Contest #89 winner 🏆

257 comments

Sad

Hugo-

Day one, the hottest day in July. The kind of hot that makes the neighbors forgo underwear and plant themselves in front of oscillating fans. Feet planted in small kiddie pools filled with tepid tap water, topped off with bagged ice from the corner market. The breeze from the fan casting across the iced pools does nothing to diminish the warmth from their radiating bodies. Instead it pushes the sweat further across their faces and thighs until they are all shiny with sweat.


It’s nearly impossible to forget day one. You try, yet day one is the day you’ll scramble for breath. You’ll put on the bravest of faces to give your daughter Thea oxygen as you hold the side of her head to your chest. She will appreciate the firm pressure you apply to her quivering body. The grief inundating from her youthful frame, forcing you back- one, two, three, steps until you both collapse onto the couch. Sweat and tears, they’re all the same.


How can a girl live without her mother? How will I breathe without her modeling what a strong exhale looks like? 


It will be all she can say.


You wonder in your emotional greed, Where does she keep all of the passwords? Thea’s birth certificate? Is she allergic to anything?


Raeann-

Their day one is polar opposite of your day one. The body that carried you through life for the past four decades decided the narrative of living a nice long life is a lie. To find out that you’re going to die is far less painful than hearing that you are dead. The dead don’t hear pain. The dead don’t feel it either. 


It’s terminal, you have weeks at best Raeann. I’m so sorry. 


You are sent home with instructions of getting your affairs in order. Pamphlets titled, “How to tell your loved ones that you are dying,” as if there is a simple bullet point plan to button up all of your affairs before you go. 


Step 1, I’m dying. But I left a few lasagnas in the freezer for busy nights. 


Hugo-

Planning a funeral is foreboding. The weatherman says to expect more heat hazes. You don’t know exactly what that is, but you’ve already spent hours on the internet searching for a cure. What's another few minutes? 


Heat haze: also called heat shimmer, refers to the inferior mirage observed when viewing objects through a mass of heated air.

Relief floods your body, panic eases up. This isn’t the end, it’s all a mirage. It has to be. 


Raeann-

Everything after the first day is now called the in between, and that’s just how you’ve come to accept it. Call your mother more, but not so much that she suspects that there is something to be worried about. Mothers know. 


Revel in the fact that the word hug happens to be the first three letters of your husband's name, as he is the best hugger you’ve ever met. Hugging him a little bit longer feels like a possible cure for the incurable.


Forget the pamphlets, your family deserves a better send off than that. The blogs online say to leave a video diary for your daughter because she might forget the way the dimples tucked into your cheeks are deep enough to hold a cat's eye marble in each of them.


Don’t let her forget.


The idea of a camera taping your face not looking like your face is unsettling. It is then you decide on cassettes, they’re the happy medium. Even if cassette tapes are “so out of style,” they might be even more treasured due to the rarity of them.


Nothing screams a mothers legacy like antiquated methods of communication. Might as well break out the typewriter and ribbon of ink. 


Hugo-

In-laws, they’re a mixed bag. Naturally they have known your beloved Raeann for the longest. They created her so there is ownership there.


Let them visit and call and video chat.

It’s all that they will get of her.


You’ll be left with the daughter you share, and the smell of her lilac shampoo on the bed linens you agreed to buy at the big box store. The in-laws won’t get to smell her again, but you will, at least a little longer before the next load goes in the wash.


Raeann-

To make a mixed tape you have to consider two things:

Who you’re making the tape for and the occasion.


Remind yourself that this isn’t a John Hughes movie, and Thea won’t be walking away with the love of her life but rather losing you. Of course there are times when you hear a little melody on the radio and think to yourself, Thea would love this song. Then, add bits of wisdom and sayings to the playlists, for days when she needs advice but you aren’t there to give it.


A mother knows exactly what kind of music will make her daughters eyes sparkle, even if it is followed by a tiny eye roll. It’s some kind of magic to possess this kind of knowing about a teenager even if she is your child.


You wonder if anyone else will ever know your daughter this way.


Hugo-

She told you that there’d be tapes. That you’d have to give them to Thea, maybe one morning as you sip your coffee black and dark roasted the way that you like it. 


It’s important Hugo, it’s all I have left to give her. Well, and you of course. 


Those dimples, you won’t be able to say no to her and so you agree with a gentle head nod and deep hug. 


