Contest #108 winner 🏆

160 comments

Sad Fiction

(TW: child loss)


One is black.


My therapist suggested this activity, which I think is a waste of time. I'm not really very artistic.


Allie was. I was surprised by how well she could color, for her age, I mean. She didn't just scribble, she chose her colors carefully, she stayed in the lines, she even shaded, sometimes. She wasn't a savant but her pictures were better than other four-year-old kids'. Oh, how I loved her pictures.


Making this picture of my own is neither creative nor productive, but I must admit it is oddly satisfying. And it gives me something to do in church, when I don’t want to talk to the people sitting next to me. I look like I’m focused, and they leave me alone, and when I hear someone in class share a myopic story about how they prayed and God helped them find their car keys, I just search for another One and keep my head down. Color in the circle, or the rectangle, or the triangle. Find the next segment. Try not to think about a loving, all-seeing, all-knowing God who would descend from His throne divine to help someone find their car keys, but allow my preschooler to suffer and die from an incurable childhood cancer.


One is black. It outlines everything. I do One first.


I think of her at the strangest moments. Like when I’m filling a bag of oatmeal from the bulk bin dispenser, and I remember her at age two, slipping away from me at Kroger and making her way to that same aisle which must have looked like a free candy dispensary. When I found her, she was full of chocolate covered raisins and peach rings. I was full of embarrassment and confusion over the predicament, so I just hoisted her atop my pregnant belly, handed a confused cashier a twenty and left.


The memory is so real and vivid that I turn to the shopping cart to retell it to her, and I remember she’s gone. There’s just the one sister now, a lone mitten without a mate, sitting in the cart, staring toward the school supplies and nibbling a thumbnail nervously. I don’t tell her the story. We don’t talk about Allie much. Even though my therapist says we should.


Two is brown. It brings to life the little doe, sitting in the forest, only it leaves behind the white spots and underbelly. Two is the dirt beneath the grass. Two are the trees.


Kendra is at the dentist. She’s gotten four fillings in the past month, but one of them just won’t stay in. Dentist said something about tight contacts, small mouth, I don’t know, all I know is a few hours after she gets home the thing has popped right out again. I made Darrin take her. I can’t go to the dentist anymore. I can’t stand to see the scrubs and the implements. No amount of color-by-number can soothe that anxiety.


Meanwhile, I'm staring at the dining room table, hoping a fully prepared meal might miraculously appear there.


Two years ago, it seemed this table was, indeed, a purveyor of magically prepared meals. It was covered with homemade bread, cookies, and, mostly c,asseroles. My mother-in-law stacked those in the fridge and put whatever was closest at hand into the oven at 350 degrees. I put it on my fork and into my mouth mechanically, without tasting, because you still have to do mundane things, like feed yourself. You still have to do them, even when your child is dead.


You still have to feed yourself and your family years later, too. But the table isn't magic anymore.


Three is green. Grass and leaves.


I cry when I begin three, seeing the grass shoots come up from the dirt. I never knew grass could hurt, but it does, when you realize that time has passed, and grass is growing over your daughter’s grave, even though it feels like just yesterday that it was a fresh mound. Wasn't it just last week she was healthy, three-and-a-half, zooming down a twirly slide? Wasn't it just last month that she held her new baby sister on her lap, pointing out the tiny facial features with a chubby finger?


Except it wasn't. That new baby is about to start preschool. In three days Kendra will be as old as Allie was when she died. And I’m terrified of what that means.


Four is pink. Delicate pink flowers. Just starting to bloom.


What happens when your youngest child grows older than your oldest child? There’s no answer in a parenting book for that question. It isn’t supposed to happen. We held space for Allie, but now I worry, somehow the space is gone. Like the white in my picture, which is rapidly disappearing. People assume, without asking, that Kendra is an only child. My mom has stopped saying Allie's name, for some reason. She's just...disappearing, and I wonder whether she left a trace in the world. But inside of me there's still a grave, six feet deep, and it will never be filled in.


Kendra starts preschool today. She’s nervous, but I know she’ll do great. She needs to be with other kids her age, it will be good for her.


Five is orange. It highlights the undersides of the leaves. Orange tulips.


I sit on the floor in the girls’ room, coloring, imagining that Kendra is probably coloring too. I am obsolete, an adult who spends her hours shading in shapes, following a prescribed pattern to make mass-produced art. I am a thirty-year-old empty nester, a geriatric. Only that can’t be true, because I have a four-year-old. Two of them, actually.


