These entries from September's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "September Writing Challenge."
It was dark inside the closet. The smell of her grandmother’s perfume and a twist of mothballs filled the air inside the imperial, mahogany wardrobe. Behind beautiful evening gowns and overcoats was little Jenny, giggling as silently as she could, listening to her sister’s every footstep, clutching her precious find like her life depended on it.
As Debra called her name countless times from every room, Jenny couldn’t help but smile to herself—the plan was foolproof, and she knew it. How convenient for her, that the very morning of her great escapade, older sister Debbie had accidentally misplaced her most esteemed pair of glasses.
“Jenny, give them back NOW!” she could tell Debbie was furious. She only managed to stumble along the hallways, trying not to step on the scattered toys that lined the wooden floors under the guidance of her poor vision, strategically placed just some minutes earlier by her pest of a younger sibling.
“JENNY—I’m telling you, give them back now. I will find you!”
Jenny beamed to that, knowing it to be impossible, for her practically blind sister, to find her inside the gigantic house. There were four bedrooms, and that was only the first floor.
After some time of wandering around, Debra collapsed on the floor, exhausted. Being without her glasses surely did take a toll on her, leaving her with an uncomfortable headache and a stubbed toe from bumping into dreadfully low coffee table corners.
Jenny heard the muffled thump, having inherited her father’s attentive and quick-witted sensitivity. “Yes!” she wanted to scream, but she knew better than to give away her hiding spot that early. After all, she’d heard once that the five senses compensate for each other, so maybe her sister’s hearing was even better than her own. Nonetheless, she knew sweet victory was already hers.
She popped out of the closet, careful to leave the pair of black-rimmed glasses behind, safely tucked inside one of her grandmother’s big, fancy brown overcoats, and headed towards the hallway, where Debbie sat, defeated.
“I think I saw your glasses around somewhere, Debbie.” Jenny mocked her.
“Oh did you?” Debbie mocked back. “Come on Jenny, I’m already late on coursework!”
“Give it,” Jenny said, determined.
“No way, I earned it fair and square. If you did your chores once in a while, you would get one two. It wouldn’t hurt you, you know.”
“Give it,” Jenny said, unwavering.
“Fine.” Debbie gave in, finally. “Here.” And she put a dollar coin in her sister’s hand.
“All of it,” Jenny insisted, and her sister had nothing to do but be complacent to the stubborn little girl’s wishes, giving her the entire week’s savings.
As Jenny opened the closet door, finally giving away her hiding place that would not be needed anymore, she marveled at the cold, metallic little coins in her tiny little hands, enough to buy candy for the rest of the summer. It was only when she heard a brutal, high-pitched noise that she jolted back to unfortunate reality. Alongside her grandmother’s favorite china set, once delicately placed inside the closet, her dreams of extravagant wealth were shattered into a million tiny pieces.
Even before turning around, the girl could already feel her sister’s snickering. The battle was lost.
“I won’t say a word,” Debbie said, reaching out her hand. She didn’t have to say any more—even with the constant bickering, the sisters were close enough to know exactly what each other meant.
Jenny had no escape. She reluctantly handed her precious, hard-earned dollars back, feeling tears well up in her bright blue eyes.
“But you’ll help me clean up,” Jenny clarified. The coins came with a price.
“I’ll take it,” Debbie said.
Little Jenny only managed to salvage a deep turquoise colored little teacup. Later that year, she managed to sell her keepsake to old Jeremy at the local antique fair for a whopping thirteen dollars, enough for year-round candy purchasing. Maybe her mischievous plan did work after all.
I walk down the street, passing by the stores around me. The feeling is nice, reminiscent of a time before. My husband liked to come here, down to the center of town. Sometimes he would take me shopping, it almost feels as if he liked shopping more than me, or just say hello to the people passing by. He knew everyone in town, and everyone knew him. Smiles were brought to faces and laughs drawn from chests by his presence.
The memory brings a smile to my face, and I stop for a moment on the sidewalk. He made it a priority to make me grin, no matter the day, and he never once failed. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even have to say anything. Just his smile, one brighter and more joyful than the sun, could make anyone’s own appear. An essence of merriment followed him through the town and left its mark on every person he passed.
