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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Body Language (11/25/10)

TITLE: Cracked Plates and Sisters
By Rachel Phelps


My sister and I have never been much good at the verbal communication thing. Catfights, the occasional prank – lots of just staying out of each other’s way to express affection. We’re much better sisters when we’re a few states apart. College for her and career for me have vastly improved our relationship.

Sort of like right now. Just the two of us and the mountain of Thanksgiving dishes in the kitchen. I talked my mom into relaxing while I did them this year, and Jessie gave me the shock of my life by volunteering to help. Very un-Jessie behavior. When you consider that her glued-to-her-hip boyfriend Jason is here, it makes it even stranger.

Swish, drip, slosh. This plate needs another scrub.

They haven’t been so glued today. In fact, I’ve barely seen them hold hands. Jessie spent half the morning locked in the bathroom perfecting her liquid eyeliner application technique, and Jason has been ducking behind the paper every time someone comes near him. He’s not a crossword-type guy, so I’m guessing they had a fight.

“So,” I say, letting the word drip like the plate I’m holding out. “How’s school?”


Jessie grabs the plate and attacks it with her towel.

“Caref-“ I bite my lip, but she’s already glaring.

“I’m not four, you know, SamAnn. I can dry a plate without breaking it.”

“I know.” I return my attention to the suds before me.

Her body is completely closed to me, quite the feat considering we’re sharing counter space here. She sets the plate atop the pile and waits, tapping her left foot in impatience. There is a topic I could bring up, but I don’t want to with Mom’s good china within reach.

Swish, drip, slosh. Pass a plate, take the next. Comforting rhythm.

“Have you told them?”

The plate slips from my hand and thuds in the sink. I turn to face Jessie, though she’s still turned away. Her shoulders are squared for a fight.


“Told them what?”

Her head snaps around. “You know what.”

I merely raise an eyebrow, waiting for her to say it.

A tear threatens that perfect liquid line. “Of course you told them. Miss Sherlock Holmes couldn’t pass on a chance to tattle on little sis, could she?”

Anger sears through my chest. I turn away from her, fumbling for the lost plate.

Swish, drip, slosh. Memories of my last visit to her apartment. The aftershave in the cabinet, a man’s shirt in the hamper. She’d obliterated most traces, but not all.

Jessie grabs at the plate. “That’s why Mom and Dad have been so anxious to keep us in their sight, isn’t it? Don’t trust us anymore?”

I grab it back. “Or maybe they just want to see their daughter who never comes to visit or calls because she’s too busy shacked up with her boyfriend.”

Jessie lets go so fast the plate slips from my hand. We both reach for it, but it hits the tile, breaking into three large pieces and a shiny shower of shards. For several heart-pounding moments, we just stare at it.

“Mom’s good set,” Jessie moans.

Her teary voice snaps something inside me. “Why do you care?”

Rather than square off for another round, she drops to her knees and starts collecting the shards. She never would have done that before. She would have laughed, flipped her hair and said she’d done enough and I could clean up the mess.

I retrieve the dustpan and mini-broom from under the sink and pass them to her.

“I didn’t tell them.”

She drops the pieces with a clatter. “You didn’t?”

I shake my head. “Not my place.”

She bursts into tears. “I can’t fix this.”

I know she doesn’t mean the plate. I help her sweep up the mess in silence. Not like I have any answers she wants to hear.

We go back to washing. Swish, drip, slosh. I rinse the next plate and show it to her. The cracks are barely visible. “I broke this when I was 10. Dad glued it back together and we’ve been using it ever since. Just like new.”

She shakes her head, turning away again.

“It’s not always so easy.”

“It can be. Try us.”

I hand her the plate. She puts it down and faces me.

“SamAnn, I’m pregnant.”

I freeze.

“Do you hate me?”

My sister and I have never been good at verbal communication. I figure a hug should fill in the blanks.

