Contest #177 shortlist ⭐️

97 comments

Fiction

Outdoors, it is a brilliantly sunny day in May, and the sunshine forces its way indoors unbidden.


Her apartment window is propped open, and a stiff breeze invades the studio, but no curtains billow: the room is empty now, its only decoration a mural of huge flowers in a riot of colors on a chipped and fading wall. She painted that mural with her own hands, but she thinks perhaps she should have put some of that effort into repainting the wall, as well. Now the too-loud colors of the flowers seem to scream at her from their deteriorating prison.


A clock ticks in the communal hallway, chewing away the seconds of silence as she ponders the mural longer than necessary. They are both killing time.


She roams her space, glad that walls can’t talk: they are nothing in her mind now but parallel lines fading into infinity. Openings to other rooms, simply intersecting parallel lines jetting off in different infinite directions. It vaguely conjures up charcoal-on-linen line drawings in her mind. She wonders if there is a word for that, something profound… but she can’t come up with it, and of course there’s nobody around to ask.


Wandering through the apartment toward the open window, she feels the freshly-shampooed carpet crunching slightly under her feet. It’s a difficult-to-describe sensation, yet one that so many have felt and would know: it’s the hallmark of a new beginning, and that of another someone’s ending. 


She tries to think of how she’d describe what she came here seeking, specifically, this one last time -- to try to put it into words even if just for herself: 


“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m just here to ______.” 


“Oh, hi, Ken, don’t mind me; I thought I’d _____.” 


She can't find the words; maybe it’s not the words that are the problem, after all.


Lowering herself onto the floor beside the open window, she spies a forgotten blue marble where it has lodged itself under the radiator. The globe has escaped notice, maybe over the course of many tenants. A slightly-dusty child’s prize, she imagines the thrill of a different child happening upon the hidden treasure at some point in the future; she leaves it untouched.


What treasures did she have from her time here? She needs a positive memory to take with her; she so badly wants to leave on a high note.


She idly realizes that a tiny white feather has floated on the breeze to within her reach. Gently, she surrounds the unanticipated gift with her palms and cups it. She holds it, bringing it to her heart… there: 


It’s the springtime of the year, and the geese have goslings. She saw them down at the park pond just two weeks ago and was particularly smitten by a little one that was slightly wobblier than the rest, that day. You don’t think about birds being less-than-graceful, but it gave her several minutes of amusement, watching it try to climb the bank out of the water after the others. She smiles again now, remembering how it made her smile, then.


She had made a mental note at that time to bring it some seed when she came again, but then life happened and she had never remembered to do so, she thinks with an emotion that feels similar to regret, and yet…


She opens her palms again and imprints the thought. A moment passes, then she coaxes the feather onto the windowsill, delicately releasing it, and watches it swept away again. The pang of longing she feels at that moment, that unrelated moment involving something so simple as a feather taking to the wind, is indescribable.


She remains at the window long past dark, bathing herself in night sounds and the scent of the wind. She likes freesia, sweet pea, jasmine … none of those smells are here, but the night air is crisp and clean.


A dog barks in the distance, and then another. A third joins, and the chorus howls in unison. She hadn’t even realized that it was a full moon until she glances out the window into the semi-darkened night.


A thought occurs to her, its absence marked after all this time: why didn’t she ever get a dog? They don't allow them here, but it would have been so nice to have one around, and it wouldn’t be the first rule she had broken. Some people don’t like doggy noises, but she would love it so much, she just knows. She would never punish her pup, never ever make it sorry for its God-given voice that celebrates happiness and sadness -- and alarm -- in its own vocal ways. She feels an anger toward those who would shame dogs for their dogginess, and a true kindred spirit with those beloved creatures. She wonders if she could get a dog soon and thinks ... maybe?


A sudden flash of a life passed here comes to mind. The room is tasteful, elegant, softly lit; music plays quietly in the background. The window is wide open, and gauzy curtains waft seductively in the night breeze. A glass of red wine decants next to a plated dinner which has grown cold. He is here too, unexpectedly.


She averts her eyes from the scene; it dissipates, except for him. Larger than life, he is a presence here still. 


Her belongings were put in storage, awaiting whatever comes next; she is a word which isn’t “terrified,” because that word isn’t right for the here and now. Terrified means there is a future to control, even if it is beyond control: a future in the known-but-still-scary. Hers is a future in the unknown; the thought causes her to suppress a shudder and take a gulp of fresh air. She tries to swallow it, but with the lump in her throat, she cannot: asphyxiation by strangulation, the coroner said. 


