Arlene rubbed her forehead, trying to smooth away the worry lines forming there.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to pay all these bills; the money Buck gave her each week never seemed to cover everything. It was her responsibility, paying the bills. He made the money, gave her a weekly allowance and kept the rest of his pay for himself. She never knew what he made, and the amount he gave her fluctuated from week to week.

She added the column of figures again, making sure the sum was correct. A frustrated sigh escaped her as the second attempt confirmed her addition. There was no way she’d be able to pay all the bills for the month.

She got up from the kitchen table and poured a cup of coffee from the old percolator sitting on the counter. As she sipped the bitter liquid, her eyes settled on the cane propped against the wall in the corner of the room.

Her mother’s cane.

Her mother.

Still in the hospital, recuperating from surgery. An unanticipated surgery.

Arlene continued to sip the coffee, staring at the cane. She visited her mother each evening, making sure she had what she needed, keeping her company. Buck was working a second job, and when he wasn’t, he was out with friends. She frowned as she thought how she and her sister, Edna, had to rely on Edna’s boyfriend to take them to the hospital. Neither of the sisters could drive.

Arlene had the additional worry of what to do about Judy. With Buck at work or out on the town, she had no choice but to take the nine-year old along, asking Edna’s boyfriend to sit with her in the car. The hospital wouldn’t allow her to bring the child inside… she was too young to visit.

Arlene didn’t like Mark, but she relied on him, especially now that her mother was ill. God knows Buck wasn’t any help! Mark and Edna had been going together for a year, and while he went out of his way to be helpful, Arlene disapproved of him and was against Edna’s marrying him. She didn’t think he was good enough for her.

He’s good enough to help you out, though, isn’t he?

She pushed the unhappy thought aside and took another sip of her coffee, swallowing it too quickly. The hot liquid scalded her tongue, making it numb. Briefly, her eyes filmed over with pain.

Looking at her mother’s cane through misty eyes, she shook her head.

Mother’s cane.

She continued to stare at it. For a moment, it seemed to shimmer, the burnished wood glowing, commanding her attention. Nova cane.

She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Just a cane. Nothing more.

Nova cane… Novocain…

She smiled with bitter amusement at the wordplay. Her mother’s life had always been a source of guilt and anxiety for Arlene, numbing her own pleasure, her expectations. The emotional baggage she continued to carry from her unhappy childhood was not only heavy; it was deadening.

When was the last time she’d felt any real happiness? The thought depressed her.

She went back to the table and looked again through the pile of bills, deciding which she’d pay and those that would have to wait. After several moments, she looked up, hearing Judy’s footsteps as she descended the stairs.

Arlene’s brows drew together. Judy had acted like a brat the night before, carrying on because she had to stay in the car while Arlene and Edna were in the hospital visiting Mother.

As if Arlene didn’t have enough to worry about!

Who was going to take care of her mother when the doctor released her from the hospital? Edna worked full time and couldn’t do it. Arlene knew Buck didn’t want her mother staying with them… what was she going to do? And then… the bills from the hospital. Would her mother’s insurance pay for everything? God knows she and Buck couldn’t afford to help out, and Edna’s salary as an assembler in a toy factory barely carried the young woman through the week.

Problems, problems, problems… Novocain. How she wished she could escape… just stop thinking about everything. She was so tired of the constant worry, of carrying everyone’s load in addition to her own.


Arlene looked up from the bills. Judy stood in the corner, her hands fiddling with the cane.

“Put that down, Judy,” she said. “It’s not a toy. Your grandmother will need that once she’s released from the hospital.”

The girl put the cane aside, and bit her lip.

Watching her, Arlene thought of herself at that age. She’d seen photos of her and Edna, swimming and playing tag at Sunday school picnics. Judy was a dead ringer for the girl Arlene used to be.

Perhaps that’s why the child’s timid ways so often annoyed her. It was a reminder of her own timidity, and how she hated that! Arlene tore her eyes from the girl, going back to the bills in front of her.

Judy came close and put a tentative hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Mama, look… this is for you.”