My therapist says I should think about getting a job. I want to tell her I have my hands full, but that would be a lie. I wish I had my hands full. Instead, I spend my precious alone hours wishing I wasn’t alone. I color. I long to be needed, even if that need is to hold my baby girl’s hair while she vomits bile, again and again. To stay awake, all night, because she can only fall asleep sitting on my lap. To watch her breathing get slower and slower because I was the one who pushed her into this world, and I needed to be the one to hold her hand when she was pulled out.


Six is yellow. The last color. It’s mostly sunshine.


It was sunny, the day we buried Allie. The preacher said some bullshit about it being Allie smiling down on us, but I couldn’t believe it. It just felt cruel, that good weather still existed. That the sun could shine down and warm me, but its warmth would never again reach her, because she was too far underground to feel it. She was cold. She would always be cold.


But, and I know it’s really trite to say this, the sun kept coming up. The Earth kept spinning even though my beautiful, artistic, vivacious daughter was no longer on it. And the sun keeps coming up, and coming up, and soon I will have lived more revolutions on Earth since she left than I did while she was here, and entertaining that thought is like touching a hot stove and I can’t do it.


I don’t want to finish. I want to leave these white spaces, glaringly obvious to show that we aren’t complete without her. That we never will be.


So, I leave the Six blank. 


August 23, 2021 23:13

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160 comments

23:26 Sep 04, 2021

Wow. I loved what you did with the coloring, and how you didn't initially explain what was going on, what "one is black" meant. It adds an element when a reader has to figure out something's meaning. And I loved the way you described little experiences, like the grocery store and the grave being overgrown with grass.

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05:10 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you, Emily. Until Friday, it actually just started with the paragraph about Allie coloring, and my cousin urged me to move "one is black" up to the front, and I love how it hooks and confuses the reader right away.

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Katie Kanning
20:54 Sep 04, 2021

Hey Rachel, I love your story! (Got me crying in this coffee shop, so thanks for that). I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. It's in its growing stage, so I'd only ask you to share your episode with friends if you like it :) You can check out the format here: https://b...

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05:11 Sep 11, 2021

Wow Katie, I'm honored. I'd love to participate. Feel free to shoot me an email at rachelkfry@gmail.com to tell me more! Thanks for the read!

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Katie Kanning
23:24 Sep 26, 2021

Hi Rachel! I wanted to let you know your episode is airing tomorrow! It'll be pushed to all platforms at 5 am PST. I hope you enjoy it!

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22:39 Oct 18, 2021

Loved it. Thanks for featuring me!

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Katie Kanning
23:28 Oct 18, 2021

Thank you so much! I'm so glad :) If you want, you can leave a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts. Thanks again for letting me share your story.

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22:57 Oct 20, 2021

I'm an Android user, any way I can give you a review through Google or something?

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Katie Kanning
22:34 Dec 28, 2021

Hi there! I’m reaching out to all of the authors who have been featured on the UNU podcast. I have a few new opportunities for you! In the quick and easy form linked below, I am offering: 1. A chance to schedule a casual interview with me for the podcast. This will be a basic get to know you, a way for you to advertise your other writing (books if you have them), and a time to laugh and have fun. They would be less than an hour, most likely under 30-min. Whatever works for your schedule. 2. A personal bio page for you on the website I...

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Ben Connolly
18:23 Sep 04, 2021

This is gorgeous! You approached the prompt with such an innovative concept, and the narration of the mother haunted by the absence of her daughter is chilling to read. This is very powerful work; absolutely deserving of the top spot!

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05:32 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you, Ben!

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Harkan Grimshaw
16:44 Sep 04, 2021

Just beautiful. Haunting and a little overwhelming. Thank you for writing this.

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05:33 Sep 06, 2021

I like that, overwhelming. Thanks for the comment, Harkan.

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Karen Kinley
15:54 Sep 04, 2021

Wow. Just wow. I am LITERALLY crying as I finish this story. Yes, Rachel, your writing brought this reader to LITERAL tears. Such power in your story. I felt every bit of the mama's helplessness and grief. So many vivid images of parenthood that really brings this narrative to life. As other have said, the "paint by numbers" theme was brilliant. This is one of the best short stories I've ever read. Well done!

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05:34 Sep 06, 2021

Wow Karen, what a kind comment. My poor husband had to read and edit this for me and after the third time he had to quit, because it was just too darn sad!

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Karen Kinley
18:17 Sep 06, 2021

What a kind and patient husband you have! Best of luck to you!

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Nandini Shukla
08:03 Sep 04, 2021

I really loved how you used the prompt to write such a beautiful story!! I am truly impressed!! Congratulations <3 ;D

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05:34 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you for the comment, Nandini!

