Contest #78 winner 🏆

217 comments

Jan 24, 2021

Fiction

It took us almost two months to comb through dad’s house, sorting the pieces of his unpursued passions into piles. 


Keep.

Sell.

Donate.

Trash.


He didn’t have much in the way of food, but cookbooks in mint condition spilled out of his kitchen cupboards. Mystery novels were stacked neatly on his bedside table, suffocating under layers of dust. Princess Di’s biography and Stephen King’s The Shining lay face down on the coffee table, spines cracked towards the ceiling. Poets hid, forgotten, behind the basement bar. Daunting masterpieces of Joyce, Hugo, and Dumas stood proper and pristine in the bookcases of his spare bedroom. Harry Potter, curiously, was lined up neatly on the workbench in his garage next to an impressive collection of equipment manuals. Donate.


While I examined every paternal artefact with the zeal of an amateur archaeologist, my sister, Kate, executed our job grudgingly, methodically, the corners of her mouth tugged down in mild distaste. She held no curiosity for the life that gave us life, and I assumed her interest in him extended only as far as his had in her.


We waded through a world of short-lived hobbies. The shed in the yard boarded gleaming gardening tools, unspoiled art supplies, and a pair of cross country skis still marked with a discount sticker. Sell


We purged every nook and cranny in the house of unused useful treasures. Three hundred glass mason jars collected dust and spiders in the alcove under the stairs; forty-five rolls of scotch tape curled up on their sides, stacked haphazardly in the cupboard above the washing machine; three five-gallon pails of assorted nails, screws, and bolts rusted behind the furnace. Keep. Donate. Trash.


A Yamaha keyboard piano emerged from under piles of forgotten laundry. Sell. Beginner sheet music for the guitar we’d never heard him play was buried in a wicker basket under a cascading mountain of magazines. The guitar in question was wildly out of tune. I strummed a dissonant chord absentmindedly, prompting Kate to grab and drop it with a reverberating hum next to a harmonica, a violin bow, and an assortment of small percussion instruments. Donate.


“We could sell that!” I exclaimed.


“He bought it at Walmart,” she replied flatly, and I briefly wondered how she knew.


Dad hadn’t been a bad guy, as far as I remember. I recalled him doing all the right dad things—teaching me to throw and catch a ball, taking us to the county fair to eat too much candy, bringing home a wriggling bundle of floppy ears and sad eyes that we crossed our hearts to feed, train, and walk (naturally, and much to her disgruntled dismay, it became mom’s exclusive responsibility).


It was just that, between the checked boxes of fatherhood, absence was his only constant. 


Early on, it was missed birthdays, disappointing Christmas mornings, and an empty seat in the stands at my B Division hockey games. By the time I was ten, he banged through our door only once or twice a year. Kate would quietly disappear to a friend’s; mom would gravitate as if on auto-pilot into the kitchen to prepare a meal; I would hover, eager to brief him on my latest activities and accomplishments, hopeful he would finally divulge something about the band with which he was surely travelling, or the secret mission on which he must have been deployed. “This and that” was all he ever offered.


When Kate left home, he came around even less often.


I waded into the unmoored moodiness of my teenage years and developed (feigned) indifference in his disinterest. By the time I crashed clumsily from adolescence to adulthood, dad was a sort of non-entity that flitted and fluttered at the edges. He attended my university convocation, but didn’t stick around for the celebratory dinner. He stood by us at mom’s funeral, appropriately sad, but left us to make the arrangements and deal with her estate. He was invited to Kate’s wedding, but she asked me to walk her down the aisle.


At Kate’s orders, I tackled the bedroom, while she disappeared for days under unreasonable hoards of wooden spoons, tacky coffee mugs, and canned goods. The stench of sickness still clung to his mattress and its clothes. Trash. The neglected novels on his bedside table were jacketed in dust and blanketed in crusty tissues. Trash. Drawers were mostly empty save for a rolling lip chap and a handful of loose change. The rest of the furniture appeared in fine health. Sell.


Rifling through his closet, I found only a few crumpled receipts in the pockets of his clothes. Donate. My climbing bewilderment and disappointment reached their peak. A lifetime of pretending not to care aside, we finally had unfettered access to the private life of our flighty father. I wanted to find a trunk of sentimental memories in his basement, or a shoebox of photographs labelled with hard-to-read names stuffed in the closet, or a stack of secret-littered journals on the bookshelves. But the modest 900 square-foot house rejected my foolish fantasies.


Last year, Kate had learned dad was unwell. “Oh, by the way,” she hesitantly tacked on to our annual phone call, “Dad’s been in the hospital.”


I paused, caught off guard by her mention of his existence and, further, her awareness of his illness. I’d wanted to know more—what was wrong, should we go visit, who was taking care of him, who called her—but my tyrant nephews were wailing in the background, and she took advantage of my silent beat to skewer the conversation. “He’s fine now, at home, I guess. Listen, don’t worry about it…” She trailed off as the cacophony of family anarchy rose with a mighty crescendo, and the line died.


