Contest #112 winner 🏆

110 comments

Drama

CW: Covid

When the rain finally came, it fell in torrents and as if making up for lost time, it kept on that way for three days and three nights. Dry cracked soil turned to mud and without the roots to hold onto it, the dirt began moving, sliding down the walls along the road, covering the throughways with mud. A house leaned on a steep hill until the support posts moved, leaving the rear hanging like a broken wing.

*

That summer it seemed like the world had been sprayed in dirt and ash. Leaves hung limp over dried up fruit that lay dead on the ground. Even Bobby's Brushless Car Wash closed down--a waste of money in the hazy air. Charmin sat on her grit covered swing in the backyard and toed the dust wishing for rain, waiting for news. The phone lay mute in her hand.


She fiddled with her necklace, sliding the ring over the delicate links. Dirt stained the cuticles around her bare toenails and the sandals she wore had become permanently discolored. A campfire smell made her look toward the distant neighbors, but then she remembered. Oh, of course. The forest fires. Charmin left the swing and wandered toward the house, over chalk drawings —bubbles, big to bigger, small to smaller, in pinks and blues and whites, they decorated the driveway, fixed in place as if painted on. It was a reminder of a sweet day when she'd made a disastrous choice that changed everything.

*

It had been early June when her nephews, Harley and Josh, wanted to spend time “out in the country” at Auntie Charmin’s place. Three friends came too, bare-faced innocent children, at a time when the death toll headlined the daily news.


"Don't worry," Charmin promised her husband. "No visitors in the house, I swear." But then Harley needed to pee, and Josh wanted to go with him, soon all five kids raced through the house playing tag, laughing “Tag— You’re it!”


Charmin didn't stop them. She loved seeing their boundless energy; healthy children enjoying summertime like kids should. But days later Greg woke up complaining of burning pain in his chest. A week later, he was in ICU with Covid.

*

A raft of dead bugs and debris had settled in the bottom of the watering can. Charmin filled it from the outside tap and made her way to the bedraggled flower pots by the front door. Coleus, bleeding heart, and potato vine wilted each day by mid-afternoon. The deep red leaves sparkled with the dirty ash and as she sprinkled the water into the dirt, she waved the can over the leaves as well, saying quietly, there now, take that drink, soak it up and thrive. The phone vibrated. She grabbed it, hit the home button. An Amber alert in the next state over; some other person’s worry. Charmin slipped it back in her pocket and stepped inside the silent kitchen where Greg’s hoodie dangled from the wall hook, right where he left it the day they went to emergency.


Three months since a drop of rain. A wind storm came up. Charmin watched the trees bend and heard a loud crack. She ran to the kitchen window. The Redbud had snapped off at the ground, laying the whole magnificent tree with its black bark and green heart shaped leaves across the driveway. She raced outside to find it was a clean break that left the branches still intact, full of tiny pink buds that had already set for the following spring. The sweet smell of living wood came from the trunk's center and she marveled at how quick things change. An hour ago the tree had been entirely healthy. Her chest ached while she took in the randomness of life. There was no remedy for loss and she had no more tears. Nature does not ask for permission.


A year ago in their little forest, Greg had put in dozens of native flowering shrubs like azaleas, wild raspberry, and Oregon grape that would draw wildlife. No need to fertilize, or water, or worry about sun Greg had said. They’d do just fine on their own in the shade. Charmin insisted that he stick a white flag next to each plant. She didn’t know poison oak from trillium. And she didn’t want to water a poisonous plant. They put the flags out together, all fifty of them scattered about, amongst the weeds.

*

One hundred fifteen degrees in the shade, pine needles fried on the branch. It was August before she remembered the plantings. The lush grass had dried into sharp stubs. There had been no rain for nearly three months. The forest floor had turned brown while she was tending to the worry that moved in and took over every waking minute. Even the old ferns were flattened, still with green fronds but too weak to hold themselves up. The white flags marked bare sticks. A few plants held crinkled remnants of powdery leaves. Charmin trudged up the steep driveway to the house where she filled the watering can, turned and walked heavily back to the forest, again and again, she carried the weighty doing whatever she could to make a difference.

