Greater Lehigh Valley

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2013 Annual Short Story Writing Contest 
Winning Entries

First Place

The Gods of a New Age

By Rachel Durs
21st Century Cyber Charter School, Grade 12

New York was cold that March, even for a goddess, and the icy breeze barbed up my fishnet stockings. Last month’s snow, now black slush thanks to cabs and incessant feet, broke easily under my Louboutins as I coasted the curbs. These familiar streets were lined with faceless statues of blue women and fountains spinning water from the spokes of the sun, golden disks built into marble buildings and metal skyscrapers that reflected one another in the early morning. Almost soulless at this hour, the city was just beginning to creak to life and I turned my coat collar up against the wind before plunging my gloveless hands back into my pockets for warmth. This pause afforded me the opportunity to look around, my eyes falling on one shop in particular across the way. It was a small thing, a little café that could barely be called a café, really, its faded wallpaper and vinyl booths more from the ‘50s than present day. Monroe, the little red-faced Jewish man that owned the place, was just opening up, the metal grate that had barred the door just moments prior sliding aside with a heavy groan. A smile formed on my painted lips as I walked across to it and entered. A bell above the door sang my entrance and Monroe looked up from where he was greasing the counter with a cloth.

“Lord God…” he said in disbelief, his round face quivering with emotion. “Irene. What can I do you for?”

“You can’t do me for anything,” I said, sliding up to one of the metal stools at the counter. “However, you can get me a martini and an ashtray.”

He babbled his apologies sheepishly and reached under the counter for the vermouth. The only alcohol served to Monroe’s regular customers was beer, a low-grade brand of the stuff from a can. The vermouth was kept for when I visited, hidden from everyone else’s sight. He mixed my drink while I eyed it and he slid me an ashtray when he had a free second. I grabbed it with one hand and produced my cigarettes with the other, biting one of the long cylinders between my teeth before striking a match against the counter.

“So…” I said, talking around the cigarette and pausing only to ignite the tip, “…I suspect you’ve guessed why I’m here.”

“Well, I assume it’s not for the booze,” Monroe joked slightly.

“Very good, you’re getting quicker,” I said, pointing with my cigarette as he slid me my drink.

“What do you want?” he asked, his ease replaced by hesitancy.

“Information.”

“Right.”

“Otherwise, you know I wouldn’t be here,” I said, smiling into my next drag.

“Yeah,” he said, grinning nervously. “So, what information do you need?”

Another drag. “I’ve had word that someone has been…mistreating…one of my children.”

Monroe’s eyes went wide. “Children? You’ve got children?”

My tongue clicked against the roof of my mouth in a scoff.

“One of my followers, you half-wit!” I barked.

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I’ve been called to her and I need to find her.” I paused, sipping my drink and flicking the ashes of my cigarette. “She’s local.”

“You don’t say.”

“Monroe…” I said, my voice crackling with a building anger. “Did you see her here before?”

He twisted the rag with a nervous sigh and I knew the answer was yes. He stayed silent, eyeing me warily. In return, I leaned in with a glare, my cheek twitching in irritation.

“Did you see her here?” I repeated, making sure each word jabbed.

His voice was breathless as he whispered, “Yes.”

“What information can you give me about her?”

“She came in here, you know…that night.” He paused and made a vague hand gesture, trying to confirm if I did in fact know what happened. I did, and gave him an impatient nod to continue. “She’s praying to the Christian god. I saw her cross.”

“Can you tell me anything else about her? Her address?”

I could see my eyes reflected in his – wide, bright, searching his face intently. He must have sensed my intensity, for I could feel his deliberate effort not to shrink back.

“No…but I know who does.”

“Ah,” I said, leaning back with a grin and a drag on my cigarette. “So Sebastian’s been called down too?”

Monroe nodded. I nodded in response, more to myself than to him. So it was going to be that kind of mission.

“Do you know where Seb is, then?”

I was smiling now, not meeting Monroe’s eyes as I snuffed the cigarette in the ashtray. Only about half of it was gone and I put it back in the pack to finish later. Silence. I met Monroe’s uneasy glance, putting on an impassive face and finishing off my drink in a few sips.

