Special Note to Contestants:
We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful stories with our guest judges this season. We know it takes a lot to hit the send button! While we’d love to give every contestant a prize, just for your writing efforts, that wouldn’t be much of a competition. One of the hardest things we do after a contest ends is to confirm that someone didn’t place in the winners’ circle. But, believe it when we say every one of you is a true winner.
Every writer has been a gracious participant through the whole process, from the beginning of one season to the next. We’ve written emails to authors, agents, and publicists who have donated books to our contest, and we’ve shared our delight regarding the true sportsmanship among our contestants. It doesn’t matter if it’s one writer who placed or another who tried but didn’t; all writers are courteous, professional, and wonderful extensions of WOW! Women On Writing’s team. Writers’ stories and e-mails fill us with enthusiasm.
Kudos to all writers who entered, whether you won or not, you’re still a winner for participating.
To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 4-7 judges who blindly score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, Technical, and Overall Impression (Style). That’s the first step of the process. If a contestant scores well on the first round, she (or he) receives an e-mail notification that she passed the initial judging phase. The second round judging averages out scores and narrows down the top 25 entries. From this point, our guest judge helps to determine the First, Second, and Third Place Winners, followed by the Runners Up.
As with any contest, judging so many talented writers is not a simple process. With blind judging, all contestants start from the same point, no matter the skill level, experience, or writing credentials. It’s the writer’s story and voice that shines through, along with the originality, powerful and clear writing, and the writer’s heart.
We’ve enjoyed reading your stories, each and every one of them. The WOW! Women On Writing judges take time to read them all. We recognize names of previous contestants, writers familiar with our style. We enjoy getting to know you through your writing and e-mailing. Remember that each one of you is a champion in our book. We hope that you continue to enter so we can watch you grow as writers and storytellers, because each season is a rebirth of opportunity.
Now on to the winners!
Drum roll please....
1st Place: Cynthia Larsen
Congratulations Cynthia !
Cynthia ’s Bio:
Cynthia Tracy Larsen lives in southern Vermont with her husband and three daughters. She pretends to run the office for their landscaping company but is often caught writing. She graduated from the University of Maine at Machias with a degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Her historical novel, LOT’S DAUGHTERS, is currently on submission. She is trying her hand at short stories while she waits for the next novel to knock her over the head and carry her away.
This story began as a workshop piece for Roxanna Robinson’s class at the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference in the spring of 2010. A Cup of Coffee is Cynthia’s first publication.
A Cup of Coffee
Caroline reaches beneath the table and cups her hand over her stomach. She’s read that a child can’t be felt in the womb until it has taken root for four months, but Caroline is only five weeks along and already she can feel it. Inside there is a hardness, the tingling of wires connecting, the claiming of space.
She leaves one hand on her stomach, the other stirs her coffee with a metal spoon. One cup a day, the book said. She’s read the book the whole way through, twice.
She spreads her hand wide, imagines what it would be like if she were to be emptied. She’s read how it’s done, how it is scraped and vacuumed out, like a pebble stuck in the truck mat after a snowy winter. Ray says he’ll take her, says it’s as easy as having a tooth pulled. But she knows he’s wrong. She runs her tongue over her teeth, feeling their permanence, their sense of belonging.
She showed Ray the book, the pregnant woman sitting in a rocking chair, and he’d laughed, said that lady looks as uptight as a corkscrew. But Caroline thought the woman looked comfortable, secure, like she hasn’t a care in the world. She wishes she could feel that secure by reading the book, as the picture seemed to promise, only so far the opposite has happened. There are so many things that can go wrong, a whole section devoted to failure that made Caroline’s heart race.
Even though the baby has been steadily growing, it is still no bigger than a grain of rice. Important events are taking place, however. Right now, as she stacks the plastic jellies in a pyramid, the heart is being formed. She can feel it pulsing within her, a tiny beacon of light. Soon the heart will start pumping blood through her baby’s body—blood that is entirely its own. Not hers, not Ray’s. At that point the child will possess something independently of her. And isn’t possession nine-tenths of the law? That’s what Ray says when he steals silverware and cups from the diner.