*

The sign next to Greg’s ICU room said, NO VISITORS. Every morning Charmin hovered outside the window. The man under the tubes and machines could have been anyone, covered as he was head to foot. Greg’s curly red hair disappeared under the blue paper hat. Large accordion tubing hid one side of his face and white tape held the breathing tube in place. Red lights blinked and the rise and fall of the constant heart pattern kept on; it seemed to say, I’m here Charmin, see? I’m still beating.

The door opened. A nurse hurried out, and with her came sounds; whirring, beeping, hissing, and for a half breath Charmin was a part of Greg. Then the door closed and she was cut off once again.


Greg’s wedding ring nearly sliced into his skin before they removed it. A tiny nurse with a high-pitched voice handed the black titanium band to Charmin. She tried it on her thumb but it wouldn’t stay. She loved Greg’s hands, freckly under a patch of blond fuzz; powerful hands that so gently stroked her face and pulled her close. At home, she sorted through necklaces, trying each one until she found a long gold chain to hang the ring in just the right place.


Every day the weatherman predicted rain, a chance of rain, maybe three days ahead, maybe at the end of the week. But the week came and went and there was no rain.

The water pressure fell so that it came out in a trickle; wells were going dry all over the area. Charmin quit flushing the toilet regularly and let the plants go dry. 


The nurse gave her an update each day and it was always the same: Greg’s O2 sats are too low to come off the vent. We are doing everything we can. Hang in there. All we can do is wait and pray.

Charmin had never been a praying sort. She believed what will be will be. But these many weeks, she’d flushed every tear over Harley and now, with no change in Greg, she felt hope drying up like the forest plants. Please God, she said out loud one evening as she lay in bed alone. Please, don’t take Greg too.


The old house creaked and snapped; its ancient wood frame contracting in the dry air. The bedroom opened onto a sleeping porch through a screened door. Charmin lay alone in the dark, and listened to an owl’s haunting call for a mate. From the distant ridge came coyote puppies eerie high pitched yipping. Sounds that she and Greg listened to after making love, in each other’s arms, still and quiet, they waited for the owl’s mate return call which always made Charmin giggle, happy for Mr. Owl, she'd say.


Charmin barely breathed trying to catch the bird’s reply, but that night, the forlorn call went unanswered.


Greg seemed to take a dive overnight; his kidneys were shutting down. They would need to wash out his blood through a machine, a treatment called dialysis. Charmin cried and wondered if her tear ducts would quit producing it water too.


The next night, Charmin lay in the dark, listening for the owl. Wind breezed through the room and she heard the dead leaves whoosh outside her window. She turned on her side, trying to appease her painful back muscles, tired from sitting. The wind stilled and there was no sound outside. She lifted her head; the door was still open wide. She heard the sound of wind again, but no, it wasn’t wind; the sound grew stronger and regular. She stepped outside. In the dark, she knew the sky had opened, sprinkling the dry earth at first, then dumping the entire sky. The rain came hard, like a high-powered nozzle it shot water straight down. Charmin sat on the single chair listening, inhaling the sweet smell of wet soil, feeling the cool wet rain splash onto her face. 



Charmin still braved the flooded roads, making the treacherous drive to watch Greg through the ICU window each morning. Dialysis seemed to be helping.


It was in the middle of the night after she’d passed out from exhaustion, when she awoke and checked her phone. A text from hours earlier, three phone calls. Greg’s heart had stopped, and would she please call immediately. Her hands shook as she tapped the numbers, tapped wrong and started over. She thought of life without her husband. Tears eased down her cheeks that she wiped away and tried for the third time to call the hospital.


