Contest #58 shortlist ⭐️

68 comments

Drama Fiction

The arguing started early that day. As we ate our dinner—baked chicken with rosemary seasoning, homemade mashed potatoes, and fried green beans—our forks hit the plates with a sense of urgency. It was the first time in weeks that Mom had cooked a meal from scratch. Or even partially from scratch. My sister and I were getting used to the week-old McDonald's. We had been so desperately hungry that I suppose we forgot to use our manners.


The silverware clanged noisily against the china, food falling out of our mouths from too much excitement, when my dad slammed a fist on the table. My sister and I jumped, exchanging looks at the same time my mom’s fork clattered to the ground. We'd forgotten to wait for my dad to sit down before eating.


“Are you all going to exclude me from dinner now?” he boomed. “I might as well just be eating at the office!”


“Like you do every other day?” Mom yelled, slamming her own fork on the table after snatching it off the carpet.


“I stay late to put a roof over your head! Food on the table!” He gestured an angry hand to the home cooked meal stuffed in our faces.


“The food I cooked?!”


I dragged the fork full of mashed potatoes to my mouth. It had been hovering mid-air in my hand when my dad slammed his fist to the table, but now seeing where this quarrel was going, I stuffed the buttery goodness into my mouth. Every fight began the same way—Dad being debarred, Mom complaining how it seems that way all the time, then Dad making a fuss about how much work he has on his plate, and so on and so on. It eventually led to yelling about Robbie, our brother who had been in and out of rehab since the age of twenty-three. He turned twenty-seven only a few short months before.


Robbie stayed at local bars and refused to attend church with my family and I. He was either passed out in some poor woman’s apartment, stuck in a fist fight with a man twice his age, or on the phone begging my mom to forgive him, despite the pain he insisted on causing on the rest of us. There was always something. That’s when the fights began. My mom was more worried for Robbie's spiritual health while my dad was worried about Robbie crashing in our basement unwelcomed. Mom had let him stay on several occasions when he was not in the right state of mind. The differing perspectives caused a clash of opinions, and instead of communicating calmly about the situation, they decided to scream at each other.


I peered over at my younger sister, Lysa, and watched as her eyes began to fill with tears. Pools of salty water dripped down from her left eye and onto her round cheek. I gritted my teeth. Our parent’s brawls at each other never quite bothered me the way it did for her. Lysa choked up if someone simply looked at her the wrong way. I couldn’t blame her—she was only six years old at the time. But seeing her trembling with fear, tears cascading down from both eyes, it made me boil with anger. I wanted to jerk back my chair, yell at two adults for going at it in front of a child and embrace my little sister. So, that’s what I did. And at the very same time I went to throw back my chair, everything went black.


“What the—” I whispered.


My parents had gone quiet, too. The sound of footsteps filled the room as one of them went over to the light switch. They flipped it angrily a few times, letting out a huff when nothing happened. “Power’s out,” Dad grumbled.


“What?” Mom’s voice had a frantic edge to it. “What do you mean the power’s out? Why is it out?”


“I don’t know, Sarah. I didn’t cause the power to disappear like some kind of—”


“Would you both stop it?!” I snapped. Silence washed over the pitch-black room and I heard a muffled sniff in Lysa’s direction. I took a deep breath. I wasn’t going to be like my parents. “Go check the living room and the upstairs. Maybe it’s just the kitchen lights that sputtered out.” I knew that probably wasn’t true, but it got everyone out of the room to cool off. I tiptoed over to Lysa’s chair and quietly whispered a boo in her ear, taking hold of her shoulders.


Lysa yelped, whipping around. I grinned, though she couldn’t see, and she slapped me hard on the arm. “Rosa! You scared me!” Lysa had a distinct lisp, one she had since she was born, and no one ever bothered to fix. Instead of Rosa, it came out “Rotha” and scared became “thared”. I always wondered if she got picked on by her fellow classmates, though she never brought it up. I cast a weary smile at her, pushing back a stray hair that had stuck to her sticky cheek.


“The power is out throughout the house. I’ve checked every room on the second floor.” I started at the sound of my mom’s uneasy voice.


“The whole downstairs is out, too,” my dad grumbled. When he strode back into the kitchen, his face was illuminated by the artificial glow of a flashlight, casting eerie shadows in the cracks and wrinkles of his face. It made his scowl more pronounced, causing him to appear much more intimidating. I swallowed.


