Michelle Ross ~ High Ground

A moth­er whose chil­dren go to my child’s school mes­saged me and four oth­er moth­ers from the school because she was in a quandary. Corinne is her name. As most of us knew, Corinne said, she didn’t have a good rela­tion­ship with her sis­ter, who could be con­trol­ling and narcissistic.

The truth is, she wrote, she’d been get­ting along with her sis­ter fair­ly well these last few months. Then, out of the blue, her sis­ter decid­ed to get angry about some­thing that had hap­pened a year before. Her sis­ter demand­ed that she admit fault and apologize.

Corinne explained that rather than defend her­self, she’d decid­ed that for the first time in her life she wasn’t going to get into it with her sis­ter. So she emailed her sis­ter the fol­low­ing note, which she past­ed in full: “I’m sor­ry, but the only kind of rela­tion­ship I have room for in my life is one that is dra­ma-free. This is not about me and you; it’s about Tolliston, the kids, and the new life that will soon be join­ing our fam­i­ly. When I feel stress, adren­a­line cours­es through my blood, my heart beats faster, and this stress­es the baby. Thus, I am not going to talk about this over email or the phone because that nev­er goes well. If you insist on say­ing some­thing neg­a­tive to me, then you will need to do it in per­son at my house, and when Tolliston is present. Perhaps then we can eat and laugh and hug after it’s over. Are you still com­ing over for Easter? We talked about mak­ing that bread Mom used to make.”

Corinne wrote that we would not believe what her sis­ter did after that. Her sis­ter com­plete­ly ignored her email, stopped lik­ing any­thing Corinne post­ed on Facebook, and then sev­er­al days lat­er sent each of the kids an Easter card in the mail.

So here’s the quandary, Corinne wrote, should she

  1. Throw the Easter cards away? And then feel waste­ful and guilty because they’re just cards and the kids would love them. Besides, her sis­ter wouldn’t know she threw the cards away, so her sat­is­fac­tion in snub­bing her sis­ter would be limited.
  2. Write “return to sender” on the cards? And then she risks look­ing bad for depriv­ing her kids a rela­tion­ship with their aunt.
  3. Give the kids the cards? She’d be tak­ing the moral high ground, but, on the oth­er hand, her sis­ter would get what she wants—a rela­tion­ship with the kids, while being pas­sive-aggres­sive to Corinne.


No mat­ter what she did, Corinne said, her sis­ter wins; she loses.

The oth­er moth­ers in the group more or less repeat­ed the same sentiment—that Corinne ought to give the kids the cards. If you can’t win no mat­ter what you do, then take the moral high ground, they wrote.

All except Penny, who point­ed out that in a bat­tle, one choos­es the high ground in order to have the tac­ti­cal advan­tage over the oppo­nent they wish to mas­sacre. The idea of choos­ing the moral high ground is kind of a para­dox, she said. There’s noth­ing moral about using the can­non of moral­i­ty to blow your oppo­nent to bits. Anyway, Penny added, Corinne had already cho­sen the low ground when she sent that email to her sis­ter. She echoed the con­sen­sus that Corinne ought to give the kids the cards, but she stat­ed that doing so would not ele­vate Corinne to any high ground.

Penny is the same per­son who last year, when Dana’s hus­band had an affair, asked Dana how she had con­tributed to the sit­u­a­tion their mar­riage was in. She’d argued that when one part­ner has an affair, the oth­er part­ner isn’t sim­ply an inno­cent vic­tim. And that if that per­son thought of her­self or him­self as an inno­cent vic­tim, then it was no won­der that the oth­er part­ner had had an affair.

After Penny’s response, nobody wrote any­thing else. The mes­sage thread dis­ap­peared alto­geth­er, as though Penny’s words had been hand grenades, blitz­ing every voice.

Except mine. I nev­er respond­ed to Corinne’s quandary. Kept my thoughts to myself, reluc­tant to take a position.


Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fic­tion has recent­ly appeared or is forth­com­ing in Colorado Review, Fanzine, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Tahoma Literary Review, TriQuarterly, and oth­er venues. She is fic­tion edi­tor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com