Contest #226 shortlist ⭐️

34 comments

Fiction Holiday

“Come on, we’re going to be late,” she pulled his arm, dragging him along.

Yanking his arm away from his sister’s grip, he scowled. “Don’t touch me.”

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes, her typical reaction.

Luke hated it when people touched him, especially his arms or wrists, always commenting on how skinny he was. “You’re all skin and bones,” they said, making him feel less of a person, even smaller than he actually was if that were even possible. The school nurse had said not to worry, he would grow out of it, would become a big man one day. She had sounded certain, but he wasn’t sure. She didn’t know they sometimes went days without food, counting on the free lunch at school and the healthy snacks that Mrs. Jackson brought in, putting the extras into his backpack during recess.

Every morning they passed the fruit stand on the way to school. Sometimes just seeing the colorful display made his tummy rumble and his mouth water. He pictured biting into one of those shiny red apples, the juice running down his chin. He slowed down just to look, picking out the perfect one, until his sister’s impatient sigh prompted him to quicken his pace. It didn’t matter anyway. He had no money to buy an apple.

The neighborhood boys were at it again, he saw, with that familiar bad feeling. They teased him, called him names. Mama told him to ignore them, she said they were acting out. They were hanging around the fruit stand picking up the apples that he had his eye on.

“Hey, check it out,” the bigger boy laughed as he began juggling two apples, badly, dropping them both immediately. Reaching into the carefully arranged display he grabbed two more, leaving the ones on the ground to sit ignored.

“Get out of here. I’m calling your mother!” The old shop owner came running out with her broom as if to chase away a mouse. Perhaps these children were like rats to her, pests coming around destroying her goods.

“Shut up, old lady,” they boys mocked her, throwing apples at each other, laughing before finally meandering away.

Luke stood still, frozen. Those apples on the ground. How he longed to pick them up and put them in his backpack. They were perfectly fine, just needed a good washing. What would she do with them? He was tempted to ask her or to just take them. Was she going to throw them away? His stomach growled. How easy it would be to grab them while she was looking at the boys a few shops down taunting the man at the newspaper stand.

His sister pulled his arm again, this time harder. He winced in pain and followed her to school.

***

Sitting at the kitchen table Luke tried to do his homework but had trouble concentrating. “What’s for dinner, Mama?”

His mother lit up a cigarette and laughed. “What did you bring home today, Luke? Did Mrs. Jackson have any leftovers for you?” She grabbed his backpack looking in. When finding nothing she threw it on the floor, sat back taking a long drag on her cigarette. “I guess no dinner tonight,” she said through the thick stream of smoke. She went into the bedroom and closed the door behind her.

***

Mama didn’t get up the next morning to say goodbye, have a nice day at school. His sister had peeked into her room before grabbing his arm roughly, pulling him out of the apartment onto the cold city streets of Brooklyn.

He saw the wind swirling the leaves about on the sidewalk, felt it blowing through the holes in his sneakers. He had bigger worries than his cold feet as Thanksgiving was getting closer. That meant the celebration was getting closer too. 

***

Holding his hand down on the construction paper he carefully traced around it.  He concentrated, keeping the crayon far away from his fingers to create a nice fat turkey instead of the skinny bird that had appeared on his paper the year before. Cutting the colorful feathers to glue onto his project he was worried. Almost sick with worry. He looked at Mrs. Jackson hoping he wouldn’t cry.

***

Passing the fruit stand the following morning he still didn’t have his problem figured out and the celebration was just one day away. He didn’t tell Mama as she had stopped coming to school parties long ago. He still had the folded slip of paper that he had pulled out of the hat deciding for him what he would bring to the feast. “Pumpkin pie” he had read after unfolding the paper. Pumpkin pie, he had been repeating to himself, feeling the paper in his pocket day after day. Where would he possibly get a pumpkin pie? 

The boys on the street were being rowdy again, this time calling out nasty words as the old woman chased them down the street leaving the small shop unattended. He glanced through the doorway at the sign written on the chalkboard advertising pies for sale. Pies! Would there be pumpkin pies? His heart raced. He had to find out.

“Luke!” His sister screamed in annoyance. “What are you doing? We are going to be soo late.” 

