Contest #59 shortlist ⭐️

15 comments

Drama

The roofers arrived at seven a.m., their guttural voices slicing the thick air into thirds. I wrapped my bed sheet around me like a cocoon and peered out the open window, still woozy from sleep. There must have been seven or eight men in the crew, from what I could tell, though the opacity of recent days distorted reality just enough so that my eyes gasped only for more light, in lieu of a sharpened view, one that lent a more angular look on things. The men were of varying ages, and from what I could tell, they must be related: they all shared the same jawline, the same dirty brown hair, brows bent in perpetual confusion. The youngest, a man of about twenty, was unwrapping a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich and staring off into the blood-orange sky. The eldest lit a fresh cigarette with the tip of his old one. The others were either smoking or drinking from thermoses. Suddenly, my neighbor, Mrs. Hutchinson, appeared in her gauzy white robe, hands planted on her thick hips.

“Don’t throw your butts in my yard,” she barked, handing over a half-empty soda bottle. “Here.” She never wasted time with pleasantries. In the five years I have lived next to her, we have exchanged only a handful of words. In her best moments she was terse; in her worst she was belligerent. I had learned her schedule well enough so as to avoid many run-ins. One of the men, someone who looked like he’d be named Rob, nodded wordlessly. Mrs. Hutchinson charged back inside, disappearing behind her curtained French doors. I clipped the window shut and let out a gritty cough, ashes fluttering like miniature birds around me. 


Though all our roofs were in terrible shape, Mrs. Hutchinson’s was the most damaged. The homeowners’ association voted unanimously that hers be replaced first, a move that made sense if you set aside any personal feelings about her. 


What’s the use? Why don’t we all just move? my other immediate neighbor, Mrs. Owens, said at the homeowners’ association meeting, where it had been decided. She had a point. This would just keep happening until we could no longer recognize our homes, having gone through so many reconstructions. Until we could no longer insure our homes because it was too much of a financial risk for the insurance companies. But picking up and carting ourselves to another state seemed the least pragmatic thing to do. Mrs. Hutchinson walked out of that meeting like she was the goddamn Queen of England, her husband lagging behind her like an old dog. Mr. Hutchinson was a fine milquetoast man, which also made sense if you believed in the human magnet syndrome; I had spent many afternoons curled up at the window watching him send her passive gesture after passive gesture as she went about pruning her buttercups, cursing him just loud enough for anyone within earshot to hear. They had one child, a son, who I only saw when he left for school every morning. In a lot of ways he reminded me of my own son. But I must be careful with that thought, keep it airtight when I can.


The crew came a bit later the next morning, a Tuesday. I found myself eagerly awaiting them, hoping that perhaps one of the men would look up to notice my face in the window and need me, and I would proceed to give him an endless supply of whatever it was that could make him feel whole: milk, words, my body. Instead they just ate their breakfast sandwiches and sucked on their cigarettes and pissed in the arborvitae that lined the Hutchinsons’ property. They packed into their trucks around noon and came back an hour later with fast-food drink cups and crumpled looks on their faces. They got about one-half of the old shingles removed before they called it a day. 


I woke on Day Three to a sky the color of candy roses. Mrs. Hutchinson was berating the roofers for leaving shingle piles in the yard. They spent the next hour loading them in their truck beds as Mrs. Hutchinson looked on, arms folded across her chest. Mr. Hutchinson stood behind her, muted, the Tribune resting in his pale fingers.


Later on, when she was gone and it was deemed safe, I overheard one of the men say, “What a bitch.” And for some inexplicable reason, I had hoped he was talking about me. The others crowed.


They didn’t get much accomplished that day. It became too difficult to see. They drove off in the artificial dusk and did not return until the next morning. I dulled myself with wine and fell asleep. 

*

“You keep your mask on when you screwed her?” Rob said to the youngest. Fortunately they spoke loud enough that I could hear them through the thick glass. I sipped my coffee and imagined him on top of a woman, his tongue attempting to force its way through the cloth. 


