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2013 Writers’ Competition Fiction Winners
Congratulations to our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place Fiction winners in the 2013 Alcoa Writers’ Competition, and a big thanks to all who threw their hat in the ring!
Lost and Found, Matthew Sullivan, Ephrata
Years ago, long before they holed me up in this moldy breadbox of a nursing home, I saw a movie in which some New York nutjob spent his days wandering the city’s parks and sidewalks, untangling white plastic grocery bags from treetops and chain-link fences, from sewer grates and under cars—anywhere they’d been discarded by the charges of the wind. I didn’t think much about it, but then once the movie was over I began to see those bags everywhere. And then I started thinking that the nutjob wasn’t such a nutjob after all—just a man with a job to do.
A bit of advice: wait until you’re nearly dead before being shipped away because this is the kind of puckeyrub that occupies your mind when the highlight of your day is watching Bingo balls bob around a cage. You begin to notice things—and I’m about to tell you another one, my personal plastic bag, if you will: gloves. Rhymes with loves, but I’m telling you straight these muthers don’t have the first thing to do with love because they are alone. See, the gloves I’m talking about are the kind who’ve lost their partner, a bit like most of us in here, and they are soaking in every parking lot, lost on every sidewalk, buried beneath the snow like old dead pets.
This was my personal curse to notice this on my daily walks, and after a few weeks of seeing maybe three lost gloves a day—always solo—I stopped on the sidewalk in front of Darlene’s Donuts and picked one up from the gutter. I was feeling depressed, I’ll admit it, and some folks in the donut shop were having coffee but none of them seemed to notice me. The glove was a suede Isotoner job and it was practically crying with joy when I picked it up—or maybe that was just gutterwater falling down its fingers—but I had an inkling, so I put the muther on my hand as one is wont to do with gloves. And this is where it gets weird.
I’m standing there with that glove all damp on my hand and Christ-on-crutches if I don’t have a memory that is not my own, something like a mellow inner movie, a splash of déjà vu. It’s not too clear mindyou, but it’s there nonetheless, somehow attached to the glove, and it belongs to this cute young woman, early on Saturday morning. She has a bag of donuts pinned beneath her chin as she fumbles with her coffee and keys, trying to get into her car so she can speed home to her husband and two little daughters—all three still curled in bed—to surprise them with donuts. In the process she drops her glove, doesn’t notice, drives away.
Now that’s where the memory ended and it wasn’t much but my God that woman was in a real sweetheart of a hurry to get home before her little family woke up. And feeling her excitement, having her memory in my mind, made me just about wiggle out of my skin. When I came to I was standing in the puddled gutter and wearing a ladies glove on my hand. So of course I ripped the muther off and chucked it to the ground and when I looked up a few of the coffee-sippers were studying me through the window instead of studying the holes in their donuts. I must’ve looked crazy—sure felt it—so I headed to my so-called home where I poured a scotch and tried to sleep but instead felt electricity jolting through my sheets: what a sweetheart, that woman.
A few days later, when I had the courage to resume my walks again, there in front of the theatre was your standard black winter glove, ripped along the thumb so a white cloud of lining was leaking out. My knees cracked like coral as I picked it up, and when I put it on, my fingers filled with music. The glove had been lost by a man, I discovered—divorced, 53—and I suddenly had a memory of him taking a shower, scrubbing his pudge and shampooing his balding head. I was just about to cast the thing from my hand when the man’s tabby strolled in and nudged the shower curtain. And then this man began to sing. He didn’t unfurl arias or sonatas—just stupid little jingles, okay—but his voice flowed through the steam without loneliness, without pain, and his audience was no more than a damp damned cat. Being inside of that moment was beautiful enough to buckle my gut, and I almost kept his glove to slip on my hand again—like an old record, an old cassette—but instead slid it across the counter at the theater to a pimpled young man who promised to add it to the Lost and Found.
