One Step Closer

The morning was really good for once—until the phone rang.

She didn’t take it. She had many excuses in the back of her mind, vague, dreamily, as if nothing else mattered more than here and now. And everything else could magically take care of itself. You could say—think—anything to shape your world and it would do as you pleased.

In the end, she took it. Her lips still tasted salty, and she allowed herself a second to remember that …

“Carrie—? Are you there, honey?”

“Mom—what is it? Has something happened?”

And then her perfect, salty day all but dried up.

Carrie pressed the phone hard to her ear. She pulled her legs up under herself, pressing her jaw equally hard towards her knees as she listened. 

It had only taken 10 seconds and now she was curled up like a steel spring.

Jon did not wait long before he rolled out of bed and began looking for his jeans and underwear as if nothing had happened.

“What?—Can you say that again?”

“Look,” Deborah Sawyer said eagerly, “I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, and they have hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates. But this time it is you!” 

“Me … ”

“Yes! Marcus says if you participate, there is a very good chance you win the 100,000 dollars as part of the Church Universal’s yearly Give Way-Event. The only condition is that you’ll use them on yourself. Start a business. Create art … whatever.”

“ … ‘Good chance’? … ” Carrie started. “But it’s a competition, right? Many others might win.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Deborah said, “your participation is proof of concept. Next year it will be a real competition.” 

Carrie swallowed. “Okay, but I’m really not sure that—maybe we should try to get some more regular nannies for Michael. That would take a load off our shoulders.”

It doesn’t matter how much money we throw at these youngsters,” Deborah said dismissively. “They won’t be able to handle him any better. But you can – if only you get more time and energy to yourself.”

That’s the point, Mom. Even if I had a million dollars … We can only get time by hiring more nannies but you can’t prevent them from going on with their education, real jobs, family.” Carrie felt a sting of nausea. “You can’t. Not even with 50 dollars an hour. And … Marcus has already paid for so much.”

There was silence.

“Look,” her mother continued, “with you leaving college like that and never becoming a lawyer and then—“ she hesitated ever so slightly “—that problem down in Florida, and all the hard work afterward… I think you deserve it, Caroline.”

Carrie’s head was swimming now. “Mom, it’s morning and I need to think about this … ”

“Well …you have been thinking for a long time, haven’t you?”

Carrie glanced at Jon, who stood still like he was waiting for Fedayeen snipers to pass in an alley of Bagdad. “I’ve been trying to keep my family together.”

And you’ve been doing a wonderful job, but as you say … you have limits. You need to help yourself as well. If you don’t want to start your own art studio or something, then at least spend them on yourself. Like … a new car.”

“Mom, it’s Marcus,” Carrie said.


“—What about Marcus?”

“Okay, it’s not just about Marcus.”

“Then what?” 

“Look, I am not going to do this, okay?” Carrie said with finality. “Marcus has already done more than enough for us. And this … receiving money through his organization instead will not make it different to me—”

“Do you think it’s easy for me … with Marcus, to get him to get you … into this?” Her mother’s tone got sharper.

“No, Mom, I don’t think so.”

“Well, don’t you think it’s a good chance … ?”

And then before Carrie could answer, her mother added, “If I had had that chance at your age, it would have changed everything.”

“I’m 36, Mom. And—”

“That’s my point, dear. It is never too late.”

“It’s certainly never too late to fix my life.”

“Well, that’s grateful—real grateful.”

Carrie clenched the phone hard now. “Mom … ”

“Yes … Caroline.”

“Listen—” She tried to catch Jon’s eyes and covered the cell phone with her hand. “Michael is waking up … I can hear him. Go help Emma.” 

“But—” he began.

“I’ll be fine.”

“All right.”

He quickly tugged his shirt all the way down into his trousers and tightened his belt. But it was too late.

Michael woke up and started screaming in his room because the lights were still off and the blinds were down. Two seconds, and the quiet dreamy morning had become a zone of war.

“Caroline … ?”

I’ll have to call you back.”

He’ll calm down—” Deborah started.

“No, he won’t. Goddammit, Mom—I have to go.”

You can be ungrateful to me, but at least have some respect for Marc—”

Carrie slammed the phone onto the nightstand and pulled some clothes from the bedroom cupboard with lightning speed. From Michael’s room she could hear Jon yelling, “Michael—if you don’t stop now, I swear I’ll—”

And in her room, next to Michael’s, Emma had turned on her iPad and cranked the volume up to eleven.

Autism ought to be fucking outlawed, Carrie thought as she struggled with her bra. And regretted the thought, of course, two seconds later.

That was her life now, at something resembling middle-age, a cacophony of regrets and unpredictable panic attacks of her six-year-old son.

She hurried to Michael’s room.


“Want to tell me what this was all about?” 

Jon asked just when Carrie had felt relieved that he probably wouldn’t. He had calmed down again. So had Emma and Michael. Heck, so had Carrie herself. Miracles could still happen …

Okay, it had taken no kind of miracle. Only about fifty laps of gently dotting Michael around the eyes with baby wipes while counting his favorite sequences of numbers. Why that worked was as great a mystery as why all the lamps had to be turned on—always.

