All Things Considered on NPR has a contest with a simple premise: Listeners send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less. A guest author sets the premise for the story and thousands of submissions are sent in. The winner gets to have their story read on the air and gets to add the contest win to their publishing resume.
Karen Russell, the author of the acclaimed novel Swamplandia! set the challenge for Round 11 this past May. Called "Finders Keepers", authors were asked to write a story of no more than 600 words, "...in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning."
I thought I would share my submission for Round 11 for this blog post. I didn't win (I don't think my style fit with the NPR M.O. - this one came out kinda dark...), but I enjoyed writing the short story and am happy with the result.
She wouldn’t let them go.
Severe complications during the pregnancy and delivery resulted in her mother’s death and her mind often wondered of the woman who breathed her last breath as she took her first. She wondered of her character as she secured the ring onto her finger; if her mom jogged every morning and drank red wine with dinner or if she smoked cigarettes on the back porch and cursed easily, if she baked from scratch and liked to read, if she followed politics or fancied chick flicks. Most off all she wondered if she was anything like her mother. Likewise, as she rubbed the smooth edge of her father’s wedding band on her thumb, she thought of the man she could not remember. Did he work the long hard hours of a blue collar man, laying asphalt for the city and smoothing concrete, or did he climb corporate ladders and negotiate mergers for clients to build their portfolios; did he drink beer and lean back in his recliner and watch football, did he take his steak medium rare or was he a vegetarian… was he the sweet teddy-bear of a man she dreamed he would be, she rubbed the band and loved him.
She was two when he died, and there were fragments of him that floated in her memory, at least she thought there was. By then she was able to climb out of her crib and crawl into bed to wake him up, and one day as she jumped into bed next to him, he did not wake. He died from a brain aneurysm that ruptured and released blood into his skull, the resulting stroke taking his life as he slept. For two weeks she was alone in the house with her father’s dead body.
She pushed the stool she used to stand under the bathroom sink and brush her teeth with into the kitchen and managed to pull down a few boxes of cereal. The sun reached out to her through the windows as her only company, the rays wishing they could help her as they watched her sob with sad, helpless confusion. There was a jug of apple juice in the refrigerator she managed to get, and after four hours of trying to twist open the lid she spilt most of it onto the tile kitchen floor. Her diaper sagged heavily between her legs and severe diaper rash spread onto her buttocks and legs and formed puss filled blisters that bled at the edges as she climbed into bed every night and curled up next to her forever sleeping father, wishing he would wake up soon and make pancakes for her, wishing he would wake up and make everything better.
She played with her foam blocks and puzzles and tried to turn the T.V. on to watch Blue’s Clues, often taking the remote to her father and asking, “watch?” Every so often she fumbled at the knobs and locks on the front and back doors to go play outside, but her young mind could not tackle the safety door knob covers.
Her long hair grew matted and unkempt and she was near dehydration when the mailman saw her staring at him through the living room window, her face beet red from a fresh fit of crying. By then the mail box was stuffed, and the concerned mailman called non-emergency. They picked the lock and found her, and her rigor stiff father; she was in foster care until she was eighteen.
She had found their rings today, and had no intention of letting them go.
Thanks for reading