Contest #93 winner 🏆

275 comments

Contemporary Fiction

I wrap my fingers tightly around the clinging plastic of the trash bag, pull it open as wide as it’ll go, and watch him dump the remnants of our happiness into it.


His large arms twist and flex unnecessarily as he shovels extra hors d'oeuvres and scraps of entree into the bag. His upper lip is a thin white line, stretched tight below frowning eyes. 


The faint and smoky gleam of the first stars illuminates our dining room. The windows are open to the still air, mingling the scent of grass and dew with the smell of recently extinguished candles. Near-empty glasses of wine sit with little pools of ruby liquid congealing at the bottom. I examine the imprints on the glasses, pink half-moons where lips lingered, small smudges from restless fingers. 


I clear the table and he rinses the plates, loading my great-grandmother’s delicate china into the dishwasher with a force that makes me cringe. I say nothing but plan to return later and wash it all by hand.


Somewhere outside in the cool October air rings the plaintive, staccato song of an owl. 


Not long ago, I would have added my voice to the bird’s, smiling at the easy rhythm of the duet. But tonight, silence slices into the fading evening once more and I leave it to fester like an open wound.


He leans backwards against the kitchen counter, glass of amber-colored whiskey in his calloused hand. I feel his eyes follow me around the room as I continue tidying up, returning the candles to their places, piling the used cloth napkins near the hall that leads to the laundry room. The starlight catches on the folds of my satin dress as I move. I haven’t worn a dress in ages. It feels foreign, out of place against my skin.


“Some party,” he says.


I nod, barely meeting his sharp grey eyes.


“Surprised the Williamses came. I haven’t talked to George in ages.”


I shrug. “I ran into Melanie at the store the other day and reminded her.”


“Oh.” He runs his finger along the rim of his glass, staring at the chairs where George and Melanie sat only an hour earlier. “Did you see George at the store, too?”


“No, just Mel,” I reply lightly. 


He stands, leaves the kitchen, and plops himself into an armchair in the living room, whiskey still attached to his hand like glue. 


I glance away, my gaze lingering on the neat bookshelves in the corner where George and I had chuckled over our mutual dislike of Great Expectations, reminiscing about wrinkly Dr. Barnum’s English Lit course. As we spoke, I realized George hadn’t changed much since college; his eyes still held that idealistic sparkle that made us instant friends. I, on the other hand, have faded. Dulled. 


George was too polite to say anything, but I know he noticed.


“How long is your sister staying in town?” His voice is gravelly, starting to slur.


“Just until tomorrow afternoon. We were thinking of getting coffee together before she leaves.”


“You two didn’t talk much tonight,” he notes.


“No,” I reply, wiping the table slowly. “She’s been a bit reserved since the divorce.”


“That’s a shame. I liked Drew.”


“I didn’t,” I say quickly, feeling my blood heat in my cheeks as I think of the man’s infidelity, of how broken Sarah was when she called and told me everything. “I never did.”


He stills, musing and nursing the last of his whiskey. I watch the way it lingers on the fine line of his lips, which are pursed even more tightly together.


“We can leave the rest for tomorrow,” he says, gesturing at the last of the mess. “Come sit with me.”


I wipe down the last corner of the table, taking my time as I place the damp towel on the edge of the kitchen sink. I straighten the hem of my silvery dress, imagining for a moment that it is armor, cold and heavy and safe. 


When I approach, he pulls me onto his lap with one hand and rests his chin on my taut shoulder. His face is hot, burning against my skin.


“Happy anniversary,” he whispers, wrapping his free arm a little too tightly around my waist.


“Happy anniversary,” I reply. I watch the starlight glitter in the diamond on my finger, catch a glimpse of my dark eyes in the golden band.


I try to remember when we first met, years ago, back before this sour taste hung in the air between us. All that comes to me is dim figures, specters and stains of who we used to be. Me, young and bright, full of the effortless weight of possibility. Him, tall and smiling, overflowing with confident infatuation.


But I realize now that he’s always had a bitterness to him, hidden beneath a fine layer of cloying honey. And from the first time we kissed, we burned into one another like cheap vodka and called it love.


He tilts his head, leaning into the curve of my neck. His soft waves of hair tickle my chin. 


“You’d never hurt me, would you?” he asks. It’s more of a statement than a question, firm with a small lilt of uncertainty in the final fatal syllable. 


I turn a little, forcing him to lift his head from my shoulder and meet my eyes.


“Would you?” My voice is little more than a whisper.


He is silent. Somewhere in that vast, unspoken space between us lies the answer to every question. I stand, watching his fingers cling for a moment to my hip before falling away, his hand wilting like a lily too long removed from the sun.


The owl resumes its song and I cross the room to close the windows, shivering at the final gust of cold air. I see myself reflected in the glass, my face distorted by the angles of the windowpanes. His figure is little more than a streak of color in the reflection, distant and unremarkable.