Greg’s heart had stopped many hours earlier. They worked on him until it began again, weak at first, then with full force, probably the adrenaline the doctor said; the adrenaline knocked it into a normal rhythm. The doctor apologized for the delay in communication. There was no one free to phone her during the code. Greg had turned a corner the doctor said. His temperature returned to normal and his oxygen saturation increased, although subpar, it was the first positive change since he arrived months before. Come in the morning, the doctor suggested, when Greg has had time to rest. Maybe he will even be awake for you. 

Charmin ran out the front door without shoes, her bare feet lustful for water, for the wet under her and over and on her; in the dark and with outstretched arms, she danced and whirled, singing out, she sang praise to Mother Earth, and gave thanks to God.

September 25, 2021 00:42

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110 comments

Amanda Mayes
18:38 Oct 01, 2021

Hi Cathryn, many congratulations, this is a lovely, well-paced story that I enjoyed reading. Love the images you conjure up - great writing!

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Cathryn V
18:45 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Amanda! I can’t believe I won!

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Nidhi Hd
14:40 Oct 02, 2021

Beautifully written story. Congratulations! You definitely deserve it

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Cathryn V
18:23 Oct 02, 2021

Thank you Nidhi!

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Deborah Mosley
14:38 Oct 02, 2021

Cathryn - Beautifully written story with exceptional descriptive detail. You are a gifted storyteller! Congrats!

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Cathryn V
18:24 Oct 02, 2021

That’s very kind of you Deborah. Thank you!

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Rachelle Lemay
13:16 Oct 02, 2021

This is such a well-crafted story, Cathryn. The description of the drought brought me back to my high school days and reading The Grapes of Wrath. It all seems so desperate and hopeless until the end. Congratulations, Well done!

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Cathryn V
18:25 Oct 02, 2021

Thank you Rachelle!

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Linda Gruenberg
08:53 Oct 02, 2021

Congratulations. This is a wonderful story, full of love (the children, Greg, the ring) and loneliness (the owl, Charmin, the drought). The drought makes a perfect metaphor for the emptiness while Greg is sick. I like how she explains that she doesn't pray ... until she does ... and then it's in the form of thanks.

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Cathryn V
18:50 Oct 02, 2021

Hi Linda, Your comments are so kind. I’m glad you enjoyed the story! Thank you🙏

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Scott Skinner
03:30 Sep 28, 2021

And a happy ending! I was expecting it to go the other way (like maybe with his passing, he'd bring rain), but this worked out beautifully. Your stories have such fantastic imagery. There are so many examples, but here are a few that really stuck w/ me: "Dirt stained the cuticles around her bare toenails..." "Greg’s hoodie dangled from the wall hook, right where he left it the day they went to emergency." "A few plants held crinkled remnants of powdery leaves." "... and listened to an owl’s haunting call for a mate." The way you write make...

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Cathryn V
04:14 Sep 28, 2021

Hi Scott, Thanks for taking time to read and comment. I"m flattered by your kind words. And this is why I write on Reedsy! I appreciate you--

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Scott Skinner
16:26 Oct 01, 2021

Well Deserved - Congratulations!

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Cathryn V
17:02 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you so much!

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10:36 Oct 02, 2021

I loved this sentence: “The forest floor had turned brown while she was tending to the worry that moved in and took over every waking minute.” So balanced and so evocative. Perfectly crafted. This is a welcome piece of polished and engaging writing. Nice job and congrats on the win.

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Cathryn V
18:28 Oct 02, 2021

That’s very kind of you! Thank you so much. I usually think my stories are subpar (read shitty). This makes me feel so good.

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J. M
04:05 Oct 02, 2021

You're really great at descriptions!

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Cathryn V
04:13 Oct 02, 2021

Thank you!

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Mo Ferdause
03:47 Oct 02, 2021

What a great story! Congratulations!!

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Cathryn V
04:05 Oct 02, 2021

Thank you, Mo!

