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"The Lost Cabin": First Place, Family Circle Fiction Contest 2012

Barbara closed the book and placed it on her lap. "Actually, I'm not working." She pointed to the empty seat beside her and was surprised when Miriam obliged.

Bony knees extended past the edge of the bench. Miriam wore black shorts today, short enough that the pockets could be seen protruding from frayed edges. Her pale legs were lightly dusted with freckles and a single mole on her left thigh. Like a constellation, Barbara could draw those markings with her eyes closed. On top Miriam wore a tank covered by a neon-checked flannel. She never fully exposed her body, always leaving one half to the imagination. Her fingernails matched the shirt, each one a different color. Barbara smiled in appreciation of her daughter's creativity and subtle inhibitions.

"What are you doing?" Miriam's interest in her mother was both startling and refreshing.

Barbara hesitated, clenching the book in her hands. "Drawing."

"I didn't know you draw."

Few people did. Not Michael. Not her best friend, whom she was lucky if she talked to once a month. Definitely not her patients. Only the elderly woman at the art supply store knew, and that was because Barbara had to ask her what kind of paper to buy.

"Can I?" Miriam gestured at the oversize book on her mother's lap. It was that same look of curiosity she'd had as a child when she would lift the lid off the pot on the stove, peeking inside to see what was cooking.

Barbara hesitated. Having never even taken an art class, she considered herself a novice. The thought of revealing something so personal left her vulnerable, a bit too exposed. What if Miriam laughed at the images? Sure, she was used to Miriam's scoffs about her appearance, vocabulary and taste in music, but her art was different. This is how Miriam feels, Barbara realized. Vulnerable, afraid of being exposed for fear of rejection. It had been so long since her teenage years, but she supposed those were feelings one never fully outgrew.

"You are the first to see this," she said quietly as she untied the sash that bound the leather book. "It's kind of like my version of a journal."

Miriam's fierce green eyes seemed to soften a bit as she held out her hand. Unlike the rest of her body, her fingers were still plump and delightfully childlike. She cocked her head to the side when she opened it, and Barbara had a hard time reading the expression. Surprise, but whether good or bad she wasn't sure.

"Wow," Miriam said in wonder. "I expected you to be drawing trees."

Barbara shook her head. "Like I said, it's my version of a journal."

"So these are all of us?" The sketches that filled the pages were in a variety of formats, from watercolor pencil to charcoals, depending on her mood. Some represented big moments in life like first steps, birthdays, vacations. Others were the simple moments in life, like Miriam falling asleep on the sofa with the cat cuddled in her lap or licking brownie batter out of a bowl, her face smudged with coarse patches of brown chocolate.

Barbara nodded her head. "I had hoped to find the courage to give them to you one day, maybe once you married and had a child of your own."

"That's cool," Miriam said casually, trying to mask any tone of sentiment as she continued to flip through the sketches. "By the way, thanks for the shampoo and stuff."

Barbara imagined her daughter's puzzled expression followed by delight when she opened her backpack and found a gift pack of luxury shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion. "You're welcome. I hope you didn't mind that I put it in your backpack without asking. I promise I didn't look at anything else."

Miriam shrugged her shoulders. Her canvas sneaker toed through the dirt, making perfect circles then wiping them away. "That stuff was in one of my magazines. I've always wanted to try it."

"Maybe you can show me a few other things you might like. Some nail polish or makeup? I'm kind of out of touch, so I need your help. I got lucky with the bath set."

There was a slight flicker in Miriam's eyes as she laughed softly and said, "Yeah, sure."

"You were right, by the way," Barbara said.

"About what?"

"About me and my failures as a wife." She turned toward her daughter and added, "And mother."

"I never said mother," Miriam countered as she stared at the creek.

"You didn't need to." Barbara felt the moisture gather in her eyes. She squeezed them tight, rubbed at her temples. Instinct told her to refrain, but finally she gave herself permission to feel the emotions. Silently the tears rolled down her cheek as she placed an arm around her daughter's shoulder. Miriam didn't fight it, instead resting her head against her mother's chest. They both knew it didn't end here, but this is where it could begin.