Contest #66 shortlist ⭐️

77 comments

Contemporary Drama Teens & Young Adult

My art professor in college hated butterflies. She said they were basic and painless with nothing more than wings that could break when you touched them. If we were ever to paint them in a project for her class, we’d have to make them shriveled and gray.  

Those last two words started to make me think that I had made the wrong decision about college. I had thought it was nothing more than cardboard walls and brick buildings, holding its breath with purple lips. 

Those words also reminded me of my father’s pinched face when he told me I had two options. The first one, I thought, was to end up like my mother with makeup past the expiration date and shirts that dipped way too low on her chest. The second one, I couldn’t quite remember, was about peace signs wrapped tightly around my neck and two dirty paint brushes tucked behind my ears. 

I think you know what I chose. 

I was an artist but I also read books. Books about Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. The books were stiff and heavy. They reminded me of my childhood drowning in poverty like van Gogh’s. My father didn’t ask where I got the money to go to college. I was glad he didn’t. 

Sometimes, when I was at the gas station store where light was snaking through the windows and the homeless men were lingering outside, I thought about the sun. I wanted to paint it someday, with oil paints in hues I couldn’t even imagine. I’d smudge it with my fingers to get the imperfection. 

Everyone knew you couldn’t paint the sun. 

But I didn’t know that at the time. My professor was supposed to help with my lack of knowledge and previous education, but all she told me was that she hated butterflies with their fragile wings and unblinking eyes. I looked at her in that curious, impenetrable way, and she backed away. 

Today a man approached me. I don’t trust them after years living with my father. He offered me a job. It’d pay well so I wouldn’t have to spend every meal at the gas station. At least they know me there with my picky appetite and short, clipped fingernails. 

The task was to paint his dead mother. He’d describe her to me with black and white pictures and rusted memory. He said it was for their living room and it shouldn’t be rushed because it better be beautiful and accurate. 

“It’ll only be beautiful if your mother was beautiful,” I told him, tying knots with my hair. 

He frowned, “Everyone has a little beauty.” 

I took this as a sign that his mother was ugly and as twisted as student loans. Thankfully I didn’t have any. 

What I also took was the job. The only problem was that it would be full-time thus shoving art college down the drain. I didn’t mind. In fact, on my last day to collect my work, I kissed my butterfly-hating professor on both cheeks and left her a painting of the sun. It was incorrect but who was she to know that? 

All my life I had wanted to study art and paint beautiful portraits and landscapes and sell them for millions of dollars. Now, I was not going to study art at a prestigious college but I was going to be paid a good chunk of money for my painting. It seemed to work out for me. I even considered buying a peace sign necklace and wrapping it around my neck until my eyes bulged out of my head, and then sending a picture to my father. 

My first day on the job was long. I sat and socialized with the couple and their tight-lipped children because they didn’t have any friends and needed a portrait of their ugly, dead relative. 

I asked them about her and they all fell silent for a moment. 

“Her eyes were poetic and deep,” the father recalled. 

I laughed aloud, choking on the obscurity of life. “Why don’t you just tell me the color?” 

The session went into the afternoon. The children had been dismissed hours ago and finally I was too. I leaned against the doorframe in case they thought about handing over a little cash early so I could have a whole meal and not just a half. The father glared and snuck me a few notes. 

That night I returned to the gas station. I thought I’d never return but there I was with wet socks and only a few notes. The homeless men eyed me but I only bought a microwavable burrito for myself. 

Someday, I knew, I’d paint the gas station. A star-speckled sky in the background and the glow of the shop light with all the blind moths. The men would be there, and the red truck that was always parked beside it. I didn’t think anyone lived in it but I didn’t want to find out. 

I’d name the painting “Home.” 

It was past my fourth day on the job but I couldn’t tell you which exact day. It was midday and their children were in the room, playing with various bright-colored toys. It was distracting. 

I had started painting. The background was done with dark hints of blue and green and black. I had sketched the woman from their description and they had approved it after my umpteenth sketch. 

I was starting to paint the woman herself. The eyes came first. The father had told me they were poetic and deep and brown. Brown, what a boring color. I didn’t tell him this. 

