Cecilia roamed barefoot through Hartley’s room, looking for it. Every few minutes she felt dizzy and had to sit down on the pink carpet.

She had eaten wheat crackers with blueberry jam and water with a teaspoon of sugar for three days straight. She liked the process of painting the crackers and soiling the water. She liked the repetition. She liked digging the crackers into the roof of her mouth and licking the small sores that formed.

After about seven attempts, she found it — the clay angel she had made for Hartley. The angel had asymmetrical pink wings, a red sun face, and blue and purple flower patterns in its center. Cecilia held the angel in the middle of her chest, inhaling sharp, staccato breaths. She remembered the way Hartley’s smile reached her eyes as she traced the patterns with her fingers. It was the first time Cecilia had seen Hartley happy since their parents had explained what metastasize meant.

Cecilia laid her head onto the pink carpet that still smelled like Hartley. She dug the three edges of the left wing into her hand. She watched the pale circles they traced onto her skin reappear and disappear.

She went to the kitchen hours later to have dinner. She heard her voice, soft and squeaky, respond to her parents’ questions. Yes, she would eat the chicken and yellow rice. No, she wanted to eat alone. No, she didn’t want to talk about it. No.

She stood in the doorway until she heard their bedroom door click shut. She put the chicken and rice into a ziplock bag. She opened the back door halfway, so that it wouldn’t creak. She untied the black plastic bag in the trash can outside and slid the food in the middle of it. She wiped her hands against her pants, and ashamed about what the angel had just witnessed, she whispered sorry before she went back inside.

She sat the clay angel on the leather kitchen chair and then sat in the chair across from it. She had to push her chair a foot away from the table to see the tiny angel. She made wheat crackers with blueberry jam and water with a teaspoon of sugar. She liked the repetition. She painted, soiled, and chewed, noting that if she tilted her head at a slight angle, tears crept in her mouth and dulled the metallic taste of blood the sores caused.

—Lissa E.

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Published by lissa e.

Lissa's offerings include integrative mental health care, meditation and movement (yoga, qigong, intuitive) guidance, writings, and community facilitation offered in a compassionate, trauma-responsive, and racial and social justice-oriented framework as part of a lifelong mission to reduce suffering for all beings.

17 thoughts on “hartley

  1. this is something i’d want to see more of. maybe you should write a book together with paul and i, if you would like. it doesn’t own a name yet. paul?


  2. This is beautiful, Lissa, you have a gift for story-telling, stories that ring true because they are rooted in realistic characters….. and a gift for using just the right words, the right sounds, shapes, numbers of words even in any given situation……an astonishing talent.


  3. This is heart wrenching to read but so well crafted. The detail of movement, the repetition of key words — excellent. I really enjoy reading your work.


  4. An initial observation . . . every paragraph save one begins with either the character’s name, or the pronoun She. Interesting . . . I’m in a hurry, so I’ll chew on this later and give it the time it deserves.


  5. This really reads like the beginning of a book. I definitely want to know what happens next. You have this amazing talent for creating characters that the read grows to care for in a very short space of time. You’re writing is just amazing.


  6. Complete and distinct. The great balance in the tone gives a kind of distance which frames the small details and gives them resonance. The focus in the writing on the tiny and the seemingly mundane reflect the child’s focus on the inanimate and routine as a way of hiding from her grief. It is a way of writing in which the technique does most of the work. The only symbolic touch, the clay angel, clay for a reason, is handled with just enough precision that it isn’t obvious as displacement for her loss. There is a great maturity in writing like this in which the writer withdraws from the work and allows it to speak for itself.


  7. Oh my gosh, dear Lissa, this sweet real-life fairy tale
    is outrageously beautiful. The detail you give to your
    reader seals the heart, or mine anyway, giving the
    character such depth. You have a talent for writing
    about strong subjects in a delicate manner.
    Reminds me of what my grandmother often told
    me – soft words can bend bone.


  8. thanks jo, nathan, dave, brian, & happy misfit for your generous comments.

    cynthia- i try to create authentic characters and stories. i’m glad you like them.

    paisley- ha. i love disturbing chars/topics. i hope to def. expand this into something longer. 🙂

    aefiel- i suck at collab. work but i’m def up for the challenge.

    paul-your critiques are works of art.


  9. Hi Lissa, this is Marcelo, I am about to go to sleep and seeing that Jess is already a member, I decided to post this comment and later sign up so my name shows up.

    What you wrote is amazing. You are very gifted. I love that in such few words you can express so much. Since I am about to go to sleep, I am glad “Hartley” became my bedtime story for tonight.

    See you on Saturday

    I fixed it for you. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it 🙂 You don’t have to be a member to leave a comment. You just have to leave your name and email and you can leave a comment.


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