If Only (A Short Story)

By Cassidy P
Image result for stage and microphone image
It’s almost time.
Whispers and murmurs trickle around the large auditorium, voices echoing off of the polished walls, footsteps sounding on the smooth, speckled marble floor.
I grip my index cards tightly, the edges tearing a little. Scribbled on them are colorful lines of verse, some crossed out or smudged, the others waiting to be read.
My parents are seated on either side of me, my mother on my right and my father on my left. Dad sits patiently, though the rhythmic tapping of his foot tells me he is still eager for me to go up there. Mom, on the other hand, is busy smoothing out my plaid red skirt, her touch gentle and soothing. Once she’s finished with that, she pulls out a dark purple hairbrush from her purse and fixes my long, straight, milk chocolate hair, adjusting the maroon headband I put on this morning before we left.
I want to ask Mom for a sip of her strong smelling mint tea, but I know she’ll make a fuss about how I can’t afford to stain my pure white shirt. I run my fingers over the threaded, “West Oak Middle School,” on the top right of my uniform.
A loud thud booms through the room as Principle Lou taps the microphone. “Welcome back. I hope you all had a nice lunch. There are still snacks available at the table at the back of the room.”
I shift in my seat a little. Sunshine floods through the large windows on one side of the auditorium, but my heart still beats faster as Principle Lou continues. Her voice is hoarse, but she speaks with confidence. Much more confidence than I’ll ever have.
“Let us give one more round of applause for our seventh graders. You all did wonderfully. And also, cheers to Gwendolyn, Molly, and Jacob, our first, second, and third place winners for the seventh-grade poetry contest.” Applause erupts around me, but I’m too nervous to let go of my cards. Before I know it, I’ll be the one up there at the podium, forced to speak in front of half the school—and everyone’s parents. “Now, it is time for our first eighth-grade contestant to come up here, Izabella Rachlin!”
I suck in my breath. Everyone is clapping, waiting, encouraging me to walk up there, proud and confident.
I’m about to stand when my mother grabs my arm and pulls me close. “You can do it,” she whispers into my ear. I nod and shakily make my way down the aisle, people in silver-blue folding chairs watching me as I try to smile. My heart is practically beating out of my chest.
The next moment is a blur as if flashing before me like some kind of taunting joke. A chair falls, gasps fill the room, worried whispers all around me.
I scan the room before me, trying to find out what happened. My breathing is heavy and forced, I’m trying to keep it even. But I’m sweating and my heart is beating out of my chest and all I can do is wait. I feel helpless, watching people’s faces go from happiness to terror. 
My dad stands and shouts, “Call an ambulance!”
Principal Lou dials 911 and my Dad resumes crouching over the person next to him. But he was sitting in the aisle, on the edge of our row of chairs. Which means....
Tears are forming in my eyes. Within seconds, a couple of tears have already begun slipping down my rosy cheeks. An ambulance arrives, a team of medics rushing to the scene.
All I can do is breathe. I feel like I’m frozen. It’s as if I’m having a nightmare and I can only watch, forced to stay put by some invisible chains. I want to run off the stage and down to where my father and the medics are. But all that happens is my index cards fall to the ground, my poem slipping out of my hands, and for a split second, it feels like everything is happening in slow motion, like one of those movies during a dramatic scene. But this isn’t a movie. It’s a reality.
And then it happens. It’s hard to see through the filters of my watery eyes, but the image is clear. My mother is laid out on a stretcher being wheeled over to the ambulance.
“NO!” I yell, my horrified voice echoing through the auditorium, my hand reaching out in front of me.
If only I could run.
Principle Lou hurries to my side. “It’s okay, Izabella. They are bringing her to the hospital, alright?”
Of course, that isn’t enough for me. Tears spill out, and I swear I’ll be standing in a puddle within minutes. “That’s my mom!” I choke. “I want to know what’s happening! Why did it have to happen now?”
Trying to comfort me, Principal Lou says, “She’s being taken care of. There’s nothing to worry about, I promise.”
