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Cup's Cradle

by MoonlightForest

Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

Inside a supermarket off the Hana Highway, Felicity Jacobson bumped into a local who hardly took notice as she scoured her section of the jewelry aisle, hunting for the perfect shark tooth medallion. All the same, Felicity managed to sputter out “E kala mai” before spinning off in another direction. She sought out the refrigerator aisle first, certain that the dark-skinned, big featured, sandal wearing patrons would only speak a trifle of English if not broken by a touch of customary slang.

It was more than ideal that the mainlanders took no notice of her as she went about her daily routine. Arms pumping, she huffed towards the juices: guavas, pineapples, the best pulpy bits of mango rinds. She heaved a carton full of guava into her cart and circled back towards the checkout stands, her eye never leaving the square of space she last left.

The cashier, a portly man with a gulf separating his eyes, greeted Felicity with a thin Aloha. She ignored him, spreading her items out on the conveyor belt with one hand while digging for her Visa with the other. Her items went by quickly. It was only when the man tapped against the cash register with his grotesque nails that Felicity finally produced her wallet. “Mahalo!” She said graciously without intention, threading the bags through her arms and hustling out of there.

She shoved her two plastic bags into the footwell of the passenger’s seat, sighing against the upholstery while her heart moved like a piston in her chest. It was difficult to pinpoint the source of her anxiety. Though there had only been an adjustment period of a few hours’ time since she touched down at the Hana Airport.

Although she was reluctant to admit it, she wished that Wei were with her instead of towards Wakai, or oceanside. Her friend had a resurgence of popularity in coming to Maui as part of a brief, pre-college stint: a fact which reminded Felicity of their high school days together. Though Felicity was arguably prettier (not to mention thinner), Wei had that charismatic warmth that spread down from her cheeks to her toes and made her exceedingly likeable. Felicity favored time spent in front of the mirror smoothing down stray hairs rather than bonding over games of classroom trivia. Not that she minded. Dress for success, the celebrities and business execs always said. They seemed happy enough.

It wasn’t long before Felicity pulled up to her cabin; a stilted building cropped up on acres of harvested macadamia nuts. She didn’t mind the drive because it allowed her time to think. Felicity pulled the car into park and killed the engine, swinging her cloth knapsack over one shoulder. The groceries would have to wait. Heat flushed her cheeks and produced a sweaty film above her lip as she hefted her things up the iron spiral staircase (a fatal engineering flaw in these kinds of temperatures).

Felicity did a quick sweep of the room. The renter had boasted cleanliness, and on that note it delivered. A hollowed-out shell of a basket cradled bananas on the coffee table across from a mounted flat screen. As far as the décor, the only thing that stood out to her in the sparsely lit place was a colored gecko made from intersecting wires, perched on the kitchen island across from a set of wooden mixing bowls. Not a thing seemed out of place. Even the carpet looked like it had been picked of its lint with a fine-toothed comb. A picture of Frida Kahlo, indubitably a cheap imitation, hung on a wall connected to the kitchen.

The strange emptiness of the cabin did nothing to suppress Felicity’s wonder as she flung open doors. There were three bedrooms in all, one of which would not be needed with the other serving as a guest room. She figured-- no, expected --that Wei would call within the next hour bringing news of her latest adventures. After all, how long had it been since they last hung out? Two whole years?

She wasn’t sure whether Wei attended college on the island or if not, how long her hiatus could possibly last. It took long enough for Wei to convince her mother that she needed “serious reflection time” with assurances of an internship connection at a local elementary in Maui. As far as Felicity knew, said internship didn’t exist.

With nothing to do except browse local tv stations and surfing competitions, Felicity took to her room, also known as the largest room in the house. She laboriously unpacked her bag, allowing her frozen goods to thaw underneath the overhead kitchen light. Out came a hairbrush, a handful of tampons, and a deck of playing cards that would likely never be used.

No matter how much she tried to ignore those intrusive thoughts [ZG1] [ZG2] her psyche, Felicity knew that despite arriving to paradise she wasn’t particularly happy. Whether this was due to the jet lag or not being familiar with the culture, Felicity didn’t know. Perhaps the sinkhole in her chest that had grown steadily since her Freshman year had finally reached the point of no return. Things were only destined to get worse, not better. That could’ve been her [ZG3]

She busied herself tugging at her auburn locks with the same hairbrush she had owned since the sixth grade. Aloha Summer was queued up on her Spotify account and consequently she kept finding herself pressing the shuffle button to the point of exhaustion. So much for getting in the spirit of Maui living. Wei had not identified her proximity to the cabin in several hours, which told Felicity everything she needed to know: that she would spend the rest of the night facetiming her mother and Mimsy, their beloved tabby. Her mom was reliable to the point that she always picked up the phone, whether she was out at Zumba class with the rest of her soccer-mom friends or preparing a potluck for coworkers.