“Well?”

Still nothing. I rolled my eyes, a snort of derision bubbling up in my throat as I stood, putting my foot against the stool to my left. In one fluid motion, the heel of my Louboutin punched through the surface of the red vinyl. Monroe heaved a weary sigh and I cocked my head as if in challenge.

“Jesus, Irene,” he mumbled, grabbing a roll of black tape and coming around from behind the bar. He patched the hole with two small pieces, marking a perfect “x”. “You know I don’t know where he is. He’s nearby, I know that. Probably a block or two away, waiting for you.”

I could see my smile reflected in the dozens of drinking glasses behind Monroe as I backed away from the counter. My hand flashed into my pocket, pulling out enough to cover the bill and the tip.

“Thank you, Monroe.” I grinned, pinning the bills down with the empty glass. “You’ve done a good job. I’ll make sure to put in a good word for you when this is over.”

“Thanks, Irene.” He muttered in response, scratching his head as I moved toward the door. I leveled him with a hard glance and he shuffled, “Madame.”

My smile reflected back to me again at the title and I gave him a nod.

“Oh, and Irene…good luck.”

I threw a wink in his direction before stepping out into the sunshine that glittered off the frosted pavement.

It only took me a few minutes to get to the block where I believed I’d find Seb. It was a little block, dotted with small storefronts and apartments. Near enough to be seen, skyscrapers and high-rises loomed in the background, setting the whole street up like a rectangular antechamber. I moved through the crowd at a deliberate clip, scanning the assembled people for a slicked-back blonde head, and melted into them in hopes of finding him. I stopped and looked down the street as if locating a vanishing point when I suddenly felt a gentle tug on my arm.

“Excuse me, marm, might I borrow a cigarette?”

I smiled before I even turned around, pulling out my cigarettes with one swoop of my free arm.

“Hello, Sebastian.”

He pulled himself over to stand next to me.

“Irene.” He nodded, his hands in the pockets of his black, cashmere coat. I knew somewhere within the folds of the thing, his muffled gun was stashed, loaded and ready for use. “It’s been a while.”

“Mm, yes. Jakarta,” I said. “When we were working for Batara Guru.”

It was hard to believe that was the last time we had been on assignment together, but his nod confirmed it. I handed him a cigarette and he lit it with a metal Zippo, gesturing with it slightly as if to ask me if I was planning on smoking one too. The corners of my mouth turned up into a grin as I pulled out my half-smoked one from earlier and set it between my teeth. He leaned in and lit it for me, talking around his own cigarette as he did so.

“I’ve been told this time it’s the Christian god.” He said.

Once my cigarette was relit, I pulled back and gave a slight nod, turning to face the street. Cabs were trundling by, picking up people who had their heads down and headphones in their ears. They didn’t want any trouble. Everyone was oblivious to the divine meeting taking place on the sidewalk.

“Yes, it took a fair bit of coaxing to get it out of Monroe, but I did eventually. Satyrs.” I snorted the last bit with derision, biting at my cigarette once more.

Sebastian laughed, simultaneously with mirth and with understanding at how infuriating dealing with the descendants of Pan could be. They may have evolved out of their horns and fur-covered legs, but they hadn’t lost their juvenile ways.

“Do you know anything else about this?” I asked, glancing up at Seb.

He sighed a small cloud of smoke and reached into his jacket, pulling out a sheet of folded paper.

“Her name is Abby Duncan,” he said, unfolding the sheet for me to see.

She was a pretty girl, maybe college-aged, her red hair cascading down her shoulders as she grinned. In my life, I had discovered that people who smiled with their eyes were usually good, honest people. And when this girl smiled, her happiness radiated up to every fleck of jade in her eyes. I stared in silence at my follower, internally thanking her for her belief and prayers, the way I did when any poor soul contacted me.

“Is it true?”

My voice sounded thick and bass-like, not my own at all. I didn’t bother to clear my throat.

