1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.

    Past Contest Short Story Contest #141 "Clutter"

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Sep 8, 2013.

    Short Story Contest 141
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Clutter"


    If you wish to enter the contest please send me your story via 'A Conversation' (aka a PM) for me to enter the story via this thread. Don't post the story here directly or it will not be counted as entered into the contest. This is to ensure anonymity, and to make this contest fairer for all - having each story judged based on their merits.

    This contest is open to all wf.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a separate thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. Unfortunately, there is no prize but pride on offer for this contest. As always, the winner may also PM me to request the theme of a subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Theme: "Clutter" (courtesy of my recent injury ;) ) Any interpretation is valid. Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.
    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday 22nd of September 2013 3:00 pm (US Pacific time)

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. As below, any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    There is a maximum of 25 entries to any contest. If there are more than 25 entries to any one contest I will decide which are entered into voting based on adherence to the suggested word limit and relevance to the theme, not on a first-come-first served basis.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece manner to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until voting has closed. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permissable. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed

    Please try to refrain from itallicising, bolding, colouring or indenting any text to help avoid disappointment. These stylistics do not reproduce when I copy-paste them into the voting thread. You may use visible noparse BB code to preserve style if you wish by placing [ noparse ] and [ /noparse ] (without the spaces) around the entire text.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM rather than clogging up this thread, with your questions.

    Please note that only current members are eligible to win.

    Thanks, and good luck!
  2. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Ragdoll (Ellen Hopkins style) Ragdoll 685 words

    I am a girl
    At least I know that much
    I don’t have a fancy name
    Just Girl
    Of my age, my birthday
    I have no idea
    My life is in shambles
    No wonder my mind is jumbled
    I can’t get rid of these
    Overflowing thoughts
    Memories – could it be?
    No, I won’t let myself believe that
    That it was different once
    Only dreams
    They float
    They flutter
    And nowhere
    Unbeknownst to me
    Body changes with the seasons
    Moves with the tempo
    Feet shuffle along
    Climb the steps of life
    Mind keeps expanding
    Seems nearly bursting
    Time is running out
    Around me,
    I hear
    I see
    Celebrating milestones – what are those?
    Floating balloons
    Creamy sweet frosting
    Silvery sparkles
    Was that for me?
    Momma’s and papa’s
    Of them I have none
    No congratulations or praises either
    I am alone
    I am cold
    I am hungry
    I am lost
    In the clutter
    Of thoughts
    Memories – happy past?
    No, that can’t be
    Of the mind
    My perverse
    Way to deal
    They’re everywhere
    And nowhere
    They whisper in my mind
    They flutter behind my eyes
    My stomach hurts
    My body bleeds
    I think I am dying
    I hide
    The darkness is not safe
    Tight, tighter, must be small
    A small little ball
    Easy to hide
    Don’t make a sound
    That’s simple for me
    I have no voice
    No speech
    I hear others
    I try to t-talk
    No sound comes
    The sky sparkles
    Watch now
    Watch for the light
    Watch for…

    They are coming
    Heavy feet shuffling

    Huddle and rock
    A discarded ball
    Aimlessly rolling
    Hope they don’t see
    Terror; throat clinching fear
    Cold sweat trickles along my spine
    Need to escape
    In the clutter
    Of thoughts
    Soft hands
    Gentle eyes
    Soothing voice
    No, too much
    Shake it off
    Tricks of the mind
    Only dreams
    Mind screaming


    Vision fades
    There is only red
    Blood red
    Burning red
    Skin sizzles
    Gashes open
    Swells and flares
    See; the darkness is never safe
    Please, please where is the light?
    My stomach hurts
    Rolls and heaves
    My body bleeds
    They don’t care
    Deep ragged panting
    Animalistic groan

    They use me like a toy
    Not a girl
    I am ragdoll
    To be passed round n’ round
    Need to escape
    Can’t be here – need to check out
    Don’t smell their reeking sweat
    Beneath unmovable stone
    Don’t feel them
    Into me
    There; within reach
    My salvation
    My little corner
    Devoid of clutter
    There is no
    Not even dreams
    My beautiful dreams
    Of hope
    Of another lifetime
    I wish, wish I knew
    Where they real?
    Could it be?
    Nothing can reach me here
    Not even them
    I plunge in the silence
    Vision fades
    There is only red
    Blood red
    Burning red
    Skin sizzles
    Gashes open
    Swells and flares
    My eyes see
    I no longer care
    The clutter is gone
    No longer whispers in my mind
    No longer flutters behind my eyes
    Body is breaking
    Soul is weeping
    All around
    I am alone

