24 comments

Contemporary Drama Fiction

Tick.


The second hand on Maya’s watch moves six-tenths of a millimeter to the right, the click of the cogs lost in the space of cathedral’s soaring arches. In that same instant, Maya tips her face to the three celebrated windows gracing the cathedral’s western facade and she breathes in the light. The window in the center is eight meters of radiance forged with hundreds of panes depicting the ascension of Christ into a golden sky. To the left and right, angels glow in serenity and exaltation. Crimson and cobalt shimmer across Maya’s skin, muting her wrinkles, as the last rays of Beirut’s setting sun find the stained glass. She is grateful for this rare moment alone in the cathedral, alone with her work. Not since the earliest days of their restoration, when she sat with the battered pieces in her atelier and took brush to glass, has she shared a sacred solitude with these images, uninterrupted by the buzz of assistants and the shouting of workmen.


Tick.


The second hand moves again and Maya throws her arms wide, a distant embrace of the jeweled tones in each pane. They are as dear to her as her grown children. They came to her broken, battered over 150 years by the fire and bombs of civil war, by Mediterranean storms and trembling of shifting earth. For two decades she had labored over the fragments, first in her workshop, coaxing brilliance back into the turquoise heavens, the ruby of Christ’s robes, the topaz of the angels’ wings. Then, in the cathedral where she guided her staff’s every movement as they returned the 39 images to their positions of glory. Critics hailed her work at the cathedral as the piece de resistance of an illustrious career that made Maya the premier stained glass artist of the Middle East. But for Maya, the labor over these images became more than a crowning achievement. They united with her soul and spirit in a manner most sacred.


Tick.


Maya turns to her special angel and smiles. Swathed in golden robes, the angel radiates a luminescence shared only with her creator. She came to life over the year Maya had learned she was carrying her first child, taking form through the joys and sorrows of pregnancy, childbirth and first months of motherhood. Maya sketched out the angel’s face after returning from the appointment when the doctor confirmed the news. She painted the wings through daily battles with morning sickness. Firing the robes was interrupted by delivery. And after the angel was complete, Maya redid her face to reflect the peace she saw in her infant son as he slept. The child is a grown man now with a family of his own and Maya wonders if the angel knows. The whisper of a smile on her serene face, formed by Maya’s own hands and understood by Maya alone, holds sacred the bond between the two women across time and space.


Tick.


Maya brings her hands together in prayer and bows. A gesture of reverence, of gratitude, of farewell. She is 60-years-old and has dedicated half her life to restoring these icons. They have reclaimed their triumphant positions in the cathedral, dancing with the sun. At times, they blaze with the brilliance of a pink and orange sunset and at times they glow with an aura of gentle peace in a pastel sky. Maya knows they are no longer hers and that the time has come for younger artists to take up the work. The days when her fingers ache through the sketching and painting are becoming more frequent. Her knuckles swell in the rain. Her lower back, her knees, her shoulders protest after hours spent hunched over her work table. Retirement is calling. Maya resisted the signs at first but, in recent years, could not ignore the tremors in her fingers as she holds the brush, a slower pace of work and mistakes that sometimes require a pane to be fired multiple times. Maya is now ready, but for a last private moment with the images that have merged with her and made her like fire and like light.


Tick.


The second hand clicks again and a roar, as though the earth has cracked down its core, crashes through the city. Bomb. Maya has survived Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and is intimate with brutality in a way that chills her. The rumble and thunder of this moment bring back those days with terrifying clarity and she fears a suicide bomb or a Hezbollah cache. She has no way of knowing in that instant that it is not a bomb, but an accidental explosion of ammonia nitrate three kilometers away that will kill 200 people, destroy half of Beirut and most of her work across the city.


Tick.