His bottom lip twitched and I could see from the bulge in his cheek that he was running his tongue across his teeth. I knew this long arm of divine law didn’t like it when people hurt women, especially young ones, and he wrestled with a fair bit of anger for a moment before speaking.

“Yes.”

I sighed, wondering how the earth could hold mortals so evil that they could violate a young girl the way Abby Duncan had been violated. Plenty of cases like this had come to me before, sadly, but this one seemed to be among the worst.

“Everything else I’ve heard then, too?” I asked.

He nodded and took a final long drag on his cigarette, before stomping it out with his boot. In less than five minutes, he’d have another one in his mouth if he could find time to buy a pack before his mission time came.

“I’ll go to her then, she called me,” I said, suddenly distracted. “Where does she live?”

Sebastian gave me her address, pointing to one of the distant buildings.

“I’ve been given very strict orders when I find the man, Irene. You know that,” he said, eyeing me with a flinty seriousness.

“From the moment I heard you were here, I figured you had already been given your orders.” I smiled a small, mirthless grin of understanding. “I thought perhaps it wouldn’t be this kind of mission.”

“You know what happens when justice is left to the mortals,” Seb said, his grey eyes falling into a look akin to sadness.

Unfortunately, I did. When the justice of mortal law miscarried, it was up to the court of the divine, for which I was the advocate of victims and Seb was the executioner. I had seen it too many times and today was just another instance. The law hadn’t only failed this girl, but had hurt her further.

“I’ll be looking for him,” Sebastian said, more to himself than to me as he pulled out his silver flask and took a deep draught. I inhaled, trying to identify the liquid. Whiskey. Jack Daniels. Typical Seb.

“I have a feeling you already know when and where you’ll find him.”

“I’ve got an idea, yes.” His mouth twisted into an almost evil smile. “After dark. I think that’s when you’ll find Abby at home, too.”

“I’ll wait for her until then,” I said with a nod. “And I’ll watch over her.”

“Keep her safe.”

“I will. And you watch your mark.”

“Without a doubt.” Seb’s hand traced the area of his coat where his gun was kept, a shape indistinguishable if you didn’t know it was there. Almost as quickly as he made the gesture, his hands were back in his pockets. “Take care, Irene.”

“You too. And good luck.”

Despite the grim scenario, I couldn’t help but smile at my colleague, anointing his head with a smoke-ring halo as I blew out my final drag.

By dusk, I was standing on the sidewalk outside of Abby Duncan’s apartment. Out in the back by the dumpsters was an emergency exit, and I loitered, optionally unseen by any passersby. I took Sebastian’s advice to heart, checking every few moments for those selfish orange bloodstains in the sky to depart and leave me standing in the half-baked darkness of a New York evening.

The waiting was the worst part, and I set my tongue in my cheek to keep from lighting up another cigarette or sighing aloud. Luckily, it wasn’t long. Soon the sun dipped down behind the buildings, its final light blinding for a moment before the sky was swallowed by a cool blackness. One star winked at me and then another, reminding me that somewhere Seb was lying in wait. I entered the building and located Abby’s apartment within seconds.

I walked in through the locked door without a sound and moved toward her bedroom. The sound of my heels on the hardwood echoed in my head, but I knew she would never hear them. Instead her room was silent, save for that tiny sniffling sound that indicates someone delicately crying into her own chest. I felt the same immediate mixture of shock and pain that I always got when I found one of my poor children in tears. Abby was at the side of her bed in prayer position, tears trickling down from her closed eyes. I felt a hot rage toward the men who did this to her.

“God, my savior, today was my trial.” She said with a voice like the whisper in a conch shell. “And I lost. Lord, I did what I thought was best and I testified against them all. The evidence wasn’t there, they said. The two who watched – they went free because there wasn’t any evidence -- and he…he paid someone off, I just know he did! Lord, please, please give me strength to understand and accept what has happened. Please, help to be at peace with this!”

Her voice broke off in a choke at the end of her prayer and she put her face against the bed to weep. I sank to my knees next to her and stroked her hair.