    Life is slipping away
    Need to see the light
    Flashes of the past
    Clutters once again
    A smile
    A touch
    Frilly pink dress
    Soft ringlets

    No more

    Hush now
    It’s a secret
    Never tell, never tell
    Shiny coins
    Clink, clink, clink
    Rough voice
    Harsh command
    Sparkling tears
    Clink, clink, clink

    No, no, can’t remember
    Not real
    not real

    It is

    I had a momma once
    A long time ago
    She was soft
    Smelled of apples
    I was loved
    not enough

    My new papa
    Didn’t want me
    Didn’t love me
    He said
    Momma couldn’t love me anymore

    She was gone
    Black and blue
    Riddled with tiny holes
    Eyes glossy and void
    She was a ghost
    Could no longer care
    He saw to that before
    I was Sold
    To be
    Dark now

  3. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Note re above entry: After reading it I do feel it fits short story category despite its poetic style. :).
  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    The Voices (1,202 Words)

    As I walked out the back door onto the winding wooden staircase, my mind was beginning to race. So many questions, thoughts and emotions were all struggling to make their way to the forefront of my mind, a jumbled mess of confusion. They spoke in loud, angry voices demanding that I pay attention. As always, my brain gave new meaning to the word “cluttered” and I silently wonder if other people have the same problem.
    The cool spring air and beautiful sunset did little to calm the catfight in my head, so I pulled out a cigarette hoping to settle my nerves. I can do this. Right? We have made the journey to the library every week all semester. But this time is different and I know it. I take a long drag and release the smoke slowly through clenched teeth. What the hell was I thinking? One night was going to change everything and for the hundredth time in the last four days I felt sick to my stomach. We were friends, never meant to be more, and I had ruined it. I angrily stamped out my cigarette on the pavement and tossed it in the old coffee can nearby. Tears pricked at my eyes as I grabbed my books and headed down the alley to meet up with Matt. As I struggle to keep the voices at bay, I look up and see a lanky shadow lazily walking in my direction. Standing up straight, I plaster a 100-watt smile on my face, willing the tears back and silently demanding voices to be silent.

    "Hey stranger, ready to get your ass handed to you by this midterm?" Matt called out as he approached. He gave me a shy, lopsided grin and my heart nearly broke into pieces.

    I quickly turned so that we were walking side by side. I didn't want to see the sparkle in his green eyes, the one that always accompanied his genuine smile. The smile reserved for his real friends. The smile that was for me.
    We walked to the library in silence. It seemed that Matt didn't know what to say any more than I did. The voices mocked me, letting me know that they could indeed help with that problem. I shook my head hoping to silence them once more. A cell phone ring sent me scrambling into my bag, welcoming the distraction, but as I found my phone the ringing stopped and I heard Matt say, "Hello?"