He didn’t care. He stepped into the warm shop, the smell of baked goods overwhelming him, his mouth watering. He stood in front of the tower of pies, pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie all sitting neatly in their brown boxes with holiday stickers decorating them. It was the answer to that folded up piece of paper in his pocket. He wouldn’t have to tell Mrs. Jackson after all, seeing her eyebrows come together as she listened carefully to his disappointing news. He wouldn’t have to be the only student not arriving with a colorful shopping bag to add to the table in the corner of the room.

Taking off his backpack he opened the zipper. He knew it was wrong to take a pie, he knew it, he knew it. But he chose a brown box with an orange pumpkin sticker on it anyway. Holding the pie in one hand and his open backpack in the other he was frozen. Take the pie, take the pie. It’s for the celebration, it’s for the class. He tried to make himself feel better. It’s for Mrs. Jackson, to pay her back for all the treats, all the surprise bags of freshly washed clothes she had slipped into his backpack during recess. Sometimes there were even baggies for Mama and his sister. It would be his turn to finally give something to Mrs. Jackson, to make her happy.

“Luuuuke! What the hell?” 

Shocked to hear his sister using bad language he jumped back, his heart racing. Scowling at her, he put the pie back on the pile just before the old woman returned from her chase.

It’s okay, he thought. He still had one day to figure it out. One day to get that pie into his backpack.

***

Entering the classroom on the day of the feast he felt sick. His forehead didn’t feel warm, but his tummy was all sorts of jumpy and he was tired. He was more tired than ever before, even when he had to sleep on those small beds in that scary place when he was little. Sometimes he thought about being in the shelter, but he wasn’t sure if it was a dream he remembered or if it had actually happened.

He didn’t get much sleep the night before, worrying about the pumpkin pie. He dreamed about the old lady chasing him down the street with her broom while he held the stolen pie. He dreamed of bringing the pie to the feast and mice crawling out of it when Mrs. Jackson cut into it. He stayed awake after that one, too afraid to go back into the nightmare.

He had one last walk to school, one last chance at the pie in the shop. He carried his backpack loosely at his left side, the zipper open and ready. The pies were near the door, he would grab one with his right hand, slip it into his bag and not miss a step. He had practiced at home in the bathroom pretending the four pack of toilet tissue was the pie. He was sure he had his moves right. He just wasn’t sure it was the right move. 

Approaching the shop, he saw the old lady sweeping the doorway. Just his luck! He slowed his pace to the annoyance of his sister but no matter how long he dawdled, how slowly he dragged his feet, she continued sweeping. He passed her by in a blur, the pies behind her, then she behind him as he continued down the cold city street.

***

“Good morning, Luke,” Mrs. Jackson greeted him in the hallway. 

“Good morning, Mrs. Jackson,” he mumbled, looking down.

“Please add this to the corner table and take a seat,” she handed him a colorful shopping bag. Glancing inside he saw a pumpkin pie.  

November 29, 2023 18:55

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34 comments

AnneMarie Miles
16:51 Dec 08, 2023

Double shortlist this week!!! INCREDIBLE, Hannah! Huge congratulations!! 🎉🎉🎉

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Hannah Lynn
20:58 Dec 08, 2023

Thank you so much, AnneMarie! I am thrilled !!! 😊

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Mallory Jones
17:25 Dec 08, 2023

This touched me more than I was expecting- beautiful.

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Hannah Lynn
21:54 Dec 08, 2023

Awww thank you!!!!

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Sophie Irish
08:18 Dec 08, 2023

Really highlights the issue of poverty I found it really quite emotional. Great story

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Hannah Lynn
15:35 Dec 08, 2023

Thanks so much, Sophie! The holidays are really tough times for a lot of people!

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E. B. Bullet
15:11 Dec 06, 2023

Ohhh this really tore at me. These kinds of stories instantly put me back in the headspace of being a child, so helpless and so worried about things other kids didn't pay any mind to. It's a daunting experience, and you brought it to life very genuinely. The pace and tone of this whole story is simple, but VERY effective. You built up the conflict in bits, and dropped it throughout the narrative. It was pretty seamless! I felt an immense dread, hoping he wouldn't take the pie, but understanding fully why he thought he needed to-- a super i...

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Hannah Lynn
19:18 Dec 06, 2023

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! It is truly awful when children feel so helpless like Luke did. There's enough to worry about as adults, children deserve their innocence! Thankfully he had at least one caring adult watching over him.

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Philip Ebuluofor
07:06 Dec 11, 2023

Congrats.

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Hannah Lynn
14:30 Dec 11, 2023

Thank you!!

