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

Dave O'brien
22:47 May 21, 2021

A very real fast paced piece that I enjoyed reading without needing the back story or an ending, it stood its ground as good writing per se, I did think there were too many stars reflecting off different objects though🙄

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Claire Lewis
00:21 May 22, 2021

Thank you for the critical read, Dave! I certainly can be prone to adding too many stars to my writing

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Arwen Dove
21:40 May 21, 2021

Amazing story! Deserved to win! :)

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Claire Lewis
23:44 May 21, 2021

Thank you, Arwen!

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Arwen Dove
03:56 May 22, 2021

:)

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:52 May 21, 2021

At first I thought, “why did this win? Nothing new or fresh here.” But then the story ended abruptly, seemingly before it even began, and that’s when it sank in. This is so amazing because of the implications—the things left unsaid, the invisible dots that the reader connects for themselves. And damn did it hit hard. It’s so deft and subtle and shows a great degree of skill. Damn Claire, leave some prize money for the rest of us! 😉 (How’s everything btw? Been a while!) Congrats! 🥳

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Claire Lewis
00:09 May 22, 2021

Thank you Rayhan! I’m all about the delayed reveals haha It has been awhile! I’m wrapping up grad school (I graduate tomorrow actually!!) and looking for a job so my free time has been almost nonexistent lately haha... How about you?

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J B
15:50 May 21, 2021

Congratulations! The ending, “I’ll take the trash out in the morning,” is very symbolic. It's my favorite line in the story.

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Claire Lewis
00:11 May 22, 2021

That last line was one of those lightbulb moments, glad you enjoyed the symbolism there! Thank you Jessica 😊

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J B
08:13 May 24, 2021

I didn't understand what the two triangles in opposite directions meant or what they're for as I'm very new here until someone here enlightened me. So, I gave you an upvote.

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Claire Lewis
13:00 May 24, 2021

Ha, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure the upvoting thing out. Thank you!

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I.B. Dunn
15:20 May 21, 2021

How can something so sad also be so beautiful. I suppose because it feels so real. It feels like I am the fly on the wall watching and listening to what is said and what is unsaid. You tell a lifetime's worth of stories with a single word, "Glue." That's talent. You know I'm a fan. I would enjoy anything you write but this deserved the win. This was special. Fantastic story. Bravo!

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Claire Lewis
00:13 May 22, 2021

Thank you Thom!! Your comments, like your stories, are an absolute joy to read Hope you’re doing well!

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15:02 May 21, 2021

*destroyed by the sheer power of the writing*

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Claire Lewis
23:41 May 21, 2021

Ha, thanks Kate! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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R. K.
14:07 May 21, 2021

Oh my god, you won! I knew it!! I'm sorry I didn't comment before, but I need you know to this is wonderful and smoky and well-deserved. I love the pink crescent lip stains on glasses, and the silver satin dress like armour, the owl's song and the whole atmosphere you crafted here.

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Claire Lewis
00:16 May 22, 2021

Eep thank you so much, Ru! And no worries! I miss you, hope you’re doing okay 💜

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Ellie Yu
14:02 May 21, 2021

Congratulations, I’m so happy for you!! So deserved :)

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Claire Lewis
00:16 May 22, 2021

Thank you Ellie!!

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Beth Connor
01:48 May 21, 2021

I love the imagery of this story. “Somewhere in that vast, unspoken space between us lies the answer to every question.” Sticks out in my mind, and won’t let it go.

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Claire Lewis
23:43 May 21, 2021

Thank you, Beth!

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Cathryn V
04:36 May 16, 2021

Hi Claire, This is so beautifully written. As I began reading, I copied this part intending to say how amazingly descriptive it is. 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, But as I kept reading, I decided it’s all like this! Thank you for this powerful story written with such subtlety.

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Cathryn V
16:11 May 21, 2021

You make good writing look so easy. Congratulations on a well deserved win!

