In the spirit of generating new work in the new year, Writing By Writers held our forth annual Short Short Writing Contest to win free tuition to the WxW Generative Workshop in Boulder. The rules were simple. 300 words and the short short could be fiction, non fiction or memoir, but it had to contain a New Year’s resolution, a Mustang or a mustang, the name of a Mountain Range, a reference to a seventies song, comfort food, and hope.
Our five winners are Amy Blakemore, John Bolger, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, Jean Reinhold and Melanie Simonich. The entries appear below and all winners will be reading their work in Boulder. Come join us!
A sleeping person is a strange object, Jeffrey thought. He was watching Malcolm sleep again, of course. Mom had just bought him Philosophy for Beginners for Christmas, and he was full of theories. Like, if you replaced a plank on ship, was it still the same ship? If he pulled a strand of hair from Malcolm’s head, was it still the same head. The head with that thick, blonde hair. Hair like a horse’s tail—a palomino’s, maybe a mustang’s.
He plucked a hair and put it in his pocket. Malcolm didn’t move. His face was quiet and open as a sun porch—bright like vanilla bean ice cream.
Jeffrey wondered what else he could do without waking Malcolm up. That was the if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest question. Like, if he gave up his secrets to the Appalachian trail, was that considered a confession? If “Jealous Guy” played on the kitchen radio when no one was home, had he ever really swayed to it? Etcetera.
Malcolm smacked his lips in his sleep; Jeffrey wanted smell his ears. But he wanted many things and he needed to think. He wanted his parents to pay for his college. He wanted to be a good person—no: a Good Person. He wanted Philosophy for Experts.
Jeffrey realized that Malcolm was awake and staring up at him. The adults were downstairs watching a glittering ball move closer to the earth. If they looked away, they would miss it entirely. They were shouting numbers and some of them would kiss.
Malcolm rubbed his eyes with his fist. “What’s going on?”
Jeffrey hugged him, just around the shoulders. A Good Hug. “I’m going to be a better big brother this year,” he said. “I promise.”
The mare died around three in the morning. I could hear Dad inside, cursing as she bellowed and kicked, hammering the boards. Then was silent.
I was holding Robby back, he was crying.
The barn was covered in blood, Dad didn’t want him to see it. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw Dad looking down at her, then at the bloody mucus-covered alien.
Dad, I knew, was weighing the odds: 50/50 at best. He glanced at us, I looked away immediately.
Then he took the sponge from the bucket, started to clean it off.
An hour later, Dad called for us. The foal was clean, and so was the barn.
We watched as she tried, then unsteadily stood.
She looked around for a while, then took a step toward her dead momma. Dad told us to help. We hugged her close and got her to drink the bottle Mom had heated.
Her hide was soft and wet and warm. Moss or velvet after a summer rain.
Mom made us a big breakfast of our own: scrambled eggs with potatoes, biscuits and gravy, sausage and bacon, the defrosted orange juice Robby loved.
We’d been up all night.
Robby cried into his plate. I bit my tongue, New Year’s I said I’d stop teasing him.
Mom tried humming, Momma don’t let your babies–
But her voice broke.
She’d found the mustang. Her special girl.
I went upstairs.
Through the window, the white peaks of the Medicine Bow were just starting to show, a pale ghost slowly materializing in the sky.
Robby was playfully running back and forth outside the barn, egging the foal to chase him, the youngling curious, excited, head nodding as she’d tentatively step, and then bound after him.
Like a happy puppy.
A new best friend.
