However, even though we were able to agree (quite readily...eh hemm…yeah) upon our selection of finalist short story entries, we had some difficulty ranking them within each category. So, we decided that we would divide the finalists into two tiers: two first place and three second place winning entries for a total of five winning entries. And so, today, we announce the first of the second place winning entries (but remember, we did not rank the stories within either category).
Today’s entry was chosen as a finalist for several reasons. First, we were impressed with the vivid, tactile imagery within the story. Nearly every line painted a picture for the reader that stimulated the senses on some level. And the language used was moving, to say the least—very specific, intentional word choice that seemed designed to force an emotional response. In particular, I was impressed by the unconventional use of modifiers, such as in, “He drops boneless into the only chair,” or “Staccato fingers,” or “glass-edged smile,” all of which convey a bold image while elevating the ordinary. Moreover, “Paying the Freight” does a brilliant job of showing versus telling, allowing the readers to come to their own conclusions (though the conclusions are guided by the author). But regardless of the readers’ conclusions about the story, emotions are triggered not only by what we “see” in each of the two scenes, but by the sharp contrast between them. And that, folks, is poetry in fiction.
Paying the Freightby Sarahjayne Smythe (Writing in the Wilderness)
A shiver runs through her and she pulls the edges of the flimsy gown tighter, wraps her arms around her middle. It doesn’t help, and she thinks the chill is only partly from the temperature in the room.
She slides her eyes along naked, dull-white walls; over threadbare curtains closing out the light.
She’s seen nicer whore houses.
She shifts slightly on the med-bed; sits on her hands, kicks her legs out, stares at the tiny, bare feet in front of her.
The door cracks open with a creak and she drops her feet, leans forward trying to make out the soft voices floating in the hall. She shifts again, tilts her head as the gap widens and then she’s not alone in the room anymore.
He drops boneless into the only chair in the room, a stool, spins it a quarter turn to face the desk.
Staccato fingers tap the file as bored eyes roam the chart.
She angles her head, small pink tongue running along suddenly dry lips as she leans forward, trying to see what he sees.
He reminds her of the old priest, pompous arrogance and judgment all rolled up in one, and being chased through dead, silent, black trees on that lifeless brown road.
They’d begged her for it; they always begged.
“I have to ask you this once.” His head swivels a quarter turn and shuttered, dark brown eyes pin her in place. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
And DeVon, eyes fierce and furious as he’d pulled her from the mob. She didn’t need the weight of those soft, amber eyes heavy with disappointment on her again.
If there is anything she is sure of in this life it’s that she is not ready for this; doesn’t want it.
“You know, I thought I was pretty specific when I told your assistant why I was here.” She shakes her head with a snap, rolls her shoulders and cracks her neck. “I am nobody’s mother and I’m just a child myself.”
“A simple yes or no will do.”
There is no room in her life for this.
”You’re aware of the risks and the possibility of complications?”
Her eyes run around the room, find her reflection in the mirror; she doesn’t recognize the pale, drawn face. “Very.”
“Have you ever been pregnant before?”
“Yes.” She curls her arms around herself.
“What was the outcome of that pregnancy?”
She twitches a tight, pale shoulder. “The same as this one.”
“Methotrexate and Misoprostol?” He doesn’t bother looking at her.
“Is that a problem?”
“No.” He slides his eyes from the file back to her. “The father isn’t…”
“Relevant.” Her eyes are as flat as her voice.
He swivels his head, locks her in his line of sight. “Here?”
“Why should he be?”
“Does he know?”
She leans forward, cocks her head, glass-edged smile slashing her lips as she hisses through her teeth. “Does he care?”
No, she thinks as she settles back, no he doesn’t. And she doesn’t need what he hasn’t got.
She’s always known that, too.
She doesn’t need the weight of his disinterest or pity.
There’s no room in her life for anyone or anything. She doesn’t need anything small and needy weighing her down.
She reaches deep, wishes she could find something inside to feel, then refuses to go there.
She’s disgusted with herself; she’s such a stupid girl.
She shakes her head, refuses to feel sorry for herself.
“It was just a stupid…” She lifts a careless shoulder. “Just a mistake.”
She’s always known that; always known better.
“These things happen. But you are aware of the various contraceptive methods…”
“Yes, I’m familiar with the various methods.” Her lips flatten in a thin, tight smile. “Obviously, sometimes they fail.”
“We have a new implant that I think would work well for you. It can be implanted during the procedure if you’d like. Would you be interested?”
Long fingers tap a staccato beat on the desk top. “I need to see you again, one week from now.”
She shakes pale hair out of her eyes. “Fine.”
He slides flat, clinician eyes to her. “You shouldn’t be alone after the procedure.”
“I’m not alone.” The sudden silence stretches and for a second she can almost feel Chloe’s cool, strong hand on her face. “My…friend is with me.”
He shifts slightly in his seat, tilts his head. “Would you like…your friend to be with you during this?”
“No.” She shakes her head once, sharp. “She doesn’t know…exactly why I’m here.”
“Do you have any questions?”
“Can we just get this over with?”
“Lay back.” He pushes back, leverages himself to his feet. “I’ll get my assistant.”
She rolls and fits herself to Chloe’s back, arm thrown over the narrow valley of her waist, face buries in the waterfall of hair spilling over the pillow.
Wrapped up in darkness and the gentle sounds of the night, she drifts; remembers the two of them, so very young; the sound of the ocean, the warm sand of the beach.
She breathes deep and sighs a smile; wonders if that’s what it would be like cocooned in a womb.
“Are you sick?” Chloe’s voice, soft and low, husky with sleep, floats in the stillness. “Are you in pain?”
Her fingers trace light, tiny patterns on the cool, delicate skin of Chloe’s abdomen. “Did you ever think about getting rid of it?”
Chloe stiffens; shifts and stretches, curls back up into herself. “I thought when you asked if you could sleep here, you actually meant sleep.”
“He’s crazy about you, you know.” She closes her eyes and breathes out a soft exhale; burrows deeper into Chloe’s solid warmth. “He’ll love your kid even if it’s not his. Because it will be.”
“Go to sleep.”
She shifts and curls herself tighter around Chloe, belly to back, and listens to her as she breathes; listens to her heart beat in the dark; hers and Chloe’s.
A big round of applause to you, Ms. Smythe, for your moving short story. Thank you so much for your submission. Please be sure to e-mail your address to us at carolsimoncontest AT gmail DOT com so that we can arrange prize delivery. You will have your choice of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel or Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.
Additionally, I’d like to thank all the participants. And a big, huge thank you to all of our followers as well for supporting us and all the entrants. Without you, I (and possibly Simon) would have no self-confidence whatsoever—I’m pretty sure my level of confidence is directly proportional to my number of followers. Actually, I had to bribe twenty of my family members and friends into being my first followers (*cringe). True story.
Fine. It’s not true. But I did have to
****For more by Sarahjayne Smythe, hop on over to her blog, Writing in the Wilderness