I glance over at what’s left: the garbage bag in the corner, crumbs on the table, empty wine bottles on the counter and the last bubbles of dish soap in the sink. 


“I’ll take the trash out in the morning,” I say, and head to bed without looking back.

May 13, 2021 20:21

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275 comments

K. Antonio
00:13 May 16, 2021

I'm reading this and making comments as I go... - Damn, that first line. That first line was some good stuff. - I enjoyed the use of prose and the strong descriptive choices you made. The beats after the dialogue tags were nice. - I actually don't think I'd change anything more, Nina's suggestions seemed super valid and I noticed their implementation. I thought it was so interesting how something so mundane, was brought into this vividly descriptive tale. This story just proves how good writing can be so attractive. Like pacing, actio...

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K. Antonio
14:14 May 21, 2021

YOU GO CLAIRE! Yes, finally, I was rooting for this piece! Such a deserved win!!

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Claire Lewis
15:20 May 21, 2021

Thank you so much K! It’s so fun to see how much we’ve both grown from when we first started reading each other’s stories! I’ve been away for a few days but I’m looking forward to catching up on your newest story 😊

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A.Dot Ram
15:56 May 21, 2021

Claire! It's about time you won, and this story is exquisite. I just had my 22nd dating anniversary this week (met him when i was a baby), and your story wounded me. It's so full of real things, and i love how they're only alluded to, but perfectly understood. This paragraph left me breathless: "I realize now that he’s always had a bitterness to him, hidden beneath a fine layer of cloying honey. And from the first time we kissed, we burned into one another like cheap vodka and called it love." I get it on a visceral level, now i'm grasping...

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Claire Lewis
23:30 May 21, 2021

Anne! Awww, congrats on the anniversary, that’s amazing 😊 That line came from the long list of zingers in my phone, just random sentences waiting for the right story. I’ve been itching to use that one in particular and it seems like I pulled it out at just the right time! Thank you for the lovely comment 💜

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T.H. Sherlock
20:21 May 15, 2021

I love every sentence of this - from the beginning when they 'dump the remnants of our happiness' in the trash to the mess that's still left behind at the end. The distance between the lead characters is glaringly obvious without being directly referred to. In your own words, 'somewhere in that vast, unspoken space between us lies the answer to every question'. I also thought it was clever how the supporting characters - especially George - almost jump off the page. Whereas, in comparison the lead couple are not even given names, emphasisin...

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Claire Lewis
23:11 May 15, 2021

Thank you for the kind comment!

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Scout Tahoe
14:20 May 21, 2021

Claire—you are so talented. You made the story smoky and unclear yet by the end us readers knew exactly what was happening. Bravo, your descriptions were amazing. And it felt so normal... Congrats!!

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Claire Lewis
15:36 May 21, 2021

Thank you Scout!! I keep falling woefully behind on stories, but I especially miss yours. Looking forward to spamming you with comments soon 😊

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Scout Tahoe
04:09 May 22, 2021

And I shall spam you too. Just been so busy. :(

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Claire Lewis
04:28 May 22, 2021

Ugh, me too :( Hope you’re doing okay!

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Frances Reine
13:32 May 15, 2021

I have a lot of favourite lines in here, and this is the quintessential definition of 'show don't tell'. I love how it's just a simple scene, just cut out of someone's life and yet it says so much. Even though it's 1st person, I feel so distanced, just witnessing. That is so powerful. This is absolutely wonderful, Claire :)

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Claire Lewis
14:30 May 15, 2021

You’re the sweetest, Frances, thank you!

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Frances Reine
14:46 May 21, 2021

OH. MY. GOD. CLAIRE CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!

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Claire Lewis
15:21 May 21, 2021

THANK YOU!! 💜

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H L Mc Quaid
12:16 May 14, 2021

This is a masterclass in a) showing not telling and b) conveying the truth of the situation through what's left unsaid. And I loved, loved, that last sentence. Really good writing, and I enjoyed being a fly on the wall of a disintegrating relationship.

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Claire Lewis
13:52 May 14, 2021

Thank you Heather, you’re too kind! And thanks again for your keen eye on that contest piece, I’ve got a lot of ideas for the second draft now!!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:59 May 21, 2021

🎉🎊🎉 congratulations on the win. 😁😊🤗

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Claire Lewis
15:24 May 21, 2021

Thanks, Heather! I’m honestly shocked haha

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H L Mc Quaid
16:23 May 21, 2021

I'm not shocked at all. It was fabulous writing. 😁

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Neomi Shah
15:41 May 21, 2021

"and watch him dump the remnants of our happiness into it." From the first line itself, I was pulled into the story. The unspoken distance between the two characters and how they still seem to love each other but not themselves anymore, is so nicely depicted. Happy endings in romance are common but it is not often shown how difficult maintaining the spark of the relationship might be. "And from the first time we kissed, we burned into one another like cheap vodka and called it love." Young love is simple and beautiful but it's just the firs...