A chill breeze blew in behind me, rustling my hair, and I turned to peer out the window that was left open for dinner. The sun had long ago set, giving the moon the full stage to shine. Cicadas hummed noisily and lightning bugs flitted around like fallen stars. An idea planted itself in my mind at the sight of the peaceful night. “We should go camping.” The words came out a whisper, as if my mind hardly registered the words. A beat of silence. Two beats. Three. Then—


“Yes, yes! Please can we go! We can watch the stars and roast marshmallows and tell stories, please, please, please!” Lysa leapt out of her chair, and into our mom’s unsuspecting arms, nearly knocking her over with elation. Her eyes were now dry, left with only a silent plead to go outside.


The tension still sat heavy in the air from the earlier fight and was slowly beginning to lift with Lysa’s ecstasy. “I think we have a tent in the closet,” Mom breathed. That was all it took for Lysa to begin bouncing off the walls and darting into the backyard.


***


Camping was not as easy as I once remembered when my family dragged out the tent. It was clear that it had not been used in a good ten years, back when Robbie still lived at home. He loved camping in the summer—catching lightning bugs, his eyes matching their sparkle when they roamed his hand, roasting gooey marshmallows and smushing them between two pieces of chocolate instead of graham crackers, and sleeping soundly in the tent he set up with his own two hands, letting the crickets outside swoon him to sleep. It was his favorite tradition, one he never stopped babbling about the moment school ended for summer break. I suppose that’s why I felt so surprised when the idea of camping sprouted in my mind. And even more so when my parents agreed to it.


Our tent building skills were dire compared to Robbie’s, the tent looking one nudge short of collapsing. But it was up, nonetheless. Lysa had fallen asleep long before the tent-building was completed and was sprawled out on a blanket, eyes fluttering as dreams filled her sleeping mind. My mom and I now stood around her, waiting as Dad went out in search of firewood. I bit the inside of my cheek as I watched Lysa’s chest rise and fall.


“It’s a peaceful night, isn’t it?” Mom whispered quietly. I turned my attention away from Lysa. “Summer nights always were my favorite.” I didn’t respond. Simply nodded, listening. “We weren’t always like this, you know. Your father and I have had our good days. It’s just a hard time with—”


“Robbie. I know, Mom. You don’t have to explain anything to me.” My heart felt numb, as it always did when this conversation began. I no longer had the patience to listen to my parents’ excuses why they acted out.


“Okay.” She fell silent.


Dad was back soon enough, flashlight lighting the way with a handful of wood clutched to his side. I took the opportunity to abandon any further pity conversations and scooped up Lysa, carrying her back to the tent. I laid her softly on a pink sleeping bag, one that I used over a decade ago. She curled up immediately, bringing her legs up to her stomach and nestling her head in the cushion. Lysa didn’t even bat an eye at the change of scenery and part of me wished she had.


“The one time you fall asleep early,” I whispered, feigning annoyance. I crossed my legs, tucking my hands in my lap. I stayed there for a beat before switching positions again. I groaned, knowing I couldn’t stay there forever just to avoid my parents.


But I did stay, for quite a while. I spent several minutes staring at Lysa, wishing I were her. Despite her tearing up at even the slightest angry tone, she still managed to be the happiest little girl I knew. She would cry, but the moment the fighting was over, her eyes would dry, and she would be off playing and twirling around as if nothing happened.


To her, the fights were never guaranteed. She lived in her own world where everyone was happy all the time, even when they were not. Me on the other hand, I knew that yelling was always promised at some point of the day. I could not enjoy the sweet moments because my mind was always preparing itself for the next beat-down. I longed to be a careless child again.


My mind then veered to the noises summer nights brought with it every year. The crickets and cicadas still performing their concert. The occasional whiz of a car on a late-night drive. The wind swirling through the trees, their leaves shuddering in the night. As my mind focused on every individual sound of the outside, I heard something else that made my ears prickle—silence. I lifted a finger, pulling back the opening of the tent, and peered outside.


My breath hitched as I spotted my parents, their backs turned towards me. They sat still on the flannel blanket Lysa had slept on before, fire sizzling in front of them, with their hands intertwined. They were not talking but merely gazing at each other, their eyes speaking for them. My heart thundered inside my chest as I realized it was time to join them around the fire.


Just as the arguments began the same way, they ended the same, as well. It would either be crying, apologizing, or hugging, but never a simple conversation. Never a simple look that showcased their true feelings like a book splayed out for the world to see. Nothing like what I witnessed around that fire.


I crept my way out of the tent, zipping it shut behind me, and took my spot beside them around the flaming wood. I wasn’t a child who could just ignore the world around them and hope everyone is happy at the end of the day. I couldn’t stay mad at my parents for being under the pressure of providing for two children and trying to handle one who was an alcoholic. They were not perfect, not even close. But neither was I. It was my turn to take care of them.


