Windshield wipers skidded across the window of Heidi’s rental car as the rain began to let up. She reached the edge of the development and turned right onto Sgt. Trace Lane, heading for New Town. She hadn’t seen her mother since moving away at seventeen. Would she look the way Heidi remembered? There was no telling what condition Betty was in, after all this time.

     Betty Vaughan had been a classic beauty in her day. Heidi grew up amongst a thicket of her mother’s modeling photos covering tables and shelves throughout the house. That was more her father’s idea, but her mother never complained. Often, Betty would pause while dusting to lift a frame and gaze at herself frozen in a sultry pose.

     Cancer hit Betty hard. Between the disease and the treatment, her soft beauty wilted and left only thick, scarred veins and tissue-paper skin draped over bones. Her fierce red mane departed early in the battle, replaced by outrageously colorful Pucci scarves. Heidi spied her mother in one of her weakest moments, staring at a vision of her former self and asking, “What’s the point? I’ll never look like that again.” Late that night, Jack Vaughan packed the photos into boxes and brought them to the attic.

     Heidi was only ten at the time, but she knew a quitter when she heard one, and her mother had quit at life. Not just life – but motherhood. Her only child wasn’t enough to keep her fighting for survival. Betty faded rapidly and Heidi spent more time away from the house that summer, distancing herself from her mother. On the rare occasions when they spoke, Betty seemed lost in a fog of memories and regrets, barely aware her daughter was in the room.

     Heidi nudged the coupe along, trying to remember where to find her mother. The development was divided into three sections: Gates Hill, Restmere, and New Town. She had no trouble discerning one from another. Restmere was a flat green expanse just off the main road. All plaques were set flush into the ground, allowing plenty of space for a picnic or gathering. Gates Hill was the oldest section, crowded by hundreds of vertical monuments, many of them crumbling or listing to one side. Heidi wondered how so many people could be buried so close together.

     Ahead of her stretched New Town, notable for its synthetic glass shells. As a girl, she’d called them “bubbles.” Over the years, more and more bubbles had appeared as residents were added to this section. She felt sorry for people whose loved ones were buried in the old-fashioned graves. How was it possible to visit with someone you couldn’t see?

     Heidi glimpsed a flash of red to her left – her father had placed roses only yesterday. She parked and stepped from the car. Surveying the field, she noticed new graves without bubbles. Pity the poor souls whose bodies were unfit to view after death. She approached her mother’s tomb and peered down. Clouds parted, allowing the sun to shine like a spotlight into the vault. Heidi reached out, wiping water from the bubble. Her mother’s face appeared from behind the veil of raindrops.

     Four feet below, Betty Vaughan lay resting as though she might wake up and begin a conversation with her daughter. A red wig was sewn to her scalp and heavy silicone makeup filled in the deep creases of her face. Heidi removed a photo from her pocket and compared her mother at 25 to her mother at an eternal 32. The differences were obvious, but that was the fault of the disease. The undertaker, for his part, had done a miraculous job restoring Betty’s youth and vibrancy. And, as promised, the new embalming process, combined with the airtight viewing chamber, had held decomposition at bay.

     Heidi tucked the photo of her mother among the roses. Betty’s appearance hadn’t changed since Heidi had left town. She took comfort in that and found a sliver of relief from guilt she’d carried in the years since her mother’s death. What bond between them had been destroyed in life, could be renewed in death – that was the promise of the bubble. Her mother was there – right there, waiting, listening.

     Heidi knelt in the damp grass and draped herself across the bubble, hugging it, feeling the cool glass against her cheek. Fresh tears joined raindrops on the glass, and her body shook with sobs. She was ten again and grieving the loss of a woman who had valued the image in old photos over her own life and over her daughter’s life. None of it was fair.

     Finally spent, Heidi dried her face on her sleeve and gazed down at her mother. Had she lived, Betty would be 43 years old next month. Her prediction in the midst of illness was only partially correct: had she survived and lived to old age, she would not have regained the beauty that made her famous. Only in death did Betty Vaughan look like her old self.


