Writer's Digest was running a short story contest (the due date is tomorrow). The subject was "You return home to find out that your house as been condemned." Usually, I see these contests and pass right by them. I am insanely busy with a non-fiction project. Writing anything fiction right now just hasn't been happening, but I reached a major deadline in my other project and decided to give myself a treat and tackle this short piece of fiction.
It had to be less than 750 words. I figured that was no problem. I write 500 word essays every week - hammer them out in about an hour. One night and I should have this in the bag, right? Wrong. I wrote, I revised. I had too many words and had to cut. I decided to go in a different direction . . . LOL It turned into a mini-saga all of its own. In the end, I think I spent about five hours on it. I sent it into Writer's Digest last night. I came in at 749 words! I have no expectation of winning, but it was still fun to delve back into fiction. I've missed it and look forward to getting back into it. So, I thought I would share the story with you. Hope you enjoy it :)
I had never planned to return here, to this place where I had grown up. I had ran away years before, placed the “For Sale” sign firmly in the ground and hauled away all the old memories to the dump after the liver disease had finally won its battle with my father and I had buried him in St. Michael’s Cemetery, next to my mother who had been waiting there since three days after I was born. There was nothing left for me here, but here I stood, compelled by a news story to get in my car and drive for four hours.
A tornado in Western Massachusetts? That couldn’t be. Could that pile of rubble on the screen actually be my high school? I had walked there each day with my best friend Kathy Miller who lived next-door, smoking cigarettes and trying to hike up our Catholic school uniform skirts as far as Sister Principal would allow them to go.
Kathy’s home was my refuge, a safe haven from the storm that was my father, who would come home from his job at the mill, silent and angry, ready for his evening routine that generally involved falling asleep in a drunken stupor. I was a living reminder of the woman he loved and lost. I don’t think he ever forgave God for taking her away. He certainly never forgave me. Mrs. Miller was my surrogate mother. She had eight children of her own, but she always had room for one more. She made sure I went to Church on Sunday, and made me clothes, and told me about the things a young woman needed to know.
Kathy and I had such big plans. But, she fell in love with Bobby our junior year and our dreams were thrown away like yesterday’s newspaper. The week after graduation, I wore a ridiculous pink dress with a big bow as I stood there as a bridesmaid with a pasted-on smile while my heart felt like a stone sinking to the bottom of a murky pond. She moved to Ohio, had three kids by the time she was twenty-three, and I never heard from her again. I always wondered what happened to her – always missed my friend. I left Springfield and never looked back. I had exchanged Christmas cards with her mother until she died. I should have come back for her funeral, but I didn’t. I had always regretted that.
I parked at the end of street and walked, retracing the steps of my childhood, climbing over felled trees and around pulled up sidewalks. The street was crowded – some people working hard to remove debris, others handing out water and lemonade, still others simply watching. I made my way past a painted wooden sign, “Bless this Mess,” invoking God’s protection over a home completely destroyed.
My house and Kathy’s had huge oak trees lying across them and branches and items strewn across the yard. The roofs had collapsed and windows were shattered. They were marked with giant X’s – already condemned by the city, apparently making quick work of declaring places inhabitable. A photo rested on the ground. The glass was broken, but the faces smiled back at me – parents and three children, standing in front of the fireplace in the living room that no longer existed. I was glad that they had brought some happiness to this place that had been so sad for so long.
When I looked over at Kathy’s yard, I stared at a teenage girl gathering up branches. The girl’s hair was shorter and brown rather than blonde, but she looked so much like Kathy. Could it be?
An older woman emerged from the back yard. She saw me, and looked away, then looked again.
“Oh my goodness, Donna, is that really you?”
She nodded and came towards me. We embraced in a big hug and the years melted away. We were young again, sharing our deepest secrets.
“Do you live here?” I asked.
“No, my niece and nephew bought the place after Mom died. We’re just here helping clean up. Can you believe this?”
I shook my head. “it’s incredible.”
“Oh, but it is so good to see you,” she said. “I’ve thought about you so much over the years.”
“Me, too,” I said. “It’s been far too long.”
She took my hand and led me back to her family. She introduced me, “I’d like you to meet one of my oldest and dearest friends.”