In her entertainment frenzy, Felicity hadn’t noticed the sleek wooden board that edged out from her shoulder bag. The music paused in favor of an ad and she decided to slip the board out. Her mom had discovered it while cleaning out her closet, placing it into her reluctant hands. “Oh, you and your friends will love this! It’s a game I used play as a kid.”

“Do you know what it’s called?”

Felicity’s mother scratched her head. She looked ridiculous with her haphazard ponytail and loosely fitting pajama pants complete with dancing penguins on the front. “Mancala, I believe? It’s been such a long time since I’ve taken it out. The game, if I remember correctly, is played with stones.”

“Sounds old-fashioned. Just like you, mom.”

“Okay, kiddo. That’s a good one.”

Now Felicity sprung open the board for the first time, studying its contents. There were two rows, and each cup in the row held four stones, 12 cups in all with what looked like hollowed half-pipes on either ends of the board. A little instruction booklet which must’ve fallen out in the unveiling lay half open on the carpet.

“First player, starting at any place on the board, removes all four stones from a cup, placing one stone in each subsequent cup until emptied. Movement is counterclockwise across the board. The next player takes their turn. Each player has the goal of filling his or her mancala while emptying all cups in their row. Winner will hold the most stones in their mancala by the end of play.” The game sounded simple enough. She plucked a stone off the board at random and felt its coolness beneath her fingertips.

The game’s straightforward ingenuity seemed to go back to ancient times. Felicity hadn’t always been one for board games, but she felt that discovering something new, something culturally different than the typical Chutes and Ladders may give her the motivation she needed to get through the rest of this trip.

She rang Wei. No answer. Didn’t matter, anyhow. Wasn’t Felicity good enough at entertaining herself? It was a skill she would have to learn in no longer living with her parents. The mancala stones sat in their respective cups, dull and consistent as the AC unit’s rumbling. Felicity choose the fourth hole from the right and began dumping her stones across the board one by one. They rattled in their new homes.

After Felicity’s turn had ended, she worked her way across the other row in a sort of predictive manner, imagining what Wei would do. Wei was always so crafty, but in this game, Felicity got to be the winner. The time 7:28 displayed on an alarm clock facing out from the dresser. In adjusting herself closer, the mancala board smelled like sawdust and yellowed old paper books. She was in a goddamn foreign place with no friends and no contacts, and still nothing from Wei. Maybe she had forgotten about their plans to meet up, instead crashing in a beachside hut with some dope faced islander.

She knew her thoughts were vindictive and wrong, perhaps even a little racist, but she couldn’t help it. Her mother used to say of her, I don’t ever want to get on your bad side. In her embarrassed frustration she gathered all the mancala stones and started chucking them across the bedroom. They ricocheted off the papaya yellow wallpaper and thudded onto the floor. Next came the wooden board, which she slammed shut with a force that encapsulated her pinkie.

“Jesus FUCK!” She cried, massaging her finger. She tossed the board under the bed and sucked on her pinkie, her face red and blotted. This wasn’t how she imagined the first leg of her trip to go. All she wanted was to be swaddled in blankets next to her mother watching some dramatic ABC television program and sipping prosecco.

Felicity sulked back to the living room with her phone. Fanning her legs out underneath her, she sent her friend one last text: Really wish you were here like you promised, adding the middle finger emoji as a final touch.

The whizz and blare of cameras agitated Felicity more than she cared to let on. Despite the front desk’s attempts to ward off the swarm of reporters a few stragglers remained, making it all the way up to Felicity’s chair, one even bumping up roughly against her oxygen tank. Other residents of the Woody Acres Assisted Living Facility gawked, their painted-on lips curling against furrowed stray chin hairs. She wanted to snap back, tell them to mind their own business. But knowing the clientele, Felicity’s snarling contempt would probably send one of them into cardiac arrest. And contempt she had a lot of.