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Zahra Naazir
07:05 Sep 04, 2021

Excellent choice judges. This is a great one.

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17:40 Sep 04, 2021

:) glad you liked it!

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Kate Le Roux
05:16 Sep 04, 2021

Beautiful heartbreaking story. I have 4 kids too and I don't know how many times I have imagined this happening. You captured the loneliness of grief so well and I love how you anchored it in the colouring.

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17:41 Sep 04, 2021

It is our worst nightmare, isn't it? Thank you for reading!

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04:33 Sep 04, 2021

Oh my god so sad. I need a drink. As a grandmother I can tell you one never stops worrying about one's children and grandchild's health and happiness. Brilliant work,

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17:41 Sep 04, 2021

Thanks for reading, Vicki!

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Kendall Defoe
01:15 Sep 04, 2021

I feel like I am reading a future threat. This was glorious, Ms. Fry. Please keep them coming!

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17:41 Sep 04, 2021

Wow, thank you Kendall! I will. :)

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Sally Wirth
22:53 Sep 03, 2021

Heart breaking. Using a common (usually mindless) activity as a prompt for her memories worked so well. Wonderfully told.

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05:34 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you, Sally!

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Suleiman Ayuba
22:30 Sep 03, 2021

This is a beautiful piece of writing. The emotion the story brings blends well with the mastery of the writer. A lot of highlights intrigued me: the colour-by-number representation of sections, the exhausted responses of the narrator (describing feeding one’s self as mundane), the painful observations of beautiful things by the narrator (grass hurting because it was growing around Allie’s grave and good weather feeling cruel). And to top it all, the wonderful interpretation of the prompt. Brilliant!

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05:35 Sep 06, 2021

I hadn't even thought about the beautiful things made ugly by grief...nice observations! Thank you for the comment, Suleiman!

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Alex B. Tomsett
21:35 Sep 03, 2021

Oh wow, this is devastating! An amazing piece, Rachel. Congratulations :)

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05:35 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you, Alex!

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Amanda Lieser
21:19 Sep 03, 2021

Hi Rachel! This story was incredible. I really love how you addressed the prompt and included so many details about the colors. This was such an incredible example of grief. I also love how you captured childhood innocence in this story. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on winning!

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05:36 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you for the comment, Amanda! This was a rare story where it just tumbled out kind of fully formed and it seemed to work, and I'm so pleased.

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19:21 Sep 03, 2021

Rachel, you're so talented! I'd read and loved this story earlier, and I'm so glad you got your deserved win! Congrats!!

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05:36 Sep 06, 2021

Yay- you read it before it was cool! :) Thank you, Bella!

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D.J. Bogner
19:18 Sep 03, 2021

What a wonderfully fantastic story, Rachel. It was so tenderly and personally written, it seemed as though it very well could be from your own life. I see from your answer to others here, it isn't—happy to hear that. So now I can comment on the structure: terrific foreboding with the numbers (because I just couldn't, if it had been true to you)! The title alone had me chewing my fingernails, once you started the countdown! Great work, Rachel. Congrats on winning this week! Cheers - D.J.

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05:37 Sep 06, 2021

I'm glad the numbers kept you hooked! Sometimes titles are so hard to come up with, but as soon as I finished writing I knew I needed to use the final line. Thanks for the kind comment, D.J.!

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Suraya Ngobeni
19:00 Sep 03, 2021

Wow.. I felt every emotion that the Mom, was feeling in this story. It really made me think of how we undervalue, our children sometimes, stressing so much, and totally neglecting the small delicate moments. Food for thought. Congratulations.

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05:12 Sep 11, 2021

I love when people pull things out of a story that I didn't even think about...you're totally right about all these tiny, delicate moments that get overlooked but are so important. Thank you for the read and the comment, Suraya!

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Kelsey Estrada
18:50 Sep 03, 2021

Great story! I loved your use of the color-by-number to tell this story.

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05:13 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, Kelsey!

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Miranda Phillips
18:06 Sep 03, 2021

Beautiful(heart-wrenching) story and fantastic writing. Congrats on your win! You definitely deserve it.

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05:13 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you, Miranda!

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Mary Sheehan
17:40 Sep 03, 2021

Wow. That was beautiful. I loved the detail, about the candy dispensary, the fillings, how Kendra is surpassing Allie in age... it felt like it had a lot of weight behind it. Congratulations, Rachel!

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05:13 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you Mary! It means a lot coming from you, I love your work!

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