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Claire Lewis
16:32 May 21, 2021

Thank you so much Cathryn! I’ve been away for a few days and this was quite shocking to come back to haha And thanks for your lovely comment earlier 💜

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Shea West
04:40 May 15, 2021

This line:“We can leave the rest for tomorrow,” he says, gesturing at the last of the mess...... What a foreboding of the title. A small glimpse into the disintegration of a relationship. Sometimes all that's left is a mess and bag a trash. I love everything you write, the end.

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Claire Lewis
14:24 May 15, 2021

And I love everything YOU write, including your lovely comments 💜 Looking forward to your new story!!

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Shea West
14:00 May 21, 2021

You won!!! Congratulation Claire!!

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Claire Lewis
15:24 May 21, 2021

Thank you Shea!! 💜

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Rachel Smith
19:39 May 14, 2021

Hi Claire, I loved the subtlety in this piece. Beautifully written. Well done!

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Claire Lewis
23:10 May 15, 2021

Thanks Rachel!

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Rachel Smith
13:56 May 21, 2021

Congratulations! So pleased for you.

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Claire Lewis
15:37 May 21, 2021

💜💜💜

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Daniel Hayes
05:40 May 14, 2021

Hi Claire, this was a great story. I think that first paragraph is really strong and pulls the reader in. You write so descriptively that I saw everything happening as I read along. My favorite line is: "I, on the other hand, am faded. Dulled. " - I think this speaks volumes about that character and it was a nice touch. I really liked this story and I thought you did a great job writing it :)

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Claire Lewis
13:53 May 14, 2021

Thank you, Daniel! I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

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Giulia S.
22:02 May 13, 2021

I love it! The descriptions are so well written and there's room to so much interpretation...great work!

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Claire Lewis
23:09 May 15, 2021

Thank you Giulia!

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Claire Chace
20:42 May 13, 2021

Wow! This is a great story. I really like the line: “And from the first time we kissed, we burned into one another like cheap vodka and called it love.” It has great use of comparisons and was very detailed.

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Claire Lewis
21:46 May 13, 2021

Thank you Claire!

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Benji Bobo ©
15:15 Jul 28, 2021

I just don't understand! Everything I seem to read makes me feel sad. Now I feel like when I read doctor seuss I feel sad as well, I guess i'll have to find a new author that I like. I'm thinking maybe elephant and piggy will do... Maybe

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Rie Sanders
18:48 Jul 06, 2021

Wow, I think you have the whole 'show don't tell' thing down. There are too many great lines for me to list!

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Rebecca Weinert
13:17 Jun 12, 2021

I really loved the story! The details and the atmosphere came across so well. You left just enough unsaid to make me want to reread it to not miss any details.

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Claire Lewis
14:41 Jun 12, 2021

Thank you Rebecca!

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Susan Lasater
08:45 Jun 12, 2021

I read your story earlier, hours ago, and didn’t comment as I am new and may have been too intimidated to jump in here but I had to come back to tell you what is gnawing at my heart. “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.” She went to bed and her great grandmother’s delicate dishes are still in the dishwasher! The force in which they were loaded made her cringe, and thoug...

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Claire Lewis
14:48 Jun 12, 2021

Hi Susan! Firstly, welcome to Reedsy :) And secondly, I’m always amazed at the incredibly insightful things that come up in the comments on this site. Thank you, truly, for such a thoughtful read!

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Karen Kinley
01:41 Jun 10, 2021

I bookmarked this story for some reason and just got around to reading it...and now I know why. I think I just fell in love with you a little bit! Seriously, the writing is just WOW! You had me hooked with the opening paragraph (as others here have stated), but your descriptions just blew me away. From "His large arms twist and flex unnecessarily" to "loading my great-grandmother’s delicate china into the dishwasher with a force that makes me cringe" to "my face distorted by the angles of the windowpanes"....I just love every delicious phras...

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Claire Lewis
05:21 Jun 10, 2021

Thanks for such a kind comment, Karen! You made my day 😊

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