Contest #101 winner 🏆

115 comments

Jul 08, 2021

Contemporary Fiction Sad

Colleen is packing to leave for university. She folds her clothes into neat piles, her fair hair arranged in an artfully messy bun, with gold strands curling around her face. She packs her rolled up socks into the maze of groves left by the clothes piles. Her movements are thoughtful and tender, like she is tucking them into bed. 


I watch her from my quiet corner outside the door of her room, chewing on a hangnail. I am still wearing my pyjamas and I haven’t showered yet today. I stare at her, willing her to hear my voice in her head. 


Wait for me. 


Wait your turn. I should go first. I’m the oldest. I’m the smartest. I deserve it more.


*


We've been linked since Colleen was born, ten short months after me. We have been Colleen-and-Cara; say it in one quick exhale. A pair of girls, a couple of friends, two sisters. In Irish, as Gaeilge, "cailín" means girl, and "cara" means friend. We've constantly been compared, weighed against each other, with me consistently coming out on top.


I’ve always been the “gifted” sister. My dad enrolled us in violin lessons when we were in primary school. Colleen dragged her horsehair bow along the strings in a cat’s wail, didn't notice when her strings flattened and needed tuning, cried at the mention of scales. I mastered the art of the up-bow, conquered vibrato, practiced for hours a day until my violin sang like a soprano. I was playing concertos by Mozart while Colleen was still grappling with her arpeggios. 


Colleen is the “all-rounder”. If society is a school of fish, Colleen is happily weaving her way in the middle. She’s easy to talk to, easily liked, always making friends. She’s lovely, funny, and perfectly average. She is going to study nursing, to help others. In school, she ran on the cross country team. She wasn’t their star runner, but she was reliable, dependable, guaranteed to place somewhere in the middle. 


The middle has never appealed to me. I believe it is better to be great than to be liked.


In school, I didn’t want to be average; I wanted to be a prodigy. My musical prowess firmly embedded into my personality, I took pleasure in reminding Colleen of my brilliance and her mediocrity. I scorned at her minor successes, like when she was cast in the school play and I wasn’t, when she was picked for the cross country team and I wasn’t. She was average at a lot of things, I was gifted at one. My dad held me up as the golden child, the one to be admired. Colleen bore it all with a smile. She came to my violin competitions and listened to my tediously technical pieces with patience. 


“Congratulations, Cara,” she beamed at me, every time my name was called out as the first place winner. I thanked her graciously, secretly rolling my eyes that she mastered nothing more than how to follow a dirt path with her feet. 


Look out for your sister, my dad told Colleen. She might have trouble fitting in. Geniuses always do.


So Colleen took me with her, to "socialise me", she joked. Her friends, a unexceptional group of girls, didn’t like me very much. They thought I was awkward, saying the wrong things at the wrong time, wearing the wrong clothes. And I thought I was better than them, with their stupid squabbling over boys. 


“I’m not like other girls,” I told Colleen. 


“Why don’t you want to be like other girls?”


“They don’t care about anything important. Not like me. I’m gifted.”


“And the superiority complex strikes again,” she sighed. “You won’t make friends acting like that.”


“I don’t need friends.”


“What are we then, if not friends?”


I looked at her. “We’re sisters.”


*


As I watch her packing, I think of when we were little. Colleen is younger than me, but she has always been stronger. She could run fast in the playground, faster than most of the other children. 


“Wait for me!” 


Sometimes, when she was lost in the thrill of the race, she forgot about me. I would be scrambling to catch up, knowing I would never be fast enough. But Colleen always remembered me. She would turn her head and slow down so that I could catch up with her, and I would reach her, panting, clutching a stitch, just to point out some flaw in her shoes or her clothes to cover up the fact that I was jealous that she was better at something than me.


*


My dad told me over and over again that I could do anything I wanted with my talent. I soared through the advanced music programme in school and was admitted to university on a full music scholarship. He and Colleen were thrilled for me. My full potential was about to be revealed. 


