by Nancy Ludmerer
Read her three microfictions here.
In nearly all my stories about caring for an aging parent, communication or the lack thereof is a critical element. Morris and Cleo begins “We don’t talk about Dad’s death.” Playing By Ear concerns the unspoken yearnings and resentments of a daughter caring for a demanding mother, with a hearing aid prominently featured. In End Game the daughter’s desire for revenge against the brothers who “absconded years ago” and the mother who never intervened when their father “grabbed his belt” thwarts any genuine communication.
Although the stories share this theme, their origins differ. Because I write mostly fiction, not memoir, writing on this topic is similar to the way I write about anything else. A story may arise from a prompt in a workshop; a submission call from a journal for a thematic issue; or simply a glimmer of an idea or image from something I experience or witness. This is as true for my stories about other subject matter as it is for those about caring for elderly parents.
Morris and Cleo was sparked by a visit to the animal shelter where my husband and I adopted our sweet cat Sandy, a survivor of the Hurricane for which he was named. Another cat at the shelter – also a recent arrival – was so distraught the staff could not comfort or handle her. My perception of the different ways animals (like people) experience loss prompted that story.
Playing By Ear was written in response to a workshop prompt: include a fantasy element in a 300-word piece. The fairy that lodges in the elderly mother’s expensive new hearing aid was the fantasy element in that story.
End Game was my response to a submission call by Cahoodaloodaling for an issue on the theme “Up Yours!” The daughter’s sly but vengeful conduct, directed at her mother and brothers, was well-suited to that issue.
I approach writing about caring for elderly parents the same way I write about anything else: dipping into my personal experience for the feelings and possibly an incident or two and transforming the incidents and feelings into fiction, often propelled by prompts. At the same time, these stories, while fiction, are more personal than many others. My mother and I deeply grieved my father’s death, making it difficult to speak about it, similar to the situation in Morris and Cleo. Seven years after my father died, my mother had a stroke, leaving me her principal caregiver, which is where the narrator finds herself in Playing By Ear. In that role, I sometimes resented my siblings who didn’t partake in her day-to-day care (End Game). These stories address not simply the difficulty of communicating about death, past or impending, but the immediate experience of caring for an elderly parent, whether shared or shouldered alone.
Nancy Ludmerer’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, Jellyfish Review, Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2022, Best Spiritual Literature 2022, and many other venues. Since 2020, her stories have won prizes from Carve, Masters Review, Pulp Literature, Orison Books, Gemini, and Streetlight. Her flash fiction has been translated into Spanish and read aloud on public radio and her debut collection Collateral Damage: 48 Stories was published in October 2022 by Snake Nation Press and awarded SNP’s annual Serena McDonald Kennedy fiction award. Her short memoir “Kritios Boy” (Literal Latte) was cited in Best American Essays 2014. She lives in NYC.