Contest #161 shortlist ⭐️

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Fiction Friendship

Winston never liked England in March.

He didn't like the unreliable weather, constant dampness in the air, and the seemingly never-ending days. It held a dreariness in it that no other months did.

But Rosemary loved March, and Winston loved Rosemary.

She spent hours creating shamrock garlands, baking loaves of Irish soda bread, and singing the Prady song in her soft dulcet tones.

She lit up during March, her lips quirking up into a smile that didn't fade until April 1.

For Rosemary, March brought her back to a simpler time, a time when nothing mattered but young love and happiness. It only made sense that she should leave the world in the same month that she entered it, the month that gave her such joy.

For Winston however, it carried a deep sadness. That March did more than ever.

  It carried a sadness Winston had never experienced before. With Rosemary’s passing, a weight so heavy was placed on his heart that he felt he couldn’t breathe.

Everything around him seemed to be an aching reminder of what he had lost. The half-empty tins containing Rosemary’s favorite Fortnum & Mason tea, her worn tan gardening gloves hanging on a hook by the door, the stack of Agatha Christie novels sitting on the coffee table, her old light blue bicycle that she hadn’t ridden in years yet refused to part with.

They all held fond memories of times when the cottage was filled with joy and laughter.

On this bleak March afternoon, those days seemed to have been so long ago.

Winston stares out the scratched windowpane, watching two raindrops race each other down to the bottom. Just as one is about to beat the other, a knock sounds from the door.

Winston instinctively turns toward it, then hesitates.

It must be another kind-hearted neighbor stopping by with a warm casserole and condolences. Normally, they knock once, and then, upon getting no response, hastily leave their ceramic dishes on the front step with a note.

As usual, Winston decides to ignore it and resume his game.

More raindrops are racing; there are three this time. The middle drop takes the lead, edging out its opponents.

A moment later, another knock sounds.

A few seconds pass before the knock comes again.

This time, the sound is an impatient one, followed by a soft female voice calling, “Mr. Grey, sir, I know you’re in there. I saw you at the window. I’ll only be a minute.”

Annoyed yet now curious as to who his visitor might be, Winston eases himself out of the green velvet armchair and makes his way over to the door.

The last time someone had been inside the cottage was twenty-one days ago, on March 4, the day that Rosemary died.

Winston pauses at the doorway, feeling hesitant.

Why is he opening the door to a stranger? Why is a stranger at his house? Who would want to see him?

Then, a thought crosses his mind. Rosemary would have opened the door. She would have greeted the visitor with a smile and a “Hello, how do you do?”

And he opens the door.

A dark-haired young woman clad in a sopping wet, dark green raincoat and tall black Wellies waits there expectantly.

She balances a stuffed tote bag on her shoulder, a large cardboard box tucked into one arm, and a white bakery box in the other. 

“Oh, Mr. Grey, might I come in? The weather is just a fright!”

Before Winston can respond, she walks in and wipes her muddy boots on the mat, continuing on into the cottage.

“Your house is lovely! Mrs. Grey always had such good taste. You must miss her ever so much.”

Winston finds himself saying softly, “Every second of every day.”

Then, he realizes the situation. He has a stranger in his house, and she knows who he is, and who Rosemary is. Or was. 

The woman sits down at Winston’s table and motions for him to sit across from her. Winston takes a seat, eyeing her warily.

“Excuse me, but who are you? And how do you know Rosemary? And me?” 

The woman laughs.

“Oh, Mr. Grey! I’m Lili Pontbridge. I live just down the road. Mrs. Grey - Rosemary - was my maths teacher during year eleven. We didn’t keep in touch after I graduated, but I ran into her just a couple months ago at the Lost Sheep Cafe in town. They have the very best shortcake there! I’ve even brought you some,” she says, motioning to the bakery box.

“Well, anyways, Rosemary mentioned that she worried you would be ever so lonely without her. And, well, once I heard of her passing, I thought of you, so I brought this.

Winston furrows his brow, wondering what a young lady whom he has never met could possibly have to make him feel better about losing the love of his life.

Lili sets down the cardboard box onto the table and opens it. She reaches in and gingerly lifts out a cat. “Meet Oscar!”

Oscar is quite the unique cat, to say the least.

He has soft gray fur with beautiful markings, long white whiskers, and dark green eyes that seem to stare into Winston’s soul.

He lets out a short, bored meow. Winston flinches.

“Haha. He likes you! Oscar’s a bit of an odd ball, but he loves salmon and Downton Abbey, so we’ve always gotten along. He’s from the animal shelter up in Longrove, where I volunteer twice a week.”

Oscar walks across the table, stopping in front of Winston. 

