We had 26 wonderful entries from all over the state, on all sorts of topics, with word counts ranging from 126 to 796. We thank all of you who submitted to MinnPost’s first ever short-shorts contest.
And the winners are:
1st Place: “Christmas Goes Up in Smoke” by Margaret Vaillancourt
2nd Place: “The Learning Process” by Bill Nemmers
3rd Place: “Adeline” by Jenny Stanley
Honorable Mention: “July 3rd” by A.D. Stoner
Congratulations to all!
Our judges had to make difficult choices. We thank these folks for their wisdom and generosity: Nancy Cook, Bart Galle, Deborah Girdwood, Ginger Hamer, Donna Malum, Robert Rogers, Sharon Sparks, Bonnie West.
And, finally, we thank all the readers of MinnPost who support the writings of fellow Minnesotans.
For the next three Mondays, we will post the winning pieces for your continuing enjoyment. Today it’s our pleasure to begin with our honorable mention.
“July 3rd” by A.D. Stoner
I remember that it was July 3rd. I remember that the air was stifling, the sun was shining, and I was playing basketball—either Horse or Pig—in the hay loft with Dad and my sister when Mom climbed the ladder. I don’t remember why Mom was mad—she often was—but I do remember that her face was tight, her hands clenched into knobby fists. She stared at us a moment before she yelled at Dad. I don’t remember what she said. He ignored her. She left.
When Mom appeared on the ladder again, only her head and shoulders appeared above the loft floor. She threw two brown eggs at Dad. One missed him, but he caught the other unbroken in his hand. He hurled it back at her, and the egg broke on her thin neck: yellow yolk dripping over her collarbone. In the moment before she retreated down the stairs, I saw a depth of shock and hurt in her eyes I had never seen before.
I was fifteen and my sister was twelve.
I remember that later that afternoon, I sat on the couch with Dad and my sister watching “Beauty and the Beast.” Mom, who rarely drank, was drinking in the basement. I remember being frozen to the couch, the heavy air smothering me. When Mom came back upstairs, she staggered towards us and leaned over the back of the soft brown couch to hug my sister and me. I don’t remember her touching Dad. She slurred into my ear, “I love you,” the pine needle scent of Tanqueray on her breath. Then she walked out the door. I remember the pit in my stomach. I remember Dad not moving.
I don’t remember how I thawed my legs from the couch, but I knew she had to be followed. I was the only one. I trailed Mom into the barn and climbed the ladder. I remember the afternoon sun streaming between the cracks in the barn walls, the light hazy through bits of hay and wood dust. Mom held a long, thick brown rope in her hands.
I remember the adrenaline surge. I remember running to her, screaming. I remember grabbing the rope as she tried wrapping it around her neck. I remember pulling, tugging. Then my sister was behind me and I screeched at her to run, go get Dad. Mom blubbered that we were better off without her. I remember those moments alone with her, yelling to the breaking point of my throat, begging her to stop, screaming, “I love you!” and “I need you!” I remember my whole body straining against hers, my hands clenching the rope. I could not let go. When Dad arrived and walked to Mom, he easily took the rope from her drunken hands. I remember his look of detached annoyance.
My sister and I returned to the house. Stunned, we stood in the kitchen not knowing what to do. Dad had once said that he should just call her parents to come and get her. I called my grandparents. From our living room window, I watched Mom stumble across the yard. Dad walked several paces behind her. When I told Dad that Grandma and Grandpa were coming, he snapped at me, “Why would you do that?”
Later, Grandpa entered our house and yelled, “What did you three do to her?” My sister and I went outside and sat in our Jeep Wagoneer and prayed the rosary as darkness closed in. I don’t remember when my grandparents left. They didn’t take Mom. I remember standing in our kitchen as Mom fumbled with the newspaper and tried to leave the house. Dad refused to move out of her way. She searched the paper saying, “I need help, I need help.” I don’t remember where I was standing when she put her hand through the kitchen window. I remember the prickly pine needle stench of her vomit. I don’t remember Mom going to bed. I don’t remember going to bed myself. I don’t remember if I slept.
The sun looked different on July 4th that year. The rays seemed to curve and collapse on themselves instead of illuminating a path. The house was quiet. Mom was in bed. She stank, but I hugged and kissed her. Dad, my sister and I went to play tennis. I don’t remember any spoken words from that day, but my mind shrieked as we returned home later, “Is she alive?” Then a whisper, “Which would be better?” And my mind curved and collapsed on itself.
She was alive and so far she’s been alive on every day following. But the fear settled deep and hard in my belly. I don’t remember when I stopped being afraid.
A.D. Stoner is a writer and editor living in Minnesota with her husband and two young children. She attends writing workshops, classes, and festivals at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.