“I think we should call Robbie,” I said, softly. They both turned to stare at me. I met their eyes. “It’s time we find him the help he needs instead of taking it out on each other.”


They didn’t say anything at first, letting my words comb through their minds. Then they nodded. “I’ll get the phone,” my mom said.


“I’ll come with you.” My dad lifted up from his seated posture to follow my mom inside. He squeezed my shoulder as he walked by, comforting me.


There was a knot in my stomach I hadn’t realized had formed, and it softened at the subtle touch. The fire in front of me was getting smaller and smaller, until it finally gave up and fizzled out. Somehow, I felt the fire represented the end of something more than just warmth for the night.


I smiled, ever so slightly, reaching across to grab two pieces of wood. I struck them together and watched as a new fire sprung to life.

September 06, 2020 16:53

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68 comments

Amany Sayed
02:49 Sep 25, 2020

This was so well written! I loved the descriptions and imagery. The way you described the insects as having a concert made me smile. I also liked the 'pink sleeping bag she hadn't used in years'. Overall, it was amazing and fit together nicely. I don't have any critiques, and anyway I would feel really silly giving critiques to such a good writer. And you were shortlisted too! Congrats! Keep writing :)

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Maggie Deese
03:10 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you, Amany! I truly appreciate it! :)

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Avani G
17:35 Sep 20, 2020

Congrats on the Shortlist, Maggie!

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Maggie Deese
17:52 Sep 20, 2020

Thank you! I appreciate it!

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R. K.
00:43 Sep 20, 2020

This was wonderful in such a realistic and emotional way. It had me hanging from the first paragraph to the last line, which I found so hopeful and inspiring beautiful. Your writing voice is a marvel. When you find the time, would you mind giving me some feedback on my latest story? It hasn't been approved yet, but it's on my profile. Overall, I think it totally deserved to be shortlisted because of the pain and hope it portrayed so emotionally.

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Maggie Deese
02:33 Sep 20, 2020

Thank you so much for the kind comment! I truly appreciate it :) I would be more than happy to read your story!

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Doubra Akika
21:18 Sep 18, 2020

Such an amazing story, Maggie! Such a realistic and beautifully told story. The emotions felt so real and so relatable. The family dynamic was also really marvelous. You did a wonderful job with this. So glad I read this. Hope you're staying safe! Oh yeah! And congratulations on being shortlisted!

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Maggie Deese
21:35 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you so much, Doubra! I really appreciate it! I hope you're staying safe, as well! :)

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Doubra Akika
00:05 Sep 19, 2020

It was honestly my pleasure! I am, thanks so much! If you’re free, I’d love if you could check out my recent story. I’d love your feedback on it.

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Maggie Deese
00:19 Sep 19, 2020

I would be happy to!

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Doubra Akika
00:35 Sep 19, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:15 Sep 11, 2020

What beautiful writing! I felt like I was right there with the summer night and the fire, the cicadas and the tent. I'm not much for camping, but the way you wrote it...you almost have me convinced to give it another go. Lovely story, Maggie!

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Maggie Deese
20:20 Sep 11, 2020

Thank you, Kristen! I appreciate it!

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Yolanda Wu
06:55 Sep 10, 2020

This was such an interesting story and wow your descriptions throughout were so good. You did it so well with the food at the start, I literally felt like I could taste it. I loved the voice of the character and the dialogue. This was just a really good story. And that ending was so well done. Amazing work!

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Maggie Deese
13:54 Sep 10, 2020

Thank you, Yolanda! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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04:48 Sep 10, 2020

I loved this. You took me into the complexities of the family, to the love they felt for each other. Wonderful story.

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Maggie Deese
05:39 Sep 10, 2020

Thank you so much, Catherine!

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Aveena Bordeaux
05:42 Sep 09, 2020

I was wandering through Reedsy and came across this, and boy was I glad I did. This was such good narrative and I love how this was centered around Robbie, who wasn't even there. All the characters were amazing and the way the ending settled made me smile and feel warm. This was great, Maggie!

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Maggie Deese
14:31 Sep 09, 2020

Thank you so much, Joy! That makes me so happy and I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

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01:02 Sep 09, 2020

I love what you did with this prompt. My imagination went to "happy quirky carefree family camping in the backyard!", but the direction you took it in was far more interesting. We don't really know what prompted the parents to suddenly make up at the end, but it's nice to see the narrator taking initiative and saying what no one wants to say: they need to call Robbie. I like how even though Robbie isn't here, in this scene, he is the driving force of the drama, while the power outage is the driving force of the resolution. It's a reversal of...

