Contest #25 shortlist ⭐️

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Holiday

Winnie's list of New Year's Resolutions was a series of strikes, ranging from tight and controlled to desperate scribbling.

Get more exercise. A thick, decisive line in black ink.

There were too many people in the gym. The whole point of getting up so early in the morning was to avoid people at the gym. Instead, Winnie had apparently discovered the golden hour for the gym rats. It wasn't packed. She knew she could just as easily slide in next to these people, but there were more eyes than she'd been prepared to deal with.

She gripped her gym bag like a lifeline, trying not to draw attention to herself. She wondered if anyone had really registered her presence and whether it would be okay to slip out the way she had come without doing anything. The air was thick with sweat and possibly imagined superiority, and she didn't have enough presence of mind to push through the social awkwardness already gathering in the back of her throat.

She walked out, pretending like she'd gotten what she came here for. She wasn't coming back at this time of day. Or ever. Ever sounded good.

Make a friend. A harsh scribble in pencil which wrinkled and almost tore the paper.

Winnie stacked the new books on the table, running down the inventory list and checking to make sure the quantities were correct. They were, but one of the books had been damaged, the pages warped and crumpled where part of the box had become mangled and waterlogged. She thumbed through it briefly. It was still readable, but they couldn't sell it in this condition. She made a note on the inventory sheet and started unpacking the next box and repeating the process. No damaged books in this order. She opened another, then a fourth.

She was just sitting down to her desk when the manager arrived.

"Are these ready to go out on the shelves?" he asked.

Winnie nodded. "I was just about to start the receiving process in the system. We did have a damaged book in the lot, so I'm going to call the publisher and see if we can get a replacement."

"Good." He waved in a couple of her co-workers to cart the books wherever they needed to go.

"Poor thing," Alice cooed, stroking the cover of the damaged book.

"First coffee cups, now books?" Brian joked. "What’s next, the barcode reader?"

Alice smacked his arm. "There’s nothing wrong with feeling sorry for damaged books. Why are you working here if the sight of it isn’t enough to hurt your heart just a bit?"

"Because I've got the job and I need the money." He started loading the undamaged copies onto the cart. After a moment, when Alice was still petting the book, he sighed. "It'll be fine. It's just a book."

After they were gone, Winnie was both frustrated and relieved that she hadn't spoken to them before they left. She set the damaged book aside with the now mostly useless inventory sheet. Maybe next time she would weigh in on the conversation.

Then again, maybe she wouldn't. Work was for working, and Winnie couldn't shake the idea that slacking off even once to talk to people would drag everything down and get her fired. As much as she ached to connect to people, she needed the paycheck more than she needed the social interaction.

So she would be “the receiving clerk” instead of “Winnie”. Eventually, she might even manage to convince herself that being useful is better than being memorable.

Eat less junk food. A thin series of squiggly lines from a dying blue pen.

She stared at the box of ramen packets disinterestedly. Her stomach was threatening her kitchen with empty threats, hunger making her feel shaky and unbalanced. Still, the effort of trying to cook anything was beyond her. She reached into the pantry for a bag of chips instead and, after a moment, a box of cereal as well. A sidelong considering glance at her cupboard was the only delay she had leaving the kitchen, but she decided not to grab a bowl.

Curling up on the couch, she slid the box of cereal in beside her and set the bag of chips in her lap. After a moment, she managed to make her fingers cooperate enough to open the bag. The side split, but Winnie couldn't bring herself to care. It wasn't like the bag was going to survive the night.

When the chips were gone, she munched on handfuls of cereal, pretending it was a perfectly valid form of dinner and she hadn’t done this twice already this week.

Go to bed earlier. An almost absent minded scribble in pencil that fails to fully cross it out.

Winnie stared up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. She didn't have the energy to do anything but stare, as she was using what little she had to exercise enough self-control not to grab her phone and browse. As late as it was, she could not afford to start scrolling through Pinterest or something like that. Even checking the time was planting her foot on a slippery slope she knew she wouldn't survive.

Thoughts whirled vaguely though her head, indistinct and amorphous, never settling on something she would call concrete. It was easy to lay there and fail to think, letting time whisper by unnoticed and unchecked. She only hoped she wouldn't hate the morning for the headache she was almost certain to suffer.