“Well, I’d better get going; my mum’s cooking pot roast and I cannot miss it. Ah, don’t you just love a good roast on a cold day? Right, okay, here is Oscar’s litter box and a bag of litter; the Asda in town sells refills. And here is his bowl with some cans of salmon. He usually only eats once in the morning and once at night, but we leave these little biscuits out for an afternoon snack for him. Kind of like afternoon tea, yeah?” Lili lets out a breath, ending the speech that Winston thought would never end. 

She stands up, leaving the shortcake, Oscar, and his cardboard box, now full of canned salmon and bathroom supplies, on the table. She reaches out and gives Oscar a final pat before gathering up her tote bag and sticking her hand out to Winston.

“It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Grey. I hope you and Oscar become great friends!”

Lili shakes his hand, turns on her heel, and leaves the Grey house. 

Winston stands there for a moment, speechless, taking in all that has just happened. He has a cat now? 

Winston never liked cats, and cats never liked him.

It was as simple as that. He was fine with dogs and birds and fish, but felines and Winston just did not get along with each other. 

Now, look at him. Alone in his old cottage. Rain pouring down outside. In March. With a cat. 

The cat in question flicks his tail and locks eyes with Winston.

The two stare at each other, neither blinking. Who will break first?

After what feels like ages, Winston pushes away from the table and stands up.

He will not be intimidated by a cat.

And so, he goes into the kitchen and begins to prepare his dinner: chicken and vegetable stir fry. For one. 

Winston chops vegetables, the cottage silent except for the sound of the knife slicing through carrots and bell peppers. He browns chicken in a pan and begins to boil rice, settling into the familiar rhythm of cooking.

All the while, Oscar stares at him, perched at his spot on the table, his fluffy tail swishing.

Winston, ever the germaphobe, considers moving the cat and spraying the surface of the table with disinfectant to remove whatever germs Oscar had surely left.

But he relinqushes the thought, choosing to have as little contact as possible with his new pet. 

A little bit later, as Winston is serving himself dinner, Oscar pops out of nowhere next to him.

Winston nearly drops his plate in surprise. 

The cat lets out a long meow. A moment later, he meows again.

Winston sets his plate down on the counter and looks back at Oscar.

"Alright, this is how it's going to be. I won't bother you, and you won't bother me. Ok?"

Oscar flicks his tail and moves closer to Winston, then sits down and meows.

Winston sighs. "What do you want from me? I'm not a cat lover, but I can tell that you don't like me very much either, so we're even."

And then, he remembers: salmon.

He quickly dishes up a can of salmon into the bowl Lili had left and sets it in front of Oscar. The cat slowly starts eating.

Winston smiles, pleased. He turns back to his own dinner and starts to eat. Then, he remembers what else Lili had said: Downton.

Once Oscar has finished the salmon and is staring at him again, waiting for him to make the next move, Winston goes into the living room and turns on Downton Abbey. He always watched it with Rosemary, but hadn't turned it on since she passed.

Oscar instantly hops up next to Winston on the couch and curls up, purring. With that, Winston feels something he hadn't felt in weeks: happiness.

September 03, 2022 03:56

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11 comments

Story Time
16:16 Sep 15, 2022

I thought this piece showed how setting and mood can really create an entire world out of the ordinary. Good job.

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Sara Crutchfield
13:40 Sep 13, 2022

Hey! Your story is realistic, sweet and magical at the same time. It was a pleasure to read and delivered a good dose of whimsy, I suppose you'd call it, to my morning. Thanks!

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Amanda Lieser
18:16 Sep 11, 2022

Hi Michaela! I am a cat lover born on March 25th so I have to tell you I loved your story right away! There was beautiful imagery and I could just feel all the best parts of March oozing into this piece. I also loved the way you had humor and joy in a painful place. I think the best part of this piece, though, was that you kept it about the simple things that can bring happiness during grief. Nice job and congratulations on the shortlist!

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Michaela Dennean
20:14 Sep 11, 2022

Amanda, Thank you for your kind words! I am so glad that you enjoyed my story, and I'm even happier to have a fellow cat lover on here! :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:36 Sep 10, 2022

Fine work. Congrats on the shortlist.

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Michaela Dennean
20:18 Sep 11, 2022

Thank you Philip!

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Philip Ebuluofor
10:51 Sep 12, 2022

My pleasure.

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Naomi Onyeanakwe
10:01 Sep 10, 2022

This story reminds me of the novel, A Man Called Ove. If you haven't read it, you should check it out. Well done and congratulations on the shortlist.

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Michaela Dennean
20:18 Sep 11, 2022

Thank you Naomi! I haven't read that book but I definitely will!

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Tommy Goround
20:59 Sep 08, 2022

Clapping. Nice classical entrance. I find it funny that people often use England, the country, as we would use a state. "The winters of England..." :) Had a nice flow. Everything was packaged well. Congratulations on making the recommended list.

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Michaela Dennean
18:59 Sep 09, 2022

Thank you!

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