I didn’t call back, and neither did she. The next time we spoke, she delivered a dispassionate dispatch. “He’s dead.”


Now we stand among life’s leftovers.


Keep. Empty.

Sell. Posted.

Donate. Boxed.

Trash. Bagged.


There is no heirloom-worthy jewelry. There are no old family photos. There aren’t any accolades or love letters, not even a final will and testament. Nothing in seventy years’ worth of accumulation sheds a shred of light on who dad was or why.


I watch my sister lug bags and boxes out the door, and wish there was someone left who knew him.


When the trucks are packed and the house echoes in vacant relief, we stand on the front porch and watch the realtor pound a For Sale sign into the frosty lawn. I mutter, “I should have gone to see him, you know, before…”


Kate turns and looks up at me with the most peculiar expression of incredulity. She puts her gloved hand on my arm. For a long quiet moment it feels like she’s trying to convey something important, but all she leaves me with is: “See you at Christmas.”


And then she’s gone without looking back, bounding down the cracked concrete towards her car with a lightness in her step I’ve never seen before.

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

217 comments

Christina Marie
15:46 Feb 05, 2021

WHAT! This is amazing. Out of so many incredible submissions. I am honored.

Reply

Praise Abraham
08:33 Feb 13, 2021

You totally deserved it. You possess such great talent. 🤩🤩🤩

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Deidra Lovegren
23:29 Jan 24, 2021

Excellent slice of life (and death). Wonderful parallelism. I particularly liked: Keep. Empty. Sell. Posted. Donate. Boxed. Trash. Bagged Great work 😊

Reply

Christina Marie
00:00 Jan 25, 2021

Thanks so much, Deidra!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:49 Feb 05, 2021

DESERVED WIN YAY

Reply

Christina Marie
16:56 Feb 05, 2021

Eek! Thank you!!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:09 Feb 05, 2021

You famous now, gurl.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Zilla Babbitt
20:35 Feb 05, 2021

Christina! What an incredible story. One of my favorite touches that lends the piece its charm is the touches of specificity. You don't say "books," you say "Dumas and The Shining." Not "the store," but "Walmart." Wonderful job, deserved win!

Reply

Christina Marie
20:44 Feb 05, 2021

Thanks so much!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Roger Crane
17:43 Feb 05, 2021

Incredibly sad and poignant, and incredibly good writing, Christina! You should put this in a good literary magazine contest that pays well ($1,000 and up, usually). Of course, I don't know what you have done to date. The story has a genuine ring to it, as if you had lived through this. The details and style are riveting and illuminating. Great and poetic description and use of adjectives, like (in no special order) "disgruntled dismay;" "flighty father;" "gleaming garden tools" (implying lack of use); instead of a "dog" or "puppy," a "wrig...

Reply

Christina Marie
17:59 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you so much for the kind words and feedback! It means a lot that you think this could be submitted to a literary magazine. I have only just gotten back into writing and thought I would test the waters here - so I am not published anywhere else. If you have any recommendations as to how or where to proceed outside of Reedsy, I am all ears!

Reply

Roger Crane
18:33 Feb 05, 2021

Yes, Christina, I can help you with some suggestions as to what to do with your stories. Oh, before I forget, I meant also to say something about the change in POV near the end, from 3rd person to 1st. It was a little startling at first, and I had to look back to be sure, but it worked. And it added meaning--first she was recalling events that had occurred moments or possibly only days before, and now here she is...very nice (usually, a change in POV doesn't work well, in the same way that for most writers 1st person doesn't at all--too many...

Reply

Christina Marie
18:42 Feb 05, 2021

Wonderful, thank you so much. I will definitely look into your suggestions and check out your work - 5 books, wow!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Mango Chutney
18:23 Feb 05, 2021

Beautifully Written!! I could actually imaging the rooms and the piles. Well deserved win!! Also the characters are very well thought out. It makes me think of how different people look at the same occurrence through their own perspective.

Reply

Christina Marie
18:24 Feb 05, 2021

Thanks so much!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Karen Kinley
16:00 Feb 05, 2021

Haunting. Sad. And oh-so-real. I really feel for your characters, although their reactions to their father's life and death are so different. You tell the story so succinctly, without complicating details, and let your reader fill in the blanks. LOVE THIS!

Reply

Christina Marie
17:00 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you so much!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kate Le roux
15:59 Feb 05, 2021

So poignant, but not sentimental or predictable at all. Also a refreshingly original take on the prompt. Congratulations!👏

Reply

Christina Marie
17:00 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Trinity Kerrick
15:42 Feb 05, 2021

Wow. Wow is all I can say. This an amazing story with big potential. There are a few things you could fix but why? You just wrote and amazing story with big feelings, and it really opened readers up to how the girls felt. I love this story and I cant wait to read more of your amazing work!