I thought my own eyes were crossing from all the focusing. My brushes swept lightly over the paper. I made sure not to ignorantly paint out of the lines and I waited for it to fully dry before painting the light in them. 

The father stepped around to look at the painting and did not smile. He clasped his hands behind his back and said to paint it again. 

No one had ever told me to redo a painting before. Not even my art professor. And it wasn’t going to happen. 

“Find another painter then.” I packed up my supplies, drowning out the father’s persistent whines in the background. 

After I left the house, I realized they had never paid me. Another night at the gas station with the few notes I had left was ahead of me. I knew that, but still I walked in the opposite direction. 

When I showed up at the art college, I found my art professor’s room. There was a class going on with the younger students so I didn’t interrupt. Instead I peered through the window at the woman who was gritting her teeth and slapping her easel with a ruler. 

I caught something in the corner of my eye. A butterfly tumbling through the air beside me. It landed gracefully on the ground with a slightly injured wing. Its colors were lovely with yellows like a cat’s soul and blues like chants of a bird’s feathers. 

There was a second of hesitation before I stomped my tennis shoe on top of it and heard the crunch of the broken wings. The beauty fell apart under the sole of my shoe and once I lifted it, only the black veins of the creature were left. 

I looked once more at my professor through the dusty window and then continued on my way. 

November 01, 2020 16:29

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77 comments

Zilla Babbitt
01:43 Nov 03, 2020

But I love butterflies! I think that's the reaction you're trying to get, and you got it. How can someone hate butterflies? Is she scared of them? An interesting painting, the sun. Since you can't ever check to be sure it's accurate, without it being the last thing burned into your vision. That could be a theme here if you want it to be. I think the main thing which should be changed here is the focus of the story. You have two right now, the dad and the art teacher. I'd pick one to make it more concise and clear as to what you're gettin...

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Scout Tahoe
14:40 Nov 03, 2020

Thank you for reading, Zilla. :) I'll try to take a little focus off the father and put it on the art teacher. I agree, if I start and end with the art teacher, I should make it my main focus. Thanks again.

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Great story! :)

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Scout Tahoe
15:29 Nov 13, 2020

Thank you :)

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Steve Stigler
19:55 Nov 09, 2020

Hey, I stumbled upon this story, and I'm glad I did. You used the controlling metaphor very well, but ultimately, the like is for this: "I took this as a sign that his mother was ugly and as twisted as student loans." Thanks for sharing this story!

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Scout Tahoe
21:21 Nov 09, 2020

You’re welcome and thank you!

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Mia S
23:59 Nov 03, 2020

I really liked the mixed emotions in this, and the way you wove the art into it but centered it around the character's thoughts and feelings. You have such a distinct writing style and I love it. Happy late Halloween! ;D

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Scout Tahoe
00:01 Nov 04, 2020

Happy Halloween to you too! And thank you.

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19:59 Nov 01, 2020

I have this thing for sad stories. I caught this one and I'm still processing the words. It's beautiful but more than that, it's powerful. It has everything to make a story stand out in a sea of countless short stories. The man asking her to paint makes me remember myself when I was younger and foolish. I am reading this while listening to Celine Dion and I've got tears in my eyes. Butterflies are beautiful but I get how the prof hates it. And I get why, in the end, you had to destroy that beauty. Beautiful as always. I like the title too.

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Scout Tahoe
21:27 Nov 01, 2020

Thank you so much, Abigail. I always save your comments for last after all my work because they make me smile. I like sad stories too.

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Amaya .
21:29 Nov 16, 2020

CONGRATS ON THE SHORTLISTTTT this is amazing! seriously! you have a real way with words and know exactly how to hit me right in the feels (that's such an old people thing to say but whatever)

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Scout Tahoe
22:05 Nov 16, 2020

Haha, thank you so much.

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Amaya .
22:07 Nov 16, 2020

Ofc! Btw, what do u think of my new username?

