Joy of the Pen 2019
The Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award: Candace Guerette for Boy in the Yellow Raincoat
Fiction Honorable Mention: Shannon Bowring for The Backyard Palace
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award: Robin Hansen for What Ewe Said
Poetry Honorable Mention: John Reinhart for Third Book From the Last, Top Shelf
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award: April Leavenworth for The Pawn
Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Deanna J. Baxter for A Snapshot of Erma
TPL Teen Fiction Award: Will Kinney for Confession
TPL Teen Poetry Award: Myah Garrison for Mary
Just Write Maine-related Nonfiction Award: Robin Hansen for Eternally Green
Maine-related Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Mike Giggey for The Budding Outdoorsman
Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award
Boy in the Yellow Raincoat by Candace Guerette
Cindy stood at her sink looking out into the backyard as she washed her breakfast dishes; one glass, one plate, one cup, one fork, one spoon, and one knife. She’d been a widow for some time and thought she should have gotten over the loneliness by now. But she hadn’t really. It snuck up on her every now and again. Like now as she looked into her backyard watching the rain fall softly on the garden; their garden. Keeping busy with community involvement helped fill the void but didn’t ease the loneliness. Cindy was shaken from her daydream by the sound of the doorbell. She grabbed the towel, drying her hands as she went to answer it, wondering who it could be at seven am.
Opening the door, she was surprised to find a small child in a yellow raincoat with an oversized backpack standing on her door stoop. The child looked up at her and offered an envelope with her name neatly printed on it. She glanced up and down the street but saw no cars, only the neighbor balancing an umbrella as she walked her dog, a few kids huddled together at the bus stop and a bicyclist in a red jacket a few blocks away. “Little one, where did you come from? Are you lost? Are you alone?” The child stared up at her. Cindy stood wondering what to do. After a few moments, she opened the door a little wider. “Come in out of the rain while I read the letter.” She put her hand out. The small face looked up at her and took her hand. She noticed how little and cold the hand was. “What’s your name, little one?” Her question was met with silence. “Please, tell me your name.” , again silence. She bent down to bring her face closer. “Can you hear me?” The child nodded. Cindy decided to let it go for now. “Let’s get you out of that wet raincoat and see what’s going on.” She removed the backpack. “That’s an awful heavy backpack for a little one like you. She set the backpack on the floor, then undid the raincoat’s snaps and slid it off. As soon as the coat was off, the child lunged for the backpack, clutching it dearly. She was startled by the fear in the child’s eyes. Shaking off an uneasy feeling, she began to quiz the child again. “So, you’re a little boy. How did you get here? How old are you? Why are you alone?”
No answer came. Cindy guessed him to be about four or five years old. She found herself looking into big brown eyes framed with long lashes, a freckled nose, and rosy cheeks, all under a tangle of longish brown hair. He was dressed entirely in navy blue. From the opening of his V-neck sweater, she saw he was wearing a Cub Scout shirt with the gold handkerchief slide peeking through. Cindy wondered where that came from as she knew he wasn’t old enough to be a Cub Scout.
“Come into the kitchen and I’ll make you some hot chocolate.” She picked up the backpack, took his hand and led him down the hall into the kitchen. After helping him onto a chair at the kitchen table, she quickly made the cocoa as he watched silently. Cindy dropped a marshmallow into the cup as she set it before him. She took the chair next to him before opening the letter. After a few seconds, she gasped. “Oh, my!” Turning to look at the little boy who sat quietly stirring his hot chocolate.
