March 6: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

March 6, 2023

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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36 Comments

  1. Anne Goodwin

    Wow, what a story, Charli. What a healing, even though you weren’t aware of the wound. It’s amazing how our minds work and sometimes something ordinary slaps us in the face with a revelation of something we didn’t realise we already knew. Interesting that your son kept hold of his lost twin even when you couldn’t. (How could you, you had your head full with three.)

    Fascinating associations for me also: that song crops up in my next novel – albeit with less emphasis on the words – for a woman called Gloria who temporarily loses her mind, but I’m also toying with the idea of a novel which features a lost twin. I’m not sure which will give me my 99-word story. Perhaps I’ll have to write both!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, wow, Anne — look at the associations swirling around twins and the song Gloria. Yes, our minds are amazing. I hope you write two stories! I’m working on three.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Yer mighty quiet Kid. Ain’t moved.”
    “But I am moved, Pal. Moved an mullin over this challenge post. It’s really resonatin with me.”
    “Reckon yer relatin ta Gloria hearin voices?”
    “I am the voice, Pal, the figment a someone’s ‘magination, an I’ve come ta terms with that. But sometimes I feel like I’m someone missin.”
    “Huh?”
    “Feel like I might be a lost twin. Half of a other, missin a sister or a brother.”
    “Oh bother! Thet why ya only do half a whut yer s’posed ta roun here? Yer too self-absorbed Kid.”
    “Zactly, Pal. Mighta gained a loss.”

    • Charli Mills

      Love this, D. (and Kid)!

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Shorty, ya seen Kid anywheres?”
    “No Pal, I’m unaware of Kid’s whereabouts. What’s up?”
    “Kid’s feelin down, *might be on the run now, running after somebody*— a twin.”
    “Kid has a twin?”
    “Hope not! But Kid’s convinced.”
    “Okay Pal. *I think you’ve got to slow down*. I’ll fetch Doc Ranger. Oh, here she is now. With Kid!”
    “Kid! Whut’ve ya been up to?”
    “*You don’t have to answer*, Kid.”
    “Thanks, Doc. Anyways, *I really don’t remember, but it was somethin that you said*. I’m my own twin, jist need ta git innegrated ta be whole.”
    “Something like that Kid.”

    • Charli Mills

      I’m going to suggest to Kyle that he’s his own twin! We had a good talk and he won’t be doubling his tattoo but he understood where I was coming from as his mum.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Was he surprised by all this, had he any idea?
        Does he remember Pup fondly? Or otherwise?
        Pretty amazing and productive image tending, Boss.

      • Charli Mills

        He remembers Pup and yes, fondly. He doesn’t feel a sense of loss or twinness, and I wonder if Pup served as an image for him to process. He was kind and held space for me so I could, too. Tell ya what, image tending opens up many doors at once!

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, yes–they revolve those doors!

  4. Liz H

    Your post really called out to me, memory and joy and grief and music. Some things have to grow, slowly, in their own time, under the right conditions — endings and beginnings — before they bloom and ripen. And what fruit, resulting, grows even more?Stellar expression, my dear! ????????????????????

    • Charli Mills

      You are so right, Liz, about ripening and blooming. This is the beauty of being literary artists. It’s a grand garden, the expanse between heart and mind, where we grow and harvest. We get strawberries quickly but can wait for decades before the elderberries ripen. We know and yet know nothing. Thanks!

      • Liz H

        That’s why we be in the present moment & listen for Nature’s signals, I guess.

      • Charli Mills

        Never a dull moment in the present one. So many signals all around. So much life to be present to. So many stories to catch.

  5. restlessjo

    The power of her voice always gets me and I never paid a lot of attention to the lyric. But I can see your youngsters belting it out, unknowing. And Kyle- is he happy now? A merciful loss in some ways, Charli. If that can ever be so. 3 babes is a handful. Thanks for sharing, hon.

    • Charli Mills

      Merciful, indeed Jo. Four under the age of three would have been daunting. My three have such good sibling relationships, too that no one missed out and yes, Kyle is happy. I feel more whole with the recognizing which is part of feeling happy, too. Thanks!

  6. pedometergeek

    Charli,
    My sincere condolences for your loss…it may have happened many years ago, but I suspect it is as fresh as it ever was.
    It’s amazing to me the power of music to take us back to where we were at the time. Sometimes to happy places, sometimes to sad places, and sometimes somewhere in between. But always powerful memories can be recalled instantly.
    All my best to you and yours,
    Nan

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Nan. I don’t think it was ever fresh because it all happened so fast as to feel unreal. But I’m grateful the song brought it back to my consciousness so I could acknowledge that it was real. Music presents powerful images to us! All the best back to you!

      • pedometergeek

        Yes, music does, Charli.

  7. denmaniacs4

    A a strong entry in memoir, Charli. Loved the video of Laura Brannigan…a life too short-lived.

    • denmaniacs4

      Double A, eh! The Canadian Way…

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Bill. I’m out of touch — I didn’t realize Laura Branigan died in 2004. That was not long after the formation of the memory. Double, A, eh! You’ll need to school me on the way-a!

      • denmaniacs4

        Hay, Charli, even after all these years, I’m still learning the A a eh way…

      • denmaniacs4

        And Hay is apparently a country way of saying Hey…

      • Charli Mills

        Definitely the country way as this country bumpkin can attest to with a’s. 😀

  8. Jules

    Charli,

    Names and imagination are important. What we recieve as our name or give to others…
    I am slightly familiar with the song, so I looked at the lyrics.

    I came up with a piece that uses synonyms of Glory; please enjoy; In Praise?

    • Charli Mills

      Good point about names, Jules. I appreciate how you used synonyms of Glory.

  9. Nicole Horlings

    That is quite the story, Charli. I believe that imaginary friends are important, regardless of what level of significance they hold. Definitely neat that the teacher allowed Pup to attend school too.

    I didn’t expect to know this song, since it came out eleven years before I was born, but once it started playing, I realized that yup, I did recognize it – the tune in particular – not so much the lyrics, especially in the verses.

    At first, I did not know how I was going to respond to this prompt. I played the song multiple times at different times, and when I started thinking about the song Jolene, another song where the principal character is being spoken to, that I was when I figured out what I wanted to do. I really enjoy the story I came up with: Back Together Again

  10. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Charli, what a poignant story. Music has that effect on us… it makes those memories fresh and real all over again. (Ron told me when he was young, he had a teddy bear named Little Me. I wonder if there was a similar circumstance)? I think you’re healing… you have had so much going on. ??

  11. Norah

    That’s a very touching story, Charli. Thank you for sharing your personal journey. Music is a powerful medium for memories and emotions. This one caught you when you needed it.
    When I think of a song ‘Gloria’, I think of Van Morrison. His song is very different from Brannigan’s.
    I love the story of Kyle and Pup. Pup sounds like a perfect friend, a great comfort.

  12. explorereikiworld

    Memories!!
    They always make my eyes moist. It also shows that I’ve lived many years to travel back in time 🙂

    I’m glad the song brought back wonderful memories of how your girls bonded and performed over it.
    Your son having Pup as his imaginary friend could be the result of his lost twin. The Universe sure acts in mysterious ways.

    The song has many aspects. Will try to pen down a fiction tale and come back with it.

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