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Scout Tahoe
22:27 Nov 16, 2020

I’m sorry, was it Biblio_phile before? Because I like this new one. By the way, here’s Masha’s profile: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/author/masha-kurbatova/

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Amaya .
22:30 Nov 16, 2020

yeah it was biblio_phile before. aw thanks! thanks :)

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04:37 Nov 14, 2020

Great piece. It's actually one of the first pieces I've read on this platform having joined the Reedsy community this week. I could see it all, playing in my mind and I could feel so much emotion oozing from the protagonist. What particularly popped out for me was her character, I can't decide if I like her on not. Great Work Scout!

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Scout Tahoe
04:43 Nov 14, 2020

Thank you so much, Don! Reedsy is a wonderful community and I hope you enjoy it.

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Rayhan Hidayat
18:34 Nov 13, 2020

THAT POOR BUTTERFLY. This definitely deserved the shortlist. I love how bitter she is, which I suppose anyone would be with a dad like that a teacher that hates butterflies. Reminds me of Masha’s work, which is a good thing. Awesome as always!! 😙

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Scout Tahoe
19:23 Nov 13, 2020

Thank you so much! Masha is an amazing writer, yes.

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Rayhan Hidayat
19:25 Nov 13, 2020

Honestly though! When I read her stuff I always think, “What the hell, this girl is only 19??”

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Scout Tahoe
19:28 Nov 13, 2020

Exactly! Her way with words is mind-blowing.

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Rayhan Hidayat
19:34 Nov 13, 2020

Oh for sure!

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Amaya .
21:28 Nov 16, 2020

who is Masha? can u please put a link to her account i rly want to read her stories now

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16:46 Nov 13, 2020

Congratulations on your short list, Scout!!!

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Scout Tahoe
16:53 Nov 13, 2020

Thank you so much.

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17:21 Nov 13, 2020

No problem! ;)

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Lina Oz
15:48 Nov 13, 2020

Woohoo Scout!! CONGRATS!! So well-deserved and I'm not surprised at all. :) AH THE BUTTERFLIES. This piece is beautiful and so impactful. Congrats again!!

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Scout Tahoe
16:05 Nov 13, 2020

Thank you so much, Lina. You're so nice. :)

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21:25 Nov 11, 2020

Wow - what a piece Scout. There’s something about beautiful tragedy that sets a somber tone in the heart of the reader. This piece really inspired quite a bit of melancholy nostalgia as I was reading - which is quite amazing considering I’ve never been an artist! You’ve played with your words, stitching them together seamlessly to create gorgeous transitions and colorful imagery. I love how darkly you’ve painted any hint of beauty in reality in this piece. Well done!

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Scout Tahoe
21:38 Nov 11, 2020

Thank you so much, Aj! I'm glad my words created such imagery for you. I really try to make the reader feel something while reading and I think I succeeded.

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22:01 Nov 11, 2020

You absolutely did! Love love loved it.

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Julie Ward
14:40 Dec 02, 2020

Hi Scout - I've just come out of the haze of a really busy month of work - and I'm so glad I stopped by to see what you've been up to! Shortlist, baby!! Congratulations, I'm so happy for you! This story really is one of your best, you deserve it. I was right there inside the story, completely wrapped up in it. It has this lovely, sad, ethereal quality to it - something I see in a lot of your writing - but this feels more grounded. Really well done. PS: My daughter has a friend who is terrified of butterflies. Like terrified the way s...

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Scout Tahoe
15:04 Dec 02, 2020

Yay! *Motioning to crowd* Julie's back! Thank you so much. I'm so glad you're back. Hopefully you can take a little break from work and start, well, writing again here. PS: Wow. Interesting. In my story I don't think the art teacher was scared of them, she just hated them in general.

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Julie Ward
15:10 Dec 02, 2020

Lol! I managed to post a story last week - I'm not sure how, but I did it! I'm working on another for this week's prompt as well. Thanks for the encouragement. I've already read yours for this week - it's fantastic, as always.

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Scout Tahoe
15:14 Dec 02, 2020

Great! Do you want me to check out the one you already posted or wait for this upcoming one? Thank you, so glad you liked it.

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Julie Ward
17:50 Dec 02, 2020

I'd love either! I always appreciate your feedback.