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Philip Ebuluofor
11:15 Dec 17, 2023

Welcome.

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Karen Corr
21:59 Dec 08, 2023

Congratulations! You're on fire, girl! 😊

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Hannah Lynn
22:53 Dec 08, 2023

Lol thank you sooo much!!! 🔥

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David Sweet
18:16 Dec 08, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist!! It was a great story.

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Hannah Lynn
22:51 Dec 08, 2023

Thank you so much, David! I am absolutely thrilled!!!

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Mary Bendickson
01:34 Dec 07, 2023

Sometimes I wonder if teachers realize the burden they put on disadvantaged children when they innocently request things brought from home. This teacher knew it was a hardship for this family and found a way to circumvent the problem. Good job building conflict and angst. What may have seemed like an unimportant problem was huge for this child. So glad he did not resort to stealing. He may have offered help to the old woman and she may have returned his favor by offering him the bruised apples. Loved seeing this on the short shortlist. Yo...

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Hannah Lynn
14:57 Dec 07, 2023

Thanks for reading, Mary! I love the idea of Luke helping the old woman and she in turn giving him the apples! Thanks for the feedback :)

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Michał Przywara
22:40 Dec 05, 2023

Oof, that's heartbreaking. A kid should not have to constantly worry about food, and the fact he had to contemplate stealing is rough. That he wanted to steal it for other people is a mitigating circumstance, but it's still terrible he was in that situation at all. The ending is a positive note though. Not only did he not go through with it, but Mrs. Jackson was there for him, and she did it seamlessly, without drawing attention or giving room for shame. Luke's problems are far from over, but he's been given a reprieve, and hopefully he's ...

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Hannah Lynn
14:56 Dec 06, 2023

Thank you, Michal, for the insightful comments! I enjoyed your analysis of my story very much :) It's interesting to read your opinion of Luke's sister. As I wrote the story I focused on Luke and the sister was always floating behind in my imagination, in the background. But you are right, she really is important, probably the glue that held the family together. Thank you for reading and commenting!!

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Dec 08, 2023

Congratulations on the (two) shortlists!

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Hannah Lynn
22:52 Dec 08, 2023

Thank you! 😊😊

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AnneMarie Miles
15:38 Dec 03, 2023

Very very sweet story, Hannah! It really shows the types of motivations behind temptations like these, and how influential teachers can be in our lives. Thanks for sharing!

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Hannah Lynn
19:35 Dec 03, 2023

Aww thanks so much, AnneMarie! Yes thank goodness for the good teachers out there. They can really make or break experiences for kids! Thanks for reading 😊

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Graham Kinross
07:59 Dec 03, 2023

As a teacher I can relate to a lot of this. It’s a beautiful story. If only all teachers were so kind and thoughtful and all pupils as honest.

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Hannah Lynn
18:52 Dec 03, 2023

Thanks for reading, Graham! Yes, if only there were more good ones! Thankfully Luke turned out to be a good one. It's too easy to go down the wrong path. Thanks for your feedback :)

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Graham Kinross
23:35 Dec 03, 2023

You’re welcome Hannah.

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Kate Winchester
18:15 Dec 02, 2023

That Mrs. Jackson is a special lady. I’m glad she cared for Luke. I’m also happy that Luke didn’t take the pie because he knew it was wrong. Great story! I loved it. 😊

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Hannah Lynn
23:12 Dec 02, 2023

Yes! Thank goodness for caring and thoughtful teachers! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Kate! :)

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Kate Winchester
23:24 Dec 02, 2023

Definitely! You’re welcome ☺️

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David Sweet
15:40 Dec 02, 2023

Heart-warming story. Having been a teacher, I know children often go without food just like this for a myriad of reasons. In many ways, I'm glad that he was unable to go through with stealing the pie. Thank you for such a great story.

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Hannah Lynn
23:11 Dec 02, 2023

Thank you so much, David! I appreciate the feedback particularly coming from a teacher who has seen these kinds of situations. Yes, very glad Luke's circumstances did not allow him to steal the pie!

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Elinor F.
02:25 Dec 21, 2023

A VERY heartfelt story!

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Elinor F.
02:34 Dec 21, 2023

I love this story because it tells us that the holiday season may be a tough time for some people, and it explains how people get through the holiday season and it is very beautiful. BEAUTIFUL story, Hannah!

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Hannah Lynn
14:53 Dec 21, 2023

Thank you so much, Elinor! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my story! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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