Contest #36 winner 🏆

Yellow Day

Today is a yellow day. The sunlight sneaks in through the window, writhing on the floor like a snake. Outside, the leafy pecan tree shakes in the wind.

To be honest, I do not write. When I do, it is facts and information. In the city I did not have time for poetry or pretty words. No one wanted pretty words or expected it of me. But now, alone with the cold stone and cold yellow light and snakes made from the sun, I have time.

I can hear humming in the restless air. The entire compound is apprehensive. It is because we are expecting the convey with Generalissimo Cobarde. The guards are nervous the inmates will act out in protest of the Generalissimo’s arrest, and increase punishment and decrease rations in everything. Once he arrives, he will fade into the background, another zebra in white and black stripes pushed up against the wall.

Tucked away as I am in confinement, I care nothing for the world.

 

Cold Day

I am cold today. It has been awhile since I wrote last. I do not like writing. My hand cramps and my breath shakes and my brain forgets the words which I had so carefully composed moments before. When I still lived in the Distrito Federál I dictated all the facts I have mentioned. A secretary with pretty hair and tight nylons would type, with her back so straight, as I paced and talked.

I have found out that half-frozen candle wicks that have been seared to the perfect degree by a low-burning candle makes for a wonderful pencil. For many hours I experimented. I broke off a candle and pulled out the wick and leaned over the flickering flame. My eyes burned and the candle smoked in my face, but after several tries, I had burned it perfectly. After it is burned I will leave the wick by the window, and the cold comes down from the mountains and the inmates in the yard scatter and the laundry whips like broken clouds—and my pencil is formed.

And thus I write.

I have the paper—they bring my food wrapped in brown paper, and sometimes (that holy word) the guard brings a package from my colleagues or my son or my uncle or my wife, and it is wrapped in newspaper.

 

Blue Day

Today is blue—hard blue. The sky is iron and faceless. This mean it will storm soon, a hurricane from the seaside, maybe snow, and the wind will pick up and fling the tools and benches in the yard around like toys.

I was not able to write about my packages last time, for they brought a new one and I scurried to hide away my loose sheets lest the guards notice and become curious. God forbid they take away my recreation.

My parcels come with the paper torn and opened in different places where the different stations cleared the security. Sometimes if my housekeeper Señora Morales sends her jam, the lid is missing (tin is precious) and a finger-sized scoop has disappeared.

 

Next Day

Today is package day. The guards have not brought my packages yet, but when they come I am praying nothing is missing.

The guards have it worse than we do. They are my friends—some of them. Pelirrojo the Red Haired is the best one, and if he is on duty the jam is intact. Azul is the one who is always sad. Those two, and Libresco, as I call him, are the good ones.

But when Diablo or Rota or Cicatriz or Cucaracha is on duty, I keep my head down. I am quiet, and if they are in a good mood, they leave me alone.

The generalissimo arrived yesterday, on the Blue Day. They paraded him off the little cart they brought him in and pulled him through the prison yard where all we banished ones could look down at him and see him. It was an exciting day, but the sky was hard blue, which is why I did not say it was a red day.

 

Grey Day

It is storming, just as I said. My window has three metal bars, nothing else, and I can only watch as my beautiful leafy pecan tree bends and bends under the weight of the clouds, bending until I hear cracking. It is as though I hear the tree screaming.

The snake is back. The floor becomes a snake when the light is directed in the right way. There is a drawing or indentation on the floor. I think the man before me did it. He drew it just right so that it is invisible when the light is imperfect. But today—during the lightning, and on the Yellow Day, I can see the snake.

It is coiled and smooth and strong. Its neck is arched so slightly—ever so slightly. Its head is in a diamond shape, lithe and lethal. When I am in one of my yellow moods, my mad moods, I think it sneaks forward, tongue out, inching closer and closer to give me a kiss.

 

White Day

It is also a bird day. Today, the most awful day of madness behind me, is a good day. This day I feel the cool breeze on my face and watch the clouds roll lazily behind the pecan tree and listen to the scrub jay in the mountains beyond.

I like to become that bird, soar high past these bars and away from the walls which hurt my eyes. I enjoy becoming free, if only for a night, and knowing I must return to my room.

We are the birds, the little scrub jays and Oaxaca birds. I am a songbird, free yet a prisoner. One day, my madness will recede, and I will become the bird forever. One day.