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Avani G
22:21 Nov 22, 2020

This was silent, but much more. The butterflies and the main character's job all flowed correctly, though you could have just picked one and focussed on that like Zilla said. But otherwise, I love butterflies. Their beautiful and taken for granted too often, and many other things, which we've all taken for granted this year. This story sticks out to me, and I think it should have won.

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Scout Tahoe
22:45 Nov 22, 2020

Aw, thanks so much!

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Vanessa Kilmer
16:24 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations on being shortlisted. I have a thing for butterflies and this was certainly a new way to look at them.

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Scout Tahoe
16:28 Nov 20, 2020

Thank you so much.

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A.Dot Ram
19:30 Nov 15, 2020

I finally figured out how i'd describe your style. It took a few days, and it's appropriate you wrote about an artist. You are an impressionist!

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Scout Tahoe
20:24 Nov 15, 2020

Wow, thank you. That's creative and it definitely fits! I was going to read one of yours and I was wondering which one you'd recommend? :)

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A.Dot Ram
00:24 Nov 16, 2020

By which i mean your style uses color and mood and unfamiliar brushstrokes, and sometimes it all comes together into something universally recognizable (short of that, pretty and intriguing). My portfolio-- since you write in ink (me too, but i like purple when i can get it) , definitely No Hard Feelings. Thirty Years of Writer's Block is its secret sequel. What have your favorite prompts been since August?

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Scout Tahoe
00:36 Nov 16, 2020

Thank you so much! My favorite prompts have probably all been from Contest #52: In Reverse. You should check them out if you didn’t write for it. My favorite stories of mine have been “Lemons on Ice,” “All the Things That Cannot Fly,” “Yellow,” and “Influenced.” Haha, that’s a lot I know. I’ll check out both of your stories when I have time. I honestly can’t wait! :)

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A.Dot Ram
02:17 Nov 16, 2020

Haha, I jumped in at #54: Second Chances. I'll check out some 52s, and your other titles (I always appreciate good recommendations-- there's so much stuff here or can be hard to know where to dig in!). I remember Yellow and of course Influenced. Looking forward to some others. You might enjoy my #54-- The Little World. My characters also tell time by the moon here. It's kinda Franz Kafka meets Kate Chopin...

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Scout Tahoe
02:34 Nov 16, 2020

That’s cool! You read Yellow? Did you like it? I’ll add that one to the list. The moon is a lovely thing to write about. :)

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Mia S
02:06 Nov 14, 2020

YES SHORTLIST YOU GO GIRLLLLL

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Scout Tahoe
03:03 Nov 14, 2020

Haha, thank you!

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Zilla Babbitt
21:46 Nov 13, 2020

I TOLD you. Lovely, Scout, just lovely. Congrats.

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Scout Tahoe
21:46 Nov 13, 2020

Haha, you are always right. Thanks, it means a lot.

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Genevieve Taylor
16:57 Nov 13, 2020

AHHHHH FINALLY A SHORTLIST FOR SCOUTTTT!!! YOU DID IT! CONGRATULATIONSSSSSS

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Scout Tahoe
18:07 Nov 13, 2020

Thank you, Vieve!

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Faith Hunter
16:23 Nov 13, 2020

Yay! Congrats for getting shortlisted.

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Scout Tahoe
16:26 Nov 13, 2020

Thanks, Faith!

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K. Antonio
16:35 Nov 07, 2020

I agree with Zilla, your two characters (the father and art teacher) are fighting with each other. Invest and focus on one, because right now this back and forth is affecting the flow a bit. The main character (the painter) is moving around too much in the story. It's gas station, father's home then art college? (The last location where she arrives is really unnecessary - it would more meaningful if there was a higher focus on the art teacher). I would actually edit a bit and focus on the character's past relationship with the art te...

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Scout Tahoe
03:45 Nov 09, 2020

Thank you for reading. Once again, I am regretful I cannot edit but I agree with everything you're saying here. I liked it a lot but because of the errors in my writing it will not go far. By the way, I posted a new story today and would love your critique so I can actually edit. :) I value your feedback.

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