“It’s alright, dear, it’ll be alright,” I murmured to her, hoping that despite the fact she couldn’t hear these words nor feel my hands, a vague calmness only I could provide my children would come over her.

I soothed her and whispered endearments to her, willing her into a sleep. I would come to her in a dream, I decided, and would assure her everything would work – that her God hadn’t forgotten about her and wasn’t blind to her pain. Since none of my followers had ever seen me, she wouldn’t know it was me talking to her. In the morning she would wake up and wonder who she had been talking to in her sleep the night before, and all of her friends would say they had never seen the raven-haired woman with the long black coat and flinty eyes.

Soon enough, she sighed and climbed into her bed, her eyes red with those salty tears. Against the uneasy backdrop of her mind, I appeared to her with the planets behind my head like a lens flare, whispering all the things I said to her before, but this time I know she heard them. When I pulled out of her dreams, a small smile graced her lips.

Still unseen and unheard, I left the apartment building through the emergency exit from which I had come and was out in the cold, dark alley. Stars twinkled above me like the eyes of each god who somewhere had a child in need. My hands fumbled for a cigarette, which I attempted to light with shaking fingers.

Seb took the man that night. It was bloodless, which I know must have pained Seb greatly, but he promised me the man suffered. The official reports said he was drunk and fell from the dock into the river below, where he drowned. Only we knew he was helped to that fall. The next morning, the police got an anonymous tip as to the location of a drug deal and the dead man’s former accomplices – those who would watch the plight of a young woman – were taken in for a long stint behind bars.

I watched from across the street as Abby Duncan got the news at the police station. She cried from joy this time and praised God for the justice she had finally been given. She praised me as well as her guardian angel, as the one who had set this all in motion. I smiled from my place on the pavement, hidden from her so she didn’t recognize me from her dream. I heard her thanks echoing through my head.

“You’re welcome,” I thought in response, wishing she could hear me. But that wasn’t how it would work, now or ever. I could just take solace in knowing we had given her some hope.

Sebastian appeared at my elbow, and I smelled the sweet scent of his cigar before I even saw him. For a moment, we stood on the sidewalk and looked across the street in utter silence before he turned to me and smiled, blowing smoke in my face. I inhaled the wisps of smoke greedily and smiled back, knowing that was all the goodbye either of us needed. With one final look at our red-headed charge, we both turned on our heels and walked down the street in the direction of the sun.


 

Second Place

When No Words Would Come

 

 Alexandria Greenholt

Salisbury High School, Grade 12

 

It seemed as if the Christmas tree was taunting me. It looked so goofy in that room, almost as if it was a projection of a fun house mirror. Its middle was comically wide compared to the point and base, like a top, but my head was the one that was spinning. I started to wonder how it could possibly be standing upright. I was sure there was some law of physics that the tree was breaking, but I didn’t have the capacity to think of it. My boyfriend would know something of it. He’s always telling me about his prolonged bitterness towards his preschool teachers who would yell at him on the playground for recklessly spinning around in circles, his arms outstretched at his sides and his face towards the sky. I’ve always wondered if he did it so that the world would begin to see-saw beneath him or if he wanted all the weight to gather just past the final joints of his fingers. But I’ve never asked. 

The heat radiated off the rocks. The sparkling green water was inviting, but the distance was daunting. They would stir up quite a scene, those children, toes curled over the edge and being prodded by their parents to jump. When they would turn back to find solace in the urging faces of their families, they would apparently see something that would convince them to take one sharp inhale, and then jump. Everyone who had stopped what they were doing to watch clapped, even though their cheers were crippled by the depth of the water and would never reach the children’s ears. I think I am the only one who can smile despondently. I don’t remember when it is that people stop telling you to jump. But it is so, so sad. 

I had begun to feel bad for the Christmas tree and its wonky disposition that had irked me earlier, but then some laughter wafted up the staircase and reminded me why I’d spent such a long time staring at the tree in the first place. The tree was back to mocking me. The red and green ornaments hung there, exacerbating the protruding middle branches and making tiny disco balls of themselves by reflecting the glow of the string lights. The tree was my current antithesis, and therefore my only enemy, and I thought it was in my best interest to leave the room immediately. I went outside without caring how loudly I shut the door behind me. 

