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Shortlist Saturdays: Autumn Sonata by Zary Fekete

Autumn Sonata

Patricia sat back in the bed. She heard her daughter’s footsteps recede down the hallway outside her bedroom. After a moment she heard the faucet turn in the kitchen and then the soft voices of her daughter and son-in-law filtered up from the living room, discussing the plans for tomorrow.

From where she sat in bed she could see the lake out the window. The first glimmers of moonlight were casting a faint glow on the water from the far shore. The rest of the lake was silent and black. It felt like it had been a long day.

When she arrived that morning, her daughter had given her a tour of the house and the yard. Isn’t it incredible, Mom? Already twenty years…. She hadn’t remembered that. She had only visited once when Joseph, her grandson, was born. When was that?  When her daughter called her a few weeks ago to invite her to visit, she had been prepared to offer an excuse, but then her daughter said that the upstairs bedroom was empty now that Joseph was away at school.

Already gone? What is he studying?

Mandarin. He wants to travel to China.

China… isn’t that far away?

Her daughter had done wonderful work with the house. It was decorated, each room with its own theme, and everything was neat and tidy. When she asked her daughter who cleaned the house for her she was surprised to hear that she had no housekeeper.

Not everyone can afford that. And I like to keep busy.

But I could have helped with the cost… Next time just ask.

Her daughter had smiled and gone off to fix dinner. She was left to herself in the living room. After the sounds of the kitchen pans started up she felt restless but didn’t want to crowd. She opened the back door and stepped outside.

The humidity was stark and overpowering. Thick air lay over the green grass, bathing everything in a blanket of moisture. Patricia fanned herself with her hand, but the sweat began to pool in her armpits. She walked down to the shore, hoping to find a bit of breeze. By the time she reached the water her black curls were plastered against her forehead.

She remembered summer days like this from when she was a little girl. She half-closed her eyes and the shimmer of the water became a kaleidoscope of color twinkling behind her lashes.

She went back indoors and took a deep breath as the cool of the air conditioning dried the sweat on her skin. She took a book and tried to read for a while by the window while her daughter prepared dinner, but she kept looking up from the page. Has it already been twenty years?

Now that dinner was finished and she was in her room for the night, she finally started to remember. And once one memory came, the rest followed hard after it. She saw herself busy at work. She saw coworkers come and go. She saw her retirement party. She saw the plaque her staff gave her for 35 years of work. She saw phone call after phone call from her daughter come to her phone. Most left unanswered. There just wasn’t time, she always thought to herself. Why does she keep calling me? Doesn’t she know I’m busy? There will be time later.


Patricia? Oh, there you are.

She felt the wheelchair jerk slightly as the nurse took the handles and slowly wheeled her up the hallway. She tried to look through the open doors of the other bedrooms as she was wheeled past them, but her eyes could not move quickly enough. She tried to speak, to ask the nurse to leave her alone, but her lips wouldn’t work. She heard the voices of the nurses talking about her.

Where did you find her?

In the TV lounge. All by herself. Just staring out the window.

I wonder what she thinks about all day?

Probably nothing. Ok, Patricia, let’s fix that hair for bed.

The brush pulled against her black curls. The tangles were tough and the tugs of the brush were hard, but that wasn’t what brought the tears.

Zary Fekete was shortlisted for our 1st Anniversary Short Story Contest and has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia, lives and works as a writer in Minnesota, has been featured in various publications including Zoetic Press, Bag of Bones Press, and Mangoprism, has a debut chapbook of short stories out from Alien Buddha Press and a novelette (In the Beginning) out from ELJ Publications, as well as a debut novella Words On The Page published by DarkWinter Press (2024). Zary enjoys books, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete


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