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Tre P
18:10 Oct 01, 2021

Amazing story. I loved the detail. Congratulations on your win! Well deserved.

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Cathryn V
18:24 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you so much Tre!

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Nisha Shirali
17:09 Oct 01, 2021

Lovely story, congratulations!

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Cathryn V
17:12 Oct 01, 2021

thank you Nisha!

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17:06 Oct 01, 2021

Great story, projected love, patience, and hope!! Congratulations Cathryn!

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Cathryn V
17:11 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Lisa Marie!

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Marcia H.
16:22 Oct 01, 2021

I loved this story. Congratulations!!!

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Cathryn V
17:01 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Marcia!

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David Gottfried
15:57 Oct 01, 2021

Beautiful story! Congratulations, Cathryn. This is a well deserved win.

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Cathryn V
16:09 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you David! I am so thrilled, i can’t believe I won!

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Francis Daisy
14:23 Sep 26, 2021

Absolutely amazing story. So tender, so real, so difficult to read at points, so well written!

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Cathryn V
04:23 Sep 27, 2021

Hi Francis, Thank you so much for the kind words. I appreciate that you took time to read and comment!

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Howard H
08:57 Sep 26, 2021

Hi Cathryn, I just got a chance to read your story again. You have created a real gem. Every paragraph describes perfect moments. The sense of time and place is well judged and gave me a real feeling of living through this year’s traumatic events. The owl hooting for a mate line carried me to a very lonely and dark spot; a wonderful touch. I liked the line, “... she’d flushed every tear over Harley and now, with no change in Greg, she felt hope drying up like the forest plants.” I thought this worked well and conveyed the loss in an expansi...

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Cathryn V
04:24 Sep 28, 2021

Hello Howard, So nice to hear from you! And thank you for the very kind words on my story. I'm glad you found it worthwhile. I'm on a ship docked at Juneau Alaska as I write. We came up here hoping to see the northern lights but I don't think it's going to happen. Our glacier trip in a helicopter was cancelled today due to fog. Better safe than dead I guess! I'm going to hop over to your page and see what's new there. Take care and be well.

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Howard H
16:19 Oct 01, 2021

Hi Cathryn, Your Juneau adventure sounds like a fun trip. Did you get a second chance to witness the northern lights? I hear it’s a spectacular sight and something I’d love to see for myself. I understand they are visible from Scotland’s northernmost shores and definitely from Iceland, which is just a bit further north. Maybe that’s an idea for next year, depending on events. A few days ago I had a weekend walking in the wonderful Lake District. That’s a part of the world that’s worth a visit if you get a chance. It’s not as spectacular as ...

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Cathryn V
18:32 Oct 01, 2021

Thank you Howard!!! No northern lights, but Glacier Bay was spectacular. I’m on my phone and can’t see what I’ve already told you. anyway, i’ll put that recommendation on my ‘to do’ travel list. I can’t believe I won the contest today!! I was in the ship’s dining room making a fool of myself when I read the email. I wasn’t approved till Thursday and thought they rejected it, so I emailed Reedsy. Laura wrote back and said they were still reading. I’m curious about the other contests you enter. Tell me and thank you again for your supp...

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Howard H
16:24 Oct 01, 2021

Hi Cathryn! I just checked my emails and I understand congratulations are in order. Well done on winning this week’s contest. Well deserved, I must say. Howard :)

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Cathryn V
04:21 Oct 03, 2021

You are my greatest fan! Thank you, Howard.

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Rachel Smith
11:35 Sep 25, 2021

Hi Cathryn, Beautifully written. I loved your use of the floral imagery to highlight her emotions, thoughts etc. Very effective. The closing image was also perfect and uplifting. The whole piece had a lovely flow to it. One critisicm I have is that the story is primarily about the husband. The son takes such a back seat it felt very odd to me. "Her sweet boy. He went quick, not like Greg... " - This part made me stop and go back. I thought Wait, did I miss the son's death?? How did I miss that?! Glazing over her son dying completely took...