    I slowed my pace as he chatted with his mom on the phone. I admired his tall, slender physique feeling an all too familiar pang of need settle into my middle. At 6'3 he was over a foot taller than me and my mind flashed back to Saturday night and the feeling of his muscular frame surrounding me. The safety I found in his grasp was intoxicating and right or wrong, I wanted more. The tears I had buried not fifteen minutes earlier threatened to return. Damn it. “Get yourself together,” one of the voices whined. “You are the slut who got drunk and ruined things,” another voice not so kindly reminded me. I was lost in my own world when Matt nudged my arm and softly said, “Are you ok?” I jumped at his touch quickly shifting my gaze from his concerned face.
    As I tried to regain my fleeting composure, he reached out, his hand grazing my cheek as he turned my face towards his.
    “I know I have been distant these last few days and I am sorry,” he said.
    The look in his eyes was sincere and although the voices didn’t agree, but I believed him.
    “We need to talk about what happened and before you run, I need to tell you something. I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
    The pain in my eyes was evident to him as he rushed ahead, struggling to find the words he was looking for at that moment. I fought the urge to run away as the voices pleaded with me to get away from him as fast as possible.
    “I wasn’t honest when I said I didn’t think of you as more than a friend,” he blurted out, much to my surprise. I looked up at him quizzically, my eyes imploring him to explain.
    The voices had dashed all hope that this could be a good thing and I was beginning to believe them as Matt silently turned and began pacing the sidewalk outside of the library. My shoulders slumped in defeat as I turned to enter the library alone, begging the voices to give me a short reprieve from their “I told you so,” remarks.
    As I pushed open the door, I looked back at the beautiful man whom I had once called my best friend. The only person of the opposite sex whom I had ever felt comfortable around. The only person in the world who was able to silence the voices with his unyielding support. The man whom I couldn’t resist after a night of cocktails and dancing. The man who had made me feel beautiful and desired in a way I didn’t even know I needed. I smiled sadly at the memory, finding a safe place for it amongst the clutter of my brain.
    I let the door slowly close behind me as I walked down the stairs to the underground tunnel that lead to the library. The voices were oddly supportive, cheering me on as I walked into the darkness. Alone with the rhythm of my footsteps, my insecurity appeared. What if he hadn’t desired me after all? Beer Goggles. Yes, that must have been it. I sadly shook my head in disgust and continued down the dark, empty hall way. Suddenly a herd of elephants seemed to have joined me in the tunnel as I frantically glanced around looking for the cause of the noise. I swung around to look behind me and found a pair of sparkling green eyes looking back at me.
    “The other night was amazing and I can’t imagine not seeing where this can take us,” Matt said breathlessly. He stared into my eyes, looking for a response. My only answer was a single tear escaping down my cheek.
    “Sweetie, don’t cry! I am so sorry I haven’t called! I didn’t mean to panic back there, but the thought of losing you, losing our friendship was terrifying.”
    He reached out his arms and pulled me towards him. “Please tell me that won’t happen. Please tell me you felt it too,” he whispered softly against my forehead.
    I hadn’t even noticed that I was holding my breath as I let out a giant sigh of relief and smiled. I nodded silently into his chest, not wanting to talk, simply wanting to be near him. He held me tightly as I turned my head and settled in his arms, knowing that this was where I belonged, despite the voices echoing warnings in my head. He leaned down and gently placed a kiss on my lips, stunning the voices into silence. I kissed him back, knowing it would be awhile before they were back.
  5. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Bottle Caps - [898 Words]

    Annie sighs, the weight of the world clinging to her shoulders. The rubber gloves stick against her skin but aren’t quite hot enough to make her fingers clammy; instead, sweat gathers at her brows, beading along her thinning temple line. Bottle caps pour out of blue plastic recycle bins and wrinkled Reader’s Digests lounge haphazardly over old toys Annie had outgrown 30 years ago. She riffles through the rubbish of her mother’s front parlor, discovering old Flopsy, the gray one-eyed elephant that still has his button missing. Ma had promised to sew the eye back on but she never did, couldn’t seem to locate her sewing kit or the old marriage album with Annie’s daddy in his Navy uniform – taken on the day before he shipped out to Japan, Ma said.

    Annie brings Flopsy up to her lips, the fabric smelling of wet felt –


    Annie bites her lower lip, slowly counts to ten, and drops Flopsy back onto the floor. Turning around, she finds George, her husband, cooing at Jonathan, a miracle baby delivered after six rounds of in-vitro and fertility drugs. The front door yawns open and the sound of cicadas deluges in like a waterfall.

    “Sorry Sugartoes!” George kicks the door shut and the insect song ceases.

    George’s countenance, normally pale from long hours at Morgan Stanley, has blushed under the Arizona sun into an unattractive tomato. Annie’s nose wrinkles; he stinks of tangy B.O. Yet, he always had a sweet way with words, and an endless fount of nicknames that charmed Annie last year when she had been 23K in credit card debt and living just one block away from Skid Row.

    “I thought we agreed to no more silly nicknames.” Annie purses her lips while the heels of her feet flex subconsciously. “The neighbors already talk enough.”

    “About how attractive you are?” George waggles his right eyebrow. He can’t lift the left but tries anyway; George is always trying.