“Nothing to worry about? She is being taken to the hospital, tell me what’s going on! I need to know! Just tell me, please!” My voice is raspy—it’s hard to even get the words out of my mouth. “Please!” I add, my voice cracking.
Principal Lou jerks her head from side to side, her face full of concern. I think she’s trying to find someone. “Please, just tell me! You’re making me even more scared than I already am! Please, I’m begging you!” 
Finally, Mr. Nodan comes up to the stage. “Mrs. Whittington will be taking Izabella to the hospital to go see her mother,” he tells us in a low voice.
Mrs. Whittington is our neighbor, and her daughter goes to my school. The Whittingtons are like family friends to us, so I trust that Mrs. Whittington will get me to the hospital safely and quickly.
I nod, but I’m still not satisfied. “Mr. Nodan, what happened to my mother?”
Mr. Nodan, not any better than Principal Lou, goes, “You will find out soon enough. Just wait here for a minute.”
“Please!” I try to scream, but I’m losing my voice from begging and yelling so much. My father is gone with the ambulance and my mother, but I was left behind. Apparently, they have some “good” reason not to tell me anything, but I don’t understand why one bit.
After waiting for a couple of minutes, Mrs. Whittington runs up to the stage, but she isn’t very fast because of the tall heels she’s wearing.
“Come now, dear. Follow me,” she directs, grabbing my arm and pulling me away from the podium.
Grabbing my arm and pulling me, just like my mother did only fifteen minutes ago.
My legs are wobbly as I make my way through the terrified crowd and get into Mrs. Whittington’s car. When I see that Emily, her daughter, is sitting in the back seat as well, I decide to buckle up and stare out the window the rest of the ride.
My heart is pounding harder and faster than ever by the time we reach the hospital. A nurse greets us at the door and leads us to the room she’s been taken to.
“I’m scared,” I whisper to Emily.
She puts her arm around my waist as the nurse asks us to take a seat in the chairs outside the ER. I’m scared half to death.
It seems like hours have passed when a medic opens the door and says, “Come in.”
It’s the most horrifying sight I have ever seen. It’s my mother, and she’s laying on a hospital bed, her eyes shut tightly. There are wires everywhere, and I can see that there is a screen with a line moving across it, slowly beeping, the line moving up and down in slow, even beats. 
“We’ve done everything we can, but we’re not sure if she’ll last.”
Those words are like a stab in the heart, like a knife piercing through my skin, more painful than anything else in my life. I want to ask what happened, but I can’t gain the courage to say it. The words I want to say rise up my throat like a rocket but get caught in my mouth. They begin to slip onto the tip of my tongue, ready to fly away into the world. I feel like I’m about to jump off of an airplane—too scared to jump, but feeling like I would regret not doing so at the same time. I close my eyes, ready to take off...but I end up swallowing the words. They parachute back down my throat and disappear into dust.
Mom, don’t go. It’s all too sudden. My whole life, you’ve guided me and loved me and comforted me. And now it might all be lost. Everything. Everything I’ve been waiting for, everything I already have, everything that means something to me. Please. I don’t even know what happened, but I know it’s awful. If only I could tell you what I’m thinking.
The moment I’ve been dreading happens all too soon. I realize what had happened. She had a heart attack—I can tell by the medical reports sitting on the table next to me—and she’d gone into cardiac arrest. And it was so bad, so sudden, so unpredictable, that her life could be coming to an end.
And I’m realizing all of this right now, right at the moment that the beeping comes to an end, only a long, monotone, continuous one, the monitor going flatline before my eyes.
If only she had stayed.


  1. This is so powerful. I, myself, had lost my dad in 2018. You captured the emotion so well, and it really made me feel like I was in the moment. I felt exactly like this when my mom told me what happened. I felt the devastation in this story and it has so much feeling... From the moment Izabella was nervous about presenting- I felt it and I was scared for her. The suspense of her father yelling made my mind run wild, and I was terrified and on the edge of my seat. This is beautifully written and that last sentence left me on the verge of tears. Keep writing, please.


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