Contest #93 winner 🏆

279 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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279 comments

Zakirah Green
16:21 May 23, 2021

Really made an impact Claire. Thank you and best wishes.

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Claire Lewis
12:55 May 24, 2021

Thank you Zakirah! Best wishes to you too 💜

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T. Jane
14:03 May 23, 2021

Very beautiful. Each word crawled up my skin, making me ache inside for her to feel okay.

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Claire Lewis
12:56 May 24, 2021

What a poetic comment! Thanks for reading Leslynne 😊

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T. Jane
11:50 May 28, 2021

Of course, your stories are beautiful.

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Marianna Mills
12:46 May 23, 2021

what a wonderful simple story of show not tell, loved it made us feel like we were there and not just looking at words beautiful job

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Claire Lewis
12:57 May 24, 2021

You’re too kind. Thank you Marianna 😊

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Sherry Lynn
08:40 May 23, 2021

Congratulations, Claire!! What a great piece! A perfect choice, well done!

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Claire Lewis
12:57 May 24, 2021

Thank you so much Sherry!

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Arvind Kashyap
02:06 May 23, 2021

Lovely to read.

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Claire Lewis
02:15 May 23, 2021

Thank you!

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Yolanda Wu
01:28 May 23, 2021

What a beautiful story! Your prose is so intricate, but effortless at the same time. In such a short space, you constructed two very distinct characters. The descriptions of the husband were subtle, but I love how you illustrated through his actions what kind of person he was, as well as the narrator's concealed hurt. It really does evoke this feeling of melancholy, of a fizzled-out love and life still dragging on despite that. This story one hundred percent deserved to win! P.S. Please don't listen to that hater in the comments, they're li...

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Claire Lewis
04:21 May 23, 2021

Thank you, Yolanda! I deeply admire your work so I’m especially grateful for your kind feedback I’m shocked that account hasn’t been taken down, those comments are disgusting. Thanks for the support 💜

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Yolanda Wu
05:07 May 23, 2021

You're welcome, Claire! Anytime! I'm humbled that a talented writer like you admires my work. It goes both ways. :)

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Lorenzo Yabut
01:25 May 23, 2021

I like how short and concise it is, but translucent, straightforward and enthralling

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Claire Lewis
04:26 May 23, 2021

Thank you, Lorenzo!

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Violet Pierce
20:12 May 22, 2021

I love the sentences you used! I'm new to this and I saw this and was amazed. This was really good!

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Claire Lewis
04:27 May 23, 2021

Thank you, Violet! Welcome to Reedsy 😊

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Sam Hayes
18:11 May 22, 2021

Like chocolate cake, maybe a bit rich or too heavily layered at times, but the rest executed perfectly. I cringed slightly on the first sentence, thinking the whole piece would be that way, but the rest was written with graceful prose. Congrats.

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Claire Lewis
04:30 May 23, 2021

Thanks Sam!

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Monica June
16:51 May 22, 2021

The descriptions and metaphors in this story were simply PERFECT. Although not much happens, I still found myself hanging on to every word. I want more! I think I may even read it again, and I don't think I've ever done that with a short story here. The symbolism was really beautiful. I just loved it. A WELL deserved win! Congratulations!

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Claire Lewis
04:30 May 23, 2021

Aww, you’re too kind Monica! Thank you for the sweet comment 😊

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Martin Buckell
14:07 May 22, 2021

Such good writing...bravo.

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Claire Lewis
04:30 May 23, 2021

Thank you!

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David Drew
11:26 May 22, 2021

Excellent piece of writing. I enjoyed this Claire.

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Claire Lewis
04:30 May 23, 2021

Thanks David!

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Batool Hussain
08:03 May 22, 2021

Bravo. You've described everything so well, Claire. The tension amidst the two characters has been described so perfectly - just not over done. Every word is perfect at its place. The flow, in addition to this, is quite smooth- I didn't stop until I had read it whole. Absolutely brilliant! And oh, a deserved win:)

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Claire Lewis
04:31 May 23, 2021

Thank you so much, Batool!

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07:09 May 22, 2021

What would you say is the theme of this short story

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Claire Lewis
04:39 May 23, 2021

That’s a great question! To me at least, this felt like an expression of how brokenness often lies beneath the surface, whether of a individual or (in this case) a relationship

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07:12 May 23, 2021

that is a beautiful yet heartfelt theme

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Sangeeths Vallat
04:55 May 22, 2021

Love it. Love it. Love it! The language, the scenario and the lilting melody that runs through the story... A well-deserved win.

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Claire Lewis
04:40 May 23, 2021

Thank you so much 😊

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Gunnar Ladd
03:36 May 22, 2021

I enjoyed this story SO much! I have always wanted to write and just posted my first prompt story but after reading this, I realize how much work I have left to do. It’s so much fun learning from the work of others and I can’t wait to use what I learned from this piece in my next story! And congrats on your win! :)

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Claire Lewis
04:41 May 23, 2021

Oh, thank you Gunnar, you’re too kind. Welcome to Reedsy!!

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Kendall Defoe
03:09 May 22, 2021

Hits you right in the heart. Definite follow!

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Claire Lewis
04:41 May 23, 2021

Thank you 😊

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01:08 May 22, 2021

WOW i enjoy this story :)

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Claire Lewis
04:42 May 23, 2021

Thanks Kylie!!

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Joan Wright
22:55 May 21, 2021

Great story! the feelings flowed from the page.

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Claire Lewis
00:17 May 22, 2021

Thank you Joan!

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Maddy Writes
22:50 May 21, 2021

THIS WAS SO SO GOOD~I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU! I HOPE YOU KEEP CONTINUING TO WRITE, MAYBE YOU COULD EVEN DO A SEQUEL TO THIS ONE?? ANYWAYS, SENDING YOU MY BEST!!🙏🙏🙏💖💖👍🤗 -The Green Witch

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Claire Lewis
00:17 May 22, 2021

Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it 😊

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Maddy Writes
23:12 May 22, 2021

💖

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