“No, why? Was I supposed to?” He balled up his breakfast sandwich wrapper and threw it into an empty grocery bag.  


“You fools wanna help me get the rest of this underlayment off? It’s gettin’ harder to breathe out here,” the eldest yelled. 


The next day, right at dawn, we were encouraged to evacuate. I remembered Mrs. Owens’ words at the meeting and how she must have felt so vindicated when the text message alert came through. I thought about the hills, glittering like wild jewels, as I drove to the graveyard the night before when the city was asleep. I wondered where the hand of God was as I choked on whatever was left inside me.


The roofers still came to work. They were waiting for me as I pulled into my driveway at the cusp of morning: I had been driving all night. They were eating their breakfast sandwiches and sucking on their cigarettes as if they had been preparing for this moment their entire lives.   





September 13, 2020 18:38

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15 comments

Leilani Lane
13:46 Sep 25, 2020

Congrats on the shortlist, Stephanie! :) I have to say--your opening lines here are amazing.

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Stephanie Walker
20:18 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you, so very much!

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Molly Leasure
22:45 Sep 23, 2020

I love the mundane feeling of your story. Being a voyeur of sorts, hoping someone will take notice of her no matter what the attention it is, it all makes your main character very interesting. I appreciate the lack of back story. I don't think this piece needs backstory. Your character's personality speaks for itself well. I do have a couple suggestions (take em or leave em, I don't mind!): taking a moment to read through your really long paragraphs and finding natural breakpoints could help with the weight those paragraphs bring visually...

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Stephanie Walker
20:32 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you for your kind comments. I was aiming for a very humdrum kind of feel, as well as leaving as much of the narrator out of the story as well. In a way I think it is reflective of how I feel sometimes—on the periphery most days. I appreciate your suggestions as well. Writing long paragraphs has been a problem for me and it's something I am trying to work on.

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Bianka Nova
21:17 Sep 20, 2020

Great description of the workers and the neighbors. I could picture them perfectly! I had some trouble with the missing weather words. At first I thought the damage would be from hail or hurricane. Later on it got better though. :) And I do think it would benefit from having a little more back story on the narrator. But what you have is also very good 😊

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Stephanie Walker
20:34 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you, Bianka! I couldn't believe it but two days after finishing this story, my neighbors had their roof replaced. I literally woke up to the sounds I described. LOL. It's like my words brought them there.

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Bianka Nova
20:48 Sep 25, 2020

Haha, wow! Careful what you write about next then 😅

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Paige Leppanen
17:46 Sep 19, 2020

What a fantastic story! Great word choice. It left me wanting to learn more about the narrator. (Sidenote: Don't forget to include the Reedsy prompt and contest link if you publish the story elsewhere online. More info at https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/faq/).

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Stephanie Walker
19:26 Sep 19, 2020

Thank you for your feedback! I thought about including information about the narrator, but decided to omit it as a way of putting more focus on people's (and hers) indifference to the wildfires. Everyone is so self-concerned, including her, and treat the fires and other natural disasters as irrelevant background noise.

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Paige Leppanen
03:55 Sep 20, 2020

It could definitely be a longer piece!!

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Ooooh, amazing piece! This intriguing story us really well written, nice work. Your descriptions and AWESOME! Like, those first couple lines? ‘ The roofers arrived at seven a.m., their guttural voices slicing the thick air into thirds. I wrapped my bed sheet around me like a cocoon and peered out the open window, still woozy from sleep.’ TERRIFIC. Great joooob on ‘Evening Sun’, Stephanie! Keep writing!

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Stephanie Walker
23:19 Sep 13, 2020

Wow, thank you so much! :-) And thank you for taking the time to read it!

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No problem! Also, would you mind checking out my story “Dear Mimi”? Thanks :D

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Stephanie Walker
02:38 Sep 14, 2020

I just did. Left a comment. :-)

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Thanks :D

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