Gobi Winter Night
María E. Fernández-Giménez
It’s February 1995 and Ikh Bogd, the highest peak in the Gobi Altai Range, grows on the horizon as our Mongolian driver plays Smokey Robinson tunes on the tape deck and we bounce across the frozen steppe towards Khar Us, our winter camp at the edge of the Gobi desert. We pass a herd of Mongolian ponies, sturdy as mustangs, turned loose to forage for themselves across the snowy steppe. Here, Bactrian camels are the winter steed, two-humped with thick fur, winsome eyelashes, and a ground-covering amble. When we arrive, Baysagalan serves us steaming bowls of salty milky tea followed by mutton and noodle soup, Mongolian comfort food. The two young boys, Sutkee and Bande, and their four older sisters gather around. The eldest, Battsetseg, is a widow with 2 children at 22. Their parents Baysagalan and Sukhbat ask about our journey. How is the weather in Ulaanbaatar? What price is raw cashmere fetching? Did our Mongolian colleagues appreciate the frozen sheep carcass we took as carry-on luggage on our December flight to UB? It is Tsagaan Sar eve, the Lunar New Year. A celebration in the depth of winter, when the nighttime temperatures plummet to -40oC. It is the dawn of democracy, the stumbling start of a free market, the renaissance of open religion. So much hope and expectation. So much vulnerability. A decade later Bande is crushed to death in a mining accident, Battsetseg has three more children with an abusive man, and the community loses 75% of all their livestock in a terrible winter storm. As we crawl into our sleeping bags, I resolve to remember this night, and the kinship of sleeping in one round felt tent—eight Mongolians, two Americans, and several snuffling early-born lambs–breathing together the felty darkness of the Gobi night.
A Legion on the Liver
This isn’t about Vladimir, who started with, “I have the greatest respect and sympathy for you.” Or how he handed me pants and asked if I thought they’d fit. Nor is it about earlier in the week when Kim sang me the Hollie’s song, “All that I need is the air that I breathe” which made me want to suffocate my doubt with a tub of cheesy potato hash. This isn’t about how Vlad said, so nervously and politely, “Let’s try, it might work.” Nor is it about when I finally realized he was trying to tell me that I wasn’t going to fit into the MRI machine. It surely isn’t about the moment I didn’t fit, or when he said, again, with his Russian accent, “I have the greatest respect and sympathy for you,” which made me want to drive my Honda CRV like it was a ‘65 Mustang to Pedernal, which is not a mountain range, but a big hill with its head chopped off. This is about a woman at the pool, who cried out, “Joy!” so loudly we all turned to look, then worried, scurrying to her. She’s large, 500 pounds, and never walks except when buoyant in the water. We realized she was calling out our teacher’s name, “Joy, Joy,” even though it sounded like her own hope shouting. This is about her, how she pulled herself up to the tippy top, and seeing her do that made me cry so hard I stopped doing Ai Chi. I just stood there in the quiet water, while others were enclosing and folding and flowing, silent sobbing, having never seen anything more beautiful in my whole long life. Then, because of her, I began to move. I lifted my arms, and started to move again.
From Albania, With Care
If you are not careful in Albania, you can mistake mountains for storm clouds.
I have not been careful in Albania.
I think about forgiveness as we bump across Alexander the Great’s battle plain.
I try not to look at my father as he tells me about God.
“The world,” he says, “something started it. But it is up to us to care for each other.”
The road forces my nod but every pothole drops my stomach.
I hum a song my mother taught me the summers we spent alone eating grits.
I imagine Alexander charging across this plateau to the tune of “Say You Love Me,” trade its donkeys for his mustangs, trade my father for an old man who doesn’t recognize a war is coming.
I came here to forgive. So far, all I’ve managed is anger.
If you are not careful, you might believe the hillsides ramping to Krahina Malore Qendrore are beautiful. But, if you are like me, you are old enough now to know beauty is often a lie.
Later, I ask him how anyone could want me if he didn’t. The closest I get to forgiveness is sadness. The closest I get to hope is resolving to fill this void.
Right now though, I am watching Mali i Thatë’s parched slopes slip by. My father’s profile splits the view: the Bay of Bones drowning the past, the mystic’s monastery rising high.
I am not careful. Tears blur earth to sunset to bloody mauve.
I’ve learned enough to know a wound cannot heal unless you admit it needs care. And you cannot admit it needs care unless you are willing to call it a wound.
The mountainside gapes before us. There is no thunder, only empty air waiting to be filled.