Probably the happiest cat in town, when I think about it.
After that I stopped with the gloves. Maybe it was too depressing to take them off, or maybe it felt too much like spying. I still spotted them everywhere but forced myself to walk past. But then one morning I was in the park and saw a blue mitten balled against an ash tree. Other than a stray dog and some lazy snowflakes it was quiet, and as I put the little muther on I promised myself it would be the last. It only fit my fingertips, but that didn’t stop the memory: a boy of three or four, playing alone in the park, running between the trees. His cheeks were cold and so were mine, and the frosty grass crunched beneath our feet. The world swirled to life in his imagination—lovely animals, colorful plants—but from across the park his mother was calling.
Time was up, she said—but he and I, the both of us, just couldn’t bring ourselves to go.
Nightmare of a Dream, Corneil Vacirca, Wenatchee
The acrid mixture of steel, soot and sweat singed the tiny hairs of his nasal passages as Vicente lowered his 16-year-old jaguar of a body onto the dirt-encrusted floor. Resting his head against the cinder-block wall, he tried to take himself to another place. There he saw sand, sea, and surf and attempted to drown the lost opportunity.
Vicente went rounds with his father who simply didn’t understand his desire to leave Guaymas, Mexico. It was a quaint town, where palm trees and lush greenery intermingled with cactus and sage as the sand evolved from desert to beach. Guaymas could have been another Acapulco or Vallarta, but the town didn’t have the ambition. Its neighbor to the North, San Carlos was trying, and Vicente recognized the opportunity. In Guaymas, it was either the fishing vessels or factories that offered any kind of future. Vicente wanted neither.
He kept the dog-eared motivational books by Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and Tony Robbins stashed under his bed in the cigar box of a room he shared with his brother. Each book, translated into Spanish, touted the importance of picturing exactly what you wanted. Fixing the vision in your mind was the crucial first step of making it happen. He had mastered step one, it was time for step two.
The cabana boy job at the American-owned resort in San Carlos would have been the perfect opportunity to begin working his way up from the bottom. Someday he’d have that office in The City with a view of the famous Chrysler Building. What he’d be doing, managing, selling wasn’t yet in focus, but the end result of his success was.
“Cabrón,” the line supervisor cursed, “Get off your ass and get back on the line.”
Vicente wasn’t sure his legs could even move. He had pulled, pushed, stacked metal for hours this morning with no break, no water, no relief. This kind of work had turned his father into an old man. Vicente vowed not to let that happen to him. Next summer, Papá would have to let him go.
Just as he was about to push himself off the floor, a cacophony of metal screeching against metal, gears laboring to turn, men screaming, echoed off the walls. The machines “tenían hambre” was what the workers would say. The machines were hungry. Like sharks, they had acquired a taste for human blood. Many men in this factory worked with missing fingers, hands and arms. Vicente knew everything would come to a halt as they tended to today’s victim, so he rested his head on his knees, visualizing once again.
“¿Dónde está Vicente?”
“Do you know where he was working?”
As he looked up he saw workers running around like ants that just had their mound trampled. He zeroed in on a familiar face and when his eyes met those of his uncle, a premonition of dread began to tingle in the tips of his fingers and toes. In the seconds it took to scramble to his feet, the current of raw fear was coursing through his entire body.
“Es tu papá,” Tió Manuel spun and ran.
Vicente caught up as his father’s brother shoved and elbowed his way through the onlookers. When they reached the place where his father lay, Vicente froze. His father’s body was draped across the machinery with a four-foot piece of steel sticking out of his gut. All Vicente saw was blood. All he heard was the crescendo of panic, fear, and the usually macho voices whimpering, crying.
Miraculously, he heard his father’s faint whispers beyond the racket. Vicente took a step and leaned in, father and son cocooned in a silent bubble.
“Hijo,” Miguel Vicente anguished.
“Voy a morir.”