    Annie groans and bends to gather a stack of LIFE magazines, re-slotting them from the earliest to latest editions.

    “I think we’re past that stage now,” Annie says over Marilynn Monroe’s crimson-lipped, seductive leer on one of the covers. “I’m still not changing my mind.”

    George raises Jonathan’s right hand and the tiny digits fist automatically around his father’s index and middle finger – a tight grip that Annie is sure an iron lever couldn’t even pry off. The wind rattles the skylight blinds of the old one-story in protest.

    “Not even for him?”

    “I’m doing this for him.”

    “How can going away from me be good for him?”

    George’s uncomprehending expression, his naivety, unfurls something both kind and sadistic in the pit of Annie’s stomach. The urge to slap him runs like fine electricity through her.

    “Because I can’t live with you,” Annie squeezes from between clenched teeth. “I can’t pretend things back to the way they were. You know why.”

    “Is it because of Julie?” George sidles up to her.

    George’s barrel of a chest shifts as he hefts Jonathan up with one palm. The disturbance causes Jonathan to start wailing but George ignores his son’s cries and uses his other arm to circle around Annie’s waist where she has always been sensitive, but the heat of his body is scalding in the summer; like a snare, the stuffy room tightens.

    “I don’t love her,” George whispers against her ear, his exhale beating moth wings. “I love you.”

    Annie jerks away, walks stiffly to the only corner of the room which has been cleared of her dead mother’s objects. The corner is the closest to the front door. She twists the silver ring off her left hand and throws it. The jewelry lands on Marilynn’s face with barely a thud and the feeble glint wells up a bitter taste in the back of Annie’s throat.

    “But you married her first. You married her fi—”


    “Divorce her.”

    George’s face, so rubicund, so pleasant and charming petrifies to granite.

    “I can’t do that Ann.”

    “Then I’ll divorce you,” Annie laughs. “Not that we were ever really married anyway. When were you ever going to tell me George? Were you even going to before I caught you in bed with her?”

    “Don’t make it sound worse than it is.” George’s glare strikes sharp flint. “Now, you are going to gather up whatever keepsakes you want of your mother’s and come to the car. I’ll wait for you outside. We will drive home back to LA. And you will be a good parent to Jon just like Julie is.”

    Annie does not move from her corner, but recoils so George does not touch her as he brushes past. She clenches her fists and thinks she is going to leave him, she is going to leave him and end up waitressing and dancing on arthritic toes again, living on pennies for tips, in a slum with no hot water, have hunger gnawing on her entrails every day and she is – picking right away, searching for her mother’s wedding album through bent harmonicas and unraveling lace.

    There has to be a man. The man in uniform she’s never seen, his mementos she’s never touched. Annie picks up an ancient newspaper clipping showcasing a convict’s grainy mugshot, but what looms in her mind is her father’s face: a black hole, and her tears upon it.
  6. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    What Your Mother Taught You (737 words)

    “New mail from: Orbital Transport Ltd.,” said the display of his handheld as he walked home from a friend’s house. “The message is encrypted, please provide the encryption key.” A large raindrop landed on the screen, punctuating the sentence. Dennis swore. He could expect the security, but it meant having to wait until he was home. He didn’t keep the key in his handheld after having lost it too many times.

    The rain picked up as Dennis ran the rest of the way to the house and up to his room, almost dancing. This was it, finally! He rather expected them to call, but any answer was a good sign. And they wouldn’t bother encrypting stock rejections, would they?

    “Dennis?” His mother’s voice sounded from somewhere inside the house, half worried and half annoyed as usual. “You haven’t gone upstairs in those muddy boots, have you?”

    He looked down on his feet and decided not to answer. Instead, he picked up the half-finished International Space Station model from the worktable and placed it on the unmade bed to make some space for the computer. Since he had no more school assignments, he used it only rarely. The handheld could do everything he wanted, and there was no need to encrypt smalltalk.

    He pulled up the computer, tapped it on and waited for the mail to synchronize. There was a knock on the door and his mother stepped in, not even waiting for an answer. She held up a steaming mug.

    “I brought you some hot tea, you must be cold from the rain,” she said. “Get out of the soaked clothes. And those boots!”

    “Sure, I will.” Dennis kept looking at the computer screen and waited for her to leave again. But she just stood there with the mug in her hand.