The reporter was so close that Felicity got faint whiffs of coffee, likely Hazelnut, on her breath. Some people may even consider her pretty, with her neat blond bob framing those half-moons for eyes, blue and full of movement: little energetic rivulets. The reporter wore a black blazer, which kept the billowy white chiffon of her too-low shirt secure.

“Felicity Jacobson! What do you think has kept you living an entire century and some change? I’m sure we would all like to know.” Felicity breathed hoarsely; her eyes narrowed into two black pinpricks. Wouldn’t they like to know, those human blimps staring down heart disease into their late thirties.

“Well- “She said gratingly, with a voice so tenuous and weak that she couldn’t believe it belonged to her. Another flash. Felicity hoped the reporters would catch her cursing under her breath as the dancing lights dazzled her eyes.

“Well- “she began again, “A good diet helps. Yes.” She folded her quaking hands in her lap, the fabric of her floor-length skirt tickling her slightly. The reporter leaned in with those sharp, swimming blue eyes of hers, armed with another question. “Wow! Right you are.” Posing back at the camera. “So, we’ve heard it from the woman herself, the only woman from this region making it past 108. A hundred and eight! Can you believe that?” The blond looked smartly at the videographer, straightening her jacket.

“Are we done here?” Felicity snapped, followed by a look of bewilderment that she had summoned the strength to do so. The camera panned in on the tourniquet of wrinkles fitted snugly under her eyes. Her unvarnished glare sparked the reporter’s attention, but it did nothing to suppress her general chirpiness. If anything, the look of hatred did more to fuel her questions. She placed a hand over Felicity’s bony shoulder, once more leaning close into her with that inquisitive stare.

“Felicity, it was a pleasure to meet you, as I’m sure it is for Woody Acres to have you. Do you have anything you would like to say to the viewers tuning in?” The blond smiled harshly, revealing the beginnings of crow’s feet and a row of chiclet teeth.

“Up yours,” Felicity whispered, her hands fumbling for the tubes in her nose. They were starting to bother her, a rare occurrence due to the amount of time they spent up her nasal cavity.

“What was that?” Still obnoxiously chipper.

“Don’t make the mistake of living this long.” She clamped both hands against her wheelchair, which were positively twitching now. The videographer and her blond partner cleared a path for her as she forced her way out of the limelight, carving a space out between a red-haired woman who looked close to her deathbed and her dozing companion. Finally, one of the wide-eyed nurses caught up the reporter, beckoning with an arm for her to exit the common area. Off camera but just close enough to touch Felicity’s hearing aids, she heard the woman say: “Poor old thing. She lost her childhood friend during a college trip to Maui. Terrible earthquake, 7.4 Richter scale. Don’t take her rudeness personally.”

With help from two of the caretakers now, the news duo was promptly ushered out. That did nothing to stop the leaden pulsing of Felicity’s heart. Every artery in her body seemed to constrict and swell as she let the reminder of Wei’s death sink in. She saw waves behind her eyes, waves that engulfed the oceanside mom and pop stores and their oblivious, sun kissed patrons. One of them being Wei.

Her breathing grew hoarser and she was able to flick her life alert button back and forth, calling on a steady stream of nurses. They wheeled her out, away from the redhead (or deadhead, she should’ve been called) towards the sick bay. A nurse with an unfamiliar face cuffed her and listened to the pulse that assaulted Felicity’s ears, the beat of blood railing against her skull. “She’s alright, just a little shaken!” A sponge-like cloth pressed to her forehead as she listened to a voice call their colleague. “I’m telling you we need to reposition that No Solicitation sign so those awful, nosy reporters will get the hint.”

They said she was fine, but Felicity felt anything but. A nurse hoisted her up onto the bed with effort and laid her down, the hem of her skirt flirting with her ankles. She opened her mouth wide for the cold metal of a depressor and obliged to turn over when the doctors told her to. Was protocol, they said. Water passed through her lips and heavy hands violated her shoulders as the reporter had done moments earlier. A nurse with youthful, glowing cheeks and a badge that displayed the name Mindy asked if she would like to be taken back to her room.

“Please,” she croaked, pinching her eyes closed as she waited for the familiar hands around her back and midsection and the resounding squeak of wheels against linoleum down the hallway. She felt herself close to sobbing right there as the youthful woman carted her down to her bedroom and shut the door three-quarters of the way closed, speaking softly before she went: “I know, it’s a lot of stimulation close before bedtime. I’m sorry we weren’t able to escort them out sooner. Nosy birds.” She shook her head as she went off.