“No,” Vicente insisted. “You’re not going to die. The men have gone for help. Por favor Papá, don’t say that.”
“Hijo, I know what’s happening. I can feel it.”
Vicente shook his head and tried to speak, but only tears would come.
“Tell your brother I love him and I am so proud of him. Tell Antonio to follow his heart.”
“Papá,” Vicente pleaded.
“A tu Mamá,” he choked on the blood gurgling from his mouth.
“Tell her how much I love her. I thank God for every moment I was able to spend with her in this life. I’ll be waiting for her in the next. You and Antonio take good care of her,” he patted his son’s cheek. “I love you Vicente. Since the day your mother handed you to me, I have tried to do right by you. Use the intelligence and vision that God has given you to be a good man.”
“I love you too, Papa, and you’re going to be OK.”
Miguel Vicente searched his oldest son’s eyes and behind the grey irises that mirrored his own, the vision of his son’s destiny unveiled itself.
“Follow your dream, Vicente, and don’t stop until you get everything you desire. I’ll always be with you Mijo.”
As Miguel Vicente Galan breathed his last, his son reached for the hand holding his face. He desperately wanted to cling to his father, but nothing was there. Vicente glanced down and saw the hand and the arm that used to be attached to his father’s shoulder lying on the ground below his now lifeless body, exactly where it had been all along.
A scream that no one else could hear exploded from deep inside. He stumbled back, looked around, and then ran. He fell to his knees just outside the building, arched over, and retched until stomach acid was all he could taste.
When he finally he looked up, he gaped at his reflection in a piece of scrap metal. It was physically impossible, but he knew he had felt his father’s hand on his cheek, and the scarlet handprint on his face was as real as that four-foot piece of steel that had just robbed him of everything that ever mattered.
Where’s Mommy?, Barb Miller, Wenatchee
I smelled pancakes cooking on the griddle.
“Joseph, I smell cocoa,” whispered my sister, Savannah.
“Boke-alay?” said my brother, Sam. He wanted frozen blueberries for breakfast. We tiptoed down the hall to the kitchen.
“Mom!” I called.
“Where’s mommy?” asked Savannah.
“Ma?” said Sam.
“Freeze, ye swabs!” yelled a voice. Mom jumped out of the pantry with an eye patch and a teabag hanging on her ear. “Walk the plank or starve, you scallywags! ” she said, pointing her flyswatter sword.
“Stand back!” I commanded, grabbing my light saber from the couch.
“That’s bully behavior, mister pirate!” shouted Savannah.
“Me!” begged Sam, grabbing the flyswatter.
“What’ll it be, mates? Starve or walk?” mom growled. She pointed
to the ironing board lying across three chairs.
“Walk!” I replied. It was tough, but even Sam walked the plank. We ate gold coin pancakes, eye patch eggs, and drank a bucket of cocoa.
“Look! It’s snowing!” called mom. “Get into your snow clothes! We must fight the snow monster!”
“Cool!” I said. “I’ll blast him with snow bombs!”
“I’ll make snow pies for us,” said Savannah.
“Me. Snow!” yelled Sam. He put one leg into daddy’s snow boot and fell over.
“Attack!” commanded mom, opening the door. I made a pile of snowballs. Savannah cooked snow pies on the picnic table.
“Ice cream!” said Sam, sucking on his frozen mitten.
“Joseph, where’s mommy?” asked Savannah.
“I don’t know, but I hear something strange. Listen!”
“Owwooh!” The sound came from behind our big fir tree.
“Dog?” asked Sam.
“Owwooh!” A creature in a blue ski mask jumped out from behind the tree. It was mom.
“You can’t get me, you snow bully!” yelled Savannah, as she climbed to the top of the swing set.
“Bring it on,” I shouted. “I am not afraid.” I blasted the creature with snow bombs. Then, mom captured us and we fell in the snow to make four snow angels.
“Nigh-nigh,” said Sam.