Through sickness and health was the vow? What about death and grief, what’s the vow look like after that?

More haziness.


Raeann-

Your last day comes twenty-nine days after your first. Cliche, that’s what the last thirty days will be. Like a film reel, memories click and spin for one last viewing in your mind's eye. Not in black and white, but in vibrant colors of finger painted construction paper and alabaster hydrangeas in wedding centerpieces. 


Wait until Thea nods off in the corner chair of your room, wrapped in the blanket you both sewed together out of your old shirts. Absorb the tiny bit of warmth from Hugo’s hand wrapped around the frail fingers on yours. These hands spent many hours laced together over the years and now his hands will spend hours pressing play for Thea.


It’s time for your strong exhale.


Hugo-

Pull the old cassette player down from the attic, blow off the decades of dust. 


Imagine the look on your daughter’s face when the carefully curated tapes are placed in her young hands with three freckles alongside the edge of her knuckles. The freckles lightly kiss her milky skin, and you breathe out a little in relief knowing that they look ordinary.


She won’t want the tapes. Her eyes might brim with orbs of salted water. A sense of begging will slip past her lips, Please daddy I’m not ready yet


You stare at the dimples she inherited from her mother, pressing your warm thumb into one of them as you hold gently to her chin. Picturing the future, you wonder who will take her wedding dress shopping, and who will take her phone calls if she loses a baby. 


It will be you of course.


Press play.


April 16, 2021 17:36

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257 comments

Ran Ahmed
17:46 Apr 26, 2021

Hauntingly beautiful! Very rich writing with great segues. Congratulations on being the winner, very well deserved! 👏

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Shea West
19:25 Apr 26, 2021

Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read my story.

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Ran Ahmed
20:01 Apr 26, 2021

Of course, no worries. :))

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Katherine Madsen
14:02 Apr 26, 2021

Your story was beautiful. At first, I thought it would have been nice to hear what their lives were like before Raeann got diagnosed, however, I think that for this story it makes sense for the reader to be thrown into the midst of their sorrow right away... it adds to the sense of shock and not being "prepared," if that makes sense. The format was a little difficult to follow at first, but once you revealed the details that showed their place in the story it was much easier to understand. Finally, your title is perfect. Great job, and congr...

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Shea West
15:28 Apr 26, 2021

It's good to hear that it came together for you format wise. I am thankful there have been some A-ha moments once the details are revealed, and that the readers like yourself didn't give up on it! I can't tell you how much it means that you liked the title. Thank you again.

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Joe P
12:59 Apr 26, 2021

Great story

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Shea West
15:28 Apr 26, 2021

Thanks Joe!

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Merry Marcellino
11:32 Apr 26, 2021

What an amazing story! Your detail is exquisite, I was there in the moment. Well done!

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Shea West
15:28 Apr 26, 2021

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Merry.

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Molly Scully
07:32 Apr 26, 2021

Absolutely amazing, and such a beautiful piece!

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Shea West
15:29 Apr 26, 2021

Many thanks Molly!

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T.H. Sherlock
19:03 Apr 25, 2021

Very, very moving. I like the way you weave practicalities (pamphlets, funeral planning and lasagne) with emotion in this piece. The final paragraph about losing a baby didn’t jar for me... instead I felt it was strengthened by alluding to a personal and physical pain unique to motherhood. Despite Hugo’s utmost willingness to support his daughter in her future, he will never be able to completely fill Raeann’s shoes as a mother. It also mirrors an earlier sentence in the text: ‘Mothers know’. The only sentence I wasn’t quite sure about was:...

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Shea West
22:48 Apr 25, 2021

I so appreciate that you saw my connection to the "Mothers know." I hoped that came across. To address the sentence you felt uncertainty about I can see why! I have mentioned this a few times before, but I work as a birth worker. Often times, laboring people don't breathe "right," and the other people in the room have a tendency to tell them to breathe. To which the pregnant person says I AM BREATHING!!!!!! But, when we breathe in the way we want others to breathe suddenly the laboring person has more oxygen to take in. So, it might've be...

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Angel Elle
18:24 Apr 25, 2021

Wow 😯

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Shea West
22:39 Apr 25, 2021

Thanks for reading!

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Leena Deshpande
18:05 Apr 25, 2021

A moving story with beautiful dialogues and vivid imagery. Congratulations!!!

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Shea West
22:49 Apr 25, 2021

Thank you Leena.