Dear Mrs. Marsh, my name is David and I am almost 4 years old. My birthday is February eighth. My mother, my brother Jason and I were in a car accident 6 months ago. Jason died at the scene. I had a broken arm and my mother was in a coma with brain injuries. She died two months ago, never regaining consciousness. My father can’t take care of me right now and he hopes you are willing to look after me for a short time My Dad used up all his vacation and sick leave taking care of me and visiting Mom. Mom and Dad have no family and we were new to the area so there was no one to help out. Eventually, Dad lost his job and our house. We ended up in the family shelter. My Dad just got hired as a long-haul trucker. He started this morning. Dad didn’t want to leave me alone in the shelter and he couldn’t take me with him in the truck. He’s praying you will take me in until he gets on his feet. My Mom really admired you. She worked from home for a media clipping service. Your name popped up a lot in the local papers. Mom pointed you out to Jason and me one day at the grocery store. She whispered to us about how good you are; all the time you put into the community, helping people. Giving back, she said you called it. She told us that when we got older, she was going to start volunteering, because we were so fortunate. She wanted to give back too. Mom told us the world would be a better place if there were more people like you in it. I am a good boy. I used to be a happy all the time, but not much now. I haven’t spoken since the accident. May I stay with you?
Cindy finished the letter and looked at the boy who was quietly staring at her. She put her hand out to him, gently pulling him towards her as she helped him off the chair. “David, come sit on my lap. I think you could use a hug this morning.” Cindy was surprised at how quickly he responded, settling himself on her lap and resting his head on her shoulder. It was all she could do not to cry as she studied him. He seemed so small and frail. Those big brown eyes she now realized were sad eyes. How hard the last six months must have been on David and his Dad. Cindy remembered back to her own childhood. Her family was always pulling together when times get tough. Lending a hand, food or bed to one another when need be. She couldn’t imagine what it must be like to not have that support.
“Well, David, it seems you’ve a new home for a while. Why don’t we go upstairs so you can see where you’ll be sleeping?” She took his hand and led him up the staircase into the smaller of the two spare rooms. “How does this room look to you? Let’s see what’s in your backpack. You can use the bottom drawers in this dresser. You’ll be able to reach them.” Cindy laid the backpack on the bed; inside, neatly folded, were five briefs, four pairs of socks, two pairs of pajamas, four pants, five shirts, slippers and a fleece. A teddy bear was crammed into the outside pocket. She caught her breath when she realized this was all David owned. “David let’s go to the store and get some groceries. I don’t think I have much in the house for little boys.”
Cindy decided to go to Wal-Mart since it was a bigger store and she’d be less likely to run into anyone she knew. She purchased foods she thought were kid friendly. Occasionally, she’d need to bend down to ask David if he liked a cereal, juice or vegetable. David answered the question by nodding or shaking his head. The shopping trip made her realize taking care of him would be harder than she’d thought since he communicated only through nods.
That night as she was putting David to bed, he took the Cub Scout shirt and placed it on the back of the chair next to his bed. He then carefully hung the neckerchief on top of the shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles. He quietly crawled into bed hugging his teddy bear. Cindy tucked him in, ruffling his hair before turning on the nightlight, leaving the door ajar as she left.
Taking her laptop into her bedroom, Cindy desperately scoured the internet looking for auto accidents involving women and kids. She found four which fit the time frame the letter had given. Two of the accidents involved girls and the other involved an infant. The last one fit the timeline but didn’t give much detail. Cindy folded her trembling hands onto her lap and turned her face upward. She whispered; “What am I going to do? Tell me. Call the police or children’s services? They’d only place him in a foster home. After all, it’s not like I kidnapped him. The letter is clear. The father is entrusting him to me. I am a Christian woman; this child was sent to me for a reason. I will not question the reason and will accept this responsibility.” She sat up straighter and squared her shoulders. Determination set in as Cindy vowed, she would make this work. She would tell people the truth, sort of. He was the son of a cousin who’d recently died. His father asked her to take care of him until he got back on his feet. She was only too happy to help.
Cindy and David soon fell into a pattern. She signed him up for the church’s pre-school class and the library’s story time; all places she volunteered at. Everyone seemed to believe her story and the reason why David didn’t talk. No one asked her for a parent’s signature except for the doctor’s office. But when she explained she couldn’t reach the boy’s father; the office manager ignored the rule. After all, she organized their immunization clinic for low-income children every year.