    No use telling her that he didn’t want the tea. “Just put it down anywhere.”

    “But where? There’s no space enough for a mug,” she complained. “You’ve been out of school for weeks, just fooling around. More than enough time to do something about this mess.”

    The same old song. Tidy up, dress warm, pick up those toys, put them back, make your bed, comb your hair. He hated it since he was old enough to understand what was expected of him. And when the Space Academy opened up right in his home town, he knew what he would do: become a pilot. To get as far from her constant nagging as possible. Of course, having the Academy just twenty minutes’ walk from his parents’ house meant that he stayed with them until graduation, but it was worth it. It made him spend as much time studying as he could, and earn good marks. Now that his first job was just around the corner, he’d finally be able to leave this place forever.

    Impatient to be alone again, he swept aside some of the tools and material cluttering the rest of the table. “Here’s some space for you,” he said, relishing the word and thinking of his future workspace. Then he transferred the mug from his mother’s hands to the emptied spot, resignedly pulled off his boots and handed them to her to carry back downstairs. Finally she was gone.

    Time to read the message.

    Dear applicant,

    We are sorry to inform you that the advertised position of Junior Pilot has already been filled. However, given your qualifications, we would like to offer you one of several Sweeper Pilot positions we are expecting to open in the upcoming months. As a Sweeper Pilot, you would be responsible for operating one-man Sweeper spacecraft designed for space debris removal. If you are interested in becoming a Sweeper Pilot or have any questions regarding the position, please contact Ms. Diane Brent at…

    It took Dennis some effort not to delete the message immediately. When he composed himself, he read it again to make sure he didn’t miss anything the first time, but the meaning was clear. They expected him to tidy up the orbit for other pilots’ convenience! Was this what he studied for? They were worse than his mother. Or almost as bad. Probably. Of course he would never know until he found out. But still… a cleaning job?

    He turned the computer off again, lay down on his bed – narrowly missing the unfinished model – and closed his eyes. This will need some thorough thinking.
  7. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Her Clutter. (932 words)

    I close my eyes to drown out the sound of her screaming. The antiseptic smell of the hospital is putting my stomach in knots. The memory of her lingers into my thoughts. I was about 6 or 7, riding in the backseat of my parent’s blue minivan, on a long trip back home from the beach. My mother and I were singing Disney songs to each other, trying to pass the time as my father blissfully ignored us. After a song from the Lion King, one of my favorites, she turned around from the passenger seat and stared at me. She was wearing her favorite dress, banana yellow, with purple hearts sewn into the two pockets on the front. Giving me the most joyful expression she could manage, she mouthed the words “I love you.” It wasn’t then until I noticed the tears in her eyes.

    That day my mother had played in the sand with me for hours, building sandcastles on the shoreline, only to have them swept away by endless waves. She stayed with me all day while my father went to one of the numerous bars that plagued the shoreline city. As the sun began to go down we made our way towards the boardwalk to meet up with my father. He stumbled out of the bar, over to where my mother was standing. When she reached out to hold my father’s hand he slapped it away. “You’re worthless.” he whispered to her, the smell of stale beer always lingering on his breath. My mother didn’t say a word, but even I could see the seeds of pain planted in her eyes. This was only a few days before she left.

    I thought of the last day I saw her.

    I had heard my parents arguing all morning, and spent most of that time hiding under my bed. When my father left to go to the bar, I walked into my parent’s room. My mother was packing her two big red suitcases, folding everything neatly and putting it in its proper place. She had on her favorite yellow dress, the same one she had been wearing for the past week. I pretended not to notice the bruises all over her arms, a silent agreement we had made a long time ago. “When are you coming back?” I quietly asked. She looked up at me from her suitcase, and without a word kissed me lightly on the forehead. My mother left that day, never answering my question.

    The silence of the room filled me and pulled me out of my daydream. I slowly opened my eyes, just in time to see the nurses close the door behind them. They had given her a large dose of Valium and she was asleep and peaceful. I sat down in one of the plastic covered chairs that the hospital provided, and stared at the sick and frail women that my mother had become. After a few minutes a well-polished man of about 30, rushed through the doors. His hair slicked back, with Clark Kent glasses and sweat dripping down his face. He donned a white lab coat and stared into a wooden clipboard like his life depended on it.