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Deborah Snyder
12:50 Apr 25, 2021

I loved it! The ‘losing a baby’ part did jar a bit. ‘Baby’s first steps’ sounds more promising. But seriously, tears on my second read. <3

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Shea West
16:16 Apr 25, 2021

I work as a birth worker, and support a lot of people who have experienced varying levels of loss. My intention was to jar a bit, not to be cruel, but to be true. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'My mom is gone now, and I wish I could talk to her about this.' There is joy when we call about baby's first steps, there is more sadness in the loss for both Thea and Hugo. I'm so happy to hear that you had an emotional response to this. As always, thank you for your comment and feedback.

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Rahnyah Stormyst
05:28 Apr 25, 2021

I truly liked your story. It was well thought out and just brought tears to my eyes.Congratulations on a well deserved win. Shea, Well done . Well Done!

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Shea West
16:17 Apr 25, 2021

I think I owe everyone who has read this story a box of Kleenex, so many tears! If only I could get sponsored by Kleenex ;) Thank you Rahnyah, your comment is so kind.

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Marcia H.
22:46 Apr 24, 2021

This story is written beautifully. It broke my heart and filled it with love all at the same time. I really enjoyed reading it.

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Shea West
00:01 Apr 25, 2021

Thank you Marcia. I'm sorry it broke your heart!

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Charlie Murphy
20:58 Apr 24, 2021

CONGRATULATIONS! I loved this story!

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Shea West
00:01 Apr 25, 2021

Thank you Charlie!

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Angie Steckley
14:43 Apr 24, 2021

The setting at the start lingers somehow, through the story. Very touching. And there are the two characters who have a voice, but the story is in a way about the third character who had no voice, but seemed to me to be the main character. Wonderful weaving of a story.

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Shea West
15:52 Apr 24, 2021

Your interpretation is so nice, and I was hopeful that the third character who had no voice was grief. I know that in 2nd person it can be the reader, but in this case I wanted to give a voice to grief that floated between the two main characters too. Thank you for your time!

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Nadya Garza
12:48 Apr 24, 2021

I couldn’t stop reading, it was so heartrending but beautifully told. Congratulations on your win!!

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Shea West
15:53 Apr 24, 2021

Thank you for reading!

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12:07 Apr 24, 2021

Oh my goodness, this story! It's just splendid. I love the perspective you wrote this from; the narrator's voice feels both slightly removed, like an observer, and deeply personal. This line really had me choked up: "Revel in the fact that the word hug happens to be the first three letters of your husband's name, as he is the best hugger you’ve ever met. Hugging him a little bit longer feels like a possible cure for the incurable." My husband gives the absolute best, most comforting hugs. To imagine trying to squeeze in as many hugs as poss...

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Shea West
15:58 Apr 24, 2021

Mallory, I am so happy that line felt so deeply to you. That line is about my very own husband is this kind of hugger, and they contain this level of healing that no one who receives them can explain. That thought of, "Don't let this be the last hug," really stuck out to me while writing this. I can't wait to read more of your stories, and your Short-list was fabulous!

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User Name
11:00 Apr 24, 2021

This was so hauntingly tragic, but so beautiful.

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Shea West
15:55 Apr 24, 2021

I often think about parents who know they are going to pass away, and what they might be leaving behind. How it's a small blessing to know they can tie up all of their goodbyes, but also how they know they will be leaving their loved ones. There is some level of tragedy in all of that. Thank you for reading.

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Brenda Butler
08:44 Apr 24, 2021

Enjoyed this!!🤓

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Shea West
19:27 Apr 26, 2021

Thank you Brenda!

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Melissa Mauder
04:34 Apr 24, 2021

So graceful and the way your story flowed! And the description of the tiniest detail went with every part of the story! Loved it!

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Shea West
04:52 Apr 24, 2021

Thank you for reading!

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Scout Tahoe
02:20 Apr 24, 2021

Oh my gosh—Shea, congratulations! This made me cry and smile at the same time. It causes one of those beautiful phenomenons and I loved it. I’m so happy for you. Continue to write these masterpieces!

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Shea West
04:03 Apr 24, 2021

Thank you so much Scout! I hoped to cause some kind of emotion with this one. A beautiful phenomenon is such an incredible compliment.

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Felicity Neeley
02:05 Apr 24, 2021

This is painfully beautiful!! Thank you so much for this!!

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Shea West
04:05 Apr 24, 2021

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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