Reply

Christina Marie
15:47 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you! I agree - I knew there were some things that could be fixed so I am shocked! I appreciate the kind words!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Masha Kurbatova
01:17 Feb 06, 2021

love the bleakness of this. excellent descriptions and I love your use of repetition! great work, well-deserved win

Reply

Christina Marie
01:30 Feb 06, 2021

Thanks so much!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Claire Lewis
23:49 Jan 25, 2021

Hi Christina, thanks for the follow! This take on the prompt is amazing! I’ve been enjoying what people have come up with but this is one of my favorites so far :) You set the scene so well and do a wonderful job of showing how much damage the dad did, even if it was indirect. I like how there are so many unanswered questions about him, and about whatever was going on with him and Kate. Sometimes it’s best to let the imagination fill in the blanks, and I think here it was a clever call. Here are a few of the things I loved: -the way you...

Reply

Christina Marie
01:34 Jan 26, 2021

Hi Claire! Thanks so much for reading and for the amazing feedback. I fully agree with and have incorporated it. I'm also glad that what I hoped Kate's character could convey is coming through! Thanks again - I really appreciate it :)

Reply

Claire Lewis
23:59 Feb 05, 2021

YAYYYY congrats!!! Not surprised at all 😊

Reply

Christina Marie
00:21 Feb 06, 2021

EEK Thank you!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Deacon Wheeler
02:46 Feb 11, 2021

Nice

Reply

Show 0 replies
Sam J.s.
21:23 Feb 05, 2021

Wow! I loved this so much! Really felt for the characters. You conveyed the entire message without a single overload of information.

Reply

Christina Marie
21:31 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Doria Owen
19:53 Feb 05, 2021

Was this written from a true experience? My experience was similar with my mother' unexpected passing in May. Well done.

Reply

Christina Marie
19:57 Feb 05, 2021

Bits and pieces are inspired from experience, but overall it is fiction. I'm very sorry to hear of your loss!

Reply

Doria Owen
20:28 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
The Girl
19:17 Feb 05, 2021

I was the narrator during the entire story, rooting for a memoir or letter till the very last minute. But we were left empty handed (sad). My feeling so, shows how good a writer you are. Deserved win!

Reply

Christina Marie
19:30 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Scout Tahoe
15:31 Feb 05, 2021

Wow, this was so creative and beautiful. It was the emotions I felt while reading that got to me. I especially liked the first line. Congrats on the win, it was so well deserved!

Reply

Christina Marie
15:48 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you so much!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Anuj Jaiswal
05:44 Apr 04, 2021

Your story conveys a sad picture with realistic lenses and conveys the truth with a poetic essence. I have been blown out of water. If I have to create an Idealistic story, It would in the same level playing ground as this one. this one is jem. I am new to writing. And I struggle a lot with adding specifitis and reality to my story, can you suggest some exercise or some suggestion on how to add reality to my work

Reply

Christina Marie
14:02 Apr 04, 2021

Thanks Anuj! My best advice is practice - read and write lots. Also think about people, places, experiences, emotions, that you find to be personally poignant, and write about them (even if it's just a paragraph). Finally, read your work out loud - it will help with editing. If you stumble, the reader will too. Hope this helps!

Reply

Anuj Jaiswal
07:24 Apr 06, 2021

Thanks, Christina, I will try this. One more question. Was writing in a poetic style was a conscious decision of yours or it came inflow? For example the sentence - It was just that, between the checked boxes of fatherhood, the absence was his only constant. Did it come inflow or you thought hard to write this sentance.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Anuj Jaiswal
07:24 Apr 06, 2021

Thanks, Christina, I will try this. One more question. Was writing in a poetic style was a conscious decision of yours or it came inflow? For example the sentence - It was just that, between the checked boxes of fatherhood, the absence was his only constant. Did it come inflow or you thought hard to write this sentence.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Anuj Jaiswal
07:24 Apr 06, 2021

Thanks, Christina, I will try this. One more question. Was writing in a poetic style was a conscious decision of yours or it came inflow? For example the sentence - It was just that, between the checked boxes of fatherhood, the absence was his only constant. Did it come inflow or you thought hard to write this sentence.

Reply

Christina Marie
14:30 Apr 06, 2021

It's always a bit of both. The more time you spend with words, reading and writing, the more naturally it will come, but it always also requires some thought and revision :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 3 replies
Show 1 reply
Nathan Schaefer
14:15 Mar 31, 2021

Reminds me of my father. Well told

Reply

Show 0 replies
Swagger Girl
14:30 Mar 30, 2021

WOW!!! Talk about AN A-MAZING story! I like your style of writing Ms.Christina. Like for each prompt is the best prompt to do. And I Love how you made Kate a distant sister as well as their father EXCELLENT !!! I WISH YOU MANY MORE FIRST PLACES IN THE FUTURE AND I don't really have any stories written because I am not much of a writer but I am an excellent reader. The next prompt makes the story with major detail and kinda like mysteries type or thriller or you know what I mean. But Please follow My best friend Cj liggens and put in 🏳️‍🌈 t...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Andrea Couture
18:26 Mar 26, 2021

Great story!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mark Celeste
04:29 Mar 09, 2021

What are the elements of creative nonfiction in the text?

Reply

Christina Marie
13:27 Mar 09, 2021

Not sure what you mean. This is a fully fictional piece.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply