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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Year(s) (01/20/11)

TITLE: Seared
By Ann Grover
01/26/11


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The house had aged. Ribbons of peeling paint were half concealed by frowzy hydrangeas and overgrown lilacs; a gangling mountain ash bowed with its burden of scarlet berries.

Gail eased out of the car. The air smelled of moldering leaves, the tang of apples, damp soil. And smoke. Silvery wisps crept along the ground, and Gail followed the pungent haze.

She always liked making fires.

Laura didn’t look up from the fire when Gail approached, but continued to heap leaves with her pitchfork. Tiny fingers of flame burst from the mound, and smoke writhed in the frosty air.

“You.”

“Yes, me.”

“To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I thought you should know . . .”

“I’ve already heard.”

“It’s time, Laura. It’s been silly of us . . .”

Laura looked up from the leaves, her eyes flashing, voice seething.

“Silly of us? You were the one who stole my man and kept him for yourself. Laughed at me. Mocked me.” Laura stabbed at the leaves. Sparks swirled, stinging their eyes, and they squinted, shrouded in ash.

“I didn’t keep him for myself. He married Susan, remember? Anyway, now he’s gone. I thought you should know.”

“So now I won’t ever have him, is that what you came to tell me? So you can rub my face in it? Again? It was over long ago, Gail.”

Laura stirred the fire again, scooping up more leaves. Something rustled the yellowing undergrowth beyond the matted grass, a cat or squirrel, causing the downy heads of fireweed to tremble and sway. Overhead, crows argued and the sun stared.

“We were children. It meant nothing.” Gail said softly. She surveyed Laura, then, taking in the thin gray hair pulled back into an elastic band, the gaunt cheeks, and the flat place under Laura’s shirt. Oh, please, God. She suddenly felt the heat from Laura’s melting flesh pressing against her face.

“I’m parched. Care to invite me in for a cup of tea?”

“Suit yourself.” Laura leaned the fork against the shed and wiped her hands on her faded jeans.

As they went up the porch stairs together, Gail paused, glimpsing the place in the concrete walkway where they’d each pressed their hands, side by side, into smooth, wet cement. Such a long time ago.

“Clear yourself a spot,” Laura instructed as she set the kettle to boil. Gail shifted oily work gloves and farm magazines to another chair, ignoring the layers of dust and cat hair, the sticky spots on the table. Frowning, Laura examined the contents of a cookie tin and tipped it into the trash. She rinsed two stained teacups in the sink.

“Still working at the store?” she asked.

“Yes, keeping books.”

“You’ve been there . . . how long?”

“Since Brian started kindergarten. He’s 22 now. In college.”

“Oh,” Laura said flatly. “That’s nice.” She set the teapot on the table. There was a chip on the spout, and Gail looked away. And saw the flyspecked window, faded curtains, worn linoleum, and grimy woodwork. She cleared her throat.

“It’s been . . .”

“. . .a long time.”

“I’m sorry.”

“We were young and foolish. Cruel.”

“We’re not kids anymore.”

“I should hope not.” Laura stirred the tea, and the hot liquid dribbled over the wounded china as she poured. “Sugar? I don’t have any cream.”

“No sugar. Black is fine.”

The ancient yellowed refrigerator muttered while they drank.

“Did you ever . . .?”

“How is . . .?”

They laughed, then, nervously and clumsily, as if wandering along paths grown over, foreign and unfamiliar.

“I really am sorry,” Gail attempted again.

“I know. Me, too.”

“Life is short.” Gail glanced at Laura’s lopsided shirt front again. And wondered who Laura might have claimed as Next of Kin on the hospital forms. Probably not me. She winced.

“Very short.” Laura whispered.

Maybe there was still time to unravel the tangle they’d allowed, pruning and cutting away, down to the quick, discarding the aged debris.

“I must go. Thanks for tea.”

In the yard, the fire had consumed itself, leaving a ring of damp leaves around an ashen heart.

“Come again.” Laura’s voice was fringed with longing.

“I will. It’s been . . .”

“. . .far too long.”

“Yes. Well, I’m off.”

She backed down the lane, then, intent on keeping the car straight, yet reluctant to slip her eyes away from Laura’s frail and fading figure.


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This article has been read 598 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Melanie Kerr 01/28/11
I thought the dialogue was excellent - it conveyed not just the story but captured the feelings of the tow women. It was a long drawn out fued, wasn't it?
Brenda Rice 01/31/11
I found myself wanting the finish the sentences of each sister. This has real emotion and revelation that is shown rather than told. Good job, in my humble opinion.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/31/11
What a beautiful story of broken sisterhood, with more than a breath of hope for mending. My heart ached for both of them (which means you "showed" their emotions eloquently). Your details of imagery made a perfect background for the story.
Eliza Evans 01/31/11
What a sad story.
Very skillfully written.
Fantastic example of show don't tell.
Cheryl Harrison 01/31/11
Well crafted. I loved the detail -- Overhead, crows argued and the sun stared. Your character's relationship struggle touched my heart.

Rachel Phelps01/31/11
Your atmospheric details are excellent, as is the pacing. Well done!
Laury Hubrich 02/01/11
Lives intertwining back together. Forgiveness on their lips and regret hanging onto their hearts. So sad that we let petty things come between our friends and family. Nice entry.
Kate Oliver Webb02/02/11
So many layers here; deep, deep regret, honest but wounded hearts, and all of it encompassed by the very physical (tea pot, etc.) objects that surrounded these two lives for so long, also wounded and stained. Such an honest--and yes--searing tale.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/02/11
Wow there's so much going on in the undertones of this thrilling, story. Your descriptions were amazing and the story itself so sad.
Shelley Ledfors 02/02/11
You've packed so much into the word limit here. A great story, emotions, characterizations, setting, everything. Well done.
Amy Michelle Wiley 02/02/11
Beautifuly done! I'm not sure I got this sentence, "She suddenly felt the heat from Laura’s melting flesh pressing against her face." But otherwise I clung to every word. I like how you had them reconcile but didn't fix everything all tidy--ther was still awkwardness and a long way to go in their relationship, as is realistic.
Rachel Phelps02/03/11
Congratulations on your EC! Such a wonderful story.
Henry Clemmons02/03/11
I want to write like Ann when I grow up. Congratulations on EC and reminding why I love true literature.
Bonnie Bowden02/04/11
I can smell the fading fire right now. Great characters and story.

Congratulations on your award.