But you really don’t remember, was it something that they said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

Laura Branigan, Gloria

The 1980s pop song Gloria came on the radio as I was driving home from college, having administered a midterm quiz to my ENG 103 class. All students had appeared, including one to which I remarked, “So, you aren’t a figment of my imagination.” He grinned sheepishly and mumbled something about getting his late assignments in soon.

Figments of my imagination are mainstream companions as a literary artist. The more I tend stories and dreams, the more I realize the language of the world resides in images, and images can be anything — a picture in the mind’s eye, a memory derived from a scent, a concept, an idea, a wash of emotion, an epiphany, a synchronicity, a sound, a song.

What’s the difference between hallucinations and receptivity to life in images? I suppose some sort of grounding in the here and now is relevant. Or perhaps the ability to balance a rationality with the input from the imaginal. I don’t know. If I’m hallucinating, let it continue as long as I can write it all down and make meaning of my experiences in the world so others can read and make meaning of theirs.

The song takes me back. Not to the ’80s but to the ’90s. It’s 1997 and my three children and I live in Helena, Montana, the Queen City of the Rockies at the Continental Divide. My daughters are second and third-graders, though in public they are frequently mistaken for twins. My son is in kindergarten and his teacher allows Pup to attend class with him provided Pup does his homework, too. Pup is Kyle’s imaginary companion. And yes, Kyle helps Pup with his homework and speaks for Pup when participating in class.

Kyle and Pup are in the audience with me. I think. Honestly, I don’t remember. But it sounds right. Students, teachers, staff, and family members are gathered in the gymnasium at Central Elementry School for the talent show. My daughters have been practicing for weeks to perfect their duo dance performance. Brianna, the younger one, throws in some amazing backhand springs, budding gymnast that she is, and Allison, the eldest of them all, provides the dance costumes and moves from her ballet classes. Their song of choice shocks the audience. Gloria blares over the speaker.

I’ve looked back at this memory container many times in my life. I can’t hear Branigan’s Gloria without thinking of two small daughters with big enough souls to pull off such a number in elementary school. Sometimes, I cringe, thinking how, in their innocence, they had no idea about the mature content of the song. Somehow, the intensity of the music became their expression of passion for their sisterhood and their individual chosen expressions of physical art. Brianna remains the adventurous one, snowmobiling across the Arctic with its crevasses, avalanches, and polar bears, while Allison teaches and choreographs modern dance.

Gloria represents what was twin-like about them as sisters, yet in its largeness, the song allows them to differentiate themselves from each other. Interestingly, it also holds space for Kyle and Pup.

Yet, this day, after midterms, in my truck, blocks from home, I feel a pull of sadness listening to Gloria on the radio. I think, ah, I’m missing my kids as Little Ones. They are all now in their 30s. But if tending images is teaching me anything it is to let go of flash judgments and agree to sit with the image until it has fully presented itself to me. So I smile and feel tears at once and sit and wait. I crank up the volume, pull into my driveway, and sit.

That’s when it hits me. Soft and gentle and undeniable. I’ve never grieved for the loss of my fourth child.

At first, I’m stupefied. Denial rises, but I stay with the image and what it’s revealing to me. I allow memories to take shape as images. I recall the first time my midwife and I heard two heartbeats. I laughed and cried. Twins! I remember her insisting I get a sonogram, which I did, and I watched in amazement as two tiny growing lives enfolded each other like fetal yin and yang. Twins. Later, as my pregnancy progressed, we stopped hearing the two heartbeats. My midwife assured me that it was common for the heartbeats to sync. I think she knew what I did not until the birth. She was not surprised when Kyle was born solo.

I don’t remember any emotion other than the exhaustion of labor, the overwhelm of a new baby, and the need to parent a trio of young ones aged three, two, and newborn. “It happens,” my midwife had said with a casual shrug. “He might have a develop an odd cyst one day.” That gave me an image I accepted with dark humor. My son devoured his twin. Oddly, I never absorbed the loss because what can one grieve about an absorption?

Gloria finishes on the radio and I fully realize the image that has always been there but I had not understood — I saw the twinness of my children. I accepted Pup as Kyle’s “other.” By the time we moved to the midwest in 1998, we would all leave Kyle’s twin behind in Montana. Pup absorbed into Kyle’s psyche; no one mistook the daughters for twins, and I occasionally joked that Kyle might find a weird cyst one day.

I’ve cried. The sadness lifts. The wonder of the song’s intensity has transformed a loss I never knew how to accept. I feel more whole. I once carried four lives in my womb. Three survived. I understand now, why Kyle has been the only one of the three to not complete his sibling tattoo. I’m going to suggest two Pups to him. He’ll understand.

For you, my literary artists, I offer the task of making sense of the lyrics to Gloria! The prompt is the name, however, so you can take inspiration from any image or story that comes to you. Listen to the song. Read the lyrics . Or take inspiration from the image of a missing twin. When I say, go where the prompt leads you, there is no right or wrong to your exploration of creative depths.

March 6, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Gloria. You can name a character that comes to you as Gloria or you can interpret the Laura Branigan song into a story. What image comes to you? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 11, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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