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This article has been read 909 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/03/10
I particularly liked the realism of the sister's relationship and the way the story progressed. The mended cracked plate was a wonderful symbol for the much deeper concept.
Allison Egley 12/03/10
Oh, I like this a lot. I like the parallel between the plate and the sister's situation. And I love the ending.
Henry Clemmons12/03/10
I'm no expert, and I have not read everything you've written, but from what I have, this is best I have read by you. A very mature presentation. I loved the rhythm of the story. Granted, I am generally not a big fan of "sisters doing dishes and one being pregnant" stories, but you held my attention throughout even when I kind of knew how it was going to end. You have a mad set of skills. And, yes, I liked this very much!
Cheryl Harrison12/03/10
Great descriptions. I loved the last line -- a hug could fill in the blanks. Good job!
Barbara Lynn Culler12/04/10
Loved how you tied in doing the dishes with the talking. Like the line about dripping out the "so" like the drop on the dish. Brilliant!
Colin Swann12/04/10
A good interesting story and sister conversation but I did see the pregnant bit coming early on. Thanks.
Colin Nielsen12/04/10
Truly masterful. Loved it. The whole set up. You had me hooked from the beginning. Tension. Conflict. Interesting characters. And totally on topic.
You are very very good at writing. You could easily turn this into a novel and sell it.
Thanks for pointing me to it.
Kimberly Russell12/04/10
I too very much liked the last line. You have a wonderful, real and edgy quality to your writing. Great job.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/05/10
I knew the ending was comingbut that didn't make the story any less enjoyable. These things do happen even in a strong Christisn family. You did a great job in dealing with a sensitive topic.
Noel Mitaxa 12/07/10
You have woven the anxiety into the flow of this entry with an almost three-dimensional reality. I appreciate any struggle you may have had with how to close, but you have sown hope into an open ending. I love your final sentence, because it embodies the scripture: "Love covers a multitude of sins."
Beautifully done.
Lollie Hofer12/07/10
Masterfully written by a master writer. Beautiful, sad, entertaining, dramatic, great ending. Sometimes a hug speaks volumes. I know it did for my daughter when she broke the news to us several years ago that she and her boyfriend were expecting a baby. Great big hugs from my husband and me worked then too.
Melanie Kerr 12/07/10
You created tension between the two sisters that was believable. The dialogue was great. I liked the hug at the end, but I also felt that there was enough in the story not to need the pregnancy.
Gregory Kane12/07/10
An excellent study in tension. Loved it.
Amanda Brogan12/07/10
Great dynamics -- I love the metaphor of the broken plates. It gave the idea that maybe the MC had made some mistakes in the past too and she was trying to gently get that across to her sister and let her know that repentance and the fixing of broken hearts is possible, just as it was for the broken plates.

Great writing as usual! :)
Carol Penhorwood 12/07/10
A wealth of emotions conveyed in this piece. Superlative job.
Shellie Bailey12/08/10
I enjoyed reading this one! Thanks for sharing. The writing is wonderful and conveyed the emotions and scene well.
Edmond Ng 12/08/10
Excellent work! I like the dialogue exchange, the expressed feelings and tension you have successfully brought out in the story. Enjoyed the read thoroughly.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/09/10
Congratulations on your EC!!!
Mona Purvis12/09/10
Rachel, I agree with Henry. You do have a mad set of skills.
This piece is so you. It has such depth. In many pieces we write in FW, we allow the bud to blossom out fully. You have a way of reminding the reader that all buds do not. Some make a half-hearted attempt, some are stunted by outside forces. What a deserving win of EC!
Amanda Brogan12/09/10
Tremendously awesome job! Congrats on the EC!!!
Lollie Hofer12/09/10
Congrats on your well-deserved recognition. This was one of my favorites.
Henry Clemmons12/09/10
Way to go, Rachel. Good to see your name on the EC list. Like I said I think this was one of your better works. Very well done.
Rita Garcia12/09/10
Congratulations, Rachel! Loved the story!!!!!!!!!!
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/11/10
This was one of my favorites this week. Congratulations on EC.