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

Amanda Lieser
17:15 Jul 19, 2021

Wow! Mary, I think you captured a relationship between two sister superbly well! I really enjoyed that you touched on the talents both sisters have. I also appreciated that there was a lesson to be learned in the story. I’m so glad you won the competition. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations!

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15:34 Jul 19, 2021

A sibling rivalry story well narrated. I found myself empathising with both the sisters and all that is thanks to your superb etching if their characters. The descriptions were very sweet simple, and sans any flowery language. In the simplest of words and sentences you managed to convey the 'skewed' relationship between the two sis. A very well deserved win. This is my first story of yours. I see that of the six stories of yours, two are winners. Way to go! I am hooked and shall read all of them. Would appreciate if you could critique my ...

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14:13 Jul 19, 2021

So nicely written. Yes sometimes people who act superior are actually inferior. Better to be good at many things than to be overly good at just one and lord it over others. Hopefully Cara would get her life together.

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Swapnil Kamble
12:38 Jul 19, 2021

CONGRATS!...ITS heart touching and ennobling experience

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This is so good! I really really like it! You're extremely talented!

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Aryansh Dubey
04:22 Jul 19, 2021

Yay Mary! You did it again! Loved the story. The thing that really blew me was how you chose the complacent sister as your narrative. I am pretty sure most, including me, would have gone for the sensible, overshadowed one. There's a lot of scope in that perspective. Love, pain, a suppressed anger and a hell lot of emotions, but my word, you went a step ahead with this route, making it shine in the monochromatic world of this rather unusual and unlikable sister. It's all about her, till the end. The realization is simple yet natural, rather ...

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Mary Sheehan
08:38 Aug 05, 2021

Thank you Aryansh, I do love the POV of an unlikeable narrator. I was asked at university "why do you write about unlikeable people?" and I suppose it's because I prefer to learn about their stories. Haha, I had four stories which were not recognised before I won anything! And they include my favourite story, What Katy Did :)

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Aryansh Dubey
12:35 Aug 15, 2021

Yeah, they do make for some of the best material I have come across, and I really appreciate anyone diving there and getting into that frame of mind. Just out of curiosity, when you say university, are you doing something in creative writing? Heh, wow. Is it? I must check it out. Due to an upcoming examination of mine, I have been stuck unable to read or write anything, which is torturing, seeing some of the prompts had so much potential! Ah, well. Anyways, all the best for your other stories, and expect a fan comment on them in the near ...

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Suha Mutwalli
09:18 Jul 18, 2021

Beautiful! A Common plot with a peculiar story. Worth winning obvio !!

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Jose Gonzalez
02:11 Jul 18, 2021

Keep up the good work two wins now.

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Roopashri Sinha
02:02 Jul 18, 2021

Intricacies of a family arrangement is well shown. Treatment towards a genius child in the house is well brushed. Every emotion between two differently made up sisters are well brought out. You deserve the win. Congratulations!

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Chloe Is Here
22:09 Jul 17, 2021

I love this! I really like how you went into detail about her feelings. Lovely story.

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18:39 Jul 17, 2021

Nice job Mary! :)

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Zakirah Green
15:28 Jul 17, 2021

Sibling rivalry. We can all relate to that but I particularly like how you used the prompt to weave your story around it and how you put yourself in the position of the arrogant sister. Well done.

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Lilia May
16:29 Jul 16, 2021

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

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Max Harper
03:25 Jan 01, 2022

A very affecting story. Beautifully told.

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Margaret Graham
22:22 Dec 12, 2021

Loved it

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Aditya Kumar
10:58 Dec 09, 2021

Wow! This is just an amazing read.

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19:23 Oct 12, 2021

Nice work...

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Steam At 5
18:32 Sep 16, 2021

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Writers Block
13:28 Sep 03, 2021

The main character has a supportive family. Good description of the typical college roommates.

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Alaynna Cross
16:48 Aug 31, 2021

I loved the relationship between the sisters. How both are behind and ahead at the same time. Beautifully written. You deserved this!

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