But it was too hard. They don’t tell you that about university, that it’s not the same as school. There’s less help. You have to do things for yourself, make your own way. Colleen had diagnosed me with a “superiority complex”, and my student adviser gently hinted that this was coming across to other students and staff. “Difficult” was their word for me. Difficult to work with, difficult to manage. In the orchestra, I rowed with other violinists, stormed off in a huff, declaring that none of them could match me in talent.


"You may have been a big fish in a little pond back home, but now you are one of many," I was warned by the conductor, a fat old man who couldn't stand up straight enough to hold a violin properly, let alone play one. I told him as much. He told me to get out.


Without my sister’s natural ease of moving through a crowd, I struggled to mingle, to communicate. I preferred practicing chromatic scales to drinking alcohol, so I spent all my time alone in my room. My housemates hammered furiously on my door to shut me up during my early morning practicing sessions. Within six weeks, I was struggling to do anything. I stopped eating, stopped showering. I stopped playing the violin. Its case grew dusty as it lay untouched, cast aside until my dad and Colleen drove up to rescue me. I haven't played it since.


I holed up in my room, a recluse, dwelling on my failures. Colleen progressed through her final year at secondary school, sat her exams, surrounded by friends.


Once, I overheard a heated conversation between Colleen and my dad. Her words carried through the walls of our house. I sat in my room, listening.


“Don’t you realise how hard it is to bend over backwards to try to help her all the time? And for what? She doesn’t care. She doesn’t say “thank you”. Do you know how many times I haven’t been able to go places, because I have to bring her too? I can’t put my life on hold forever. I don’t want to have to keep compromising myself. I love her. But it’s like dragging around a dead weight.”


*


Wait for your weight, Colleen, I think as I watch her packing away her life, preparing for a new start. I want to plead with her.


Wait. For me.


Do it for me.


Please Colleen, I want to beg. I have nothing else. Let me have this. I tap gently on her open door and come inside. Colleen's bedroom is pink and white, decorated with cheesy photos of her and her friends, her and my dad, her and I.


“If I asked you to wait for me… wait until I go back to uni... would you?” I ask.


She starts, drops a loose pair of socks. She sighs. A strand of her hair, perfectly curled, sways away from her face. She doesn’t pick up the socks. She straightens up, folds her arms. 


"Wait for what? Wait another year, until you're ready to go back? So that you won't be behind me for once?"


"Yes," I wince. It sounds terrible, ridiculous even, when she says it.


“Do you care about me at all, Cara?”


“Yes." 


“If you did, you wouldn’t ask.”


I start to cry. A final act of desperation. “Please, Colleen.” I gesture to myself. “Look at me. I have nothing except the violin, and I don't even have that anymore. Do you know how hard it is for me to see you move away, when I’m still stuck here? It was supposed to be me. I’m the brilliant one.”


She looks out the window. I think she's going to ignore me, but she speaks.


“Do you remember, a few years ago, when I was running on the cross country team? You had a violin competition and I had a race. They were on the same day, at different times. Your competition was first. You would have made it to see me finish my race, to watch me cross the finish line. I asked you to come. You said you’d be too tired after winning the competition. I asked you please, to hold on for another couple of hours, so that you, me and Dad could go home together. I asked you to wait for me. And you said no. And Dad brought you home, because he always sides with you. And I got a lift back on the bus. On my own."


I shake my head. “I don’t remember that.”


“I asked you to wait for me.” She looks at me now. “And you just said no. I don’t care what kind of excuses Dad makes for you. I know now. I knew then. I’m not waiting for someone who won’t ever catch up.”


She leaves the room. I pick up the dropped socks. I bundle them into a pair, and tuck them neatly into the suitcase with her other belongings, so lovingly arranged. Then I sit on the floor, looking at her many possessions. When I moved away, I brought only a rucksack of clothes and my violin. I thought I needed nothing else. But now, as I stare at her suitcase, I think of how different my experience might have been, if I could have taken with me my best friend, Colleen.


