Contest #101 winner 🏆

144 comments

Contemporary Fiction Sad

Colleen is packing to leave for university. She folds her clothes into neat piles, her fair hair arranged in an artfully messy bun, with gold strands curling around her face. She packs her rolled up socks into the maze of groves left by the clothes piles. Her movements are thoughtful and tender, like she is tucking them into bed. 


I watch her from my quiet corner outside the door of her room, chewing on a hangnail. I am still wearing my pyjamas and I haven’t showered yet today. I stare at her, willing her to hear my voice in her head. 


Wait for me. 


Wait your turn. I should go first. I’m the oldest. I’m the smartest. I deserve it more.


*


We've been linked since Colleen was born, ten short months after me. We have been Colleen-and-Cara; say it in one quick exhale. A pair of girls, a couple of friends, two sisters. In Irish, as Gaeilge, "cailín" means girl, and "cara" means friend. We've constantly been compared, weighed against each other, with me consistently coming out on top.


I’ve always been the “gifted” sister. My dad enrolled us in violin lessons when we were in primary school. Colleen dragged her horsehair bow along the strings in a cat’s wail, didn't notice when her strings flattened and needed tuning, cried at the mention of scales. I mastered the art of the up-bow, conquered vibrato, practiced for hours a day until my violin sang like a soprano. I was playing concertos by Mozart while Colleen was still grappling with her arpeggios. 


Colleen is the “all-rounder”. If society is a school of fish, Colleen is happily weaving her way in the middle. She’s easy to talk to, easily liked, always making friends. She’s lovely, funny, and perfectly average. She is going to study nursing, to help others. In school, she ran on the cross country team. She wasn’t their star runner, but she was reliable, dependable, guaranteed to place somewhere in the middle. 


The middle has never appealed to me. I believe it is better to be great than to be liked.


In school, I didn’t want to be average; I wanted to be a prodigy. My musical prowess firmly embedded into my personality, I took pleasure in reminding Colleen of my brilliance and her mediocrity. I scorned at her minor successes, like when she was cast in the school play and I wasn’t, when she was picked for the cross country team and I wasn’t. She was average at a lot of things, I was gifted at one. My dad held me up as the golden child, the one to be admired. Colleen bore it all with a smile. She came to my violin competitions and listened to my tediously technical pieces with patience. 


“Congratulations, Cara,” she beamed at me, every time my name was called out as the first place winner. I thanked her graciously, secretly rolling my eyes that she mastered nothing more than how to follow a dirt path with her feet. 


Look out for your sister, my dad told Colleen. She might have trouble fitting in. Geniuses always do.


So Colleen took me with her, to "socialise me", she joked. Her friends, a unexceptional group of girls, didn’t like me very much. They thought I was awkward, saying the wrong things at the wrong time, wearing the wrong clothes. And I thought I was better than them, with their stupid squabbling over boys. 


“I’m not like other girls,” I told Colleen. 


“Why don’t you want to be like other girls?”


“They don’t care about anything important. Not like me. I’m gifted.”


“And the superiority complex strikes again,” she sighed. “You won’t make friends acting like that.”


“I don’t need friends.”


“What are we then, if not friends?”


I looked at her. “We’re sisters.”


*


As I watch her packing, I think of when we were little. Colleen is younger than me, but she has always been stronger. She could run fast in the playground, faster than most of the other children. 


“Wait for me!” 


Sometimes, when she was lost in the thrill of the race, she forgot about me. I would be scrambling to catch up, knowing I would never be fast enough. But Colleen always remembered me. She would turn her head and slow down so that I could catch up with her, and I would reach her, panting, clutching a stitch, just to point out some flaw in her shoes or her clothes to cover up the fact that I was jealous that she was better at something than me.


*


My dad told me over and over again that I could do anything I wanted with my talent. I soared through the advanced music programme in school and was admitted to university on a full music scholarship. He and Colleen were thrilled for me. My full potential was about to be revealed. 


But it was too hard. They don’t tell you that about university, that it’s not the same as school. There’s less help. You have to do things for yourself, make your own way. Colleen had diagnosed me with a “superiority complex”, and my student adviser gently hinted that this was coming across to other students and staff. “Difficult” was their word for me. Difficult to work with, difficult to manage. In the orchestra, I rowed with other violinists, stormed off in a huff, declaring that none of them could match me in talent.