It was the dead of winter, and my bare legs didn’t forget to remind me. They were prickly and pale, and I tried not to look down at them. I ignored the concrete path, and cut across the lawn. The ground was caked with snow, and my socks were heavy and damp by the time I’d reached the street. 

The people here are prisoners past eleven. Night is a barren wasteland interrupted by occasional whistling highways. I could only close my eyes and confuse them for crashing waves. The grass was warm and wet and it helped. I think lightning bugs also live in the depths of the ocean. 

I laid in the middle of the road, sprawling out my limbs and pressing every inch of my body to the icy blacktop. I blew smoke straight up into the air.

I opened up a can of evaporated milk and was surprised to find liquid. I expected clouds. 

Nora eventually joined me on the street, leaving Joey in the house with the tree and the bottles and the tiled floor. 

She is tall and beautiful and even though I cried when they changed her nose, I loved her just the same because she still went to the bookstore to read with the bandages.  It doesn’t even look that different, in all honesty, but I was so mad that they changed her. And it was different than the way the books and the movies and the paintings and the boys and the teachers changed her. 

She didn’t ask me any questions, and didn’t have to. I watched us both flick ashes against the grayscale landscape. They burned bright red like embers for a moment but soon faded, mimicking the birth and death of stars. I wished we could make the ashes glow big and bright enough that if someone were caught between down here and up there, they wouldn’t know which way is up. Admittedly, it’s a bit masochistic, this romance I have with the stars, and I relish the moments they make me feel so small, so insignificant, so easily at their mercy. It’s a cliché to say it’s humbling, but it is, and I often need to remind myself that to everything and everyone else, Nora and I are just two girls flicking ashes in suburbia.

We made our way back to the porch. Her dad showed up behind the screen door. He spoke like the Christmas tree spun. Whatever he said did not matter enough to listen to and I didn’t want to strain myself trying to hear him. Nora and I retreated inside, finally deciding we’d had enough of the night. It was nearing morning. Joey had fallen asleep with the only blanket, so I pulled loose all that I could and tried to save my frostbitten toes. My nose and ears reddened at the stark contrast in temperature, and I fell asleep like it was summertime. 

The wicker furniture made patterns on Sawyer’s face. The bugs hit the lamppost with a buzz and we laughed and I loved him. 

Joey has consistently been the unknowing witness to my fall from grace, which I took like the torturous descent of a feather, and our friendship is largely based on discussing all the things that happened while he was sleeping in the same room. I met him and his friend Malcolm last fall in a crowded basement in a situation that I still can’t determine as timely or untimely. Swing music played. I tried to meet Sawyer’s eyes a thousand times over, but they were so vacant to me. When he drove away that night, I could feel our physical distance becoming insignificant; he was already so far away. 

I held no qualms, however, because my hands were too busy snatching up Joey’s arms. We danced, cursedly and clumsily, around the room, laughing at our tangled feet running into other pairs of just the same. The minutes tumbled by, and the pink faces of youth fell ashen with fatigue as their eyelids like anchors secured them to the closest couch cushion. Malcolm and I evaded sleep for the remaining hours until morning, talking like maps.

And while he took care of his dog, I read a page of every book on his shelf. I felt like I had to do this secretly. 

We spoke in similar tongues. And I loved him because sadness loves company. 

I rummaged through the bin and pulled out the transparent pieces of colored glass. Red and blue, and blue and yellow, and yellow and red. They taught me about Venn diagrams. Purple and green and orange.  

 I wish I had thought about the stars and reminded myself that we are not so magnificent. We are just broken pieces of glass. Malcolm poked Joey’s face. He was sound asleep, and I thought about all the people you can be alone with. 