In the second that follows, the pressure wave knocks Maya to the cold tile of the cathedral floor. Doors are ripped from their hinges, statues crash to the ground, pews are torn from their bases. The windows explode. It’s the shattering of glass that pierces Maya’s ears and freezes her heart. Instinct honed over the decades of war screams at her to scramble to the basement chapel, but it’s not even a question. Maya will die among the shrapnel of her windows.


Tick.


The second hand marches forward another six-tenths of a millimeter as Maya stretches her fingers into the dust, digging into the shards surrounding her. She is oblivious to the sirens and the screams of “Ya Muhammad! Ya Muhammad!” beyond the cathedral’s sandstone walls. Jagged fragments frame the trio of windows where Maya’s special angel had joined her sisters in hailing the rising Christ. Ash has obscured the setting sun, leaving the glass debris dull and lifeless.


Tick.


On her hands and knees, Maya sweeps as many shards as she can into her arms, cradling them as a mother would a baby. The splintered edges tear into the flesh of her hands. Rivulets of blood trickle down her bare arms, staining her shirt and and seeping onto the fractured glass.


Tick.


The second hand moves again and Maya weeps.


Tick.

January 01, 2021 11:35

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24 comments

Kristin Neubauer
11:46 Jan 01, 2021

Author's note: Happy 2021, everyone! A few things about this story: 1. It is based on an actual event - Lebanese stained glass artist Maya Husseini lost most of her restoration work in the August explosion at the Port of Beirut. She was on the cusp of retirement when it happened and it pained her greatly. One of her biggest achievements was the restoration work of the 39 windows in the St. Louis Capuchin Cathedral. However, I took so much creative license with this that it cannot possibly be called creative nonfiction. For example, Maya...

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Yolanda Wu
23:40 Jan 01, 2021

I've always enjoyed character-driven, less plot-y kind of stories, and this one hits the nail on the head. This was the one prompt that I looked at and was kinda like, how do you write a 1-3,000 word story that takes place over ten seconds? But I think you executed it perfectly, I love the 'tick' in between the fragments, I could almost hear the seconds passing by. Each fragment just added more layer and depth to the character. It's so interesting how you based it on a real person, she definitely sounds incredible, and you intrigued me with ...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:01 Jan 02, 2021

Thanks so much, Yolanda. This was so far out of my comfort zone - as well as the writing style. I wasn’t sure if it worked, but you have to try new things to learn. I find writing plot-based stories easier because you just have to describe the action. With this one, I felt like I was peeling the onion. I kept having to go deeper and deeper into the character to meet the word minimum. That was super challenging, but a valuable lesson for sure.

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Yolanda Wu
23:26 Jan 02, 2021

Of course! Writing is all about trying new things, and learning from them. Personally, I actually find writing less plot-based stories comes more naturally for me, which can sometimes be a problem when I'm writing a really plot-based story, but we've all got things to work on.

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Maya W.
13:55 Jan 01, 2021

Hey, a character named after me thank you! *Goes and reads your comment.* Oh, not named after me! Thank you! Lol, in all seriousness, I really enjoyed this. Character driven stories are really nice to read and write, especially when you can easily picture yourself in them not just because the character shares your name but because the descriptions are well done enough to imagine yourself there. I wrote a story with a similar structure about a year and a half ago very loosely based on my great aunt's experience fleeing Vietnam. I was gonna p...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:03 Jan 01, 2021

Thank you! But are you kidding? Your story this week is fantastic - it tugged at all sorts of emotions in me which is the sign of great writing. I hope you are able to get the story of your grandmother fleeing Vietnam where you want it to be because I would love to read it when you are happy to release it - sounds amazing!

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Maya W.
14:20 Jan 01, 2021

Haha, great aunt, not grandmother. I'm still pretty young, and we aren't actually blood related. But perhaps someday I will release it.

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Kristin Neubauer
14:38 Jan 01, 2021

Whoops - sorry on the mix-up! I hope you do release it one day!

