Contest #144 winner 🏆

160 comments

Sad Fiction Romance

The canister had always been there, rolling around at the bottom of his duffle bag. Whenever he packed, his fingers would graze over the smooth, gray top, but he’d never take it out, never look directly at it. Sometimes when he unpacked, the canister would get wound up in a dirty sock or wedged inside a pocket, and it would come up with a handful of laundry as he went to chuck it into the machine. Whenever this happened, Jake would carefully retrieve the black cylinder and tuck it back into the bottom corner of his bag. 

That’s where it belonged. That’s where it stayed. For years. 

It had been so long, he no longer remembered what was on the film, what pictures could be frozen there on the tiny strip of celluloid. 

When Maggie died, Jake was lost. He left his job, gave up their apartment, packed a few things into his duffle bag, and left town. He gave up on himself, letting his hair grow long and his beard grow white.

He drove the highways aimlessly, stoic behind the wheel of their beloved ‘69 Charger. Maggie loved that car more than most things and having her gone, looking to his right and seeing her seat empty was like a dagger to the side every time he looked. In the late afternoons, he could imagine her there; small hand hanging out of the window, fingers surfing on the wind. He could see the golden light of sunset in her fiery hair, illuminating her pale, beautiful face like an angel. If he wanted it badly enough, Jake could reach across the seats and take her hand, close his fingers around the apparition, feel her close. 

But when reality returned, it hit hard. 

His tears never seemed to stop, falling hard like a downpour on the windshield. The back of his hand wasn’t as efficient as the wipers to blast the drops of salty pain away, but it was all he had. When it was bad, he pulled over, caution lights blinking on the side of the road until the worst was over.  

Jake stuck to the smaller towns, enjoying the feel of an old-timey Main Street. He liked to see the houses built close together, their covered porches inviting neighbors and strangers alike to sit and talk. He loved the old mom and pop stores, their windows filled with enticing seasonal displays. He told the time by these windows, counting months with glittered paper shamrocks or tiny American flags. 

Mostly he floated. There was nowhere to be, no destination waiting for him at the end of the road. He slept in the car, stretching his long legs across the backseat and using her old gray hoodie as a pillow. Her smell had long ago faded, but if he tried hard enough, Jake could remember the faint hint of coconut that always seemed to spring from her skin. She liked to tease him saying that being from Florida meant that everything about her was tropical, even her scent. He didn’t care why she smelled like she did, what shampoo or lotion combination made her so delicious, he just knew that she was. 

Maggie had been the light of and in his life and now he wandered in the shadows without her. 

At night, with passing headlights rolling across the roof, Jake would conjure up a dream of her. It was routine now. He started with her hair, that flaming red mess of curls that tangled between his fingers, catching even when he tried to be smooth with his touches. Her eyes came next, faded denim blue beneath pale lashes that were almost blonde in the sunlight. They were his favorite; clear and true and filled with nothing but love when they lingered on his face. 

He’d fall asleep like that, imagining her features, recreating her in his mind. Some nights she would sneak into his dreams and he’d curl in on himself, loving the fantasy. Other times there was nothing behind his eyes, no comforting smile, no warm laugh, no touch from her delicate hand. 

Those nights were cold and sleep was far from his grasp. The worst part was, those nights were coming more often lately. It seemed harder for him to invoke her spirit, to remember the curve of her cheek, the pitch of her nose. 

Maggie was fading away. 

He worked odd jobs when he felt like it or when his wallet was empty and the gas tank was low. He was strong and tall, and construction work came easy to him, though there was no passion in it for him. It was just a day or two out in the sun, tanning his big arms and filling the car back up. A few bosses would ask him to stay on, but he never accepted. There were roads left to travel, stars yet to sleep beneath. He made a few friends along the way, but none would ever stick; it wasn’t worth the effort anyway. He knew he wasn’t good for anything without her, wasn’t someone anyone would want to know. He was just a traveler now, a ghost like her.

The desert was dry and sweat was beading on his chest and brow. He beat the drops away but they came right back, teasing him like some wicked dream. With the sun bright in the distance, he squinted at the road ahead and marveled at the steam coming up from the pavement. Heat lines danced before his eyes and the white lines blurred. His vision was glossy; his eyes were stinging. 

