24 comments

Apr 06, 2021

Contemporary Fiction

Owen sits in the garden, lost in thought. He looks out of place here, a tall, well-built man sitting alone under vines and roses. Fingers twisting along the rough wooden bench, he plans and unplans, running the future over in his mind. 


His phone rings, dragging him away from the abyss of time. It’s Ezra. Just seeing the name and photo sends his heart racing.


“Hey,” he hears, “are we still on for tonight?”


Owen nods nervously, forgetting he’s just a voice. “Uh, yeah. 7:00.”


“Need me to pick anything up on the way?”


“Nope, all good.”


“Okay, see you then,” Ezra says. “Love you.”


“Love you, too.” 


His nerves bite at him, threaten to steal his breath away. Owen stands and speeds through the garden, the violets and daffodils a blur of color. In his front pocket, the ring hangs heavy with potential promises. 


In the car, he remembers the day he met Ezra. He smiles thinly, picturing his nephew onstage, long limbs wrapped around a cello. Owen can almost hear the slightly out-of-tune high school orchestra, playing in a feverish trance of nerves and excitement. He remembers the blinding stage lights of the auditorium, which left the audience in unimportant darkness to lose themselves in the music.


And, when the orchestra stopped playing and the director turned around to take a humble bow, there was the breathless feeling of gravity, drawing him to this man and his baton.


Owen’s nephew introduced them, not realizing that they were two meteors, pulled towards the same stunningly inevitable star.


They started dating a month after the concert. Their first year together was a symphony, rushing headlong into delightful resonances. The second was a nocturne, peaceful and sweetly melancholy. Now, after two and a half years, the music is slow and sustained and sounds like love. Owen is more afraid than he has ever been. 


He arrives at his destination as the sun begins its descent in the sky. It’s a little restaurant, one with the best tacos he’s ever had. It was on this patio, under the string lights, where he and Ezra had their first date. 


Owen checks the time and glances at the sun. It feels close to him somehow, watchful and kind. There is a dim magic hanging in the air, a spell of fading sunbeams. He whispers to the sun, hoping it hears and hoping it doesn’t. 


“I’m afraid,” he mutters, fingertips on the golden ring.


Of what? the sun inquires.


“I’m afraid I’ll never be able to love him enough. Not as much as he deserves.”



Gloria loves a good engagement party. She loves love, especially between two people who so clearly belong together. Watching them together reminds her of two constellations that share a star.


She flits around the party like a bumblebee, drifting between friends and acquaintances with a sunny warmth that doesn’t fade. The taste of wine lingers on her tongue long after she says goodbye for the night, stopping to hug Owen before she leaves. 


“Thanks for helping me pick out the ring,” Owen says into her hair as they embrace. 


“What are best friends for?” she replies easily, voice bright and ringing with elation. 


“Drive safe.”


Gloria departs the party like she came: alone. A few years ago, that would have mortified her. Now, though, she has come to anticipate solitude with something akin to eagerness. There is something about the quiet that is both haunting and comforting all at once. It tugs at her. 


Seeking silence, she drives away from home towards the beach. She cracks the windows open and stares out at the water, waves coming in like liquid silver in the moonlight. 


Each cloud in the sky reminds her of the men she has almost loved, carried away by precocious winds. Under the gaze of the waxing moon, they are light and momentary. These memories don’t weigh on her like they used to, when she was full of regret like rain.


A song drifts on the night air, high and sweet. She pretends that the moon is serenading her, the moon which pulls truth from her even as it pulls the tide. 


“I’m learning to be okay with being alone.”


But it is difficult, prompts the moon.


“Yes,” Gloria whispers. 


Why?


“Because sometimes I think I don’t deserve to be happy on my own.”



Renee strums the worn strings of her guitar under the light of the moon, searching her soul for words and melodies. She smiles at the taste of salt in the air, at the crash of the waves that is more musical than anything she could ever hope to write. 


Across the way, a woman sits in her car and stares up at the moon. Renee thinks it is beautiful to witness such a communion from a distance. She wishes she could capture it with a song, but she doesn’t know exactly how. 