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Maggie Deese
02:43 Sep 09, 2020

Thank you for your wonderful in-depth comment, Natalie! I truly appreciate it. I'm so happy you enjoyed it and I love that you read it with the windows open! I made a few edits throughout the story, taking your suggestions and making some of my own. They are small but I hope they clear things up a bit more! Thank you again for taking the time to read it!

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Masha Kurbatova
02:04 Sep 08, 2020

i loved the flow of this story, and how deeply i felt the protagonist's pain. i liked the symbolism with the fire at the end too!

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Maggie Deese
02:18 Sep 08, 2020

Thank you so much, Masha! This was a different style than what I usually write, so I wasn't sure if it would be well received. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Jenny Lee
17:02 Sep 23, 2020

I like the adjectives which you used in the paragraph. It makes me imagine the scenery from my eyes,and the conversation is really vivid. Very great! I enjoy my reading very much.

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Maggie Deese
17:16 Sep 23, 2020

Thank you so much, Jenny! Glad you enjoyed it!

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Laura Clark
10:13 Sep 22, 2020

I definitely read this last week - I don't know why I didn't comment on it. My apologies but I'm glad it was shortlisted because it brought it to my attention again! I really enjoyed this. I thought that the way you constructed the characters was brilliant and each one was relatable in a different way. The take on the prompt was refreshing - I was expecting lots of idyllic happy family gatherings so this instantly subverted my expectations. It also gave a more authentic way for your characters to (re)connect. The symbolism at the...

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Maggie Deese
13:42 Sep 22, 2020

Thank you, Laura! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and that my characters were so relatable. All of these nice comments never fail to make me blush! :)

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Sincerely Free
21:59 Sep 19, 2020

That was a nice read ! Lysa is very likeable.

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Maggie Deese
22:00 Sep 19, 2020

Thank you!

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Zilla Babbitt
13:40 Sep 19, 2020

*gasp* Congrats, Maggie! Well done!

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Maggie Deese
13:46 Sep 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Zilla!! 💕

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02:34 Sep 19, 2020

This story has me tearing up and I'm not a crier. This is one ofmy favorite stories on here ever. Well done. Beautiful

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Maggie Deese
02:37 Sep 19, 2020

Your comment has me tearing up :') thank you so much, Sarah! I truly, truly appreciate it.

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Karen Johnson
18:39 Sep 18, 2020

Very insightful story about what external pressures can do to a family. I love that losing electricity actually shed light on what they should do next. Nice twist! Great descriptions of interactions of family members. Only one question - should the word be disbarred or debarred? Thank you for a good read!

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Maggie Deese
18:44 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you very much, Karen! I'm glad you enjoyed it. And hmmm, I did not see that. Debarred and disbarred are very similar in definitions, so it doesn't make too much of a difference, but disbarred definitely would've been the right word. Thank you for catching that!

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Kristin Neubauer
17:09 Sep 18, 2020

I'm so happy this story was chosen for the shortlist, Maggie! It was so insightful and, of course, beautifully written. Congrats!!!

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Maggie Deese
17:32 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you!! I literally jumped up and down when I saw it🎉

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Leilani Lane
14:26 Sep 18, 2020

Congrats on the Shortlist, Maggie! I really connected with Rosa here. Wonderful work!

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Maggie Deese
14:30 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you so much, Leilani!! I was so so happy when I saw 😭

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Leilani Lane
14:31 Sep 18, 2020

You should be!! Go celebrate girl!! :) cheers to you!!

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Maggie Deese
14:46 Sep 18, 2020

😁🎉🎉

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Zee Kai
14:22 Sep 17, 2020

It feels realistic and I got immersed after the first paragraph. Your story is amazing!

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Maggie Deese
14:45 Sep 17, 2020

Thank you, Zee!

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Lonnie Larson
02:05 Sep 17, 2020

I've seen that sort of pain. You bring it to life far to easy. I do hope that this is made up and not from experience. Good job. Well done.

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Maggie Deese
02:12 Sep 17, 2020

Thank you, Lonnie! The plot in itself is made up (such as the alcoholic brother), but the emotions are all something I have experienced, as I think everyone has experienced at some point in their life. Hopelessness, numbness, anxiety. I hoped to bring those emotions to light and show how Rosa overcame them with just a little bit of courage. I am so glad you enjoyed it :)

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