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115 comments

K. Antonio
16:31 Jul 09, 2021

I really enjoyed the dynamics of the sisters. In reality, this is actually pretty accurate, because no family is perfect and no relationship either. I didn't have a hard time believing in either Cara or Colleen, and in the end, I would have done exactly what Colleen did. Great stuff!

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K. Antonio
16:48 Jul 16, 2021

Woohoo, another WIN!! Congratz!! My feelings towards this story are still the same, it was stellar!

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Mary Sheehan
21:38 Jul 16, 2021

I'm ecstatic! Thank you for your support ☺

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Lyle Nash
00:13 Jul 17, 2021

A few paragraphs in I’m like ok, good writing, then bam I’m at the end. Hooked totally. Brilliant build up and ending. Thank you.

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Mary Sheehan
13:32 Jul 19, 2021

It was definitely a different experience writing from the POV of an unlikeable narrator, but it ended up being easier than expected to create her thought process. Thank you Lyle, I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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Melody Frost
02:56 Jul 17, 2021

I really loved this story. Nice work and Congrats Mary!!

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Mary Sheehan
17:45 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Melody!

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Melody Frost
02:10 Jul 21, 2021

Your welcome!

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Alena Rudenko
19:24 Jul 16, 2021

I like the mixture of beliefs. Cara seemed mighty in the beginning but, after a while, a heatwave of envy turned her into a hating dwarf lacking its powers. In comparison to her, Colleen was slowly growing her strength.

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Mary Sheehan
13:50 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Alena!

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Amaranthine Sky
16:29 Jul 16, 2021

Congratulations on a very well-deserved win, Mary! This story was an amazing read, and the relationship between the siblings was conveyed masterfully. Amazing job!

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Mary Sheehan
06:28 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you Amaranthine!

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Amaranthine Sky
11:24 Jul 21, 2021

No problem!!

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Katie Kanning
16:26 Jul 16, 2021

Hi Mary, powerful story. I'm wondering, could I read it on my podcast? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile and encourage listeners to follow/support you. What do you think? :) Here it is if you wanna check out the format: https://anchor.fm/unpublishednotunknown

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Mary Sheehan
17:56 Jul 16, 2021

Hi Katie, I would be honoured to have my story featured on your podcast!

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Katie Kanning
20:23 Jul 16, 2021

Fantastic! I’ll update you when it’s posted :)

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Katie Kanning
23:23 Jul 17, 2021

It's posted! Share if you'd like :) https://anchor.fm/unpublishednotunknown/episodes/Ep--2--Colleen-by-Mary-Sheehan-e14k4fl

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Mary Sheehan
23:40 Jul 17, 2021

This is amazing! Thank you so much, I will share it with all my friends and family :)

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Katie Kanning
00:02 Jul 18, 2021

You’re so sweet! Send them my love from California :)

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Keya Jadav
12:22 Jul 23, 2021

Wow Katie! I just checked it out and it's amazing! Really. A beautiful initiative. All the best! Keep going on your good deeds. Trust me i am so happy rn. Looking for more uploads!

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Katie Kanning
00:36 Jul 24, 2021

Thank you so much. More uploads weekly! :) This made my day considering today was shaping up to be a rough birthday. Thank you

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Keya Jadav
05:34 Jul 24, 2021

Today is your birthday! Happy Birthday!!! Have a great day :D P.S: I followed you on Spotify.

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Katie Kanning
07:07 Jul 24, 2021

Thank you! And wow thank you! I'm excited to have you along :)

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David Gottfried
15:25 Jul 16, 2021

The parallels between single track, the single track mind, and being a well-rounded person are really well done. Also, this is beautifully written. Congratulations!

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Mary Sheehan
13:53 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you David! I noticed throughout history that the people who achieve greatness often have horrible personal lives and end up miserable and alone. I wanted to capture the moment when someone's brilliance fails, and what they are left with in the aftermath.