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Daniel R. Hayes
07:03 Mar 09, 2021

This story was absolutely brilliant. I loved it. I think it's amazing that you can take a true story and bring it to everyone's attention. I had no idea it was based on true events when I read it. Maya Husseini's story deserves to be told and you did a fantastic job writing it. I know you said that some of it was fiction, but to me that's the brilliance of your creativity. You should be very proud of this story, I personally think it should have won. It's that good! I'm glad you have so many stories to read because I love your work :)

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Kristin Neubauer
18:17 Mar 09, 2021

Thanks so much! This was one of those stories I knew I had to write when I saw it cross the wire last August. I filed it away until the right prompt came along. I was proud of this one - it was my first attempt at a character-based story.... most of mine are plot-based. I am glowing in your feedback on it! Made my day!

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Daniel R. Hayes
18:34 Mar 09, 2021

Knowing that this was your first attempt at a character-based story, makes this even more amazing. You did such a great job!

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Aaron Caicedo
02:26 Jan 06, 2021

Wow, just wow! This was truly a work of art, as beautiful as the cathedral and paintings themselves. Hypnotic and gorgeous with the details, and what a poignant ending. Bravo!

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Kristin Neubauer
11:15 Jan 06, 2021

Thank you so much, Aaron! I saw your comment not long after waking up and what a wonderful way to start the day.... especially coming from a writer as talented as you. Hope to see another story from you soon!!

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Aaron Caicedo
18:15 Jan 06, 2021

Haha, I didn’t mean to basically say the exact same thing to you on my other comment! 🤣🤣 But thank you again!

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17:33 Jan 05, 2021

I find myself continuously lost in this story. Like with the emotions in it, I feel like this shouldn't end. I felt that loss and I understood how the protag felt with everything. It's like watching a movie, only that this was written. You build everything so well that it leaves the readers wanting more. You are one great writer. This was honest and touching. Great job

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Kristin Neubauer
21:05 Jan 05, 2021

Oh my gosh, Abigail - you have no idea how much your words meant to me. In particular, because I was trying to model my style off of yours. With every story I read from you, I am always blown away by the imagery and the phrasing. How does anyone come up with those words? So as I worked on this story, your style was in my mind and I was trying to give mine a similar feel. That’s why I was concerned it felt forced .... because i did labor over it and thought that may come through as stilted. I will keep reading and writing and hope that ...

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Frances Reine
21:59 Jan 03, 2021

I read this story on the first of Jan. but I forgot to leave a comment. I loved it so much! This is a really brilliant take on the prompt, given it's about ten seconds and you have to write at least a THOUSAND words.

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Kristin Neubauer
00:02 Jan 04, 2021

Thank you so much! It sure was a challenge making it a thousand words, but I think I learned something in doing that. I really appreciate your comment. I was a bit uncertain about how it turned out so the vote of confidence helps a lot!

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Frances Reine
00:17 Jan 04, 2021

No problem! It was RLLY worth reading, don't worry!

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Julie Ward
02:17 Jan 03, 2021

Wow, Kristin, what a story. I really felt Maya's joy in the silent space of the cathedral. I felt the sun falling through the glass. I felt the peace, then the terror, the confusion, the despair. I was there with her. You did an amazing job with this prompt. I loved it!

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Kristin Neubauer
12:42 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you so much, Julie! I was so uncertain about this story before I posted. I feared that the language would sound forced because I was really focused on trying to write with a more descriptive voice than usual. I relieved to know it worked on some level!

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Julie Ward
17:15 Jan 03, 2021

It worked! That's a hard one and you pulled it off. There's so much action going on, I would be tempted to focus on the beauty of the cathedral and the terror of the bombing, but your story came from Maya. I felt the connection with her!

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Kristin Neubauer
18:40 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you! You're such a great descriptive writer, that knowing you thought it was ok definitely helps me feel more confident in it.

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Julie Ward
15:36 Jan 05, 2021

You are sweet, but don't kid yourself. You've got the knack for it for sure. I love -and can vividly see -everything you write!

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