She tried to explain this to Ray, about the heart, but he’d shushed her, whispering, “Listen.” He’d bent his head down to her stomach, said, “I think I can hear it.” Caroline had felt warm inside, like they shared something, like this was a beginning, but then Ray had reached around and grabbed her butt. He’d said, “Gotcha,” and laughed. Caroline had laughed with him, because the only other thing she could do was cry.
She smells the coffee, takes a sip and sets it back on the saucer. She runs a hand through her hair, knowing that the dark roots are starting to come in, not sure if the chemicals from the box will hurt the baby. She wonders if Ray could get used to that, her being a brunette.
She takes another sip of her coffee, which is now lukewarm. She hates it when she does that, savors something for so long it gets ruined. She looks out the window, worries that Ray won’t show up, that this is the way he’ll make the decision. One day he’ll just be gone.
But she also worries that he’ll come gliding into the restaurant, that he’ll lean down and kiss her in that soft, forever kind of way. That he’ll look into her eyes, tell her he’s just not ready. That they can try again in a few years, when they are more settled. When she’s had a chance to go to college.
What she mostly worries about is that she’ll slowly nod her head. That she’ll do what he wants just to hear him whisper her name again, to make him stay. She worries about the emptiness. About the beating heart; how forever quiet things would be.
She whispers the word, “Forever.” She feels the weight of it on her tongue, tastes its solidity. She imagines the woman in the rocking chair, hair tucked neatly behind her ear. She wonders what word sits on her lips. Love, she thinks.
She hears a truck barreling into the parking lot. Ray. She can feel her heart beat faster, blood pumping through it. Independent. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a dollar bill and some change, quietly sets it all down on the table. She doesn’t look out the window as she slips out the back door.
What Cynthia Won:
2nd Place: Lisa Daly
Kansas City, Missouri
Lisa has always been fascinated by characters and inspired by stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. She has lived her dream of being a psychotherapist. Now she is living her dream of writing. She had her first short story, “Road to Dreamland,” published in November 2009 in Kansas City Voices magazine.
After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from Baker University and a Master’s Degree in clinical social work from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Lisa provided counseling services for nearly sixteen years. Now she is a stay-at-home mother.
Lisa is actively involved with the Kansas City Writers Group and two smaller writing critique groups. Her writing interests include poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and essays. She hopes to write a screenplay someday. Lisa enjoys music and sings in her church’s choir.
Lisa lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her wonderful husband, John, and their adorable three-year-old daughter, Meredith.
I slip away from the mourners at Mother’s wake and climb the stairs. Their conversations mask the groans of each step in this old house. In the dark hallway, I reach the room unnoticed. Yet, departed family members framed in photos glare at me with disapproval. I ignore them and carefully turn the brass knob, open the door, then close it behind me. Moonlight filters through the wooden plantation shutters slicing the ebony floor with stripes. My eyes adjust enough to see the full-sized canopy bed, the dressing table, and the chest at the foot of the bed, padlocked of course.
When I was young, my sister and I climbed on this bed to watch Mother “put on her face.” She’d sit at the dressing table to apply mascara and lipstick, then dab lavender talcum powder to her neck while reciting her favorite Bible verses. Every Sunday we heard two sermons, one from our preacher and one from Mother. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” she said more than once. She often quoted Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler. Andrea, three years older than I, is now executor of Mother’s estate. Those lessons didn’t take with her. For two years we haven’t spoken.
I reach inside the black purse I bought two days ago to match my dress. Fumbling with the bobby pin, it drops to the rug. I kneel on the floor and the damn pin pricks my knee. I rub the impression left there and crawl to the nearby chest. Holding my breath, I listen for possible footsteps in the hallway. There are none, only the familiar cackle from Aunt Florence downstairs.
I thrust the pin into the hole of the lock and jiggle it. What would Andrea say if she opened the door to find me groping in the dark? But she seemed comfortable on the couch with her plate of food and she usually gets seconds. The pin breaks in two and both pieces disappear. I dig inside my bag, feeling through a pack of cigarettes, lighter, tissues, emery board and nail file. The nail file. I touch it, then can’t find it again.
In desperation I dump the contents of my purse on the rug as I feel for the file. Got it. The creak of someone in the hallway makes my heart pound. The bathroom door shuts. I exhale.