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Claire Lewis
23:40 May 21, 2021

You’re too kind, Neomi. I love a good happy ending as much as anybody but I absolutely agree, most times they’re quite misleading. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

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Ellie Yu
14:34 May 15, 2021

I had to read this twice to take in the full symbolism. A relationship falling apart, surrounded by trash that will be "left for tomorrow" and "taken out in the morning." It's genius, in my opinion. And so short, but powerful. You can really feel the narrator's bitter emotions here because of all your lovely figurative language. Small notes: "George hadn’t changed much since college; his eyes still held that idealistic sparkle that made us instant friends." I think this might need to be present tense. "George was too polite to say anythi...

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Claire Lewis
17:38 May 15, 2021

Hi Ellie, invaluable feedback as always! Seriously, thank you so much! I tweaked the scene with George, it’s meant to be a memory of their conversation at the party, so I tried to make the past tense a bit less out of place. I felt something was off about both of the spots you mentioned, excellent edits!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:27 May 23, 2021

Spare and elegant and electric — this has the kinetic energy of a thriller! I raced through it to see how it would end. Perfect 👌 Well done

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Claire Lewis
12:54 May 24, 2021

Thank you so much Diedra!! Such high praise from a writer I admire 😊

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17:42 May 21, 2021

I love being part of this community precisely because of stories such as this one: I learn and I enjoy myself as I read them. Congratulations on your win!

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Claire Lewis
23:21 May 21, 2021

Thank you Mariana! That’s my favorite thing about Reedsy, too, it’s so exciting to learn from other writers 😊

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David Gottfried
14:04 May 21, 2021

Short and sweet and melancholy. There's so much left between the lines. Well done. And congratulations!

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Claire Lewis
23:42 May 21, 2021

I think “short and sweet and melancholy” should be my catchphrase haha Thank you David! 😊

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Nina Chyll
08:40 May 14, 2021

Hi Claire, I love how I can tell you've put immense thought into this, the story's intricate and harmonious and secretive. The imagery all works together to create a wilted image of the relationship. There's a part of me that wishes we'd find out more about what it is that's caused the rift between the characters, but also a part that likes the mystery. I really enjoyed some of the similes, I think they did a great job bringing the characters to life without ever telling anything, instead showing how their dynamic works. It reminds me a li...

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Claire Lewis
13:44 May 14, 2021

Those are excellent suggestions. I’ve implemented all of them (especially the slicing silence—that’s a stroke of genius!) Thank you, truly, for the read and the thoughtful comment!

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Nina Chyll
14:57 May 21, 2021

Congratulations on the win! So happy for you.

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Claire Lewis
15:26 May 21, 2021

Thank you!! And thanks for your edits on this one, they were absolutely perfect 💜

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Xavier Munoz
17:56 May 24, 2021

I really like the use of all these words. They come together and made the perfect lemonade

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Claire Lewis
00:43 May 25, 2021

Thank you!

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Destiny Tucker
16:51 May 24, 2021

I am impressed

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Claire Lewis
00:43 May 25, 2021

Thanks Destiny 😊

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Cyndy Moses
12:50 May 24, 2021

I so get this! Short, symbolic but aptly described. Thank you Claire for this beautiful piece. It really deserved the win.

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Claire Lewis
12:58 May 24, 2021

Thank you for the lovely comment, Cyndy!

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Iris Orona
12:39 May 24, 2021

I LOVED ALL OF IT! THANK YOU!

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Claire Lewis
12:42 May 24, 2021

Thank you Iris!

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Kate Le Roux
11:01 May 24, 2021

Short and pithy, such keen images, excellent writing!! Well done!

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Claire Lewis
12:42 May 24, 2021

Thank you so much Kate!!

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Rochelle Smith
06:34 May 24, 2021

"And from the first time we kissed, we burned into one another like cheap vodka and called it love." Favorite line! So good

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Claire Lewis
12:43 May 24, 2021

Thanks Rochelle!

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Eliyas Shiek
22:58 May 23, 2021

Wow! Wow! Wow! If the shortest YouTube videos can gather a lot of views, then this relatively short story has portrayed likewise; winning all-the-while.

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Claire Lewis
12:48 May 24, 2021

Thank you Eliyas! Gotta love those short YouTube videos 😊

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Eliyas Shiek
01:14 May 26, 2021

Yeah, true. A lot of the stories we read here have " movie-making" prospects that surpass what many have seen. I do love this, I must say.

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Eliyas Shiek
01:14 May 26, 2021

Yeah, true. A lot of the stories we read here have " movie-making" prospects that surpass what many have seen. I do love this, I must say.

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Larry Kindred
16:59 May 23, 2021

This is a really beautiful work. I'm inspired by this. Have a flower🌺

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Claire Lewis
12:54 May 24, 2021

Thank you for the kind comment and the flower, Larry 😊

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