Arlene glanced up, and Judy handed her a small pink shell. “Cindy gave it to me… last week she went to the beach and found this near the water. Isn’t it pretty? Put it near your ear… Cindy says you can hear the ocean if you listen hard enough.”

Arlene smiled, taking the shell and holding it close to her ear. “Yes, I think I hear it.”

Judy moved closer and leaned her head against Arlene’s shoulder. “Mama, tonight… can I say home while you go to the hospital?”

Arlene frowned. “Now, please don’t start with me. Your behavior last night was my first think this morning – and not a very happy one. You’re too old to carry on like this, Judy!”

“But, Mama,” started the desperate voice.

“I mean it, Judy. I have a lot on my mind, and I don’t need this. I don’t know what your problem is, but you will stop this. You’re going with me tonight, and that’s all there is to it. I can’t leave you here alone and worry all night long.”

“But, Mama…”

“Judy!” Arlene warned, taking up her pencil again and going back to the bills.

“Mama, he touched me!”

Arlene froze, and the pencil stopped in midair.

She looked at the girl. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean… you know, right Mama?”

Unconsciously, Arlene picked up the small shell, and began to knead its surface, trying to get her emotions under control.

What did Judy mean? Mark? Did she mean Mark?

For the love of God! Didn’t she have enough to worry about? This, too?

She closed her eyes tightly, determined not to cry. Novocain… Novocain… She didn’t want to think about this. She didn’t want to feel the roiling disgust her daughter’s words provoked, didn’t want the ugly images…

Could it be?

No. Judy had to be making this up. Wicked child! Worrying her with fantasies. The girl was always making up little stories, lost in her own world… She probably heard something in school or saw something on TV and it ignited her imagination. Mark wouldn’t… couldn’t

She had so many other things to worry about…

“Judy, I want you to stop this. I don’t want to hear you ever say anything like this again, understand? You know this isn’t true. So just stop it!”

Judy began to back away, tears staining her face.

“That’s right, go on. Go on up to your room. I don’t want to hear any more about this.”

The girl’s shoulders slumped forward as she turned away. “He touched me, mama. Don’t make me go tonight,” she said softly, her words dying out as she left the room.

Arlene watched the small figure retreat. Part of her was furious with the child. She didn’t believe her!

Couldn’t believe her…

She glanced down at her hands. Her fingertips were raw and red, evidence of the shell burn caused by her rough kneading of the shell’s jagged edges.

He touched me, Mama.

Arlene started to cry. Just another day in her shitty life.

She placed the shell back on the table. Maybe nine years old is old enough to stay alone for a few hours, she thought.

She stood up and went in search of her daughter.

Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: dead ringer; emotional baggage; nova cane; shell burn; and first think in the morning. I played a bit with the last phrase, but only slightly. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!

About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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36 Responses to Novocain

  1. I had no intention of reading the entire story, but I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. Very realistic.

  2. W. K. Tucker says:

    Kate, my best friend was raped by her uncle when she was 4 years old. When she told her mother what happened, she was beaten for “lying” on her uncle. My poor friend had rope burns on her wrists. I can’t believe her mother didn’t believe her daughter ; her mother just refused for some reason to accept it.
    Things like that happen way too often. I’m glad your story ended with a ray of hope.
    This was a gut-wrenching, well-told story. Good job, friend.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Oh, Kathy, that’s a heartbreaking story about your friend. We depend on our parents to protect us… and when they don’t, not only are we endangered, we never feel safe again. After all, if you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust?

      Thank you for the kind words on the story, I appreciate them. 🙂

  3. JunkChuck says:

    That’s spectacular, Kate, and having said that, let me tell you that I wish I hadn’t read it–novacain indeed. Having processed my own–let’s call them specters, rather than demons–I tend to dwell on the reminders that the things that fucked up my childhood were, ultimately, a shadow of what many people faced. You’re going to seek a market for this, right? You must.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks very much.

      I was thinking about Tolstoy’s quote that all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. A lot of people are impacted by miserable family experiences, and it doesn’t have to be sexual abuse. It can be a cold, controlling parent; a parent who tells you you’re worthless; one who doesn’t know you exist; a parent who is a philanderer, or a gambler, or who is in habitual debt; or who has addiction problems. It goes on and on. No wonder there are so many stories! And it’s a wonder how many people manage to grow up sane.