 I suffer from a serious case of home-sickness, as in sometimes I am so physically repulsed by my home that I’ll be blocks away before I realize that I’ve left. It was midnight. The air was wet and cold, and the fog hung thick just above my head. Malcolm was the only one awake in walking distance, so I urged him to join me outside. I took him to the hidden path that leads to the red bridge by the river. Mud sloshed in our shoes. A recent storm had cleared out a row of trees and revealed an eerie view of the valley and adjacent hillside that peeked out from behind a dense fog. A glowing green light sat atop the hill, and I asked Malcolm what he thought of it. He formulated an elaborate story of how it was evil force that must be stopped. I called him Gatsby, and took off down the hill. I raced ahead of him, my feet impeccably coordinating leaps and bounds over fallen trunks and thorn bushes. When Malcolm met me at the bottom, he called me Mona. I blushed at my feet. This is the language that we spoke. I don’t think we could summon the words ourselves, and so we stole from the pages that we mutually loved. It kills me now to see how soon we labeled ourselves as doomed. 

I arrived home ankle deep in mud and knee deep in water, and fell asleep just the same. I woke up waist deep in sorrows, and my heart filled me up to my chest. Sawyer offered to take me out for a drive because I seemed off. Rain on the windshield smeared the red brake lights ahead of us, and I felt myself go sallow. He parked the car in an empty lot and spit out the question, “What’s wrong?”

 My mouth hung open, unable to form a response. The rain outside fell hard enough to mock me, and I swore his car was made of tin. I couldn’t concentrate. I shoved my head into his chest and tried to let his sweater block the ringing in my ears. I whispered that I felt sick, cold and tired, and left it at that. When he couldn’t stand my silence any longer, he took me home. 

 No matter how Malcolm made me feel, I couldn’t keep away from him. Addiction has come in stranger forms, I guess. Joey, Nora, and I went to his house to watch movies one night. Nora fell asleep in the middle of the first movie, and eventually decided to go home instead of continuing to sleep on the reclining chair. Joey and I still barely knew each other, and we made small talk while Malcolm went upstairs. His girlfriend called. That’s what Joey had told me. While we chatted, I watched his eyelids. They were drooping ever so slightly, and I felt desperately anxious. Malcolm finally came back downstairs, and I could see the trouble in his eyes. He held glasses. We made a toast to being shells of people, and we laughed. Our clinks were hesitant and sharp. They reverberated off the white walls, and the ringing returned to my ears. 

The toasts continued, but Joey didn’t. He fell asleep on the floor, and now I wished I hadn’t stepped over him so cautiously. Led Zeppelin played in the background. I danced around the coffee table, singing and spinning as Malcolm just looked upon me.

Mom popped in the Led Zeppelin cassette and we danced in the kitchen and sang into our broomsticks, mine a miniature version of hers. I had bangs cut in a straight line and pink shoes. I didn’t know the lyrics that well, but it didn’t matter because I could pretend. 

We raised our glasses, but when I opened my mouth for the final toast no words would come.  All we could muster were locked eyes and a smirk.  

And then I jumped. For a moment, I swore I wasn’t actually falling. I like to think the universe dispelled gravity just for a moment, just so I could observe the ground dropping out below me. 40 feet until the water—40 glorious feet. When I tasted air again I asked myself, 

Who loves me now?

The value of physical intimacy was dead, and yet we succumbed to it. I was thrilled and it destroyed me. We pulled away from each other’s faces in shock. The first sound that came from my mouth in what seemed like ages was a resounding and profound 

Oh my god. 

The guilt that came from letting it get to this point was compounded by the fact that it meant more when it hadn’t. A kiss would upset everything—a kiss, of all things. Malcolm fell asleep with his back to me and it killed me. I wanted and tried to cry but I once again found that nothing would come. 

I lay petrified on the floor until Joey woke up. I couldn’t understand how he didn’t feel the difference in the room; it was glaring. We went out for breakfast and I listened to the silverware scratch against the plates. Malcolm paid and it felt like an apology. Joey went home, still oblivious. 