Reaching into the backseat, Jake dug into the duffle bag and fished around for a clean shirt. He needed something to wipe the day away, to clear his head once more before the mirage on the side of the road took over. 

Fumbling, his fingers chanced upon the canister and Jake recoiled. He never pulled it out, never looked at it lest it disappear forever. His heart was racing, head pounding from the heat. He reached again and the film can slipped into his palm. His fingers closed around it and Jake brought it out for the first time, holding it tight and pressing his fist to his chest. 

Maggie was inside, he knew. 

Maggie’s gorgeous smile. Her big front teeth and ears that stuck out just a bit too much on the tops. Her freckles, her spirit, her love. 

He clutched the can and chewed his lip, biting back the tears, fighting the sweat and pain. 

Two towns later he found a place to develop the film and he sat outside on a weather-worn bench, counting down the hour in his mind. The street was like a hundred he’d seen; people milling about under the mid-morning sky, small storefronts crowded together, their colorful awnings shading the sidewalk. 

It seemed nice, yet like every other place: empty without her.

When time was up, Jake went back inside, ducking beneath the bells that jingled on the door. He thanked the clerk and held the envelope tight in his hand. 

It sat on the passenger's seat as he drove away, unopened, the photos unseen. 

It leaned up against the ketchup bottle at the diner as Jake ate his burger, the pictures still a mystery.  

Jake stared at the packet as he sipped his coffee, dragging up the will to set the images free. He’d been running from them for so long, from the ache of whatever was inside, he was terrified now to open it. Afraid he would break down when he saw her face, that he would scream at the world around him when her ghost returned, crisp and beautiful, solid in his hands. 

He’d been running too long. He was tired. 

Jake took a breath and opened the envelope, tipping it over to let the photographs spill out onto the tabletop. 

When he looked down, his eyes blurred behind thick tears. Every photo was of him. Every snapshot was a random moment he’d shared with Maggie, but all from her point of view; all an angle of him. His smile, his crooked nose, his shaggy blond hair, his hands, his lips. It was all him. 

For so long, he’d been holding onto her, and all along she’d been holding onto him. 

May 03, 2022 16:51

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160 comments

Deidra Lovegren
20:34 May 07, 2022

Thanks for writing the perfect love letter. This read seamlessly, effortlessly, cleanly. Wonderful characterization, vibrant imagery, and a poignant ending. The last line was just artful. Loved it.

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Rebekah Jordan
13:41 May 08, 2022

Thank you so so much for reading and for this amazing compliment! <3

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Cindy Strube
07:03 May 13, 2022

Beautifully written. Very sad, but in a sweet way - like the feeling of autumn sun. The ending is unexpected, and in some way makes their connection even stronger.

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Rebekah Jordan
11:54 May 13, 2022

This is just lovely. Thank you so much!

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Cindy Strube
14:53 May 13, 2022

Congratulations on the win! Wow - on your first submission… Absolutely deserved!

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Rebekah Jordan
23:07 May 13, 2022

Thanks again!!

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Rebecca Miles
04:37 May 14, 2022

Wonderful small details like the film canister in the sock really drew me in; believable and moving attention to detail to build up the emotional intensity. I also admire your confidence in line placing; some stunning decsisions to strand lines for emphasis. I could imagine this beautiful story contining: does he learn anything from the revelation of the developed photos? Does his importance increase his self-worth? Drive to go on? The two make for compelling protagonists for a longer work; I'd love to learn more of their backstory and from ...

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Rebekah Jordan
13:24 May 14, 2022

Oh this gives me many ideas. Thank you so much!

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Thom Brodkin
14:44 May 12, 2022

Rebekah, this was so well written and so easy to read. I am amazed at writers who can make scenes characters in their stories. You definitely have that gift. I also love the unexpectedly satisfying resolution to your story. It would have been so easy to end according to formula but you made your own formula and it worked magnificently. Great job.

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Rebekah Jordan
16:12 May 12, 2022

Thom, thank you so much for this! Made my week :))

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Thom Brodkin
14:17 May 13, 2022

I knew you were going to win. I actually typed it in my comment but then deleted it because I didn't want to jinx you. Fantastic writing, really top notch.