December 17, 2022 03:30

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97 comments

Dan Coglianese
17:05 Dec 19, 2022

I love the rich descriptions. They really put me in the story. And that ending, wow!

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Wendy Kaminski
18:18 Dec 19, 2022

Thank you!

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05:13 Apr 25, 2023

It made me cry. Made me think of my own mother who still lives in her own home but after several strokes hasn't bounced back to her old self. She has become forgetful and much more prone to stress. I imagine her thoughts being as such. You have described everything so well. The ending is actually what everyone wishes for their dear elderly. Happy memories and thoughts, and no suffering. When I read 'leaving' I took it literally but realized at the end that this didn't happen. Leaving a familiar place (as in going into a home for the elderly)...

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Wendy Kaminski
22:29 Apr 25, 2023

Thank you for the encouraging comments (both here, and elsewhere recently)! I appreciate hearing your viewpoints on it, and you are so right, about the elderly. We see that in my work (Guardian) a lot: the change is always so hard on people.

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21:57 May 04, 2023

Thanks Wendy. Great to hear from you again.

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Kevin V
01:01 Mar 10, 2023

This is wonderful, Wendy. Hauntingly beautiful words. And the title is so fitting. I really wish I had your talent for titling (is that even a word?). But I didn't see the end. I thought at first, maybe, but the crunching of the shampooed carpet (so very well shown! bravo!) had me thinking otherwise. And the marble. Such a small thing, yet one that shouted it's possibilities to the world. Who would find it? What games might they play! And the feather and the goslings! You know, I remember one (they nested in a field by where I worked) th...

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Wendy Kaminski
14:40 Mar 10, 2023

Thank you so much for the lovely review, Kevin! I really appreciate you taking the time, and it made my day! :)

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Richard E. Gower
17:31 Feb 19, 2023

I needed some inspiration on a drab Sunday afternoon, so I tapped into this story to help charge my gray cells. -:) Wendy, this is a beautifully crafted piece. IMO, well deserving of its shortlist accolade, and more. A woman re-visiting the scene of her own demise, and then you also get into her mind (italics)...and the word-pictures are stunning. You really have an artist's eye (and ear) for visual and aural detail that you can transpose into words...eg: wobbly goslings (they are wobbly during that phase, aren't they?), "the slightly-dus...

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Wendy Kaminski
17:33 Feb 19, 2023

haha Thank you Richard, that is so flattering! This one surprised me, I'll admit; it's nothing like my others, and when it won the shortlist, I was like... whuuu? :D I appreciate you giving it a look, and leaving such a very nice review! Glad it inspired! :)

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Roger Scypion
20:27 Feb 04, 2023

Great story! The ending gave me a "Oh Wow!" moment. Creatively excellent writing!

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Wendy Kaminski
20:30 Feb 04, 2023

Thanks so much, Roger - I'm flattered! :)

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Kasey Fisher
16:51 Jan 14, 2023

The imagery is sensational!! Brilliant writing!

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Wendy Kaminski
18:00 Jan 14, 2023

Kasey, thanks so much! :) Very kind, and I appreciate you reading it!

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Mike Panasitti
20:06 Jan 04, 2023

A woman wronged by an unnamed menace. A menace that didn't even allow her the release of screaming like the flowers she had painted on the wall in her room. Very evocative story. Rightly shortlisted.

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Wendy Kaminski
20:09 Jan 04, 2023

Oh my gosh, your description gave me chills: I loved it! Thank you so much for the very effective depiction of what I was trying to convey - I really appreciate it!

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Story Time
18:56 Jan 02, 2023

Wendy, this is so well done. I started reading it over the weekend and then tabled it, because I wanted to give it my full attention. You have a great way of honing in one specific detail and branching out on that detail to evoke all these emotions. It's fantastic.

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Wendy Kaminski
04:58 Jan 05, 2023

Kevin, thank you so very much! I am not sure how I missed this the first time a couple of days ago, but I really appreciate you taking the time to read and leave such encouraging comments!

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Philip Ebuluofor
07:06 Jan 02, 2023

Congrats.

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Wendy Kaminski
16:27 Jan 02, 2023

Thank you!

