Contest #101 winner 🏆

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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

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144 comments

Grace Callidus
14:32 Jul 29, 2021

A beautiful story. Part of me was screaming internally for Cara to not be so....Cara and in the end I was still shaking my head when Cara pleaded that, she, was supposed to be the brilliant one. Maybe a little appreciation would've helped her case but I feel like that was the last straw for Colleen. Great writing!

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Mary Sheehan
08:42 Aug 05, 2021

Thank you Grace! There are many Colleens suffering in silence everywhere in the world. Hopefully Cara learns how to appreciate all that her sister has given up for her over the years

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Pahani Wijeratne
05:51 Jul 29, 2021

Wow. This is such an amazing story; I’m completely in awe! I love the differences between the two sisters, and honestly, it really reminded me of family relationships in reality. This story is truly incredible, I’ve never read one like this. Fantastic job and a huge congratulations on your win, Mary! I’m really rooting for more :) I hope you have an awesome day and God bless!

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Tina Laing
17:36 Jul 24, 2021

Congrats 🎉 on your win. Great story! Keep up the good work and keep writing ✍️.

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Egor Scherbakov
10:34 Jul 24, 2021

Really good, and I don't even like short stories!

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S Gabriel
19:18 Jul 23, 2021

What a lovely, aching story of feeling left behind as others move forward. You beautifully portrayed each of the sisters. Definitely a "wind beneath my wings" feel to it... the one who thought herself a bird in flight is actually a kiwi; only briefly airborne because of her sister's lift. Really well written.

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18:00 Jul 23, 2021

Wow, brilliantly written!😍

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Constance Mudore
03:03 Jul 23, 2021

Powerful. Masterfully written.

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Dude Person
01:31 Jul 23, 2021

Oh how I wish this has an upcoming sequel revolving around the growth of Cara and her hatred towards herself for being an ironic person, someone who stood above everyone else who started to collapse as she lost a magnificent pillar which was her sister, Colleen

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05:38 Jul 22, 2021

A very thoughtful story. The subtle tensions and the competitiveness came out quite wonderfully. A very well deserved win. I have just written and submitted my story for the latest prompt...NO SECOND CHANCES. I would love it of you would critique it. Thanks for the time that you would take for the same. Have a nice day!

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Hadiya Rudolfo
20:11 Jul 21, 2021

Simple yet complex. Thank you for taking the time to pen such a tale. ♥

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Stacy Knight
13:35 Jul 21, 2021

Such a great read! And could really feel the emotions. Great work, Mary!

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Kenesha Fowler
12:17 Jul 21, 2021

Hi, Mary. Lovely story. I especially liked that it was in the point of view of the selfish sibling rather than the giving one. Somehow it made me more sympathetic to her (Colleen). By the end I was completely in agreement with her deciding not to wait anymore. Great job. Congratulations on winning!

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10:53 Jul 21, 2021

Hey Mary! This was absolutely beautiful, and I can't help but think Cara's character trait, is somehow linked closely to a kid with gifted kid burnout syndrome. I've been trying so hard to write from a genius or gifted character's perspective and it's truly been such a challenge. Seeing you write Cara into life really inspires.

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Hana Shareen
04:45 Jul 21, 2021

It was a wonderful story, it was a nice change to see that the family wasn't perfect, and some sister's relationship aren't the best always. I must say, I loved the POV, it was very unique. Overall, this was a amazing story, and I was hooked till the end.

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Shea West
22:03 Jul 20, 2021

I'm just not getting to read this story of yours. I have a sister, and I'm the older of the two, I often heard this from her, "I'm the cute one and you're the smart one." A childish and gross thing to say I'll admit, but no one ever corrected her or told her it wasn't nice.....the dynamic of sisters is confusing and pressed at times. Mary you captured that feeling of "I love you, but I don't have to like you anymore." It's a bit of mental dance that Cara has to go through to understand not everything caters to her, and that others matter....

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Mary Sheehan
22:33 Jul 25, 2021

Thank you Shea, I love that it resonated with you! I have a lot of sisters myself, though thankfully none of them resemble Cara. When we were younger, we (maybe me more so than them) could be obsessively competitive, and though we grew out of it eventually, I wanted to capture what it must be like to be so insecure and close-minded that you constantly have to put down others to make yourself feel better.

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Dina Al Ziab
16:20 Jul 20, 2021

This was incredible. I began invested in Cara, but surely enough, my interest shifted to rooting for Colleen. What a heartbreaking ending, not being able to see the patience and kindness her own sister had demonstrated all their lives. To see Cara plead from her point of view, and fall short in the end, is a perspective you don't often get, for the writer of the story is supposed to be the one you support. I was hooked until the end! Excellent work!

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Mary Sheehan
22:34 Jul 25, 2021

Thank you Dina! I think there are so many "Colleens" in the world, quietly making their own way, learning to stand up for themselves, even against their own families.

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N K
05:53 Jul 20, 2021

I loved this story! I think you did such a brilliant job of handling a very complex but very real sibling relationship. I think there's something in Colleen and Cara's dynamic that everyone can relate to. It was such an interesting choice to have Colleen as the narrator but it really paid off because we got a fascinating insight into her thoughts and I absolutely love the ending. I like that Cara stood her ground but wasn't cruel and I really love the last sentence. Beautiful job and a well-deserved win!

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Mary Sheehan
22:36 Jul 25, 2021

Thank you Natania! I intentionally began and ended the story with the word "Colleen", because, unfortunately, Cara's narrow-minded world revolves around one-upping her sister.

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Ariana Cumo
01:38 Jul 20, 2021

this is a very beautifully written story. good words, strong vocabulary and expresses real life.

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Mary Sheehan
22:37 Jul 25, 2021

Thank you Ariana :)

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Fidel H Viegas
23:19 Jul 19, 2021

Wow! Very interesting read. The words just flow together like symphony. The whole story is interesting from the point of view of both sisters. In addition, I liked how you weaved the whole story from present to past to present. Very well done! I have been wanting to start writing myself, but I don't yet feel confident enough to write. I have been reading a lot of short stories, particularly of the flash fiction type and once I grasp the whole concept, I may give it the first shot. Your writing is quite an inspiration. Congratulations!

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Mary Sheehan
22:43 Jul 25, 2021

Thank you Fidel! I'm not sure whether it's right or not, but I do tend to rely on the present tense, and use the past tense for memories or info-dumps. I find that it's the most natural way for me to tell a story, personally. Don't be afraid to write! When I first started, my work was bad, I won't lie. I used to read a lot of classics, and while the stories were excellent, they often relied on "telling" rather than "showing" the reader. It took me ages to realise that my writing technique was suffering because I wasn't reading recent li...

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Fidel H Viegas
22:06 Oct 12, 2021

Hi! It is funny that I revisit this discussion about present tense vs past tense. I am reading "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences" by June Casagrande, and she has a chapter on tenses. She actually mentions that one should try tenses, but that the past tense was the most widely. Funny enough, coming from a screenwriting background, I feel more comfortable writing in the present tense. Perhaps this is what has been stalling me when it comes to writing fiction. I have improved a lot in the last couple of months, but...

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Maraika!!! 😎
21:57 Jul 19, 2021

Wow was amazing! I loved how realistic everything was and the lay out of the story. You get to know these characters in several short and sweet sentences and your writing style is short, but informitive with out being clutter by fancy pointless words. I really connected with the main character, Cara. While I'm not gifted at just one thing and can't do anything else, I still try and try to be perfect at everything I do. I set these unrealistic exceptations for myself and get upset and angery at me when I don't meet them first try. It's not th...

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