several flash competitions, has been a reader for the international Bath Short Story Award and is part of the organising team for the UK Flash Fiction Festival. Her debut flash collection ‘Finding a Way’ will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in early 2019.
Nearly three years ago, my daughter Laura died just a few weeks after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. She was twenty-eight. Exhausted and lost, my husband, my son and my son-in-law all gradually returned to work and my younger daughter went off on a long-planned trip abroad. But I had nowhere to escape to. I am a writer, working from home and I certainly could not write. There was no room in my brain for anything creative. I wondered at times what the point of me was.
When my mother died nine years ago, she left a tiny collection of jewellery that my sister and I shared. I remember feeling sad for her that she hadn’t owned more, that she hadn’t had the kind of life where she needed pretty necklaces and extravagant earrings. I decided that in future I would ask my husband for jewellery for my birthdays and Christmases, so that when I died there would be pieces my daughters would enjoy inheriting. My two daughters often borrowed some of this jewellery for weddings and parties, sometimes squabbling over who got to wear what.
In the awful, months that followed Laura’s death, my mind repeatedly focused on thinking about the jewellery collection I had built up and I found it difficult to take in that there would no longer be any need for it to be shared when I died – that now, I only had one daughter, that all the jewellery would be hers. My son-in-law, just a few days after the funeral, had given me Laura’s engagement ring to add my collection and this no doubt added to the confusion in my mind. I often found myself picturing a grieving woman throwing her jewellery into the river – it no longer being needed.
That image prompted the first story I wrote after Laura’s death and I was proud when it was published in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology the next year. In the months that followed I wrote other stories, some inspired by my grief, others not and I have managed to carry on writing, have in the last two years become much more prolific. In early 2019 ‘Finding a Way,’ my flash fiction collection on grief will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction. The story that started all this is called ‘A Collection’:
I throw in the opal ring next. It makes little impression on the river, unlike the jade bracelet and the gold chain I bought in Marrakech.
The opal ring had been the start of my collection, bought just a week after Sophie was born. ‘Something for me,’ I’d reasoned, as gift after gift arrived for her.
The last piece I select is my mother’s engagement ring. It’s a diamond cluster, the only decent jewellery she’d owned. When she died, I cried as I surveyed the cheap beads and mean-stoned rings I’d inherited. It didn’t seem much to show for a life.
So I’d started collecting – birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, I asked my husband for jewellery, determined that Sophie would have an inheritance to delight in.
As soon as she took an interest, I allowed her to play with the cheaper pieces, let her rummage in my wardrobe for heels and hats to parade in. As she grew older, she borrowed necklaces for university balls, rings for friends’ weddings, brooches for job interviews. ‘Can I keep the sapphire ring? ’ she often begged. ‘Or the opal?’
‘You can have them when I’m dead,’ I used to say.
So stupid. I should have showered my beautiful girl with everything I owned. Not carried on building a collection that would never be needed.
As I trudge back to the car, I look down at my left hand, twirl the ring on my middle finger. It’s a ruby, antique, bought as a present for Sophie’s graduation. She’d been so proud of her First and she adored the ring, had rarely taken it off. It doesn’t look good on me. But I didn’t hesitate when the undertaker handed it to me. I slipped it on to my finger, have kept it there ever since. It’s the only jewellery I have now, the only piece I see any point in owning.