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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Exam (09/12/13)

TITLE: Willow Room
By Mike Newman


It was the willow tree that sought Katie out the day of her decision. Its skirt of crying branches reached down to the knoll upon which it sat, forming a circular room of shaded stillness. Since Todd had died, she had spent an increasing amount of time in this room, sitting cross-legged and leaning against the trunk.

Her brother's death had been the final weight in a burden that her parent's marriage could no longer bear. The grief had split them and the solace that they both sought was not to be found along a shared path. The end was not immediate, but its seed had been planted the day that Todd was taken from them.

The judge had handed her a piece of paper this morning, asking her to return tomorrow. His words echoed in her mind . . .

"Katie, I want you to think of this as a test with but one question on it. That might sound strange, but I word it like that to communicate to you the seriousness of the question posed there. It has far-reaching implications and should be answered thoughtfully."

Paper in hand she climbed the small hill, parted the branches of the weeping tree, and sat in the cool grass. The wind that rustled the leaves brought with it the too-sweet smell of burning hay from neighboring farmers' fields. The imploring call of a chickadee questioned her business there.

She ran her finger along the fold of the sheet, and then turned it over and over in her hands. She opened it and read the clear blue script of the judge's hand.

Do you want your primary residence to be with your mother or with your father?

Letting the paper slip into her lap, she looked at the ground between her and the wall of willow branches. The light came through in shafts and gave it the look of a giant barcode, with alternating lines of sun and shade both thick and thin. The price of taking this test was stamped all around her.

When she was younger, the smell of asphalt had always followed her dad home from the shingle plant where he worked. He had listened with such interest every night, sitting close and snuggling her tightly as she read, while the hairs on his arm tickled her chin.

Each evening had brought with it a caution from Momma to let him have a few minutes rest before she ran to him with a book. But Daddy, after playful tugs on Todd's baseball cap, always grabbed her in his arms and sat down with her to hear her stories.

Katie's phone buzzed in her pocket with a text from her mom, letting her know supper was on. Her mom had always been her biggest fan, waving her Katie-flag to anyone and everyone. It was Mom who had encouraged her to chase her dream of being a painter, telling her that she had real talent and backing it up by hanging her framed work on the living room wall. Visitors' reactions, before they knew whose work it was, had convinced her she might have something real here.

The two years since Todd's death had been hard on them all. Each of them had isolated themselves as they groped around for meaning and hope. For Katie, there had only recently been shimmers of light that had begun to illuminate that dark tunnel of mourning . . . and now this. She was not naive, she had known this decision would be hers and that if she chose not to decide, she would still have made a choice - a choice to let the judge pick as he saw fit.

There had been days when the weight of it had sat heavily on her chest, shortening every breath and bringing tears of resentment directed at Todd, her parents . . . everyone. Other times she had felt light as a feather as she lay in the shade of her willow tree, and smiled as she remembered how Todd had been so protective of her.

She picked up the judge's test, the exam that spawned a thousand questions but asked only one, and she knew that this was an assignment that she could not ace. There was no right answer, no solution that would bring about a circled "A" or any sense of accomplishment.

She took a pen, put it to paper, and did the best that she knew how.

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This article has been read 699 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Brenda Rice 09/19/13
Beautiful descriptions, great word choices,interesting subject and on topic.

One of favs so far. Good job.
Samantha Arroyo 09/24/13
Beautiful descriptions and a unique take on the topic. I really enjoyed it - and it left me wondering what she wrote!
lynn gipson 09/26/13
All I can say is CONGRATS AND WOW! 1st place level three and 1st place EC!
Linda Goergen09/26/13
Congratulations Mike, so happy for your well deserved level and EC wins!!
C D Swanson 09/26/13
Congratulations! God bless~
Yvonne Blake 09/26/13
Congratulations,Mike! This story is heart-wrenching. I love your ending . . .forcing the reader to think how they might answer the dilemma.
Noel Mitaxa 09/26/13
Very descriptive work that sets the scene externally and internally. Your writing is really taking off. Congatulations on your placings. Well-deserved.
lynn gipson 09/26/13
Do I know a winner when I see one or what? Told ya you had genius.Maybe I should give up writing and become a talent scout for writers!Haaaaa
Brenda Rice 09/26/13
Congrats Mike. Well deserved. My favorite among many really good entries.
Samantha Arroyo 09/27/13
Congratulations on your win!!
Francy Judge 09/28/13
I love how you showed her love for each parent--this brought me into the story to feel how hard her decision would be. Your descriptions are poetic and the ending perfect to make us think. Congratulations on your well-deserved first place.
Bea Edwards 09/28/13
Your story was steeped in a depth and richness of description that had me savoring your words like I would a good creme brulee.
Supurb storytelling and congratulations on your 1st place EC win!
Leola Ogle 09/29/13
Congratulations on your placement, Mike. God bless!
Lois Farrow09/29/13
Excellent story that drew me in. Congratulations on your first placing.
Charla Diehl 10/04/13
Congratulations on your wins with this deserving piece. The word pictures you painted made this story come alive. Part of me wanted you to not leave the reader hanging at the end--but it certainly was effective.
Catrina Bradley 10/12/13
My grandparents had a willow tree, and my favorite place as a child was the "room" under it. Your amazing descriptions brought that memory to life and set the scene for this truly fabulous story. My heart is breaking for your MC. Congratulations on your 1st place EC!