Instead, she croons an old tune, her voice taking to the notes easily, more familiar than a memory. Her fingers slip once or twice on the fretboard as she sings into the night. She sings until she looses track of where she is, who she is, and why. When she returns to herself, she realizes the song is over much too soon.


She packs up her guitar and goes home. When she wakes in the morning, inspiration still has not struck. She skims the message from her agent:


“Booked you a wedding gig for August. Owen and Ezra, cute couple. Also—don’t forget. We’re meeting with the album producers at 3pm. Have the last song ready to demo.”


Frustrated, she leaves her guitar behind and strides outside towards the park. 


Renee means to cut through the park to get to her favorite coffee shop, but something about the peaceful murmur of a large oak tree stops her short. 


She hasn’t climbed a tree since she was a child, but she suddenly needs to scale this one, to drag herself closer to the sky and let the wind kiss her like it kisses the leaves. 


It’s a clumsy process and she is glad that no one is around. 


When she comes to rest on a lofty branch, legs swinging and face against the bark of the sturdy trunk, she smiles. Her arms are scratched, her breath comes fast, and she feels as if she could vanish into the sky. Renee laughs and lets her voice mingle with the birdsong on the breeze. 


She forgets for a while. Forgets that she needs a new song. Forgets the sharp dagger of betrayal left behind by her ex just last month. Forgets her brother’s pain, her brother who is sicker by the day and will not last the year.


Renee’s breath catches as the wind whips through her hair, carrying with it the scent of the sea and the dew-covered grass. The breeze whispers in her ear, its voice vibrating with life and knowing. She replies before she really knows what it asked her. 


“I don’t know what to write about.”


You do, the wind murmurs, but you hesitate. 


“It won’t be good enough.” She says this as if she knows it to be true. 


Good enough for what?


“To outlive me.”



The wind chuckles.


The sun smiles and shares its warmth.


Somewhere in distant space, the moon stretches, hums to itself. 


The sky wraps itself around the world, around fleeting moments of love and sorrow. The heavens see the brevity of life, the smallness of it in comparison to the places between the stars. 


Still, they care for the earth, listen closely to the truth of each and every thing that breathes. 


With their own kind of mercy, the heavens sustain it all.

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24 comments

Michael Boquet
02:41 Apr 09, 2021

Some really great prose in this one. I particularly like the line: "two meteors, pulled towards the same stunningly inevitable star." I love the different perspectives and their experiences. Honestly, I found the personification of the celestial bodies & wind to be a little odd. Out of place for how realistic the rest of the story is. That being said, I have to admit it's a cool and creative way to answer the prompt. A very well written story, nice job.

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Claire Lewis
04:01 Apr 09, 2021

Hi Michael, thanks for the critique! I did wonder about blending reality with those elements of fantasy. The concept originated in a recent poem which I fleshed out into a story. Maybe not the best process, but I was curious to find out where it led.

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Michael Boquet
04:21 Apr 09, 2021

That's really cool. It definitely fits the prompt.

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Frances Reine
20:30 Apr 07, 2021

Everybody's so alone but when I step a little bit back they're not that far away. I love this. It's so sad. How'd you come up with this?-- "two meteors, pulled towards the same stunningly inevitable star". I love how you make your characters a big deal so gently I didn't realize it. This is a pretty little bedtime story. For who, I don't know. But it's definitely packed with the vibes :) Now I want to see if the sun talks to me.

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Claire Lewis
21:12 Apr 07, 2021

I'm hoping someday the wind will talk back to me :) Thanks for the lovely comment. I'm glad the vibes came across like I hoped they would! As for that line--I honestly don't know where it came from. I was thinking about gravity, I think, and how inescapable it is.

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Ellie Yu
19:03 Apr 06, 2021

This is absolutely exquisite and I have nothing to critique. Probably my favorite piece you've done.

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Claire Lewis
19:10 Apr 06, 2021

Such high praise, especially from someone whose work I deeply admire! Thank you <3

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Ellie Yu
19:16 Apr 06, 2021

It was my pleasure to read/comment! You're too kind :)

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Thom Brodkin
22:49 May 07, 2021

Wow. You wrote poetry and verse. You are a songstress at heart. You see the prompts from a different angle and it makes them all the more sweet. This is why I read you. To be surprised and amazed. Every story you write is different but each one is uniquely you. Another fantastic offering. I wrote one this week called “The Eulogy.” Would you be so kind to give it a read and let me know what you think of my twist on the prompt?