I told Malcolm I knew where we had to go then, so we went to the Reserve. Everything was dead and brown and gray. We hiked straight up the mountain, avoiding the path at all costs. Branches plucked at my leather jacket and nicked my face, but I ran on. I was disappointed to see that there wasn’t a drop of blood when I had reached the top. I was so desperate to break something that wasn’t my psyche. Malcolm and I picked up all the glass bottles we could find, and carried them to the top of one of the giant boulders protruding from the mountainside. I whipped them as hard as I could against the face of the rocks below. Tiny pieces of colored glass rained down to the ground. It was beautiful. Like a massacre. 

Everything was orange and illuminated. The foam and crashing waves chased us and I fell to the sand and laughed and laughed like I had when we bought our iced tea from the married couple with opposing voices, hers barely a squeak and his deep and gruff. David looked at me, and I was glad because he understood. I shouldn’t have kissed him because Alex was at home, and he’d never understand why it was so funny and beautiful. I shouldn’t have kissed him because his dad was dead and that’s why he was there, and if I kissed him it would mean something. Something I didn’t want it to mean.

I hated telling Sawyer and watching his eyes change, knowing that they would never go back. I tried to tell him that the kiss was unstuck in time, and he was just unfortunate in having the odds fall out of his favor. I tried to convince him this made no less of him and that all the love is still there, but he is a man of physics and says energy can not be created or destroyed, only converted. I tried to show him that our memories are not tainted. 

We broke into the stranger’s shed because it was ridiculous. No one needs a two story shed, and we were right because the upstairs was empty, save the pink carpet. Sunlight streamed in through the window, and I watched the dust dance and Sawyer watched me. He did not kiss me because he did not need to. And that’s when I knew I would love him. 

But if he thought I ruined it, then it was ruined. I cried and pleaded absurdity. 

Sawyer pulled me up to the roof, and we looked over the city. Thousands of people turned into little glowing orange and red and yellow dots. He held my hand and it was perfectly fine when no words would come. 

Malcolm can’t talk to me anymore because he’s obligated to listen to her, and she says there is to be no more of me. Obligated. Apparently that’s what time makes you.

Joey knew everything by the time we went to the lake. It was frozen over. He held my hand as I took hobbling steps toward the middle. The last time I had been in the middle of the lake, I could have lain in my canoe forever, indulging in the bouncing wakes and summer sky, and now the distance between where I stood and land was haunting and interminable. I was horrified, and I tried not to think of the fissures I would generate if I jumped. I asked Joey where he thought the ducks go when the lake freezes over, and he didn’t get it. I gave him The Catcher in the Rye a few days later at school.  

Delaware is falling into the ocean. That’s what Nora told me. There is to be a mass exodus. 

The street was frigid, and the lights bent their heads in sadness like a procession of mourners. I was suddenly terrified that this would be how I was going to be eternalized— another victim of the harsh winter. I was a perennial ice sculpture. Perhaps what they said about me was right—that this is all I’ll ever be. At the same time, I wanted so badly to tell them that with spring comes metamorphosis, and that I swear it won’t be long until song bird rouses our tired eyes and our cheeks rush to turn pink, and that their resentment would melt away with my frosted armor. They were wrong, but one look at my pallid blue fingertips determined that I had no proof to persuade them otherwise. I was furious that forgiveness had everything to do with persuasion and nothing to do with empathy.

We were driving home from a party we didn’t go to. It was another cold, winter weekend we spent running away, but we felt uncomfortable in that town because we weren’t wearing the skirts they do. I turned to Nora and I said, “You know everyone hates me because of what I did to Alex and they think I’m a bad person but they don’t know that I haven’t slept in weeks because I have to wait by my phone in case he calls and I’m the one who’s making sure he’s breathing on the other side. Tonight sucked. Let’s never do this again.” 

In a few months, Nora and I are leaving to go out west. It will be summer and my feet will be bare. All the reasons people like me and all the reasons people hate me will still be here, but I’ll be gone and maybe they’ll run out of opportunities to think of me. I’d like that. Because I am not made of shame, but they want me to be. And while we cram our camping gear in the back of our beat-up minivan and wave goodbye to our friends and families, I’ll be dreaming of the Mojave and the Pacific and miles and miles and miles and miles. 

We turned up the radio and pretended not to cry.

 


Third Place

TO BE ANNOUNCED

 

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