Contest #53 shortlist ⭐️

The Things You Don't Say

Submitted for Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about another day in a heatwave. ... view prompt

88 comments

Submitted on 08/01/2020

Categories: Drama

           It was the hottest summer of the decade the year we bought our first air conditioner. It was August 1988, the summer before I entered high school, the summer before life got complicated. The six of us (seven if you count Daisy, the basset hound) loaded into the green Chevy station wagon and drove to Sears, Roebuck and Co. (as it was still called back then.) We were the only people on our street to get an air conditioner. Ronald Reagan was king and we were rich.

           Sears was the closest store to us, but was still over twenty miles away. I got everything that was important to me in my life there; my first Radio Flyer bike, my first Coleman tent, and later that year, my first training bra. 

           It was the summer before they paved a street behind our house and lined it with identical-style homes, and the summer before I would kiss a boy from one of those homes under the streetlight. But for now it was still fields of timothy hay and a horse paddock that belonged to our neighbor, Gus.

            Long lazy summer days were spent playing on the tractors and making forts with the bales of hay. I was wild, running free in my overalls. It was the last summer my mother would let me wear my overalls with no shirt underneath.

           We didn’t see our school friends until the school year began again. It was always just us and the neighbors, safe in our cocoon.

           

           It took Gus and my father to put the hulking air conditioner in our living room window. We hung faded flowered sheets in the doorway of the living room and dining room, and lined towels under the windows to keep the cold in. Dad slept on the couch, mom in her chair, and the four of us kids slept in the middle, a mishmash of pillows and blankets and stuffed animals. The smell of fresh laundry wafted through the room, the gentle ‘wurr’ of the air conditioner lulling us to sleep. My sunburned skin dimpled from the cold air. It was like a tomb.

           In the summers my youngest aunt would sun herself in our backyard. This summer, though, she had become more interesting for me to look. Her tanned body, the way it glistened with baby oil, the way her pointy hip bones dipped down when she walked. After my nightly bath I would wrap a towel around my body, pretending it was an evening gown, and slink around in front of the mirror trying to mimic her. I thought she was the prettiest woman I ever saw, pretty enough to be a model or movie star.

           She had a boyfriend named Butchy. Butchy drove a loud motorcycle. He wore black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off, showing off flame tattoos creeping up his biceps. When I would hear him coming down the road I’d run to the front window to watch. My aunt would run to him and leap into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist.

My family had known Butchy since he was a kid. He was a friend of my brothers growing up. I would play sports with them in the backyard while my sisters watched from the patio. He even stayed with us for a few months when his parents split up. He called me "kid." One day Mom caught Butchy taking a bottle of Wild Turkey out of the liquor cabinet, after that he wasn't allowed over anymore.

        

   My aunt favored me over my sisters (I suspected,) because we were both the babies of the family (I figured.) Last Christmas we did a Yankee Swap, or White Elephant as many people call it, and I chose a special ornament that my Grandmother made, of course my older sister took it from me on her turn, even though she knew how much I wanted it. It’s really a maddening game. When it was my aunt’s turn she then chose the ornament from my sister. After the party I found the ornament on my bed. She was always doing things like that for me.

           One summer afternoon she asked me if I wanted to go for a ride to get a Raspberry-Lime Rickey at the ice cream shop she worked at. We rolled the windows down in her white Chevette, my hair whipped in the wind. It didn’t have a passenger seat so I sat on a pillow on the floorboard. I watched her in awe as she sang along to Pearl Jam.

           On the way home she asked me to get her cigarettes out of the console but instead I pulled out a round pack of pills with the days of the week listed on them. 

           “What are these?” I asked holding them up.

           She looked at me and hesitated.

           “Don’t ever let a man get the upper hand on you. Make sure you always hold all the cards,” she told me.

           I stared at her. I had no idea what she was talking about. But I nodded.

           My aunt didn’t come around for a few days after that. But then one morning I looked out and saw her sunning herself as usual on her towel in the backyard. I plopped down next to her eating my Popsicle, rambling on about how I crushed the neighbor’s flowers when I jumped out of his tree and how he told me I wasn’t allowed to climb his trees anymore, when she pulled her sunglasses off. She had green and purple bruising around her right eye.