    “Are you the next of kin?” he quickly asked, not once looking up from the clipboard he was constantly carrying around.

    “Yes.” I replied.

    “Things are not looking good for your mother. She won’t respond to treatment, and as you have seen is regressing back into her psychosis. I fear we will not be able to get her out of it this time.” He stared at me, not even trying to act like he cared.

    “What are my options?”

    “We could take her off the breathing tube, you are her legal guardian now, so you could choose to do so if you wish. If you think that’s what she would have wanted. Otherwise I give her about six months to live. Let me know when you have made your decision.” He jutted out of the room glad to be rid of the awkwardness of our conversation.

    I walked over to her hospital bed. She looked so peaceful now, like sleeping beauty waiting for her prince. I gently ran my fingers threw her mousy brown hair. All this time I had been mad at her, a grudge I thought I would carry the rest of my life. After he realized that she was gone my father sobered up, and tried his best to raise me on his own. My childhood had not been terrible, but it had been empty. I had not seen my mother in twenty years, but in this moment, it felt like she never left.

    After a while I left the hospital room, careful to avoid the doctor who had spoken to me earlier. I found the elevator and took it down to the underground parking garage. My mother’s life had been full of pain and her leaving was something I had not been able to understand until now. When I got the call that she was in the hospital yesterday, I almost didn’t come to see her. I wanted to ignore the fact that I missed her, loved her, and wanted her in my life. I wanted to ignore the fact that it was now too late.

    Now she will die and I will be left with nothing but my handful of good memories among the clutter of the destructive ones. As I drove away from the hospital, it started to rain, and I started to cry.
  8. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    "Inheritance" (1545)

    He had jigsaw puzzles, at least a dozen, stacked on the body of an upright piano. Atop the keys lay a vast collection of chopsticks—and not the kind you play at your first childhood piano lesson. Bryant wasn’t sure why his father had been collecting flatware from the (he checked the label to be sure of the hyphen placement) Hunan Wok-Palace, but he was well-stocked in the event of a lo mein emergency.

    Richard entered the living room with a bulging trash bag in each fist. “Does that thing even play?”

    Bryant shrugged. “You know Dad never learned.”

    “Yeah,” said Richard. “That’s right. He bought it for Mom.”

    Bryant took the bags from Richard with a quick smile, not meeting his brother’s eyes. Richard turned back into the bowels of the house as Bryant passed the piano and moved into the kitchen. The screen door to the back yard opened under the guiding nudge of his hip. Dad hadn’t mowed for months. Ragweed had taken over most of the acre-and-change field. If Bryant squinted he could see points of brilliant white amid the tangled green, flowering heads of wild onion peaking through roughage like lights.

    The driveway ran beside the house, a gravel snake winding long through the front field toward the gate guarding the old highway. Blue trashcans, dusty with disuse, sat under the edge of the tin carport. The twin barrels were full of bags; around them lay more stacked bags and boxes of old papers, receipts, empty cans and bottles, mismatched shoes, tin forks with bent tines, grungy teddy bears with gushing stuffing, wooden apples and pears, and a tangle of old piano wires. Bryant wondered when they’d be finished going through their father’s things. They had been there for two days already, although the first day had been spent more with beers than with cleaning supplies.

    Bryant’s shoes dug into his heels. They were new; why he hadn’t elected for an older and more comfortable pair of tennis shoes was anyone’s guess, especially when he knew what he was getting into. He hadn’t visited Dad since his sophomore year of college, but he had seen the hoarding even at that infant stage and been appalled. Coming home to clean out the house shouldn’t have caught him so off guard.

    The house was small, but it was comfortable. A parlor, a living room, and a kitchen ran connected via a series of open doorways, spacious and breezy. The two bedrooms and shared bath branched off the kitchen through another archway, passage halfway concealed by hulking refrigerator and mounds of stacked refuse. Their father had collected everything after their mother’s death. Their childhood room looked like a battlefield.

    Bryant went inside and found his brother leafing through some of the sheet music on the piano. The little lip of wood above the keys held a single book of scores. The book almost looked deliberately placed, but Bryant had no idea of knowing if that was the case.