During one of the library’s story times Cindy snuck away. She needed to find out more about this little boy. As much as she dreaded it, she knew she had to go to the homeless shelter. As she pulled into the parking lot, her pulse quickened. She knew about the shelter and the work it did. She’d even helped with a fundraiser for it. At the shelter’s door, she took a deep breath before entering. Cindy stepped into a wide hallway, which had a large accessible area at the end of it. As she walked down the hallway, the smell of stale bodies, disinfectant and food almost made her gag. She entered the room and looked around. There were men and women mingling about. Some were playing cards, others reading, some napping. A group of men were yelling at the television where a baseball game was playing. In a separate corner, were boys and girls of all ages. Someone had made a failed attempt to make the kids’ area bright and cheerful by painting a misshapen florescent rainbow on the wall. Children were participating in several activities; some were coloring, a few sat watching a video, while a half-dozen appeared to be napping on mats. Under a window, a young man was reading to a group of laughing children, circled around him on a carpet. Cindy shuddered as she imagined the filth in the carpet. She noticed an open door on the left and walked through the doorway into an empty waiting room. Dingy didn’t describe it as she ran her finger along a dust covered shelf, immediately rubbing her hands together to shake off the grime. Plaster was peeling on the ceiling, flakes of it on the tattered furniture. The windows were gray and so streaked with grime they made the outside look almost black and white. As Cindy got her bearings, she noticed a door ajar in the corner, crossing the room she knocked on it tenuously, saying hello as she did so.
Soon a man appeared in the doorway. He was slender, clean shaven with graying hair. Cindy guessed him to be mid-fifties and most probably the boss, although he didn’t dress like one. He had on blue jeans, a denim shirt over a gray t-shirt and work boots. But then again, a homeless
shelter manager wouldn’t dress like a banker, she thought. He greeted her with a big smile, grasping her hand firmly in his.
“Good morning, I’m Ted Jefferson, the shelter’s director Can I help you?”
“I’m not sure, but I do hope so.”
Then, God help her, she began to lie. “I’m Cindy Marsh. I’m looking for a little boy and his Dad. I met them at one of the library’s story hours. The father brought him a few times, then they stopped coming. He called the boy David. I’m sure you’d remember the boy. He had big brown eyes. Anyway, the father won a $50 gift card. I’d like to get it to him. He shared that they stayed here for a few weeks when they first came to town. Do you have any contact information, so I can mail him the card? I have a feeling they could use the money.” Cindy removed an envelope from her purse, showing it to him.
Ted looked at her quizzically, one eyebrow raised, his left hand rubbing his chin. She could tell he was considering if he should believe her story. Finally, he answered her. “Ma’am, the shelter works with and for people insuring a high level of confidentiality. I cannot break that trust. I can tell you father and son were here for a short spell. I don’t know how to get ahold of them. The shelter doesn’t require addresses when they leave. The gentleman did not wish to share that information with us when he left. However, I can tell you the man is a wonderful father. The way he cared for his son within the drama of the shelter was impressive. The boy was very quiet. I’m not sure I ever heard him talk. The father never left the boy’s side. Even at night he opted to share a cot with the boy to make sure he was close and safe. We don’t often get dads like that here. Sorry I can’t help you.” Ted finished with a shrug “Let me see you out.” He led her to the door watching as she made her way down the stairs.
Cindy turned halfway down the stairs thanking him, adding; “You know I can probably get someone to donate a carpet cleaning if you’re interested.” He looked down at her, a frown passed across his face and was swiftly replaced by a smile. “Could you? It’s been awhile since we had the carpets done and our budget is tight. Good luck with your search. Hey, if you don’t find them, we could always use the gift card.” He gave her a wave before closing the door.