When her alarm went off, she realized she had slept for a little while, but not nearly long enough to feel refreshed. She took her generic Tylenol with a cup of coffee and prayed that would be enough to get her through the day.

Put more money into savings. Written and crossed out three times in black ink.

The overdraft fee was breaking her. Winnie was convinced it was conceived of just to punish people who couldn't afford anything. It was a cruel slap in the face if you already didn't have anything, and the bank didn't seem to care about it. Every month it was the same dance with the red line of her account, trying to make sure she had enough to pay rent, buy groceries, and afford the bus pass she needed to get to and from work.

She wasn't even sure which of the usual culprits had put her over this time. In the end, it didn't really matter. It was an extra $35 she didn't have, a hefty gouge out of her already wounded savings account. As it stood, she barely kept enough in the account to keep it open.

Winnie fully intended to go over her account and figure out what had caused this. She could only hope that something else didn't go catastrophically wrong in the next few days. If she could coast by until payday, she'd be fine.

She left the list sitting on her coffee table, hoping she would either figure out something to balance out the cluster of broken promises she had collected or something would get spilled on it, giving her enough of an excuse to throw it away.

Instead, it was a black hole in her living room, pulling her guilt into orbit like a halo from Hell. The list was becoming a living thing, an angry pet, snarling every time she passed. Everything she offered was swallowed by its hungry jaws and she wondered how long it would be until it was enough to swallow her.

Do more things for fun. A series of wavy blue lines layered atop one another.

Winnie had a TV she almost never used, a laptop with games she rarely played, and a shelf of books she hardly ever read. Instead, she was staring at the wall of her tiny apartment like it was the most interesting thing in the world. The sound of her neighbor's music pounded through the wall and the person above her was walking around, making her ceiling creak with every step. She had forgotten to turn on the living room light, so she had just the dim light spilling in from the kitchen to see by.

She knew—in the distant way she registered all her actions recently—that she was going to sit here until almost midnight, then she would move to her room and do the exact same thing while lying in bed. And then she would repeat it all tomorrow, too. While she wouldn't consider the routine as anything near enough to even sneeze in the direction of 'fun', she was still functional, so it would have to do. Maybe tomorrow she'd actually get around to watching a movie.

Or maybe not.

There were days she was hemorrhaging energy faster than she could gather it, scooping water into a bottomless bucket using a slotted spoon. Most weekends, she didn't even get out of bed except to eat and use the bathroom.

She didn't need someone to tell her this wasn't normal behavior. It was a failure to thrive and she was helpless to do anything about it. If she changed even one thing, it would all fall apart, and she wasn't sure she'd be able to put it back together on the other side.

She wanted to be okay. She wanted to get up in the morning and not hate everything that was going to come after. She wanted to stop this spiral and start actually doing something about everything. More than anything, she needed to get there before she redefined how far the bottom was by sinking lower into it.

She picked up a pen, hesitated, and then added one item to the end of the list. It was going to be a process—a slow change was better than none at all—but this was the only chance she’d be able to manage right now.

Learn to love myself. Red ink, no flourishes.

A desperate voice in her head was screaming, demanding she cross it out. Instead, she took the list and taped it to the fridge, where she would see it whenever she was in the kitchen, if the swirling aura of guilt and desperation didn't pull her in like it usually did. She refused to cross this one off, even knowing it would take far more than one year to complete.

But if, at the end of this year, she wasn't staring at the wall all day, she would consider it a good start.

January 24, 2020 19:12

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3 comments

21:52 Jan 26, 2020

I love the characterisation of this! The cereal for dinner, not contributing to small talk at work, the "possibly imagined superiority" at the gym. Great read!

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Kari Hyp
06:54 Feb 10, 2020

I love the twist of character emotion at the end “ learn to love myself” Winnie is such a lovable and relatable character!

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Tom Moser
21:52 Jan 29, 2020

I'm guessing Winnie is an introvert. The ending of the story saves the reader from a depressing narrative. It is well structured and makes us want to help, if not love Winnie. The "good start" at the end is actually what the story is all about.

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