A man catches my eye as he moves his way around me. I turn as he leaves my view and walks by. I recognize him as the barber’s son, Timothy. A quiet fellow, whose family we have hosted for dinner many times. He must have recognized me too because he turns and gives a wave and smiles in my direction. There’s a shallow sadness in his eyes, but I look past it. Instead, I focus my attention on another thing. He had glasses, a dainty pair, wiry and fragile, and all too familiar.
They look just like the pair my husband wore, how fortuitous. If not for the fact that his glasses were on my nightstand, I would think that they were the same pair. I tell Timothy that I like his glasses. He’s silent for a moment before a wave of emotion passes over his face. It is only there for a second before he masks it, but not fast enough. I know what he was thinking. He thanks me and turns to continue on his way. I do the same.
Sometime later, I pass by Charles. I stop and sit on the bench beside him. A smile grows on his face as he notices me. We talk for a while, though I could not say how long. It is easy to lose track of time with Charles. There are so many stories he has to tell. My husband always stopped and talked to him. He knew the old man before he knew me.
Before I go, I fish a coin out of my purse and hand it to the man. He sighs but grabs it from my outstretched hand. My husband always gave Charles a coin after their conversation. It’s hard for the old man to work now, so he helped as much as he could. Even though he could have used it for himself, my husband chose to give it up. A thank you slips past Charles’s lips, like always.
As the evening starts to set, I make my way back home. I shiver as I walk through the door and grab my husband’s sweater from the coat rack. It has been much colder in here recently. I am not sure that it will ever be quite as warm as it used to be. In the kitchen, I set the teapot on the stove and grab down a teacup from the cupboard. Every day when my husband got home, he would make a pot of peppermint tea. I never loved it as he did, but it has become a cherished routine for me.
When it’s done, I sit by the window. A flower garden rests right outside, complete with a birdbath. My husband’s prized possession. He could be seen tending to his garden daily for as long as the weather would allow. Looking out, I smiled. My favorite flowers were daffodils, and he filled his garden with them for me. Now, in the spring, they were the main attraction. It was one of my favorite gifts from him.
I miss my husband more than anything. I always will. But while he is gone from this world, he will never be gone from me.
British Virgin Islands
My Shooting Star
A letter is the truest agent with which to express your love. It catches the nervous shakes of the hand in its stained ink, the slant of your penmanship. It exists always, a quiet, intimate promise to look back on. A letter may seem simple to a girl like Josephine, who I’m sure has received much louder displays of love. I hear stories of the way suitors have brought her presents of roses, bought her expensive jewels and perfumes. To her, this letter may be just that, a letter; no intimate promise, no secret love, just ink on paper. Yet, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
I seal the letter and slip it into my coat pocket. I cleaned my best white shirt and pressed my cleanest pants for the town Christmas special. Even then, all dressed up, I’m ordinary. When we arrive at the special, people are mingling. Mrs. Oliver offers me a porcelain teacup full almost to the brim with tea.
It’s not hard to spot Josephine. Her dark coils hang in satin ribbons, and she dresses in red.
“You’re looking at Josephine, aren’t you?” Hadiya whispers. She’s never been one to hide disappointment. I know she just wants me to be happy, to marry young and have kids, and follow the life Ma and Pa laid out for me.
“Look at Elodie. Doesn’t she look lovely tonight?”
In all the ways Josephine was my shooting star, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, Elodie was as familiar as the living room fireplace. Both give off light, but one is fleeting, mesmerizing. The other, beautiful in its own way, the feeling of home after a long day. But I want adventure. My whole life I’ve felt settled.
I drift through the crowd and lock eyes with Josephine. “Miss Josephine, good evening!” I say. She smiles as I extend my hand for a shake. I delicately press the letter into her palms, a confused look flashing through her eyes.
Do you remember the fifth grade? The afternoon you forgot your glasses at your desk, I walked to your home to bring them to you, and you were so relieved to see them that you had this big smile on your face. You gave me a gift that day, a gold coin that you’d worn as a pendant. You told me anyone who owned it got good luck. I still have that coin. Fifth grade me loved fifth grade you. My love for you grew as I did. I kept it a secret all this time because I wanted to be a man worthy of loving you. I recently realized I will never see myself as good enough for you. I had to take this chance. You’re probably shocked, hearing that someone you never think about has loved you so deeply and so entirely for almost ten years, but I hope you’ll give me a chance. If after reading all of this, you can find it in your heart to see me in even a fraction of the way I see you, please meet me under the oak tree in front of your estate.
I love you always,
My heart ached in my chest, yet it was still. It didn’t beat with anticipation but instead lay silently in fear, afraid to move or make a sound. I stood under the oak tree as the wind curled the branches and cast long shadows in the grass. What if all of this was for nothing? She is a rich woman who has never wanted for anything. How could I expect her to look at me, small and bare, and find herself full?
As my mind pattered with thoughts upon thoughts, a dark silhouette cut into the night. I recognized her immediately, curls bouncing around her shoulders, her red dress catching the moonlight. As she neared me, I could see her eyes, joyous and full. As she looked at me, silence hanging between us, I knew. She knew. I reached into my pocket then and held the golden coin against the cold air, then pressed it softly into her palm.
“I love you, Josephine.”
“And I, you, Simon.”
A story I don’t want to tell
“But this was never a story I wanted to tell.” I sigh, take off my glasses and rub my eyes that are hurting from hours of staring at the screen of my laptop. For the first time, I look around the little coffee shop I’ve been sitting in for the past six hours. The sight outside the window on my right offers me a view of the quiet street and the trees on the other side of the street, their leaves slowly starting to turn orange and red. Fall has never been my favourite season, but especially not for the past five years. Five years. I can’t believe it’s been that long. My hand automatically reaches into my pocket and takes out the little engraved, golden coin. My fingers trace the little symbols, silly pictures of buildings in our city, a small souvenir, something only a tourist would spend money on. A tourist or us that day. I’ve kept that coin in my pocket since the day he died…
“Well, you’ll have to see it this way: I’m giving you a pretty good story in your life!” I remember everything about that. His back, turned away from me, tense shoulders in his blue sweatshirt, my fingers, constantly fidgeting, my eyes, slowly filling with tears. “This isn’t a story I want in my life.” I recall his every move, the way he turned around and faced me, not a single tear rolling down his cheek, as though it just happened yesterday. “If you’re really my friend, you’ll accept my decision.” “No. I can’t. And I won’t.”
I’m suddenly torn from my daydreaming by the sound of a teacup being placed on my table. “Here you go again! Can I get you anything else?” the waiter politely asks.
“What? Oh no, thanks, I’m alright.”
He looks at me with a mix of confusion and worry on his face. “Are you alright?”
My hand wanders up to my face, and as I touch my cheek, I realize I had started crying. I quickly wipe away the tears and give him a kind smile. “Yeah, I’m okay. I was just… reminded of something,” I respond.
After he leaves, I read my last sentences again and close the document. Suddenly, it feels like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, a weight I had been carrying for the past five years. I did it. I told his story. All of it. When people think of someone they have lost, especially in this kind of way, they usually only tell the bad parts. So did I. I wrote about the note he left, about the time I had to beg him to let me help him, the time I turned my face away from him so he didn’t see me cry, the way I begged him not to leave. I wrote about every single breakdown, about every single emotion I had felt. But that wasn’t the point of this story. It was his story, a story I had never wanted to tell because he was supposed to tell it, but he didn’t get the chance.
And so I wrote about his laughter and the way he constantly made bad jokes. I wrote about the things he loved and the things he hated, I wrote about his addiction to caffeine and music, about the days we spend walking around the city or swimming in the lake. And I wrote about his family and his friends and every single person that had liked him. I never wanted to tell his story, but in the end, I did.
I open up the document one last time, but not to write something. Instead, I add in another page, one last page, leaving it completely blank. Because even though I have told his story now, it was meant to be longer.