Looking from the outside. Part 4

Looking from the outside
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This is the 2nd part of the story. Check the beginning here:
Looking from the outside. Part 1 
Looking from the outside. Part 2
Looking from the outside. Part 3

Zoe, character


Zoe woke up because of sun beams tickling her eyes. She knew this feeling very well. All her childhood she woke up like this on the weekends. Renee, Zoe’s sister, was already grown up and moved to study in another city. Zoe was the only child in her family. She adored weekends, because they always were a family time.

Doris always had million ideas on what to do, how to entertain themselves. They cooked together, worked in the garden, and sent postcards. Eugene, Zoe’s father, was an architect. He planned changes for the house, and then they made them true all together.

It was a great time. Zoe had a happy childhood. Her father died when she was eighteen years old. A quite grown-up adult, but she still felt like a little girl around her parents. Eugene’s death shocked her. It blew up the very foundation of her world. Her father was her hero.

She admired how her parents were with each other. Their relationship’s model was perfect. Zoe never saw them screaming, not talking to each other, offending one another. Sometimes their points of view did not match, but it never grew into a drama.

When Zoe was thinking of her future husband, she always had doubts that there would be someone who could beat her father. He was and will always be the best. For this she never got into a serious relationship. As soon as she noticed that her boyfriend behaved the way she didn’t like, Zoe quietly but quickly disappeared from his life.

Since they stayed without Eugene, Zoe lived with her mother for a couple of years and then moved to the city in search of a job and her own life. Doris insisted. But however, Zoe came to visit her mother almost every weekend.

Some of their hobbies they kept until the present moment. Like sending postcards. They were members of a postcrossing community and sent and received thousands of postcards since they started. It was a part of their weekend routine. Same as reading newspapers and having tea or coffee on the porch of the house.

This weekend would not be different. So Zoe opened her eyes, stretched her body in bed and got up. She went downstairs in her pajamas, with messy hair, feeling home and secure.

Doris was in her studio. She was working with a pottery wheel. Zoe stayed a bit in the door, looking at her mom. The sunlight was falling on her from the window behind her, illuminating her long curly grey hair and leaving a shade on her face. Doris looked like she lost a couple of pounds. Or more. Her cheeks were sunken more than usual and her skin color was a bit pale.

Doris was working on a decorative vase and was deeply lost in her thoughts. Zoe watched her for another moment and then broke the silence.

‘You truly are a tireless woman! It’s eight a.mm. and you are already working!’ – Zoe was smiling.

It took some seconds for Doris to realize what was going on. She took her hands from the vase, tied her hair and looked at her daughter with a smile.

‘I thought you would be sleeping until ten as a minimum. At what time did you arrive yesterday?’

‘Around eleven. You were already sleeping.’

‘Yes, I got tired yesterday. Woke up too early and didn’t have my daily nap.’ – Doris was smiling, but her eyes looked tired.

‘I was quite surprised that you were asleep so early, by the way. Is everything ok?’ – Zoe was looking attentively at her mother.

Doris smiled again and threw her hands up.

‘Aging does not make you stronger. Your mother is not as full of energy as before. I am sixty one, it is quite a lot, my dear.’

Doris stood up, washed her hands, wiped them on her apron and hugged her younger daughter. The hug was a bit stronger than usual. It seemed like Doris hasn’t seen her daughter not for a week, but for some months.

‘Oh, ok, you are quite sentimental today.’ – said Zoe. – ‘Wanna drink some coffee on the porch?’

‘Sure,’ – Doris smiled softly.

They went to the kitchen. Zoe found a plate with freshly baked brownies. Doris made coffee in her own manner. She always added a secret mix of spices that made the drink nearly magical. Zoe knew for sure only that there was some chili pepper and cinnamon. The rest her mom kept in secret, saying that the recipe she will leave in her will.

Doris served coffee in a set of ceramic tableware: cups, plates, coffee kettle, sugar jar – everything made by herself. The coffee kit was complemented by silver forgery that she used on a daily basis. Doris believed that there is no use in keeping things for a special occasion, because everyday is special. Life in general is.

While Doris was bringing the coffee out to the porch, Zoe went to check the mailbox. She saw a raised flag on it yesterday, but did not want to see what’s inside until morning. They always did it together.

Zoe opened the box and saw several postcards, some bills, newspapers and an envelope with a book ordered by the Internet. She brought the things to the porch, sat down and took her cup of coffee and smelled its aroma. It worked like a time machine. Time stopped, and there were only Zoe, her mother and coffee. They were enjoying these early hours and the specific light that the sun has at this time.

A bit later Zoe read the postcards out loud. Most of them were from Europe, a couple from Asia, and finally one from Argentina. They never received one from there before.

Then Zoe switched to the local newspaper.

‘Well, nothing interesting is going on…’ – Zoe was thumbing the newspaper. – ‘The bakery on the main street is having a party next week for their twentieth anniversary. They will give a special discount for all their products.’

‘They have nice cupcakes. I should get some for your next visit,’ – said Doris.

‘I don’t think they are better than yours. I would prefer you to bake some,’ – Zoe squeezed her mother’s hand. It seemed so skinny, Zoe noticed.

Doris smiled with a shade of sadness.

‘Let’s see if I have enough time for it.’

The last thing from the mailbox was the book. It was in an envelope, but Doris neverminded if Zoe checked her book orders. This time she looked a bit uncomfortable, though.

Zoe opened the envelope and read out loud:

‘Life and death: philosophy of going from one to another.’ – She looked confused. Her mother looked a bit scared, but quickly she came back to normal.

‘Why would you read something like this? Are you getting into philosophy?’ – asked Zoe.

Doris shook her shoulders and said:

‘Well, the older you get , the wiser you are supposed to become. Time to think of bigger matters than an anniversary of a bakery,’ – she winked at her daughter.

‘But it is a big thing for those who own this business! They managed to not give up and follow their dream for twenty years. And, well, they are quite successful. Doris was keeping silence, so Zoe continued:

‘I’ve been trying to work for myself for a year, and am already frustrated. I have no idea on what’s going to happen tomorrow. Will I have money or not? Will I find a new project? Everything is so uncertain…’ – Zoe looked upset.

Doris smiled and said:

‘Not knowing what’s going to happen can be not so bad. You can’t control everything anyway,’ – she was looking blankly.

‘These are nice words, mother, but in the real world I need to know what waits for me tomorrow. Otherwise how can I plan my life?!’ – Zoe was getting emotional.

‘Well, planning is good, for sure. What is it that you have problems planning with?’

‘Everything. I am constantly waiting for approval of my applications for projects, resigning existing contracts. Some clients give me work today, but tomorrow they can’t pay. In the end I lose time and have no income. It is so inconvenient! But the worst part is that I can’t afford anything, because I simply don’t know if I can spend this money on some fun thing or I will need it to survive the next few weeks.’

‘Many people go through these times when they have unstable income. It is normal, you are trying something new and it takes time to have things settled,’ – Doris was smiling calmingly.

‘Maybe, but, you know, then I meet with my friends, who have no income problems and I feel that I envy them. There are so many things they could do having money, and you know what’s the worst? They find other reasons to complain! It is unfair!’ – Zoe’s eyes got wet.

‘Come here, my dear,’ – Doris called, opening her arms to receive her daughter. Zoe sat next to her mom.

‘I understand that it is frustrating,’ – she began. – ‘But Zoe, life is so much more than just income and things that you can do for money. In the end, what makes us happy is not something you buy. These are simple things: love, health and freedom. Whatever makes you feel it, will make you happy. But you cannot buy these things for money. You cannot buy someone’s love. Even if you pay someone to be with you, your heart will feel this fake. It is not true. Travelling widens your horizons, but this is exactly what brings you freedom. Knowledge sets you free of stereotypes and your mental borders. To stay healthy you don’t have to pay much. You just need to sleep enough, eat well and move regularly. Is there anything you can’t do now?’

Zoe was listening to her mother with doubts.

‘Well, travelling is questionable’.

‘And I can argue that. If you really want it, you are in the best position of all your friends to do that. You work remotely. In our time there are so many opportunities! You can do housesitting, stay at someone’s place for several hours of simple work per day, there are plenty of low-cost airlines and car sharing things. If you are not ready to go so far, you can easily travel within your own region. How much of its history do you know? Hah?’ – Doris was looking at Zoe with curiosity. Her eyes were shining.

‘Well, mother, maybe you are right,’ – Zoe sighed.

“What bothers you then?’

‘I think that I am losing my status or so. When we all worked at that big company, we all – me, Betty and Mary, – were approximately on the same level. Now they stepped so much ahead and I am lost somewhere in between. Mary has her family, her husband pays for everything. Betty is a storm. She is a single mother, but she has so much energy and determination that even being on maternity leave she is on top of the world. And me… Yes, I work, I work for myself. But what is my work worth if I don’t get much money for it? I cannot maintain the same level of life as before. I had to ask for water with ice yesterday instead of a drink. That’s frustrating.’

Doris hugged her daughter strongly.

‘Zoe, you should focus on things that you have, not those you don’t have. Your friends may have all that, but do they have as much freedom as you do? Can they sleep nine hours per day or spend time with their parents? You can dedicate your time to whatever. This is precious. You still have a lot of time ahead to get a family, children, and then you won’t be so free. You will have to give a big part of your time, your life, yourself to your family. And that’s not bad either. Any of your life phases has advantages, and you should learn to enjoy it. If you don’t have much work today, you can spend the whole day reading or walking or doing whatever you like. Can your friends do the same?’ – Doris was smiling.

‘Well, not really.’ – Zoe got thoughtful. – ‘You know, yesterday Mary told me her new life is hell. Her husband escapes home as much as he can, and her parents never help with the child. They are busy saving the planet. And I always thought they were a perfect family.’

‘You see? Things are not always as they seem. It makes no sense comparing yourself to others. What makes sense is listening to yourself, to your heart and doing what makes you feel good. And let yourself feel good regardless of the situation. Do you understand what I mean?’

‘More or less,’ – said Zoe.

‘Even if you are going through a hard time, you should take care of yourself and find those little pieces of joy. Things happen. Bad times come, good times follow. You need to help yourself go through it. You need to be able to find joy even if you are in pain and sorrow. Life is diverse, and that’s what makes it beautiful. Things are better seen in contrast. Now you have less money than your friends, but we don’t know how it will be in a year from now. So don’t let this incertitude of tomorrow steal your today. Ok?’

Mary hugged her mother stronger. Doris hugged her daughter back. She was enjoying this quiet morning. How many of them she had in her life? A lot, and all of them were precious.

Doris appreciated everything she had. She kept her head up, even though her life was not that easy. She lost two husbands, but they gave her two wonderful daughters. She lost her job, but she opened her own studio. She got sick, but well.. She always lived her life to the fullest. She felt it through: goods and bads, ups and downs. She fell in love and had her heart broken. That’s how it feels to be alive.

Doris cherished every moment that she had left. Even though she didn’t look so happy from the outside – the sickness was taking its toll – she was happy. There and then. Holding a handmade cup with magic coffee and hugging her daughter. Enjoying the sun and letting it tickle her face with its beams. Peaceful and quiet mornings. Life at its best.


Written by Anna Darts. All rights reserved.

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