      But maybe sanity is a matter of degree! 😀

      Thanks for your kind words about seeking a market. I’d have to expand the story, which I could, but I am under the impression that once something is posted on your blog it isn’t deemed marketable. But I appreciate the encouragement more than you know.

  4. markbialczak says:

    How sadly real, Kate. Beautiful in a sorrowful way, a touching scene.

  5. Kate Loveton says:

    Hi Shakti, thanks for stopping by to read. I’m glad you liked the story in spite of its dark subject matter. I like what you had to say about self preservation. The story did end on a note of hope, and – maybe – a chance for Arlene to stand up not only for her daughter, but for herself.

  6. What a beautiful piece of writing. Intense and dark as it leads the reader into Arlene’s pit of hopelessness.

    But we the living would always get into a self preservation mode and your closing line does bring that hope does it not?

    For Life really is about picking up the pieces and starting afresh……


  7. Lucy says:

    Excellent. Very well written. I want to write like you. Great job. Somebody please help Arlene. Lucy

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Lucy, thanks for the nice words. I think you and I have a mutual admiration society going on with regard to our writing. 🙂

      I think the only person who can help Arlene is Arlene.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Definitely gets some dark emotions roiling around inside me – because while I’m desperate for Arlene to DO something about this news, I can also understand her reluctance to face it. I’m really glad she made the right decision in the end. You know it’s good writing when you feel relieved at the last sentence!

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Stephanie, something about the prompts you offered this week steered me in this direction, and help me put together Arlene and Judy’s story. It’s funny how a random selection of words and phrases can steer you in a direction you hadn’t intended.

  9. Powerful piece, depressing, with a tough subject. I thought of abuse when you put the child in the car with the boyfriend. Just the thing to add to this poor woman’s woes. Creative, inventive and left us with a little hope!

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Noelle. It was a depressing story. Arlene was not a happy woman. But she did go after her daughter – and maybe that little bit of courage might help her down the road. After I finish a story, I like to think what my characters might go on to do, how their lives might turn out. Arlene needs to stop being a victim of her mother, careless husband and her timidity. Maybe this is a turning point for her. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  10. A very sensitively-handled look at what is all too often a common occurrence in today’s society. You’ve tackled a delicate subject matter with a lightness of touch that makes the story all the more powerful.

    You’re definitely going places as a writer, of that I have no doubt ❤

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Heather. You always offer encouragement – I really appreciate that. It was very nice of you to reassure me the subject had been covered with sensitivity. 🙂

  11. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t gone in search of her. A sad but very real issue that way too many people deal with. Well done.

  12. willow1945 says:

    Excellent story and certainly held my attention; poor Arlene, numbing herself to her own needs and her daughter’s needs–but she’s paying attention by the end, thank goodness. The mother’s disbelief is a scenario played out all too often. Very well written!

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Willow. Arlene is a sad woman, overwhelmed by unhappiness and fear. She’s a victim of her own unhappiness. Now she has to protect her daughter from being a victim. I didn’t go further with the story, but I hope she had the courage to do something about Mark… not just keep her daughter from him.

  13. The tension revved up where it needed to. I held my breath in the middle and finally let it out on completion. An important subject. Well written!

  14. Linda Smith says:

    Your day is coming! Very good.

  15. Harliqueen says:

    An incredibly intense piece, very well written and really got me involved in the story!

  16. Not the ending I was preparing myself to see, that’s for sure. However, you do touch on some very important and highly topical points there, particularly Judy not being believed. Well done yet again; I don’t know how you do it so consistently and so well.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Keith, it wasn’t the ending I initially thought of… but then I wanted very much to end the story on a hopeful note. A lot of adults often don’t want to see the truth right in front of their eyes. I don’t think Arlene is a horrible woman, but she might have been if she allowed her fears to keep her from doing the right thing.

  17. Intense and highly charged and very well written. Yes!

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