As she walked back to her car, Cindy mulled the conversation over. She wasn’t at all disappointed with her visit to the shelter. Ted hadn’t shared a lot, but what he did share was helpful. She now knew that David had a caring and loving father. The circumstances described in the letter may be true. She was also sure that David didn’t talk during his time at the shelter.
That night she woke up to what sounded like a wounded animal’s cries. They went right through her. She bolted out of bed racing down the hall into David’s bedroom. She found David sitting up holding the bedpost. The heart wrenching noise was coming from him. He was shaking from head-to-toe, sobbing uncontrollably with tears streaming down his cheeks. Cindy picked him up, rocking back and forth as she carried him into the bathroom. She set him down on a bench. Her heart pounding in her chest. She struggled to calm herself as she ran a washcloth under some warm water. Crouching down, she tried to soothe him, while gently wiping the tears away. She noticed David’s collar was damp, giving her an indication of just how long he’d been crying. She caught herself fighting back tears. After giving him some
water, Cindy carried David back to bed and tucked him in. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll stay here next to you for the rest of the night.” She settled into the chair next to his bed and sang softly. That’s where she spent the rest of that night and many nights afterward.
Eventually, the nightmares stopped but, Cindy knew David had a long way to go before his fearfulness would disappear, if ever. He always took her hand every time they went out, becoming agitated if she let go. He was never more than a few feet from her except for story time or Sunday school. He appeared to enjoy being around other children and laughed along with them. He even hummed along with the choir at church. A few individuals expressed concern about him not talking, quickly dropping it when she explained he’d recently lost his mother. “Time heals”, Cindy told them. She was trying to believe that herself.
It was Halloween when she found the picture. They’d just returned from Trick-or-treating. Since it was misty out Cindy put his raincoat on over his Spiderman costume. Because of the weather she only took him to their six closest neighbors. Not a lot of candy, but fun for him. He’d walk up the steps, knocking on the doors, greeting everyone with a smile, holding his bag out. She kept her fingers crossed and hoping he’d say Trick-or-treat. He didn’t, but just stood smiling up at them holding.
Returning home, Cindy left him with one of the treats while she hung up his raincoat. She felt something in the pocket, reaching in she pulled out a picture. She turned the light on to see it more clearly. What a happy looking family, Cindy thought. Two boys were standing in front of a smiling couple. She knew David was the smaller of the two boys. The older boy was dressed in a Cub Scout uniform and was grinning from ear to ear with a blue ribbon in his hand. The mother was smiling, looking down at her sons, a hand on each of their shoulders. The father had his arm around his wife’s waist, pulling her towards him, looking into the camera a big grin spread across his face. It was his eyes Cindy noticed. They were just like David’s, big and brown. Another piece of the puzzle of David. What a happy looking family, Cindy thought. Cindy hugged herself to stop the chill which had just come over her. What a loss, from a happy family to a broken one. She understood David’s sadness and fear. She wasn’t sure about sharing the picture with him, so she carefully tucked it back into the pocket
The next day after she dropped David off at story time she returned home. She needed to get some of her warmer jackets out of the cedar closet over the garage. When Cindy entered the garage, she noticed one of the windows was opened a crack. She looked around to see if anything had been disturbed, seeing nothing she shook off an uneasy feeling. When she opened the door to the crawlway, she saw some clothing folded neatly in the corner. She didn’t remember leaving clothes there and they didn’t look familiar. As she walked towards them, she let out a screech. A man lay in a sleeping bag on a pad in the corner of the room. He jumped up and started to run away from her, even though there was no place to go.
She grabbed a nearby pitchfork holding it in front of her, jabbing towards the man. “Who are you? Why are you hiding in my garage?” She screamed at him as she moved towards him, pitchfork firmly held in front of her. The man stood still and looked at her. Cindy noticed his big brown eyes. As he opened his mouth to answer, she cut him off. “Are you David’s father?”