And then Michael had sung “We’re Going On A Lion Hunt” and grinning each time the protagonists of the song went, ‘I’m not scared’.

And somehow that had mellowed Carrie enough to be able text Deborah and apologize, although inwardly she still marveled at her mother’s ‘chronic lack of situational awareness’, as Jon, the military vet, called it. Carrie knew he was only half joking.

Deborah Sawyer had been a lifesaver when they had had Emma, that was for sure. And later on, with Michael’s diagnosis and all, she had practically flown in from LA every other week to help. 

Which was great. Carrie knew she owed her mother more than she could repay. The only problem was that her mother wasted no time reminding her of that in all kinds of not-so-subtle ways.

Or was she genuinely concerned because Carrie was once again experimenting with xanax to survive between Mondays?

Carrie willed herself to stop the buzz of thoughts and concentrate on the things at hand. Here. Now. Kitchen. Peace.

Oh, God, make it last … 

For the moment it seemed to do just that. 

Jon was sitting at the small table with both the kids. Emma was slurping cornflakes from a small sea of milk. 

Michael’s portion did not have any milk. He was running a finger round and round in a perfect circle in the orange pile of flakes. 

Carrie had eaten nothing but was toasting some more bread for Jon while simultaneously searching for the marmalade and filling the dishwasher.

“ … Can we talk about it later?” She eyed Emma and Michael.

“Sure,” Jon said, scrolling on his phone.

Emma let her spoon drop into the milk. “Talk about what?”

Carrie pulled out a chair and sat down slowly next to her. “About … when we are going to visit Marie in LA.” She glanced at Jon.

Jon nodded quickly. “Yeah.”

“Well, when are we?” Emma asked, staring at her mother.

Carrie breathed deeply. “Maybe next month.”

“‘Maybe’?” Emma scoffed. “You know, Grandma lives in LA now with uncle Marcus. We could visit all of them.”

‘Uncle’… ?” Carrie frowned. “ … Anyway, Grandma lives in Carlsbad. Marie lives in The Valley. It’s not exactly next door.”

“Grandma lives near Oceanside,” Emma protested. “That’s also Los Angeles.”

“That’s closer to San Diego.” Carrie glanced at Jon again, but he was back to studying his phone intensely.

“It’s almost in the middle!” Emma protested.

Before Carrie could throw up another defense, they were interrupted by a recitation of nutritional data. “‘Total fat 8 grams – 10 percent – Saturated fat 5 grams – 25 percent – ’” Michael read happily in between crunching his dry cornflakes with his fingers.

He was only six, but there was absolutely no hesitation in his pronunciation of each word. Or in reading them.

It was some sight. Michael had taken the big plastic milk jug from the center of the table and placed it in front of himself, leaning close to its label and smiling like he was having an intimate conversation with it.

“Gimme the damn milk!” Emma pulled away the jug from her brother so she could pour more on her already-soaked flakes.

Immediately Michael’s light voice changed into a howl.

Jon snapped the phone close. “Emma. No swearing!”

“Honey, you have milk—give him back the milk.”Carrie put the jug back in front of Michael who immediately continued his litany, and his smiling—as if nothing had happened. “‘Trans fat 0 grams – Cholesterol – ’”

Carrie leaned over and removed a renegade flake from Michael’s hair. Michael did not react. The recitation continued.

“But what about Grandma?” Emma asked again, her voice tense, like she had been hit by someone.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Carrie said.

Emma’s eyes went dark, but she went back to eating her cornflakes in reluctant silence.

Carrie looked at Jon, who returned a quick smile of relief.

She sighed and stood up to continue her search for marmalade, even though they all had to leave soon.

It was the usual defensive ritual to start the day in the tiny dining kitchen in a pale white house with a low-angled sun-bleached ceramic-colored roof, and the dry diminutive grass patch that went for a garden hereabouts.

The house was all the things there was never time for, and usually not enough money for, to really do something about. So it just had to be as it was.

But paradoxically, it was also Carrie’s base, her shelter.

And it was a shelter she had to leave in under 15 minutes.

End of the excerpt!

“One Step Closer” is a special story that continues the narrative from The Roar a couple of days later (at the end of June 2015).

It will be available in full in my first collection that will be put on sale in the usual places in mid-August 2023, e.g. Amazon.

The collections will come out approximately every two months and will always contain a longer short story from the Shade of the Morning Sun archive that from that point on will not be available for free anywhere else. In this book it is the story “One Step Closer” I have chosen. 

I will eventually change into a subscription site where all stories I have ever written about Carrie and co. can be accessed online in chronological order as well as in various ebook formats and audio, too. If you are interested in knowing when this launches, shoot me an email at chris AT shadeofthemorningsun DOT com 

The collection is now for sale as an ebook from Amazon and other outlets.


Featured image: by Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash


Last edited 16 Aug 2023