Then all the commotion swirled in on itself and was flushed out like food in a garbage disposable. Felicity was, at last, alone. She lay clung to her bed sheets which smelled like spoiled food and, grunting with effort, reached for her nightstand with restless fingers. They closed on a wooden board, which she pulled onto her lap, propping herself up with pillows. She ran her hands along it, looking for the clasp. Too bad her glasses were pushed back somewhere on the nightstand.

Her hands found purchase and she opened the board, revealing clusters of stones in both rows. As was her routine for the night, Felicity removed the stones from her side and placed them in the mancala that after all those years had originally belonged to Wei, though she never got to formally take ownership of it. In the morning, she would ask one of the nurses to play with her until she got tired. Then the nighttime routine would commence.

Her mother and father had been long dead; she had no children of her own. Yet the only loss that stung now was the loss that shouldn’t have been. Even Mimsy was relieved from her suffering when those kidneys of her failed once and for all and all medical intervention stopped. But for Felicity, the intervention would never stop. She was a freak, a spectacle, and for as long as she could remember doctors and nurses had pumped life back into her at every downward turn of her health. And so it would go. The only thing that brought her sweet sleep for the past fifteen years in assisted living was the old mancala, sorted just the way she liked it.

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39 Reviews

Points: 436
Reviews: 39

Sat Aug 24, 2019 1:04 am
Miraculor77 wrote a review...

Hi. I can't really write short stories yet, so I really admire your ability to do so. I really like the writing, it's smooth, with vivid description. The idea is creative too, very original. I like how you describe the characters, and how you build Felicity's persona.
There is only one thing that confused me, and that was this here:

Felicity sulked back to the living room with her phone. Fanning her legs out underneath her, she sent her friend one last text: Really wish you were here like you promised, adding the middle finger emoji as a final touch.

The whizz and blare of cameras agitated Felicity more than she cared to let on. Despite the front desk’s attempts to ward off the swarm of reporters a few stragglers remained, making it all the way up to Felicity’s chair, one even bumping up roughly against her oxygen tank.

I didn't know that the scene had changed, that the time had fast forwarded, that Felicity was older...
I had to reread it a couple times before I understood that the scene had changed. If you had put a transition, a line, or some other way to show the fact that the scene had changed, it would have been better.

On a side note, I didn't know about Mancala until I read this! It seems like an interesting game, so I'll look into it later.
Overall, the plot is original and the writing is beautiful, nothing to change there.
Also, I'm sorry if I've offended you in any way, that wasn't my intention. You don't have to follow the suggestion(s) if you don't want to. :)

Keep writing,

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107 Reviews

Points: 13042
Reviews: 107

Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:40 am
Asith wrote a review...

Blown. Away.
Genuinely the best thing I've read in a while!

I love your little hints of realism that you throw in. Mimsy; spotify; the hairbrush; the texts; and even later with the Nurses' "deadhead". I'm not one who's very experienced in realistic fiction, but personally, this is the type of the stuff that makes or breaks my perception of the story. And you nailed it. The whole thing is incredibly believable.

Your writing is excellent. The vivid yet swift descriptions of colour and form that you use are always welcome details. Even your use of sound and action are enticing. Every scene has managed to plant itself firmly in my mind, which is brilliant. The narration is also impeccable. You've managed to bring out developed characters that don't even appear in the actual story - it fleshes out the main character's life so much that I feel it must be real!

I wonder why there is no noted scene change at "The whizz and blare of cameras agitated Felicity more than she cared to let on". It's jarring for the reader to realise that they were supposed to imagine a new scene at the end of a sentence but failed to do so, so they have to re-read it. I found myself wondering why there were cameras in the room! There are many ways to note a scene change, even just using simple punctuation, and I think it's necessary here. There's no added effect from keeping it the way it is, just added confusion.

I realise I haven't really talked about the bulk of the plot and just discussed semantics, but honestly, the plot is sound. The description of the Mancala game (I'm mentioning it because it's the main topic of the story) is perfectly well-done. The narration of both the major scenes of the story is great too, and I found myself taking in every moment. There's not really anything I'd change about the plot actually.

Again, brilliant story - you deserve commendation for it!

Doors are for people with no imagination.
— Skulduggery Pleasant