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R. K.
18:03 Apr 12, 2021

I am consistently late, but know this: it's *fashionably late*. I always read your stories, but I need time to extract words out of the void I have in place of a mind, to describe them. I love this. I know someone said the contemporary didn't sit on the same bench as the wistfulness, but to me, it's raw. Because in this pandemonium of life we don't want to be real anymore. We want heaven. So many things I adored, but my favourite is this, "There is something about the quiet that is both haunting and comforting all at once." Great piece!

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Claire Lewis
04:08 Apr 13, 2021

Heaven just sounds so much nicer than pandemonium! And I totally understand the void mind, sometimes I just stare at the little comment box and hope for words...

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Rachel Loughran
15:15 Apr 08, 2021

Wowwww Claire again, this is gorgeous. "Their first year together was a symphony, rushing headlong into delightful resonances. The second was a nocturne, peaceful and sweetly melancholy. Now, after two and a half years, the music is slow and sustained and sounds like love." This is so beautiful. I also loved what you wrote about talking to the moon. It was a weird prompt, I have to say, and 'speaking truth to power' has always read to me like it has to be about politics. I much prefer your dreamy fairytale vibe.

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Claire Lewis
15:39 Apr 08, 2021

Yes, that’s how I read the prompt the first time, too! I thought abstracting truth/power a little would be more fun 😂

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Leilani Lane
22:27 Apr 07, 2021

Claire, I just loved this! What a creative piece. I love what you did with the prompt, it's a difficult one for me. :) My favorite part: "Their first year together was a symphony, rushing headlong into delightful resonances. The second was a nocturne, peaceful and sweetly melancholy. Now, after two and a half years, the music is slow and sustained and sounds like love." This is such a wonderful way to describe love. I absolutely agree with it. :) Also, as an introvert, I related to this HARD: "Now, though, she has come to anticipate soli...

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Leilani Lane
22:28 Apr 07, 2021

Also... apologies in advance because I'm about to spam you as I catch up with your stories :D

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Claire Lewis
22:46 Apr 07, 2021

Spam away! And thank you for the kind comment! I added in the little detail of their wedding planning afterwards, just couldn’t resist their cuteness. And YES— most of my characters are introverts because I’m so deeply stuck in my introversion that I can’t comprehend an extrovert’s mindset 😂

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Leilani Lane
22:50 Apr 07, 2021

Yep I can absolutely relate!! My husband is an extrovert so I've gotten good at faking it over the years to keep up with him... but then I need a solid week to recharge after interacting with people lol. :D

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Lemon Lime
04:09 Apr 07, 2021

gorgeous, the ending is very powerful. flower dividers are a nice touch

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Emma Louise
18:44 Apr 06, 2021

I could not for the life of me figure out what this prompt meant, but you have written it so beautifully. I love the way each section starts and ends very similarly, and all come together at the end.

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Claire Lewis
19:08 Apr 06, 2021

I think I took some creative liberties with the prompt haha... I didn’t super understand it either! Thanks for the read and the comment Emma :)

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Christina Marie
15:36 Apr 06, 2021

Amazing. The way you've woven the characters and their stories is wonderful, and the ending where all the elements wrap them all together is so perfect. Loved it!

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Claire Lewis
16:32 Apr 06, 2021

Thanks Christina <3

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Heather Mc Quaid
12:39 Apr 06, 2021

This was a breath of fresh air. You paint such beautiful, simple moments with words, like, "She hasn’t climbed a tree since she was a child, but she suddenly needs to scale the tree, to drag herself closer to the sky and let the wind kiss her like it kisses the leaves." I have a question, wondering if you could start the first sentence with "Owen" as that's how you've introduced the other characters? A lovely story, thanks for sharing. :)

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Claire Lewis
12:52 Apr 06, 2021

Thanks for that suggestion, Heather! I’ll make that edit now 😊

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