           “Ouch, how did you get that?” I asked, wincing.

           “There are things you say. And things you only think,” she answered. Again her advice was lost on me but I didn’t ask for any further explanation and continued telling her how the neighbor had it out for me. Later that day I heard her tell mom she got hit while playing horseshoes at Gilly’s. After that she started spending less and less time at our house, and Butchy hardly ever picked her up anymore.

One evening I heard the familiar roar of Butchy’s engine and ran to the front window. Butchy pulled into the driveway as usual but didn’t come in. My aunt ran out front to meet him and jumped onto the back of his bike, wrapping her arms around his waist. 

           She saw me watching from the window and waved to me as they backed out of the driveway. I waved back from the safety of the house as they disappeared together down the road. Mom asked me what I was looking at but I didn’t say anything. And that was the last time I saw her, the last time anyone saw her. 

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88 comments

Jonathan Blaauw
08:11 Aug 03, 2020

Your writing here is as crisp and precise as ever. Like Red Bat, you capture the voice of a young child, complete with the observations and interpretations, perfectly. And I love that the innocence of your main character is contrasted by the sinister ending. Also that the little girl doesn’t really understand her aunt’s worldy, womanly advice is quite poignant because the reader does, and she herself will surely come to in time as well. I just want to point out that ’88 was the best year ever. It was the one in which I arrived on Earth (t...

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Sarah Greenwood
11:36 Aug 03, 2020

Lol hi Jonathon. Thank you for your reply. Arrived on earth sounds like you’re an alien from another planet. I like it lol. And you are no way a lesser writer, I have no idea what I’m doing. Although I do however have many encouraging rejection letters from reputable magazines. So there’s that 👍🏼

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:49 Aug 03, 2020

I don’t think any of us really know what we’re doing. That’s why its fun to pretend. Rejections are great though, I’m developing quite a collection myself. Like Sylvia Plath said: “I love my rejection slips, they show me that I try.” It’s hard at first, but when you get to the point where you can joke about it, like us, it shows you’re on the right track. I’m pretty sure it’s a universal law that writers have to be rejected a billion times before publication. On the topic of universal laws and writers having no clue what they’re doing, I’...

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Sarah Greenwood
15:43 Aug 03, 2020

I love that Sylvia Plath quote. I wonder if she said that right before she killed herself though 😆😳 yes I’ll be over there shortly. Oh I love Laura she’s the best!

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Jonathan Blaauw
15:58 Aug 03, 2020

Probably. One rejection slips too many maybe? Shame. I have adopted Laura as my pet editor. It's a good idea for us clueless writers to get professional help 🤣

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Laura Clark
19:01 Aug 14, 2020

I just want to point out that while I am technically a professional when it comes to grammar and I do teach a little creative writing - it’s mainly to kids ... so I think ‘professional help’ might be a bit of a stretch! Maybe ‘bossy know-it-all help’? Also, I think you have to officially give up the ‘clueless writers’ schtick now that you’ve both been shortlisted.

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Laura Clark
19:00 Aug 14, 2020

I was coming on here to congratulate you on being shortlisted and then I find this lovely comment hidden away. Bless you! Congrats on the shortlisting - it was very much earned!

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Sarah Greenwood
19:13 Aug 14, 2020

Lol we talk about you when you’re not around 😆

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Tariq Saeed
12:27 Aug 23, 2020

Really amazing.

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Jonathan Blaauw
15:55 Aug 23, 2020

Thank you so much, really appreciate it. We aim to please, so I'm glad you appreciate our silly banter - Wait. You meant Sarah's story, didn't you? It's really amazing, too, i must say. At least as good as the banter, right?

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Laura Clark
12:03 Aug 02, 2020

This transported me straight to a stuffy, hot day in rural America, which is fairly impressive given that I am experiencing a chilly day in urban England. You built the world and the atmosphere beautifully - it felt like a relaxed and gentle atmosphere. I have a few things that will hopefully be helpful. You’ve missed a full stop after Gus early on. I also thought that ‘we were a middle class family’ broke the flow a little and was also redundant given that your description of the home and lifestyle say that for you. I also think that de...

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Sarah Greenwood
12:41 Aug 02, 2020

Laura you’re my favorite! I always look forward to your input. You are so thorough and helpful and I really appreciate it. I love the idea of switching up the ending, let me play around with it and see what I get. Thank you so much!

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Laura Clark
12:50 Aug 02, 2020

Aww well that is lovely! You’ve very welcome. I try to only give constructive criticism on things that you have time to edit so I’m glad it’s helpful! If you have time and are interested, feel free to check mine out too. I’ve done the popsicle prompt and I’m not sure it works!

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Ugochi Nwauwa
03:29 Aug 07, 2020

Ouu, this was so good. I loved how you described every single detail, it really created a nice imagery. I also enjoyed the book even though it was quite sad at the end, the whole story gave off a calm atmosphere. You are a great writer, honestly! - Ugochi✨*~

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Sarah Greenwood
12:08 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you Ugochi! That means so much to me

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Charles Stucker
19:51 Aug 02, 2020

Nice twist at the end. You use passive more than I would recommend, but everything else is pretty good. You can fix most passive with light edits. "It was the hottest summer of the decade the year we bought our first air conditioner. It was August 1988, the summer before I entered high school." Might become, "We bought our first air conditioner in the hottest summer of the decade, the summer I before I entered high school, the summer of '88." For a stronger inciting moment you might add, "the summer everything changed for the worse." ...

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Sarah Greenwood
21:22 Aug 02, 2020

Thanks for your help Charles!

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Spider Baby
07:34 Aug 01, 2020

Since I've been reading your stories, I have noticed such an effortless take on worldbuilding. It's like BAM!(๑•̀ㅂ•́)و I'm suddenly in another time period or country or culture. I am a city girl at best but this story made me want to see the middle-class rural lifestyle and experience it for all it entails. *:・゚✧*:・゚✧ By the end, I wanted to ride a horse or sit on a bale of hay or something, lol *:・゚✧*:・゚✧Simplicity is by far, nowhere near an insult. To me, your writing style perfects the meaning of placid storytelling with efficient s...

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Sarah Greenwood
12:27 Aug 01, 2020

I don’t know anything about writing or the terminology but everything you said sounded really good. So thanks, lol. I just learned what the word ‘prose’ means. I think that’s how I would describe my writing, assuming I understood the definition correctly. Thanks again Miss Brianna!

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Spider Baby
18:36 Aug 01, 2020

You're welcome ^-^

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Laura Everly
22:19 Sep 03, 2020

wow never saw that ending coming even with the black eye...

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Sarah Greenwood
23:41 Sep 03, 2020

Hey thanks for reading Laura

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Kate Le roux
20:10 Aug 16, 2020

Ah, I was 13 in 1988 ... Enjoyed the sentimentality of this story. I liked the way you used details and that your narrator stayed so innocent.

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Sarah Greenwood
20:48 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you Kate!

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Bianka Nova
08:01 Aug 15, 2020

Congrats on the win! I've read your other story, but this one is even better. Just a tiny sidenote - as an avid fan of the 90s Seattle bands, I need to point out that Pearl Jam did not exist in 1988 ;)

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Sarah Greenwood
16:06 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you Bianca. And how embarrassing as I also consider myself an avid grunge fan. I can’t edit it now but I did the original. I changed it to Bon Jovi ‘livin on a prayer’

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Bianka Nova
11:15 Aug 16, 2020

I think you can leave it. Like every movie has its goofs, so can your short story. It may even serve as an additional incentive for people to read it in order to find the "mistake" ;)

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Jacob Flematti
17:17 Aug 14, 2020

I really liked this. You did a very good job with the details; they really helped to build the scenes and made for interesting nuances. I could see this story going even further. Really top notch. One little mistake (I think), in the second part, second paragraph, second sentence: This summer, though, she had become more interesting for me to look. I think you missed the last word "at", and that it should be "to look at".

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Sarah Greenwood
17:45 Aug 14, 2020

Well I’ll be darned you’re right. Thank you so much! And I’m glad you enjoyed it ☺️

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Kensa H.
08:25 Aug 14, 2020

Striking story! I like the way you don't explain everything, yet everything is so clear...