“Yes, I am. My name is John. I’ve been living up here, so I could see David. I just couldn’t bear being away from him. Because you were taking such loving care of him, I kept my distance so neither of you would see me.”
“How long have you been living here?”
“About three months.”
“So, what have you been doing, sneaking in? How did the neighbors never see you?”
“I’d come in through the window at night. I never turned the lights on. I used a cooler to keep my food in and showered at a truck stop. I’m on the road four or five days a week driving cross country hauls. I’d take the bus from the trucking office and wait until dark to come in.”
She looked back at the pile of clothes, noticing a red jacket on the floor. She remembered seeing a man in a red jacket outside of the library, and again at church. The memory of the bicyclist came to mind. “Have you been following us?”
“Yes, I go to church in sit in the back just to see him or I wait outside the library. He looks so happy. I can see it in his eyes. There is no way I can thank you enough or repay you.”
Cindy’s looked down as she tried to gather her thoughts and stem the tide of emotions running through her. Looking up, she met John’s gaze. “Now that you’ve been discovered, what you are planning to do? I’ve come to love David as if he were my own and would hate to lose him.”
“I don’t want to lose him either. May I stay here?”
Cindy slowly lowered the pitchfork. She continued to stare quietly at John for moment, giving him the once over as she gathered her thoughts. She turned slowly, walking away from him. She motioned for him to follow her. “It’s time for me to pick up David. Why don’t you come with me?”
After years of working in a non-profit, Candace is enjoying writing for pleasure instead of for work. She’s been writing fiction and non-fiction for the last five years.
Fiction Honorable Mention
The Backyard Palace by Shannon Bowring
They bought the little yellow house two months after their wedding. The leaves had begun to turn, emerald green to pale citrine; the sun tucked itself behind the clouds a little earlier each evening.
Harley chopped wood in the backyard and came inside for dinner, hearty casseroles Lyn laid out in vintage Pyrex dishes. “Good thing we have that shed,” he said, nodding to the small outbuilding at the edge of the property, which they could just see from the window by their kitchen table. “Fit the whole cord in there, easy.”
Lyn was thirty-two; Harley five years older. She had denounced marriage most of her life. But when she met Harley, with his twinkling blue eyes, muscled chest, and strong, beautiful hands—that was it. He was easy, but he wasn’t simple. Often Lyn had no idea what he was thinking; if she asked, he’d tell her with a crooked smile. “Wondering how I might fix that old watch Pop gave me,” he’d say. Or, “Just remembering that night we went skinny dipping down at the quarry.” Then he’d wink at her, and Lyn would feel a pleasant tingle in her thighs.
After his first wife had left him just before his thirtieth birthday, Harley had sworn he’d be alone the rest of his life. But one August morning, Lyn showed up at the gas station he owned, asking if she could sell her homemade baked goods to his customers. He’d been mesmerized by her blonde hair, her deep green eyes, and those long legs, tanned and muscled from bike rides she took under the hot summer sun. She laughed as he sampled
her cinnamon donuts, sugar sticking to his lips. “I get the feeling you could use some sweetening up,” she said.
In the first months of their marriage, Lyn would leave the warmth of the little house to join Harley in the yard. He taught her how to wield the ax, to split the pieces of wood straight down the middle. “Halves and then quarters,” he instructed, fixing her grip on the handle. “Nothing to it.”
Before the cord of wood filled the shed completely, Lyn brought Harley inside. Pale light filtered through the grimy windows, and the little room smelled like oak and sunshine. “Kiss me here,” she whispered, feeling the rough stubble of his jaw against her collarbone. She removed her blouse. “And here.”
It was easy, in those early days. Easy to curl against him in the morning, to fall asleep to his reassuring snores each night. It was easy to fix the leaky faucet and rake up dry leaves together as they laughed and dreamed of days to come. Easy to love one another, to believe they always would.
First there was one miscarriage, then a second, and one more after that. Lyn hadn’t wanted children during her best fertile years, and now the doctors guessed she had waited too long.