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Mary Lehnert
19:19 Dec 30, 2022

How nice to be shortlisted. Wendy. Even cuter that we both got it. Mary

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Wendy Kaminski
19:54 Dec 30, 2022

Wooo! So awesome! Thanks Mary, and congrats to you as well!

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19:13 Dec 30, 2022

CONGRATULATIONS on this crowd favorite! What a shift in tone, what a twist. Tightly written in the present tense...great momentum from start to finish.

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Wendy Kaminski
19:18 Dec 30, 2022

Thank you!

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Tommy Goround
18:07 Dec 30, 2022

Yay Wendy!

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Wendy Kaminski
18:15 Dec 30, 2022

Thank you!

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AnneMarie Miles
16:20 Dec 30, 2022

Congratulations Wendy!! You deserve it for this one! 🎉😊

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Wendy Kaminski
16:22 Dec 30, 2022

Thank you so much, Anne Marie!

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Delbert Griffith
15:44 Dec 30, 2022

Congrats on being shortlisted, Wendy. Well-deserved, my friend!

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Wendy Kaminski
15:48 Dec 30, 2022

Thank you, Delbert! I saw what my 'shocked face' looks like, this morning, so that was pretty cool.

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Ksenija Rubež
17:15 Dec 29, 2022

I am still rereading the last paragraph, a heartbreaking story, but an amazing one...

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Wendy Kaminski
19:58 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you, Ksenija! :)

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Michał Przywara
17:02 Dec 29, 2022

This is one of those that looks very different once you get to the end :) It's clear there's been some fundamental life change, and she's moving on. It feels too dramatic for a mere move to a new place. There's talk of a mother, so part of me wondered if it was death, or dementia. Then the way this place is described both with pleasant memories, and like a prison, I wondered if instead it was an asylum where the narrator was committed, or perhaps a kind of prison. But then we get to the ending. "asphyxiation by strangulation, the coroner s...

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Wendy Kaminski
19:56 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you very much, Michał, for giving it a read and for your well-considered commentary! Your interpretation was my intent. :) I envisioned "him" as a stranger who made it through the open window, but as I've seen through the various other commentary, there is certainly a lot of room for interpretation! Thank you, as always, for dropping by my story. :)

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Cindy Strube
22:00 Dec 27, 2022

Wendy, to me the story has a very floaty quality - like being half asleep in the sun, and wafting between fuzzy brain and sharp consciousness. It definitely has a feeling of in-between-ness, which I suspect is what you were hoping to convey? I see there’s quite a range of interpretations to the ending - I took it that “he” caused it. No matter how it’s interpreted though - the ending was fantastic!

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Wendy Kaminski
23:41 Dec 27, 2022

Thank you! I am really thrilled you liked it! You took it how I had it originally in mind, but I am oddly inspired by how many takes there were on it, and now that I see other speculation, I'm not so sure sometimes that even I know what happened... ;)

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Cindy Strube
00:10 Dec 28, 2022

Yes, it’s interesting to get a different view of something that came from your own brain, isn’t it? And sometimes it spurs an idea for yet another story…

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Cindy Strube
17:12 Dec 30, 2022

😁 Congrats on the shortlist! 🎉

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Wendy Kaminski
18:04 Dec 30, 2022

Thanks so much, Cindy!! :)

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Susan Catucci
21:25 Dec 27, 2022

Wendy, I'm not sure how you did it but, to me, this is otherworldly and frightening familiar. The longing is palpable and the prose breathtaking. You've captured life and longing in a bottle - or a few pages actually. So rich in feeling and depth. Bravo.

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Wendy Kaminski
23:39 Dec 27, 2022

Wow, thank you so much, Susan! That is really flattering! :)

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Helen A Smith
10:26 Dec 27, 2022

A well-crafted piece filled with great descriptions and a haunting mural. “A sudden flash of life passed here comes to mind.” There’s an intoxicating sense of time suspended in your story. The ending is unexpected and shocking. Look forward to reading more stories

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Wendy Kaminski
15:13 Dec 27, 2022

Thank you very much, Helen! I really appreciate your kind words. :-)

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Karin Cavanagh
01:21 Dec 27, 2022

What a beautiful story. So tender, so descriptive and so thoughtfully penned. It took me back to the time I left the unit I lived in not so long ago... the place that nurtured me after separating from my husband. Fond memories indeed.

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Wendy Kaminski
01:23 Dec 27, 2022

It sounds lovely, Karin! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. :)

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