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Cathryn V
14:58 Sep 25, 2021

Hi Rachel, i Thanks for reading and for the kind comments. Re Harley, I completely agree and plan to edit that part out…hopefully i’ll have time!

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Rachel Smith
14:59 Sep 25, 2021

Good luck!

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Rachel Smith
17:06 Oct 01, 2021

Woo hoo! Congratulations!

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Cathryn V
05:12 Oct 04, 2021

Thank you Rachel!!!😘

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Ju Pru
03:00 Oct 04, 2021

I sort of liked the mystery about Harley (a nephew?). It did make me backtrack, but that’s not a bad thing for me. I was so immersed in the story, I longed to find any trickling of the tale that I might have missed. You truly have a gift for weaving plot and characters around readers’ hearts. As an editor, I only have two critiques. Bleeding hearts bloom in the spring, but it could have just been the foliage wilting. Two times I wondered if “lay” was used correctly. But I could be wrong. It’s such a tricky verb; plus, rules change. These two...

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Cathryn V
05:17 Oct 04, 2021

Wow, such high praise! Thank you 🙏 Good catch on the plant. I misspoke—it was fuchsia that I meant. Regarding lay—- I have an awful time trying to figure out which is the correct version. Passed and past too. 🤣

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Deborah Drake
06:25 Oct 26, 2021

Very impressed, well done!

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Cathryn V
14:38 Oct 26, 2021

Thanks Deborah!

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22:55 Oct 18, 2021

This is very nicely done. I loved all the imagery, the drought really felt real. I especially loved the little detail of the chalk drawings still there, and how the kids end up in the house, because that felt so real (been there!) I, too, expected it to end sadly and was so relieved it didn't. My main critiques would be I actually didn't love the first paragraph...the rear of the house hanging like a broken wing confused me and I was waiting for the story to circle back to the house that was apparently going to tumble into the sea? So I'd j...

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Cathryn V
00:30 Oct 19, 2021

Hi there, Thanks for the critique, i really appreciate it! I’m currently revising this story and changing the mc name to Sasha. I have no idea why i used Charmin.🤪. That first paragraph was cut from the last part of the story and plugged in at the start to meet the prompt. Do you think it should be moved back to the denouement when the rain comes and before Sasha makes the treacherous trip to the hospital? Thanks again for your input!!

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22:56 Oct 20, 2021

Ah, I see now that you were wrangling around that prompt...I hadn't actually noticed exactly what the prompt was, and if it had begun the way I suggested I probably would have said you didn't really follow it, haha! I actually don't hate the jumping in with the rain, it was the description of the house that confused me, because it seemed like the house was going to tumble down a cliff and I kept expecting that to be the point of the story. So maybe make that imagery more clear? I'm also curious about the title, where did that come from?

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Cathryn V
23:47 Oct 20, 2021

hmm, i’ll keep that broken wing metaphor in mind—i agree that it doesn’t exactly fit. I’m going to change the title which is misleading as it seems like it’s leading the reader to hear about alcohol. I named it take that drink because water is the essence of life. Greg’s near death, Harley’s death, the drought, the dead forest plants and finally the downpour at the end. Life continues. Not sure what I’ll name it. Suggestions are welcome!

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00:00 Oct 21, 2021

Names are the HARDEST for me. I'll think on it. :) But yes, I agree, it brings to mind alcohol, and the "take that" sounds, combative? Demanding maybe?

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Cathryn V
00:31 Oct 21, 2021

agree. And titles are important. When a title is right, it can make all the difference in a story.

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Andrea Hansen
13:57 Oct 18, 2021

Wow. This story combines so many elements of 2020 it feels like I'm in it again. And the ending was beautiful. Incredible job Cathryn.

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Cathryn V
15:02 Oct 18, 2021

Thank you AndreaI appreciate your time and comment!

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