About SAS Fiction Girl

Writer of short fiction because I don't have the attention span to write anything longer.
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18 Responses to Bubbles

  1. jannatwrites says:

    Cemetaries give me the creeps. I don’t know if it’s all the haunted stories I read as a child (really, who goes there after sunset, anyway?) or just knowing that dead bodies are decomposing all around me. The glass ‘bubbles’ add a whole other dimension of creepy. I may have strange dreams about this one tonight 🙂

    My oddities aside, the main character seemed to find comfort in these visits with her mother, even though she felt like her mom didn’t put up enough of a fight.

    • Hi, Janna! Yes, imagine just walking around and looking down into all the bubbles and actually seeing those people – some you know, many you don’t know – in the ground. It is creepy! But you can see grandma whenever you like. Literally.
      In the cemetery across the street, there is a grave marker that has a picture of the deceased young girl on it. I showed it to my cousin when she was young – and the girl looked just like her. I think she was sufficiently scarred from that experience.
      That same place has a buried vault with a bubble over it, next to the office. I guess it’s a demonstration model, although I don’t know why anyone needs to see an empty concrete hole in the ground. When I finally got brave enough to go over and look in it, I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed not to find a dead body inside.
      As for Heidi, she’s 21 now, so my intention is that, as an adult, she can forgive her mother’s weaknesses that were unforgiveable to a child. While Betty turned inward, Heidi turned away, so they were both at fault (although Heidi was only 10, so she bears less of the blame, in my opinion.) Unfortunately, as the survivior, she carries all of the guilt. Part of growing up is realizing that our parents are people separate and apart from us, with their own dreams, desires, fears, and faults. Heidi has to internalize that message in order to forgive her mother as well as herself.
      Meanwhile, as the story progressed, I realized that Bubbles weren’t just the things over the graves – they’re something we put others inside of, or we live in them ourselves. Whoa. That’s deep. (No cemetery pun intended.)
      And thank you for reading again after I’d disappeared for 3 months!

  2. pattisj says:

    I see you’ve decorated with a new banner. 🙂 I liked the story, but never heard of the bubbles. I don’t know that I’d want to see that.

    • Yes, that banner is thanks to a day out at the Botanical Garden. I hope you like it. 🙂
      As for the bubbles, I sorta made them up based on one that exists (see my reply to Janna.) I think it could be fascinating in a gruesome sort of way. Although, the big downside would be the influx of looky-loos at the cemetery. People checkin’ out the “sleepers” and whatnot.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Excellent! And welcome back–I’ve missed you! This post appeals to the Dean Koontz-lover side of me. But it also brings back freaky 4-year-old memories and the reason I refuse to look at dead bodies in real life–er, or death. Never mind. Thanks, Jen. I’ll report back tomorrow if I have nightmares tonight. I admit that I thought you were doing your writing prompt for tonight, which is, “You’re walking down the street when someone calls your name” . . . and, of course, you’re allowed variations. So I was waiting for Betty to open her eyes and call out, “Heidi”! Great. Now I probably will have nightmares.

    • Thank you, Evelyn!
      Dead parents calling out from the grave = freaky.
      Dead people calling for you as you walk down the street = super freaky.
      A similar thing happened here, according to a ghost story I read. A woman drove by a local neighborhood under construction, on her way to work each day. She kept hearing a lady’s voice calling her name. Finally, she went to an old house on the property and discovered that workers had dug up a pile of bones. Once the bones were properly interred, the woman never heard the voice again. That’s one of my favorite stories, because I’m familiar with the old house where the bones were found.
      Good luck with your nightmares.
      P.S. My killing spree continues.
      Note to the FBI: That PS was not meant for your eyes. Carry on.