Harley asked her what she’d like to do.
“Get rid of that damn woodstove, for one thing,” she said. The dry air in the house gave her nosebleeds all winter long. She’d discard one Kleenex after another, splashed with red like poppies in a field of snow. They both knew the stove had nothing to do with the
miscarriages, but Harley indulged her anyway, got the oil heater in the basement working again. With the money he made from selling the remainder of their wood, he bought her a ruby necklace on a delicate silver chain.
That summer, Lyn asked Harley to convert the shed into an artist’s studio. He painted the siding her favorite shade of blue and lugged in his father’s old drafting table, a spare wooden chair, and a wobbly bookcase. Lyn tacked cheap Edward Hopper prints to the whitewashed walls and hung up lacy pink curtains that billowed in the breeze from the two small windows. She lined the shelves and windowsills with glass vases, which she filled with white daisies, purple irises, goldenrod.
After Harley left for the gas station early on those hot, bright mornings, Lyn would fill a mug of coffee and trudge out to the shed, the freshly mown grass tickling the soles of her feet. The air smelled green. The peonies were blooming. Lyn’s heart was eating itself from the inside out.
Sometimes she’d try to draw or paint, sitting at the drafting table, sweat trickling down her spine. Mostly she just sat there, staring through the windows up at the tree branches, leaves full and bursting with life. She wept. She waited. She returned to the yellow house, and she made supper for Harley.
“How’d it go today?” he’d ask, kissing the top of her head while she stirred rice on the stove, steam clouding her glasses. “Paint a new masterpiece?”
Lyn would turn her attention to the other burner, flipping chicken breasts over as butter sizzled in the frying pan. “It was good,” she’d tell him. “I really think I’m onto something.”
Some nights, after Harley fell asleep—his snoring was getting worse—Lyn would rise in silence and creep through the house. Down the narrow hallway, past the nursery where the crib still stood half-assembled from their second try. Through the living room, spines of books on the shelves gleaming in the moonlight. Into the kitchen, dishes clean and stacked in the drying rack. Lyn made sure to stop the screen door from slamming shut before making her quick, sure way back to the shed. Crickets chirped; bullfrogs croaked.
The shed still smelled faintly of oak, of sunshine. But now there were other scents in that little room where Lyn stood alone in the dark. Oil and turpentine, blank canvas, and the sweet, slow decay of all the flowers in their pretty vases.
In those midnight hours, the shed was the church Lyn had never attended. A nameless god sat outside on the roof, or maybe he hung from the tree branches, catching fireflies on his tongue. Lyn would pluck petals from daisies, murmuring the names she’d never give her unborn babies, and she’d wonder about that god. Try to understand the kind of deity who would take a child back into his world before they could even draw their first breath in this one.
Loves me not, Lyn would sigh, petals scattered at her feet.
Loves me, she would murmur, remembering Harley.
In her mind, faces of the sons and daughters she would never hold.
Loves me not. Loves me not. Loves me not.
A miracle—that’s what Ruby was, and a day didn’t go by where Mama and Daddy didn’t remind her.
“An angel brought you down from heaven,” Mama said, “and planted you right here in my tummy, where you grew and grew.”
Daddy liked to tell Ruby stories about how he and Mama used to be, before she was born. “We were happy,” he said. “But we were a little sad, too. Because we knew you were missing. We were waiting for you.”
Ruby liked to stand before the mirror with them to see how they all looked alike and different. She had Daddy’s wavy, brown hair, but her eyes were green like Mama’s. Both her parents were tall and strong. People were always saying Ruby was small for her age, but that Mama and Daddy should still feel lucky. They said that word again—miracle.
Ruby would rather be a princess than a miracle. Being a miracle was hard work. At the doctor’s offices, in cold, white rooms, they poked and prodded at you with dry hands and sharp needles, trying to find the source of your magic. But being a princess was fun. When you were a princess, other people only wanted to admire your pretty gowns and glittering crowns and big, fancy castles.