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Rebekah Jordan
23:01 May 13, 2022

that's so sweet!! I'm in shock, truly. Thank you again!

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L. Maddison
07:45 May 14, 2022

The way the sense of being emotionally lost emotionally is set against Jake’s drifting journey is poignant. I love how you build anticipation about seeing the photos and the tender conclusion. This is a worthy win.

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Rebekah Jordan
13:23 May 14, 2022

Thank you very much!

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02:53 May 14, 2022

This is my favorite story I've read on here so far! I felt every emotion and my eyes even became teary at the end. I love a story that makes me feel something and this was amazing writing. Congrats on the win!

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Rebekah Jordan
13:25 May 14, 2022

Thank you 💖💖

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Connie Lindgreen
21:29 May 13, 2022

Bravo, Rebekah! A wonderful story, taking the reader from what could have been a cliché to the deeply-felt specifics of Jake's life and desolation, and then ... the sense of closure - for him, and for us. Masterfully done.

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Rebekah Jordan
23:02 May 13, 2022

i very much appreciate your words. thank you!

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Pauline Chow
18:12 May 13, 2022

What a lovely story! The ending is the result of fantastic tension and character building.

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Rebekah Jordan
23:04 May 13, 2022

I thank you very much :))

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15:56 May 13, 2022

Rebekah! This was beautiful 😭❤️ The ending was what got me. It was so perfect. You really caught so much emotion from the narrator. Congratulations on a WELL DESERVED win! 👏👏👏

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Rebekah Jordan
23:07 May 13, 2022

Thank you so so much, Hannah!

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Howard Halsall
14:45 May 13, 2022

Hello Rebekah, I loved reading your story, it was wonderfully put together. A delightful love letter and a touching piece of writing. I found the conclusion very moving and look forward to reading your future submissions. Take care HH

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Rebekah Jordan
23:00 May 13, 2022

Thank you so much!

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Deidra Lovegren
14:05 May 13, 2022

THIS IS SO GREAT !!! I loved this story from Word #1. Just comes together so artfully -- and the last line is poetry. So pleased, Rebekah!

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Rebekah Jordan
23:01 May 13, 2022

so glad you enjoyed it! thank you !

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Ginger Scharpe
01:53 May 12, 2022

This was an amazing story. I liked how you portrayed Jake as a big man with such emotions. Very well written. Thanks for sharing.

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Rebekah Jordan
11:03 May 12, 2022

Thank you so much for reading!

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Lily Finch
02:48 Aug 16, 2022

Excellent characterization and beautifully orchestrated. One of the nicest stories I've read here. Thank you Rebekah. LF6

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Vishal Av
18:48 Aug 09, 2022

The visuals injected into this story is wonderful. The fact that she held on to him was an amazing twist which I never expected. ☺️

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Osaca Os
17:27 Jul 19, 2022

nice nice nice nice vice and great work thank you

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Osaca Os
16:16 Jul 19, 2022

can i use this story in youtube mp3 and montion your name pleas

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Rebekah Jordan
18:04 Jul 19, 2022

that's so sweet, but no thank you. I'd rather keep my stories under my own umbrella.

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Mark J
17:41 Jul 15, 2022

Rebekah. Are these stories copyright free? I love this

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Rebekah Jordan
18:06 Jul 15, 2022

Thank you so much! But no, I'd like to retain ownership/copyrights on all my work :)

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Fatima Bouzidi
06:49 Jul 12, 2022

I randomly came across this story, and I absolutely loved it. This story was beautiful.

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Rebekah Jordan
18:05 Jul 15, 2022

Thank you so much!

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Ava Raim
05:58 Jul 05, 2022

Ah, this is so lovely. Bittersweet and beautifully written, it makes me think of what we can hope to keep when the ones we love are no longer around. Really wonderful story, Rebekah!

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John K Adams
23:51 Jun 29, 2022

Great story, Rebekah! Having been a film photographer all my life, I could relate and every finely observed detail, glowed with truth. The ending was perfect and a complete surprise. Loved it!

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