    “I didn’t know Dad liked hymns,” Richard said, flipping the book shut. “It’s all church music.”

    Bryant paused in the doorway, unsure of what to say. Eventually he settled on: “That was probably Mom’s.”

    Richard paused. He ran his hand over his face, features pulling downward. His eyes looked into a place that wasn’t close.

    Said Bryant: “She started going to church after the diagnosis.”

    “Oh,” said Richard. “That makes sense.”

    The rest of the day passed in relative silence. Bryant and Richard slowly cleaned out the house, separating garbage and the things their father collected from the true mementos of their childhoods. Photo albums, their mother’s jewelry box, and their father’s clothing they packed up in careful boxes marked clearly with “KEEP” in red ink. On the third day they grew too tired to look through everything individually. Anything that didn’t immediately stand out as “KEEP” they discarded, making trip after trip to the dump with bags and boxes in tow. Twice they found skeletons of snakes hidden cupboards, and once when Bryant opened a box he was greeted by a swarm of roaches and a comb of their white eggs. When the house finally seemed clean (when they could see the floors and walls, grimy and covered in the chitinous shells of dead insects as they were) they gathered up the things they valued and laid them on the parlor floor. The parlor suffered the least of all the rooms. The bedrooms had been stacked to the ceiling but the couch in the parlor was almost clean. Their father had been sleeping there.

    They sat cross-legged on the ground. Of all the things their father had kept, it was the receipts and legal papers he’d kept in order. Box after box they’d found in the pantry, full to bursting with files and creeping silverfish. His will had to be in there somewhere.

    “I know he left the house to us,” Bryant said, tired of the silence of three day’s work. “I know he did.”

    Richard set aside the folder he’d been holding. “Left it to you, maybe.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Bryant asked.

    Richard scratched at his neck. A rope of silver showed itself; Bryant heard the jingling of dogtags in the silence. “I wasn’t exactly there when she died.”

    Bryant set aside his own folder, full of receipts from the Hunan Wok-Palace. “She didn’t resent you not coming home,” Bryant said. “It was Afghanistan. She—”

    “Dad sure as hell resented me,” said Richard.

    “Who didn’t he resent?”


    Bryant said nothing, but he remembered much. He remembered sitting with his mother at the old upright piano, playing scales as she issued approval and correction in equal measure—and he remembered his father telling him to go back to him room to study. The house had been clean, then. It hadn’t filled up with receipts and snake eggs until his junior year of high school, when Richard turned eighteen and left for the Marines and their mother sickened in one fell swoop.

    “He may not have resented me,” Bryant said, “but I sure as hell resented him.”

    Richard paused over his documents. His short-cropped hair glistened grey under dim lights. He might have been just past thirty but he looked older.

    “I wanted to be a pianist, you know,” said Bryant.

    “I didn’t,” said Richard. “I thought you always wanted to be a doctor.”

    But Bryant shook his head. “No.”

    “What changed?”

    “Everything.” Bryant set aside one box in favor of another. “You left, Mom died, and suddenly Dad hated me playing music. So I put it away and I focused on school.” He shrugged. “Mom and I were always close. When she died I guess I just wanted to please the parent I had left. But then nothing I ever did was good enough… that old thing. You know what I mean.”

    “When was the last time you visited?”

    The question caught Bryant off guard. Richard was looking at him with eyes the color of steel.

    “Because the last time I visited,” said Richard, “was the day I told Dad I was leaving.”

    Bryant knew that already. Dad had wanted Richard to be a doctor, too, but Richard had rebelled—the military called. Mom had passed before Richard ever got time off, but he’d made pains to see Bryant around the holidays. They hadn’t discussed seeing their father.

    Bryant said: “I never came home, either.”

    They went back to looking through boxes. Their father’s will failed to present itself. Eventually Bryant’s stomach growled. He reached into a piled of discarded papers and pulled one free. “Fancy Chinese?” he asked, waving the menu of the Hunan Wok-Palace. Richard agreed and ordered their food over the phone, shouting over the tinny country connection. Bryant went out to his car and pulled out an ice chest. He’d filled it full of good ale the night before, brown bottles glistening in a nest of freeze. The brothers cracked open their drinks and sat, waiting on their food as they rifled still through papers.