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Sarah Greenwood
08:45 Aug 14, 2020

Wow thank you Kensa !

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Cal Carson
16:27 Aug 13, 2020

I really loved this story- it transported you back in time in a really magical way. Your writing was so flawless and clean with an amazing hint of nostalgia. The innocence of the main character was so well developed and contrasted so well with the unfortunate and sinister ending. Great story and definitely worth the read!

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Sarah Greenwood
17:14 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you Cal!

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Katina Foster
15:43 Aug 13, 2020

I felt this story! Even down to the chevette with a missing passenger seat. So many little details that could have been pulled from my childhood. I love how you view these complicated adult themes from a child's perspective. There's no judgment, just acceptance from a kid's point of view. This could potentially kick off a longer story, but it's also nice as is. Keep up the great work!

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Sarah Greenwood
17:13 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you Katina

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P. Jean
00:19 Aug 13, 2020

Yes easy to like this one. The flow was good but the contrast of the older girl to the innocence of the younger near perfect. So many answers make little sense until we’re ready to “get it”. I’m a sucker for looking back stories. I simpler time! Loved it.

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Sarah Greenwood
00:21 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you so much P. Jean!

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P. Jean
00:29 Aug 13, 2020

You are always welcome just as I know I will never be disappointed in your writings!

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Anna Z
22:19 Aug 12, 2020

Wow! Your story is incredible! I love the detail and the way you show the innocence of the young child as well as how she starts to grow up. Great story!

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Sarah Greenwood
22:41 Aug 12, 2020

Thank you Anna!

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Aqsa Malik
18:51 Aug 12, 2020

Hey there! You always like my stories, so I figured it was only time for me to check out your submissions, and I'm so glad I did whew. I absolutely loved this story. Your child narrator made it so simple, yet you effectively portrayed a more morbid subplot, which is made so much more authentic and horrifying when paired with the innocence of a child. I love how with this story, you just went straight to the point. You described what was necessary without it becoming tedious. Also for some reason, your descriptions of hay and tra...

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Sarah Greenwood
19:40 Aug 12, 2020

Thank you so much aqsa. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. That means a lot coming from a writer like you. Yankee swap is not secret santa lol. It's where one person picks a gift and you go down the line and the next person can either take your gift or pick a new one. I thought it was a universal thing everyone, did lol. It's actually a really frustrating game. Thanks again for checking out my stories!

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Aqsa Malik
19:49 Aug 12, 2020

Oh, haha, never heard of it. Sounds so distressing though lmao.

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Vanessa Marczan
03:22 Aug 11, 2020

Gorgeous story, Sarah. Beautiful pacing. I love how you balance showing and telling, descriptions and inference. A lovely read. It feels both like an opening to a coming of age story, and at the same time a standalone piece. Thanks for writing this and sharing with us 🙏

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Sarah Greenwood
03:27 Aug 11, 2020

Thank you so much Vanessa. You made my night ☺️

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James Ashton
21:37 Aug 10, 2020

I really enjoyed the pacing of your story, and the twist at the end was very well done. Great job!

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Karin Venables
02:17 Aug 10, 2020

That was a great story, with an ugly twist. If you paid attention, Butchy wasn't the best thing in her life. And she probably shouldn't have given him another chance. It was such a normal summer, and AC was more important than anything, and it hid a nasty undercurrent. You got the way no one talked about abuse right on. I remember how it used to be back then.

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Sarah Greenwood
02:24 Aug 10, 2020

Thank you Karin. You got exactly what I was going for. I appreciate it

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A. S.
18:16 Aug 08, 2020

Great job! As usual your writing is incredible and the descriptions were awe-inspiring. I would love it if you would check out my new story “Paper” and let me know what you think.

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Sarah Greenwood
18:26 Aug 08, 2020

Thank you A.S. And yes I'll be over there soon

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Deborah Angevin
09:47 Aug 06, 2020

The way you write the description is really great, Sarah! As the other readers have said, I also felt like being transported to the scene on the time period of your choice! Also, would you mind reading my recent story out, "(Pink)y Promise"? Thank you :D

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Sarah Greenwood
12:13 Aug 06, 2020

Thanks Deborah. Yes be there soon !

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