“Sam needs a nap,” said mom. “Play outside until a wild duck quacks. When you hear one, run to the patio door, take off your snow clothes, and come inside, quietly. You will have High Tea with the queen. Be as silent as snowflakes.
I finished my snow fort and Savannah made a snow cake with grass frosting. Then, we heard quacking.
“It’s the wild duck!” shouted Savannah. We raced each other to the patio door, took off our snow clothes, and stepped inside. The kitchen was warm, cozy, and dark! Three little candles twinkled on the table.
“But, where’s mommy?” whispered Savannah.
“Good evening, lord and lady,” said a queen voice. Mom was wrapped in a pink sheet and wore her wedding veil. “How lovely that you could come to tea, but YOU’RE IN YOUR UNDERWEAR! Put these on,” she said, handing us a towel and a tinfoil crown. “Please sit down.”
We drank chamomile tea from mom’s china teacups.
“Never slurp. Never burp,” said the queen.
We ate apples and cheese from toothpicks.
“Small bites, queen’s delight!” said the queen.
I hoped that we would have dessert.
“Blueberries for two,” said the queen.
“Boke-alay!” yelled Sam, waking from his nap.
“Blueberries for three,” she added. Mom disappeared down the hall. Then, we heard the garage door open.
“DADDY!” we yelled, running down the stairs.
“Hi guys. Did you have a good day?” he asked.
I told him that a pirate made us walk the plank. I showed him how I blasted the snow monster.
“ We wore our UNDERWEAR, when we had tea with the Queen!” giggled Savannah.
“Dog!” said Sam, crawling backwards.
Just then, we heard the microwave ding and the oven door clunk. Something smelled delicious. We all crawled up the stairs behind Sam.
“Peetz!” said Sam. There was pizza. “Kook.” There were cookies. “Burtday?” asked Sam, pointing to the candle.
“Where’s mom?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but here’s a note,” said Dad. “Eat your dinner, don’t delay. A treasure hunt is on the way!’”
“Oh, I wonder what the treasure will be,” asked Savannah.
After dinner Dad looked worried. “How can we find the treasure, guys? We can’t even find the kitchen. It’s piled with stuff.”
Dad was right. Pancake plates, cocoa cups, and pizza pans filled the sink. The garbage spilled over the side of the wastebasket. Our snow clothes and toys lay on the floor by the ironing board.
“Attention Special Forces!” said Dad. “Prepare for Operation Stuff Control! Joseph, remove the plank and empty the garbage. I’ll wash the dishes. Can you dry, please?”
“Yes Sir!” I answered.
“Rescue dogs, Savannah and Sam, report for duty!”
“Woof!” said Savannah. Sam stuck out his tongue and panted.
“Deliver snow clothes to the laundry room. Return all toys to the toy box. Trash all diaper bombs!” he commanded.
“Dog!” said Sam. He put my crown in his mouth and took off down the hall.
Soon, the counter was bare, the sink was empty, and we could see part of the floor again. Savannah lifted the edge of the pink sheet and gasped.
“It’s mommy,” she whispered. “ She’s asleep!”
“Nigh, nigh,” said Sam, lying down next to mom.
“Wow,” whispered Dad, “ it’s Sleeping Beauty.”
“ She’s asleep for a hundred years,” I said, grinning. “She’s under a spell.”
“She can’t sleep for a hundred years,” Dad replied. “She’ll miss Christmas!”
“Break the spell, Daddy,” said Savannah.
“You have to kiss her to wake her up,” I said.
“Go ahead daddy, you can do it,” giggled Savannah.
“Okay. Here I go!” Dad kissed mom on the cheek. Mom opened one eye.
“My Prince?” she said sitting up. We all gave her a big hug.
“What about the treasure?” asked Savannah.
“We found the treasure,” said Dad. “It’s mommy.” We put mom on my skateboard and pushed her down the hall to her castle chamber.
“Nigh, nigh,” said Sam.