 

Green Day

It has been a season since I last wrote. My parcels stopped coming, and they wrapped my food in tinfoil because there was an overflow at a factory. The foil cannot hold the markings of my pencil.

The monsoons are gone and the lovely Mexican mountain heat is rolling in. I like this better than the cold. The pecan tree lost all its leaves for a while, but today is a green day for I can see the green, budding again. It is beautiful.

Another good thing. The storm cracked a branch on my pecan tree, and though that was bad it forced the tree to grow in a lean. It grows closer to my window every day, and I hope that by the time pecan season comes again, it will be close enough for me to satisfy the hunger that plagues us all here at the prison.

Generalissimo Cobarde was moved to the cell opposite mine a few days ago. Though this is the madman wing he is not mad—he does not rant and rave like the rest of us. Sometimes he sings. I can hear him if I put my ear up against a gouge in my door. He sings love songs. Mainly he is quiet, or recited poetry so quietly no one can hear him.

Si nadie sabe ni por qué reímos

ni por qué lloramos;

si nadie sabe ni por qué vivimos

ni por qué nos vamos;

He misses his family.

I wish I could ask him why he is here. Most madmen are here because they are dangerous when mad. I am here because of what I did for my company—my employer. The other inmates are here for murder, arson, theft… and on and on. They are merely criminals. We, the madmen high in the shut-off wings of the Prisión de luminiscencia, are the songbirds, the snakes, the ones everyone fears. We are the snakes; they shy from us.

I have much paper today, and a long pencil since Bauby gave me an extra-long candle yesterday. He told me, if he can, he will bring me a real pencil, with real paper. I told him not to bother. If Cucaracha catches wind, both of us will suffer.

 

Yellow Day

Today is a yellow day, not because of the light, but because I can feel another spell of madness coming on. The pecan tree and the snake will watch me, and take care I do not hurt myself.

I will give my papers to the snake. It will protect them so that the madman inside me will not tear them to shreds. The snake will hold them tight, and after it is all over, it will give me a kiss when I take them back. 

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109 likes 81 comments

23:18 Apr 17, 2020

Me encanta la incorporación de dos idiomas! Gracias por representar la comunidad bilingüe en tu creación. De verdad tu cuento me llevó a otro mundo y hasta sentí el toquecito de Texas con el querido árbol de pecan. Me imagino que te inspira escribir sentada en un escritorio antiguo con su propia historia y voz con la lijera brisa acariciando tus mejillas. Que Dios te siga bendiciendo en cada momento.

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00:06 Apr 18, 2020

Muchas, muchas gracias para su comentario. Me da gusto que te hice recordar a Texas.

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20:22 Apr 19, 2020

Very clever approach using color designations instead of dates! Loved that and it brings such a fresh look to the journal story structure. I would say, given how strong that was, to me, the non-color entries felt very disjoint. Given the reveal at the end that he's in the "mad" wing, I think it was a big missed opportunity to not have the non-color days really change the tone/style significantly so as to explore how the captivity may be making him mad, or leave the reader wondering if he really was. Another approach that could have strengthe... read more

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20:37 Apr 19, 2020

That's a magnificent idea, changing the tone of the non color days. I'm seriously considering turning this into a novel, and I might do as you suggest, thanks :). Thank you for your thoughts on the snake motif. It is an internal symbol, and I see how consistency would bring clarity. As to the doesn't-like-to-write thing, it was meant to show how prison changes him and what he can do when he has so much time on his hands (as most of us do these days). Another reason which I didn't go into in this short story but will if I make it a novel,... read more

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02:43 Apr 20, 2020

Happy to provide it! And ooooh, that makes sense! The writing turning into a lifeline. If you do make it into a novel (which I think would be super awesome! At the least, this would lend itself well to a novella in flash), you could play around with his earlier entries being more to the point and with less breadth of vocabulary. An entry on him just going through different words/turns of phrases he's heard throughout his life could be a really cool way to hammer in the shift. Appreciate you how you've manged to provoke so many thoughts!

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01:00 Apr 22, 2020

Thanks so much! I enjoy this kind of literary bantering that turns into seriously helpful critique :).

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06:55 Apr 20, 2020

I second that

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06:55 Apr 20, 2020

Great idea I must say

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As I was reading this, I just wondered, "What's her favorite color?" ☺

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17:38 Apr 17, 2020

Haha! I don't actually know. I love green things, but I think white and yellow inspire me when I write. Maybe I can just say black because it's all the colors mashed together.