I try the file several times and almost give up. Then I twist it once more. The lock releases. With the back of my hand I wipe away the perspiration from my upper lip along with my reservations. Again, I pause long enough to listen for any intrusion. Voices from the first floor hum in rhythm with the cadence of crickets outdoors. Peering inside the chest, I use my lighter to illuminate the treasures. The quilt rests on top.
My grandmother’s arthritic hands created this beautiful heirloom, faded dress scraps sewn together in a honeycomb pattern. For years it covered Mother’s bed. “Grandmother’s flower garden,” she always called it. The quilt releases the scent of lavender and memories. I lay it on the floor and next find the initialed handkerchief and the sapphire ring meant for me. I gently set aside the keepsakes and pluck the Bible from the chest. At last.
Mother would understand. Andrea’s got enough. How many homes does one person need? Two Christmases ago she refused to help us out when Joe fell cleaning our gutters and couldn’t work. No insurance and no work, our bills are piled up after his surgery.
I stroke the Bible’s leather cover, brittle, the pages yellowed. I gently flip through it until near the front I find the crisp bills I was looking for. Ten one thousand dollar bills. As I remove the bills they reveal an underlined verse on the open page, “Thou shalt not steal.”
Even from the grave, my mother preaches.
What Lisa Won:
3rd Place: Linda Lisa McGrew
Coldstream, BC, CANADA
Congratulations Linda !
After several years as an entrepreneur, at the age of 25, Linda Lisa McGrew sold her business, her house, her car and almost all her earthly possessions. She took her bicycle to New Zealand with plans of touring this unknown and beautiful country for two months, then returning home. This was the beginning of her lessons on how planning is useless. The other lessons? A previously unknown passion for travel and knack for adapting to new environments. Two months later she found herself living in Maui, doing yoga and surfing fulltime. It was here she began to explore the life of a writer. But she was not completely fulfilled, and dreamed bigger dreams; that of becoming an international business consultant. With this in mind, she returned to Canada to complete an MBA. For her thesis project, she thought it exciting to study some aspect of business in China.
In August of 2007, she went to Shanghai, with a plan to spend two months there, completing her thesis and learning about the next super power, in order to help her with her consulting firm. She had apparently forgotten lesson number one. Again, the universe laughed at her plans. She fell in love. This love was not a typical love, though. It was not human. It was the love for a people, a country, a language, a culture and a life. It was inevitable karmic-past-life-energy that she could not pull away from. Linda lived, worked, studied and played in China for another three years. Libraries of books could not describe or express all that she learned in that time. She had become a lif-er. She was going to live there forever. Happily ever after. Currently, Linda McGrew travels for a living by writing for several adventure and travel magazines. She is also working on two novels, both based in China.
Find out more about Linda by visiting her blog: www.lilimcg.com
A Chinese Haircut
I just finished reading a short story about getting your hair done in China. The author of the story, another blond-haired waiguoren (foreigner), claimed that her experiences at Chinese fadian not only cured headaches, but even brought on sexual euphoria. I am curious. With the story finished, I stare at the cover and search for some excuse. Finally, I get up and get my shoes on.
Prior to leaving, I look into my phrasebook for some useful words. “Jianyidiandian,” I hear myself say “cut a little bit” in Chinese and blush at how ridiculous I sound. The universal language of mime always works. Maybe I will pretend I am a mute. I hold my right hand out, index finger and thumb coming a centimeter from one another; then I make a cutting motion at myself in the mirror.
I wrap my scarf around my neck, run down the four flights of stairs, walk across the street through the hutong, and finally arrive. There is a group of under-twenty-farm kids sitting inside the window. As if they sense that a white-faced, long-nosed, blue-eyed monster will be entering at any moment to save them from their boredom, they all watch the street, intently. I try to look brave while walking towards them and in through the doors.
The entire shop stops. I see myself in the mirror; and along with everyone else, I stand shocked and stare at me. Even I am beginning to think I look strange. There isn’t a single motion or sound. I turn and give the group at the window my best, closed-lipped smile, then say, “NiHao.”
They all stay standing in their spots.
“NiHao!” someone in the back replies. This, like the press of a button, un-pauses the scene. The voice comes around the corner, all five feet of him, and says a few words.