"You may have been a big fish in a little pond back home, but now you are one of many," I was warned by the conductor, a fat old man who couldn't stand up straight enough to hold a violin properly, let alone play one. I told him as much. He told me to get out.


Without my sister’s natural ease of moving through a crowd, I struggled to mingle, to communicate. I preferred practicing chromatic scales to drinking alcohol, so I spent all my time alone in my room. My housemates hammered furiously on my door to shut me up during my early morning practicing sessions. Within six weeks, I was struggling to do anything. I stopped eating, stopped showering. I stopped playing the violin. Its case grew dusty as it lay untouched, cast aside until my dad and Colleen drove up to rescue me. I haven't played it since.


I holed up in my room, a recluse, dwelling on my failures. Colleen progressed through her final year at secondary school, sat her exams, surrounded by friends.


Once, I overheard a heated conversation between Colleen and my dad. Her words carried through the walls of our house. I sat in my room, listening.


“Don’t you realise how hard it is to bend over backwards to try to help her all the time? And for what? She doesn’t care. She doesn’t say “thank you”. Do you know how many times I haven’t been able to go places, because I have to bring her too? I can’t put my life on hold forever. I don’t want to have to keep compromising myself. I love her. But it’s like dragging around a dead weight.”


*


Wait for your weight, Colleen, I think as I watch her packing away her life, preparing for a new start. I want to plead with her.


Wait. For me.


Do it for me.


Please Colleen, I want to beg. I have nothing else. Let me have this. I tap gently on her open door and come inside. Colleen's bedroom is pink and white, decorated with cheesy photos of her and her friends, her and my dad, her and I.


“If I asked you to wait for me… wait until I go back to uni... would you?” I ask.


She starts, drops a loose pair of socks. She sighs. A strand of her hair, perfectly curled, sways away from her face. She doesn’t pick up the socks. She straightens up, folds her arms. 


"Wait for what? Wait another year, until you're ready to go back? So that you won't be behind me for once?"


"Yes," I wince. It sounds terrible, ridiculous even, when she says it.


“Do you care about me at all, Cara?”


“Yes." 


“If you did, you wouldn’t ask.”


I start to cry. A final act of desperation. “Please, Colleen.” I gesture to myself. “Look at me. I have nothing except the violin, and I don't even have that anymore. Do you know how hard it is for me to see you move away, when I’m still stuck here? It was supposed to be me. I’m the brilliant one.”


She looks out the window. I think she's going to ignore me, but she speaks.


“Do you remember, a few years ago, when I was running on the cross country team? You had a violin competition and I had a race. They were on the same day, at different times. Your competition was first. You would have made it to see me finish my race, to watch me cross the finish line. I asked you to come. You said you’d be too tired after winning the competition. I asked you please, to hold on for another couple of hours, so that you, me and Dad could go home together. I asked you to wait for me. And you said no. And Dad brought you home, because he always sides with you. And I got a lift back on the bus. On my own."


I shake my head. “I don’t remember that.”


“I asked you to wait for me.” She looks at me now. “And you just said no. I don’t care what kind of excuses Dad makes for you. I know now. I knew then. I’m not waiting for someone who won’t ever catch up.”


She leaves the room. I pick up the dropped socks. I bundle them into a pair, and tuck them neatly into the suitcase with her other belongings, so lovingly arranged. Then I sit on the floor, looking at her many possessions. When I moved away, I brought only a rucksack of clothes and my violin. I thought I needed nothing else. But now, as I stare at her suitcase, I think of how different my experience might have been, if I could have taken with me my best friend, Colleen.


July 08, 2021 11:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

144 comments

Jonathan Raphael
20:00 Jul 16, 2021

This is brilliant. Well done. I loved reading this story. I was hooked all the way through. You're a brilliant writer.

Reply

Mary Sheehan
13:57 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you Jonathan! A few years ago, my prose used to be very flowery and I relied on telling the reader everything. In the last few years, I have realised that less is more with storytelling; fewer words, but better words. It seems to be working!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jonathan Raphael
19:52 Jul 16, 2021

Congratulations on the win!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amanda Gocel
19:08 Jul 16, 2021

I love this story so much!! It reminds me of the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none." Usually, people say it with a negative connotation. This story really illustrates why that isn't always true. For some people, mediocrity is the key to contentment. For others, excellence. It's hard when these two personalities clash, though. Thank you for this!

