Contest #112 winner 🏆

117 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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117 comments

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 Hanssen
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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Cooper Armstrong
14:29 Oct 14, 2021

Great story Cathryn! I love the title, it’s very intriguing. I enjoyed the name Charmin, very creative and I’m guessing you got the idea from a cleaning product maybe? Either way it’s a great piece of work and I would love if you were to read one of my stories.

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Cathryn V
21:13 Oct 14, 2021

Hi Cooper, Thank you so much for the kind words. Two things I’d like to change in revision and one is the protagonist’s name. Many readers have commented . the other thing is the title since it sounds like a or a story about alcohol. Anyway, thanks again for reading and commenting! I’ll take a look at your story too!

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Cooper Armstrong
23:48 Oct 14, 2021

The name is awesome and so is the title! You should be proud of them. Thanks! Can’t wait to see how I can improve

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Andrea Magee
19:54 Oct 09, 2021

Beautiful story! Congratulations on the win!!

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Cathryn V
22:44 Oct 09, 2021

Thank you so much Andrea!

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Akshara P
07:45 Oct 09, 2021

This was beautifully written. I loved the use of the floral imagery to highlight her emotions and thoughts. Very effective. The closing image was perfect and uplifting. The whole piece had a beautiful feel! Could you please check out my recent stories and leave a critique? Thanks!

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Cathryn V
23:55 Oct 09, 2021

thank you! yes, of course I will read your story. Any particular one?

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Akshara P
05:12 Oct 10, 2021

Could you please read "Out of a nightmare" I'm sure you will enjoy reading. :)

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Dallas A
18:51 Oct 08, 2021

The emotions of the character-from grief to fear and loneliness e.t.c.-are well-translated and impactful. The ways in which you incorporated the context of COVID and the drought are also masterful additions to the story. I really enjoyed this, great work. :)

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Cathryn V
19:01 Oct 08, 2021

Hi Dallas, I appreciate your generous feedback. Thank you!

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Elizabeth Chin
03:37 Oct 08, 2021

Congrats Cathryn ! Miraculously written. Well, I almost had the rainwater in my eyes! Imagine that! Great one ^^

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Cathryn V
04:13 Oct 08, 2021

Many thanks Elizabeth! I appreciate your time and kind remarks.

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Eve Retter
20:59 Oct 07, 2021

beautiful and totally deserving

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Cathryn V
22:03 Oct 07, 2021

Eve, thank you for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Teresa Renton
08:09 Oct 07, 2021

Congratulations! What a beautifully written story. The imagery is exceptional as is the whole nature related metaphor. Well done x

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Cathryn V
14:39 Oct 07, 2021

Thank you Teresa for your kind comments. Much appreciated!

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Kenya Bailey
00:25 Oct 07, 2021

Hi Cathryn, many congratulations, this is a lovely story! I loved reading it!

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Cathryn V
01:15 Oct 07, 2021

Hi Kenya, I’m so happy you enjoyed it! I look forward to reading your work. Thank you! 🙏

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L. Wu
08:44 Oct 04, 2021

Well done! Well deserved win. Congrats!! The story was great and I was captivated for the entire story.

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Cathryn V
14:42 Oct 04, 2021

Thank you for enjoying my story and taking time to comment!

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Fiery Red
03:59 Oct 04, 2021

Congratulations, Cathryn. Your story is really beautiful. A well deserved win indeed❤

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Cathryn V
05:25 Oct 04, 2021

Thank you for that. I am so glad you enjoyed it.🙏

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Anna Mahoney
19:41 Oct 03, 2021

Fabulous storytelling, Cathryn. The whole piece was magical and your descriptions sublime.

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Cathryn V
20:27 Oct 03, 2021

Wow, thank you for that! You’re very kind.

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Aman Fatima
16:43 Oct 03, 2021

Its such a beautiful story, loved the descriptions.

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Cathryn V
17:39 Oct 03, 2021

Thank you Aman, for reading and commenting! Glad you enjoyed it.

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Leela Ramesh
04:34 Oct 03, 2021

Wonderful story that jumped from despair to delirious joy. A story with a miracle ending. A story of hope , prayer, love, God Mother Earth, rain and water, the elixer of life. Congratulations.

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Cathryn V
05:16 Oct 03, 2021

A beautiful critique, thank you so much. I appreciate your kindness and your time. Blessings to you.

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01:52 Oct 03, 2021

Good job! One of the things I like to look out for is a balance between description and understanding in writing, and you did it really nicely. Sculpting a writing style is really fun, and your theme was interesting as well while still taking the time to make it all about the character. It's great to take inspiration in even the darkest places. I was in the hospital during Covid times and the denial of visitors really hurt. Hope you're having a good day.

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Cathryn V
02:32 Oct 03, 2021

Thank you for the kind comment. I’m sorry to hear that you were in the hospital. That must have been awful. Maybe you could write a story about that experience?

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22:05 Oct 05, 2021

Possibly!

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Kaylani Tucker
23:17 Oct 01, 2021

I enjoyed the plot, but not much of how it ended. Great writing skills though, it’s one of the things only the writer can change

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Kendall Defoe
22:54 Oct 01, 2021

Okay, you got me...

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Emma Sinclair
19:35 Oct 01, 2021

Well done on your win :)

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Jade Wolf
19:27 Oct 01, 2021

Cathryn... This is such a beautiful story... so full of emotions... I felt everything you portrayed in there... You deserve your win... Congratulations ❤

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