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Rie Sanders
20:36 Jul 21, 2021

Your reply here was going to be my comment (almost exact). Jack-of-all-trades tend to be more likable than those seeking sole-matter greatness. When greatness falls, it can be incredibly tragic. Well done!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:23 Jul 16, 2021

Second win! You’re killin’ it, Mary! 🥳

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Mary Sheehan
13:53 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Rayhan! It was such a pleasant surprise :)

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Avery Garcia
03:22 Jul 09, 2021

This story was incredible, Mary! The tense dynamic you established between these sisters really makes this such a likeable read, so artfully setting up the balance of kindess with entitlement, each sister being the other one's foil. I also totally love the theme of this story being so applicable today, the value of character being worth far more than talent alone. Truly well done and congratulations on your win with "Blessed Home" (which also ruled) too!

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Mary Sheehan
07:35 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you Avery! I love hearing your insight on this. I initially thought it might be too much of a stretch to have Cara ask Colleen to put off going to uni for her - who does that? Is it realistic? But when I really thought about it, people ask others to compromise themselves in all sorts of ridiculous ways. I hope I conveyed all of this. Thanks again for your lovely comment!

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01:23 Jul 17, 2021

Yes … you conveyed well.

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Rhea Saincher
11:16 Jul 17, 2021

I really like this story! Very interesting choice of words as well! Perfect ending and it is just perfect, no wonder you won!

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Mary Sheehan
14:14 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Rhea! Cara is a popular name here in Ireland and I think Colleen is a popular name in many English speaking countries!

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Andrea Magee
10:34 Jul 17, 2021

Great story!

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Mary Sheehan
14:15 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Andrea!

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George Otieno
08:47 Jul 17, 2021

this is an epic piece, a true definition of family "wars".

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Mary Sheehan
14:16 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you George!

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08:02 Jul 17, 2021

I love the flow. The punctuation helped make the story clear. The grouping did too. Nice work.

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Mary Sheehan
16:35 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Oyeleye!

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05:52 Jul 17, 2021

This is terrific! Fluid, easy to read and with characters superbly fleshed out in surprisingly few words! Well done! Can't wait to read more from you!

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Mary Sheehan
17:44 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Milind!

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05:22 Jul 17, 2021

Me parece muy real, bien narrada...sin excesos. Y con cierta nostalgia de cariño sincero, entre dos hermanos. Me gusta!!🎗

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Mary Sheehan
17:45 Jul 19, 2021

Gracias Jaime :)

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01:21 Jul 17, 2021

Mary, wow, that felt real. I sympathized with both sisters - their emotions, their frustrations, their rivalry. There was no trauma nor haunting, just life. Fantastic work. Well done and well deserved.

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Mary Sheehan
17:47 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Chris, that's what I navigate towards writing about - the small moments we find ourselves living in life.

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Una Bloom
00:13 Jul 17, 2021

very good

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Mary Sheehan
17:45 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Una!

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Petra Starkus
23:57 Jul 16, 2021

I really enjoyed your story! The premise deeply touched me and was startlingly relatable. I was wondering what you thought about using first person for a story like this. Because your protagonist seems to be critical of herself and yet fall into a sort of narcissistic type of personality, I think 3rd might be better. Introspection, very useful to authors, isn't so much for selfish people who I think prefer to remain in their delusional awareness of self. The two, I'm saying, don't align well. But I can see the argument that this was written ...

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Mary Sheehan
06:38 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you Petra, I chose first person perspective of the unlikeable narrator because I thought it would make it more interesting 😊

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Congrads on the win! Such a beautiful crafted story!

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Mary Sheehan
13:54 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Varsha :)

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Of course, Mary! My pleasure!

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Jonathan Raphael
20:00 Jul 16, 2021

This is brilliant. Well done. I loved reading this story. I was hooked all the way through. You're a brilliant writer.

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Mary Sheehan
13:57 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Jonathan! A few years ago, my prose used to be very flowery and I relied on telling the reader everything. In the last few years, I have realised that less is more with storytelling; fewer words, but better words. It seems to be working!

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