    “Look at this,” said Richard.

    He shoved a box at Bryant, who looked inside and scowled. In it lay a collection of sheet music, torn at the edges but more or less intact. Bryant pushed the box away and shook his head.

    “He must have kept it because of Mom,” he said. “He didn’t want me playing.”

    “That why you never spoke to him after you left home?”

    Bryant swallowed. Richard’s steely eyes were back.

    “I didn’t come home,” said Richard, “because he always wanted me to be something I’m not.”

    It took Bryant a moment to reply. When he did he said: “Same here.”

    He looked back down at the music, lifting a sheet off the top with nimble fingers. They had been pianist’s fingers, once, all lean and covered in callous—but now they held the calluses of a scalpel, weeks spent in the surgery theater at his father’s grieved behest. The scare was called “Moonlight Sonata.” He had played it once, many years before, when the notes made sense and his mother said the sound was beautiful—but now, after his father had steered him elsewhere, the notes looked like nothing more than clutter on a page.
  9. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Disorder Restored (659 words)

    I’m a fairly good judge of character. For example, I had my suspicions about Anthony Wiener months before the sexting scandal; I knew Charlie Sheen was a loose cannon long before his public melt down; and I was sure that Michael Vick was no dog lover even prior to his arrest. So it came as quite a surprise to me when my boyfriend of 10 months, whom I had grown to trust and respect, in bed with a size four, bleach blonde with the IQ of mayonnaise who he met that day at a fundraiser. Apparently she was the door prize.

    That was last week. That was when he used to share my apartment with me. That was when I thought his dirty socks, strewn about the living room were just a cute reminder of his warm, loving presence. That was when his toothbrush leaned against mine in the plastic cup they shared as though they were cuddling in a symbolic tribute to our relationship. That was when each and every one of his personal possessions was endearing to me regardless of their haphazard location.

    Now it’s all just a hideous reminder of his ignorant, egomaniacal betrayal.

    I threw him out immediately. I mean, right then and there, I chased them both out. It was almost comical watching them trying to escape my maniacal ranting. I threw their hastily discarded clothing in their general direction, and was closing in on Scott (that’s the bastard’s name) when I noticed she was giggling. That really pissed me off, so I gave her a hostile shove at the exact moment she was pulling her miniskirt right over her knees. She immediately lost her balance and went down hard. I didn’t hear her giggle after that.

    You may think I was being rough on her, like it’s not her fault my boyfriend seduced her and brought her to my home. Maybe she didn’t know he already had a girlfriend. Well, even a bimbo with half a brain could see that the clutter around the apartment was not strictly masculine. Clearly there were overt and obvious feminine elements to the clutter in plain view: silk scarves, ballet flats, a sequined top, bikini panties, red lacy bra. Yet, I know she is an idiot and maybe doesn’t even have half a brain, so I would have ignored her but for the disrespectful tone of her giggling. I don’t tolerate that kind of giggling.

    So Scott’s gone, but the rest of his shit is here.

    No worries. That’s what Goodwill is for. Not the generous, act of goodwill, but the charitable organization that happily accepts anyone’s clutter. Even a lousy, selfish, cheating boyfriend’s clutter.

    I put on some music, grab a large trash bag, and a pair of tongs and work my way counter-clockwise around the apartment picking up his things. Things that used to illicit sentimental, warm, cozy feelings for him. Things like his Raven’s jersey with the hot sauce stain on the left sleeve that is piled in a heap on the living room floor. Or his Dockers with the worn out creases that are hanging off the arm of the desk chair. Things like his toothbrush which is still touching and contaminating mine with his disgusting saliva. Both toothbrushes go into the trash. All other items that once belonged to him go into the Goodwill bag.

    I finish this ugly chore rather quickly and sit down on the sofa to observe my apartment. It’s mine. All mine now. There’s the umbrella I used a week ago, still sitting on the island with my running shoes. Last Sunday’s newspaper is occupying most of the coffee table, along with the half-full coffee mug, I left there yesterday. Without turning my head, I know that there’s a sweatshirt, a pair of earrings and an empty pizza box on the desk behind me.

    All traces of Scott’s are gone, and the disorder that remains is happily mine.
  10. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Entries are officially closed for this contest. Voting is now open.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2013

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