Reply

Mary Sheehan
06:29 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you Amanda!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
19:06 Jul 16, 2021

This story is so beautiful. I'm the type of reader that normally finds a lot of mistakes in people's writing but honestly, I have no complaints about this. The use of language is exquisite. They are some sad times in the story but that's what makes this such a beautiful piece of art. I feel your win was well deserved. Congratulations. 😀

Reply

Mary Sheehan
06:29 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you Oluwadarasimi 😊😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
M. M.
19:05 Jul 16, 2021

What a delightful read, and your use of metaphors beautifully done. Loved how you separated their thoughts as well, made them into individuals, two different characters altogether that just "popped off" the page, excellent show not tell. congrats.

Reply

Mary Sheehan
06:29 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you! 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Santina Forlenza
19:04 Jul 16, 2021

Thank you Mary. I felt so many emotions and feelings while reading your story.

Reply

Mary Sheehan
06:30 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you Santina 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Aayonijaa Dixit
17:34 Jul 16, 2021

This was beautiful, that's all I can say!

Reply

Mary Sheehan
06:35 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you Aayonijaa 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Sharon Marcus
17:12 Jul 16, 2021

Nice. Congratulation!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Scott Skinner
16:46 Jul 16, 2021

Congrats on the win, nice story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Lilia May
16:29 Jul 16, 2021

That was truly beautiful, and painful from both sister's sides

Reply

Show 0 replies
John Del Rio
16:16 Jul 16, 2021

Wow! So we'll done. The dynamics of the family: such a difficult thing in life and fiction. In a perfect "Hollywood" version of this tale, the two sisters would reconcile-both giving in just a little. But there is no "perfect". I will have to read more of your work. Thank you for this.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Carla Ward
16:09 Jul 16, 2021

I really enjoyed this story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Angela Guthrie
16:01 Jul 16, 2021

Congratulations! This is a well deserved win!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Kendall Defoe
17:15 Jul 11, 2021

Two paths and two lives...a very impressive take on the metaphor. Well done!

Reply

Mary Sheehan
11:01 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks a lot K! I wanted to explore how people isolate themselves from others, intentionally or not.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Riana T
16:27 Jul 10, 2021

What a wonderful story. No man is an island - you've brought out the difference in their personalities very well to drive home the point. Excellent read

Reply

Mary Sheehan
11:01 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you Riana!

Reply

Riana T
16:47 Jul 16, 2021

Most welcome

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Fiery Red
05:32 Jul 10, 2021

Very original and relatable piece. I really loved the dynamics between the siblings so beautifully crafted by you. Cara and Colleen are seen in almost all families. Great read!

Reply

Mary Sheehan
11:02 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you :)

Reply

Fiery Red
18:30 Jul 17, 2021

Wow!! Congratulations again Mary. A well deserved win indeed.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Elaine Repper
05:34 Oct 19, 2021

Mary. Mary. You have your finger on the pulse of rivalry. Only child here, so I can relate as the competition of best friends without the bond of birth ties yet close as one can get without same parents. The investment of giving yourself away and that feeling of being owed loyalty and a pay back of sorts. I believe it's an unspoken universal theme. Parents can add pressure and guilt it would seem but the true angst comes from our own conscious as it wrestles with our entitlement and our duty. You have done a most excellent job of sucking th...

Reply

Show 0 replies
17:27 Sep 17, 2021

This is a moving piece that really speaks to someone who had a much more popular and athletic sister, four years younger and to me seemed so much more self-assured. It wasn't until the years went by and I found my own gifts that I realized she envied me as well. Our personalities have settled into our 50's and we're very close now. This story is well written, and I applaud your ability to draw the family so adeptly.

Reply

Show 0 replies
04:20 Aug 16, 2021

Hi Mary, I loved your story. Is it OK to publish it on our Local News site. Northern Community News in the Short Story section. I'm not sure if this is allowed. But it does get you and other authors recognition in Australia. https://www.northerncommunitynews.com.au/category/short-stories/ I have just had one of mine published.

Reply

Mary Sheehan
08:20 Aug 16, 2021

Hi Glenda, yes you can publish it! Please credit me as the author 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
19:28 Aug 01, 2021

An awesome story of a learning life's lessons. I enjoyed!

Reply

Show 0 replies