The latest assignment for my creative writing class was to do a plotting exercise. We had to take the situation of someone dying and write an opening scene or two, then we had to have the narrator stick something of importance in the coffin in the next scenes, and finally, in the last scene, we had to fully write it out in paragraph form, show the climax of realization that said object was in or not in the coffin, and the end result. So here's what I came up with:

First scene: My mother has died. I’m 13 again, reliving this hell, watching the cancer slowly eat her alive, watching this once beautiful creature fall to her ultimate demise. Wife, mother of four (I’m the youngest by 11 years), and a strong, caring woman. The opening scene begins in the hospital, her silent body lying still before us; my father, our priest, my sister all standing by the bed. The last rites are given, a prayer is said, all is quiet. How can we honor the passing of such a loved woman? How can we go on with our lives when she will no longer play such a pivotal role? The myriad of questions hanging thick in our minds go unsaid, unanswered. I touch her face gently with my palm… cold, marble-smooth… For my whole life (up until this moment) people have always told me how alike we are. How “like mother like daughter” we truly act. I am the one natural creation she brought into this world; we are connected by blood, the bonds of femininity, and the depths of the soul. Through her, a part of me has died, half of my heart has withered and faded, disappearing forever. There is a passing of breath, the stillness of her body flattening out like vast oceans beneath my warm hand; her last breath is my first, as a life ends, another begins. The angel sighs no more.

Second scene: The funeral parlor reeks of flowers, fancy perfume, and sorrow. The body lies out in the casket for all to see, now something depersonalized, cold, made of stone. An agreement has been reached that all family members are to put something that is sacred to both them and my mother in the casket with her, but that no one else is to know what it is. A secret connection, if you will, between each person and the deceased. Something that will always keep a part of her with us, and a part of us with her. My father’s suggestion, and a brilliant one at that. Each of us shuffle by in turn, dropping small wrapped packages in the side of the coffin, each wondering what the other has to offer. Mute lips are sewn shut, secrets are taken to the grave, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Third scene: (Flashback) My mother and I are in the hospital, a moment sifting silently between us. For as long as I can remember, I wake up in the morning, and pad quietly into my parent’s bedroom. Crawling into bed with my mother, she sings to me, we watch the birds outside the window, and life passes softly, gently, with the rise of the sun. “Lazy bones, sleeping in the sun, how you gonna get your day’s work done?” The memory of her voice still haunts me to this day. In the hospital, with tubes and needles and buttons for morphine, we try to recapture this moment. The sun seems different this morning, hot, unforgiving, relentless. Curled next to her, I listen to the short rasp of breath coming through her cracked, parched lips, and realize that it’s not the sun that’s different, it’s not the moment that’s different, but the sad realization that all that has passed between us will soon never happen again. It stirs the air, leaving us both a bit empty, grasping for more. At long last, she speaks. Haltingly, she tells me that she needs me to find something in the house, she needs me to destroy it for her. Letters from a doctor, the results of a paternity test. I am not my father’s daughter.

Fourth scene: At the funeral, we all share stories of her that made us smile, we talk of the good times. Through tears, we share the goodness of a life now ended. Pained with secrets I should not know, I cry a little longer and a little harder than everyone else. These secrets are gone now, and as I watch them throw clods of earth on the lowered coffin, I sigh half with relief and half with the knowledge I will have to keep this with me forever. The one true blood connection I have on this earth is gone forever.

Scene 5 (final paragraph): They say that time heals all wounds. Seven months later, I am beginning to finally have a normal life again. No longer do I think she will walk in the door at any second; each time the phone rings, I know it will be someone else rather than her. I’m learning to talk of her without tears welling up in my eyes, and it’s easier now to handle her old possessions. These thoughts of progress consumed me one day in March as I came home from school. I was used to coming home to a quiet, empty house now, and as I walked through the door, I was shocked to hear the sound of someone crying upstairs. Tentatively, I climbed the stairs, listening as the person’s grief grew ever-more intense. When I reached the top, I realized suddenly that it was my father. Inching closer to the door of his bedroom, I saw him sitting on the floor, a piece of paper crumpled in his hands, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Dad?” I whispered softly.
Looking up now, he saw me, and immediately, a look of pure heartbreak crossed his face.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” His mouth opened to answer me, but no words came out. Crossing the floor, I took the paper out of his hands and unfolded it.
It was the results of the paternity test. In my haste to discard the letters, to dump them in the coffin forever, I had grabbed the wrong envelope, and now, as he attempted to clean out my mother’s closet, he came across it and all of its horrible truth. I sat down next to him and put my head on his shoulder. “She loved you, you know. She really did. And I don’t love you any less…” Eventually, his crying ceased, and we sat there quietly for a long time, letting the moment pass between us. As the sun began to set in the window behind us, so did all we held to be truth. A new day would soon be born, and with that, a new chance at life.