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Yeah, black is a good color, very neutral. Honestly, I prefer aquamarine as a general favourite color, but before that it was definitely black. I really enjoy writing in more natural colors like greens, browns, khakis, stuff like that. I then to write a lot of stories with nature settings. 😀

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06:55 Apr 20, 2020

Lol

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16:43 Apr 17, 2020

Very unique. I have never read a story this good. It is different from the other stories I read with this prompt, this story stands out. I can see why you won. Great job!

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17:41 Apr 17, 2020

Wow! That is a very high compliment! Thank you so much.

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17:50 Apr 17, 2020

Your welcome:)

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13:29 Apr 17, 2020

I wanna start by saying I really loved this story you wrote. I can see why you were the winner! I have been trying pretty hard to read, which was the advice you gave, but I have a limited amount of books, and my sister's books are not appropriate for me. I have been reading other reedsy contest winners, but sometimes it would be nice to just sit down and read a nice, long chapter book. Do you have any other advice, other than reading, to make our writing better?

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13:44 Apr 17, 2020

Thanks so much! I would say reading is one of the best ways to get better, but of course that's not always possible. Good for you for watching out for books that aren't appropriate. Definitely practice writing :). Another thing is to show, not tell. Let the reader be involved in the reading, allow them to have their own imagination about the characters. I'm very flattered you asked me for advice. Thank you ;)

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14:07 Apr 17, 2020

Thanks for the reply, Zilla! I really appreciate it! =)

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00:21 Apr 05, 2020

I love the Spanish you put in this story!

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14:13 Apr 05, 2020

Gracias!

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03:07 Apr 18, 2020

I really didn't get that But I must say your vocabulary is stupendous. Eres un buen escritor!!!

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I know a story is brilliant when I think "Damn, why didn't I think of *that*?" As a Venezuelan, I recognized many elements of their prisons (sadly). Great job and congratulatiosn for the win.

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17:09 Apr 17, 2020

Congratulations on winning the contest, Zilla! This story is beautifully written.

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17:05 Apr 17, 2020

I must say, I never before liked a character whose name I didn't even know xD As others have said, your choice of names for days instead of dates seems like such a small detail, yet it adds so much to the feel of the story. Definitely deserved the win. Great job! :)

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17:04 Apr 17, 2020

Yay!

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12:33 Apr 14, 2020

Amaing story! I loved how you "named" each day. Do you have any advice for a begining writer?

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12:46 Apr 14, 2020

Thanks so much! I would definitely say read. I know everybody says that, but for real. I read all the time, when I have the time :). Read all kinds of things with different voices, from Tolkien to Valente to Shakespeare to Reedsy winners-- that way you begin to echo the different voices in your own work, and thus find your own unique voice. Another thing is to write, duh. And notice things. Soak up color. I love green, for one, and I have to have a window open when I write.

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14:43 Apr 14, 2020

Thanks for the advice! Personally, I read ALOT, it's kind of an obsession. Interesting advice about the color "absorbtion", I'll try it.

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20:21 Apr 08, 2020

Wow! How on earth do you come up with such unique and fascinating stories?? Do you have any advice for coming up with unique stories?

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13:40 Apr 09, 2020

Thank you so much! I guess I'd say to read, and read all kinds of things. Notice things around you, make sure you're not overtired all the time. I always have to have a window near me when I write, or flowers or something green. It makes me happy and helps enrichen my work.

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20:19 Apr 30, 2020

nice

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19:28 Apr 26, 2020

Zilla, you are wondrously prolific, and I know this story is "old" at this point, but I needed to comment on this one first because it just took my breath away. You have such a gift for descriptive imagery, and you know how to craft a sentence with real punch. That last line haunts me.

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21:03 Apr 26, 2020

Thank you so much!

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20:37 Apr 23, 2020

Wow, I have to say that I have had my fill on exotic and bedazzilingly artful writing! You could very well be the next well-known author that people talk about for years to come! I love "bingeing" your stories and I look forward to more!

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17:47 May 17, 2020

I love how the story uses colors instead of dates because it shows how bright that day was or how dreary the day was.

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18:13 May 08, 2020

Zilla, I´m fluent in both languages and I absolutely love the way you combined both languages. Well-deserved win, One of my favorites by far. Job well-done. Nobody knows neither why we laugh nor why we cry....

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I read ALL your stories! I am always being blown away!

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Very impressive idea! I loved it Zilla!

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