  4. rastelly says:

    Sob stories don’t really touch me the way they touch others.
    I almost stopped reading – Then it took a turn for the wierd. A
    truly plesent surprise. I like it when a writer puts some crazy
    spin on a worn out concept – shocks me back into reality – takes
    guts, I like that. While the idea seems dissrespectful – in the
    case of Heidi’s mother – who cared so much about her looks
    it seems like the right thing to do. Differen’t strokes for unusual
    folks. I like unusual folks.

    • Thank you for hanging in there! I’m the first to admit I write pretty linear stories, so I’m glad to know this one was different enough to entertain.
      I really don’t know which way the world is going to go – cremation is becoming ever more popular, but I think there remains a certain fascination with the dead. I believe that if permanent viewing bubbles were made available – and bodies were well-preserved – that some people would opt to bury their loved ones this way. It may seem to them less weird to speak to an uninhabited body, than speaking to a gravestone.

      • rastelly says:

        Cremation? That’s ok I guess – It would make me really happy if there were even more
        options every year – there are just so many ways to have a funeral! I heard in the african savana they leave their dead above ground – and the Hyenas come in the night and take
        care of it – I would so love it if zoos here would let me feed myself to their exibits when it’s
        my time to go . . . but I guess you don’t want certain animals developing a taste for humans.
        I used to think this made me wierd – but one of my mom’s co-workers wants to be fead to a
        tiger. I must admit, a magnificent giant preditor makes for one interesting coffin, imagine
        the looks on your friends and family – when that struts off into the night!

      • Hmmm…animals eating the dead as a ritual – definitely not for me. The thing about being fed to animals is that you don’t stay in the “coffin” for long. And you certainly don’t look the same coming out as you did going in. I think I’d rather end up as ashes* than poo.
        *Disclaimer: I really wouldn’t want to be cremated since the idea of being burnt up freaks me out – doesn’t matter if I’m deceased! Just throw me in the ground.

      • rastelly says:

        Poop’s just young dirt.

  5. deehsarsiavo says:

    The idea of the bubbles is really fascinating, especially because it made me think that the story was about something other than cemeteries. Heidi’s feelings (as are Betty’s) are really communicated well – the estrangement, the grief. Thoroughly entertaining, this one! =)

    • Thank you for reading and for the compliment! I’m glad you enjoyed the story. 🙂
      I did wonder how much the title would confuse the readers, but that’s part of the fun. Apparently, authors have very little control over book titles once they get involved with a traditional publisher – I don’t know how they can stand it.

  6. Jennifer – yeah, I remember someone named Jennifer who used to write short stories. Are you that person??? (It’s a joke, Jennifer – I just missed your stories). By the way, you have successfully hit the top of my list for weird people – and that is a compliment. Personally, I think bubbles would be great as long as the bodies looked like they did in life (or at least close to it). When my dad died, he didn’t look enough like himself that I would want a bubble but there have been folks who looked good enough that I would have liked to be able to see them for years after their death. (Does that make me weird, too?)

    • Yes, ’tis I. Are you the Ed who used to come to Writers’ Group? 😉
      What I really want to know is, do I get a special award for Top Weirdo status? That would be great!
      I think I know what you mean about your dad – my paternal grandmother did not look like herself post-mortem, either. In fact, she looked a lot like someone else I know, to whom we are not related. It felt a bit like attending a stranger’s wake.
      I don’t think it’s weird to want to see a well-preserved person after they pass; it could be comforting. However, I do see the potential for it preventing some from letting go and moving on with their lives, especially if the deceased looks as though he or she could rise at any moment and – this is Evelyn’s idea – start speaking.

      • Well, I suppose that is true about the letting go…. since most of my family are Christians, we are not prone to “hanging on” since we believe that we will see them again. Thank God for that.

        And, of course, Evelyn would throw in the speaking issue – her mind is almost as weird as yours (and mine, I suppose). As far as Top Weirdo, well… I’ll have to give that some thought – we have quite a few weirdos in our group. Let’s put it this way – you are definitely in the running!

      • I may never win an Oscar, but I will walk away with a Frosty!

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