I shrug, take a deep breath, and using my two fingers as practiced to indicate cut and a little bit, I say, “Jian tou fa.”
It sounds ridiculous, but he nods in reply. Apparently, he understood. I could have kissed him. He opens his arms and points to a chair.
“How?” replies the barely-seventeen-year-old who comes at me from the left, leading me to my chair.
I worry immediately that he is asking me, in English, how to cut my hair. But then I remember hao means something like OK.
Without warning, I find myself lying upside down in a chair in the center of the place, about twenty slanted eyes stare at me. I am on display. Lovely. And I am about to have my hair washed. Or I think I am. Moreover, I am supposed to enjoy it. The author had said this would be enjoyable. I am writing her hate mail tonight.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Techno music blares out of the speakers in a muffled, garbled beat. Should I make a run for it? I try moving my legs. They can’t move. I think they might be strapped in.
Thankfully, I begin to calm down as the warm water runs through my hair. I try to relax; but just as I dare, I am flipped upright again, and there are six hands and three towels on my head, rubbing. It takes all of my strength to stay upright. After the what-had-been-described-in-the-short-story-as-euphoric-but-in-reality-was-a-quite-terrifying wash job was complete, I sit in my chair, staring at the drowned-rat version of myself in the mirror.
I hold my hand out and show a centimeter on my fingers. I cringe.
“Hao,” replies a boy who looks thirteen.
But I am sure there are labor laws here, in the cities, at least. As he begins, I try my best to believe I will survive this ordeal unscathed. I quickly become a believer.
He starts, not with scissors, but with fingers. He massages my head with the most fantastically magical fingers I have ever felt on any part of my body. I am forced to think of the moral dilemma that would ensue if I not only took him home but then employed him to wash my hair morning and night.
I hear myself moan. After almost an hour of the pure bliss, we go over to the sink to rinse again. When we return to my chair, I sit back and close my eyes, fully trusting now. Three or four of them massage my arms and legs, while the fifth blow dries my hair. It is just as described. Euphoria.
After all is said and done, I leave with a new and a radiant glow. And vow to return. Tomorrow.
What Susan Won:
RUNNERS UP (In no particular order):
Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these stories are excellent in every way. Enjoy each one’s story!
Click on their entries to read:
Asunder by Michele Roach, St. Louis, Missouri
December by Kelly Stone Gamble, Henderson, Nevada
Easter Treasure by Alice O’Brien, Damariscotta, Maine
Mother-Daughter Clothes by Jeanne Bereiter, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Low-Hanging Fruit by Dawn Curtis, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories CANADA
Shave and a Haircut by Eileen Granfors, Santa Clarita, California
A Relationship with Food by Janel Gradowski, Freeland, Michigan
HONORABLE MENTIONS (In no particular order):
Congratulations to our Fall Contest Honorable Mentions!
Your stories stood out and are excellent in every way.
M is for Murder? by Amy Pocha, Studio City, California
The Color of Food by Nancy Berliner, New York, New York
The Rainbow-Colored Rabbit by Brenda Liebling-Goldberg
Just Another Game of Marbles by Jacqueline Winn, Possum Brush, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
Split Set by Diane D. Gillette, Chicago, Illinois
Special Sucks by Jennifer Curran, Granby, Massachusetts
Perfect Image by Shelley Bartolazzi, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
The Enigmatic Burqa Lady by Sobia Azhar Khan, Richardson, Texas
Enforced Protection by Suzannah Burke, Toukley, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
A Woman’s Best Friend by Patti Cavaliere, East Haven, Connecticut
Jo’s Place by Shelley Jewell, West Baldwin, Maine
The Jib by Cathy Moran, Portland, Maine
Notes from the Old Motel by Monette Chilson, Houston, Texas
Picnic at Dealey Plaza by Amanda C. Grossman, Woodbridge, Virginia
Run by Carolyn Menke, Wexford, Pennsylvania
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings our Fall 2010 Flash Fiction Contest officially to a close. Although we’re not able to send a special prize to every contestant, we will always give our heartfelt thanks for your participation and contribution, and for your part in making WOW! all that it can be. Each one of you has found the courage to enter, and that is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. We’re looking forward to receiving your entries for our next contest. Best of luck, and write on!
Check out the latest Contest: