By Tammy B. Tsonis

I was born to be miserable like my mother and her mother before her. 

I was five when I discovered my destiny. I ran toward the kitchen for my favorite snack– a hostess twinkie – and saw my mother crying, tears rolling down her cheeks as she held a dirty mop in her hand. I hid behind the corner, embarrassed to have unearthed her secret.

She raised her head, aware of a sound stirring in the hallway. She stopped and looked around, concerned her weakness had been exposed. My lips were sealed tight like the packaging of that sweet vanilla cake my hungry stomach craved. Content that her secret was safe, she sang a tune I had heard many times before. 

I ran over, clanking the heels of my favorite black patent Mary Janes on the ceramic floor.

“My darling!” She lit up rubbing her cheeks to erase the faint traces of tears. She squeezed me tight and handed me the snack, the soft crackling cellophane squished in my hand.

“Mommy, I like when you sing.” I announced. “What are you happy about?”

She gave me a weak smile, “We don’t just sing when we’re happy. Sometimes we sing when we’re sad.” 

“Why would you sing when you’re sad?”

“Because that’s what your grandmother did,” she replied. “Her big heart was a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces lay scattered across the floor. She had a difficult life. When she was young, she worked on the family farm and once the War hit, she lost two brothers and the man she was going to marry. She sang to ease the pain, but when the sky was clear and the wind blew east, a tear would sneak down her cheek and glisten in the sunlight.”

“There was someone else before Grandpa John?” I asked, shocked by the thought. “Did Grandma love Grandpa like she loved the man who died?”

“I’m sure she grew to love Grandpa, but you can never love two men the same way,” she replied with a faraway stare.

As I got older, I began to understand that life was never what it seemed. It was harsh, a temptress of happiness who left footprints of disappointment in the sand. I found that people never told you what you didn’t want to hear, and that our body always spoke what the heart was too afraid to reveal.

I was fifteen when I learned my mother’s secret. Like her mother before her, she loved another. The family forbad the union because the young man came from a different class – his hands were too rough and his language too foreign. Instead, they found her a suitable match. John was a man ten years her senior, a banker who owned a house in town, but his heart was a squeaky, rusted seesaw – high and warm one minute, low and cold, then next. He loved his children dearly, but found his wife an imperfect porcelain doll who only sat pretty, and whose fragile fingers were inept for the demands of housework. Their relationship was distant and argumentative. I would find my mother singing in the bathroom, with the door ajar when I left for school or as she mopped the floors, left dingy from my father’s muddy footprints. The walls echoed her sadness, and each room felt tired and worn. I swore to myself that I rather die alone than be with someone I didn’t love.

Five years passed and I swapped small town rumors for the murmurs of traffic and flashing lights of the city. I fell in love with the city and the man who helped build it.  He was tall, muscular, with eyes the color of the sea. His kisses were the perfect blend of intoxicating wine, and hints of chocolate indulgence. I promised to go anywhere with him as long as he loved me. Until one day, he said he didn’t. He whispered that he’d met another who captured his soul and made him feel alive. He said I couldn’t possibly understand. Yet, I knew exactly what he meant.

I was crushed and alone. I had nowhere to go and decided to return home. My mother welcomed me with open arms. 

“My darling, it’s great to have you home,” she said. “I’m sorry you’re heartbroken, but time will heal your wounds. One day you’ll meet another,” she smiled, mimicking the words that were once spoken to her.

“I know I will.” I frowned. “But it won’t be the same.” 

“No, it won’t, but it won’t be miserable if you don’t let it.” She squeezed my hand in silence, and we changed the discussion to lighter topics – the new bakery down the street, and the first sign of fall in the air.

I started my new life in those same familiar streets. I met new friends, discovered an old hobby – painting landscapes in watercolors – and worked a promising office job, as each new day flew by. 

Soon, I met Ben.

He held my hand, his dark espresso eyes danced in excitement every time he smiled. He told me I was beautiful, and that he would love me forever. Anyone would say he was perfect, but something was missing when his lips brushed mine and the scent of harsh pine cologne filled my nostrils. I pushed the thought away, hoping it would remain buried in the depths of my soul, away from the sun and truth of daylight. 

Six months later, he surprised me with an outing at the lake. It was a breezy summer day in late June, the water glistened under the radiant sky. He oared the grey-colored rowboat we sat in while I admired the cliffs in the distance, silently taking in the beauty of a new place we discovered.

He cleared his throat and stopped the boat, taking hold of my hand.

“Clara, you have made me the happiest I’ve been in a long time.” He reached in his pocket with his other hand. “Will you marry me?” He brought out a ring and eagerly looked in my eyes for an answer.

I took a breath. “Yes.” I said, the words pouring out of my mouth like a tempestuous hurricane, unleashed without warning.

I stared at the ring, hypnotized, a knot forming in my stomach.

“Is everything ok? Ben asked.

“Of course.” I gave him a weak smile. “Just tired.”

Later that night, Ben took me back home. He kissed me like he always did, his eyes more animated now than they had been before. “We can celebrate tomorrow when you’re feeling better.”

I undressed and crept into bed, not noticing the song I had begun to sing. Once I did, a tear crept down my cheek and glistened in the moonlight. 

Tammy B. Tsonis is a writer of fiction, short stories, and poetry. Some of her works include Chicago (poem) published in Local Honey Literary Magazine, A Place to Rest Your Paws (short story) published in The Raven’s Perch Literary Magazine, and Grateful (essay) scheduled to be published in March 2023 in Hallaren Literary Magazine. She has also self-published Lost Among the Tide (novella) in 2021.

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