Ruby knew she was born to be a princess, because she had her own castle, right behind the yellow house where she lived with Mama and Daddy. “The Backyard Palace,” Daddy called it, smiling in that way Ruby loved so much, one corner of his mouth turned down, a dimple in his scruffy cheek.
In the winter, Ruby’s castle was hidden behind big piles of soft, white snow. Sometimes she, Daddy, and Mama would build snow princesses all around the castle, and Mama would dye their dresses with food coloring—red and blue and green. Ruby perched her favorite tiaras on their icy, white heads.
The Backyard Palace was best in summer, when Ruby could leave the windows and door wide open and feel the warm air pushing its way inside. She and Mama had tea parties at the big table, and Daddy would bring out cookies on yellow plates, bowing at the waist as he served them. Mama painted murals on the walls and brought in fresh flowers every day. Ruby liked the wild roses best.
In Ruby’s castle, bad things like money and cauliflower were outlawed. So were shots and stethoscopes and medicine that smelled like cherries but tasted like rust and fear. There were no hospitals, no doctors in blue paper suits, no hard, metal tables under hot, too-bright lights. Instead, Ruby’s castle was filled with freshly baked treats and the sound of laughter. From the ceiling hung red paper hearts—whole, never broken down the middle like Ruby’s.
To enter the Backyard Palace, one needed to say the secret password. Only Mama and Daddy knew the phrase. Ruby whispered it to them as the leaves danced above them, tiny green buds drifting down in the hot breeze.
Miracle, she said, cupping her hands over their ears—Mama’s shaped like a pretty pink seashell, Daddy’s long like butterfly wings.
Ruby wasn’t sure why Mama sometimes cried when she stepped inside the Backyard Palace, or why Daddy would suddenly turn away and look out one of the little windows, his jaw muscles clenching up and down. “What’s wrong?” Ruby asked. Mama shook her head and told her not to worry. Daddy cleared his throat and knelt down before Ruby, taking her small hands in his big ones.
“What does the Princess want to do today?” he asked.
Ruby felt warm and alive inside. “Let’s build a moat,” she said.
Mama and Daddy nodded, their eyes fixed on Ruby’s, their voices soft. “That sounds good, baby girl,” they said. “Every castle needs a moat.”
The spring after Ruby died, Lyn took to bed for weeks. Mourning for her was stillness, darkness, silence. When Harley stood in one spot for too long, the crushing weight of their loss came tumbling down upon him. Mourning for him was movement, light, noise. He worked extra hours at the gas station. He finished trimming the windows in the kitchen, a project he’d abandoned after Ruby was born. He took up jogging, trashed his knees, didn’t care, kept running.
“Should I clean out her room?” Harley asked Lyn one evening, two months after the funeral. “We could donate her old clothes.”
“Don’t touch her things,” Lyn told him, burrowing deeper under the blankets. “Don’t even think about it.”
Harley cleaned the rest of the rooms instead, scouring the floors with bleach and vinegar, scrubbing the chrome shower fixtures until they gleamed, steaming stains out of the braided rugs. When there was nothing more to be done inside, Harley moved his attention outdoors.
The snow melted early that year. Harley cleaned the yard of debris—rotted leaves and forgotten rhinestone tiaras, relics of Ruby. He choked back tears and kept on going. Flowers pushed their way through the muddy ground—crocus, snowdrop, daffodil. Harley brought in a bundle of yellow tulips and left them on the nightstand for Lyn. She stared at them, saying nothing.
He began sleeping in the guest room—his snoring was the worst it had ever been, and he hated to keep Lyn awake. Late April, the insomnia began. Harley lay in bed for hours, staring at the ceiling bathed in pale moonlight. Images of Ruby slid through his mind like clouds scudding through gray sky. Her green eyes, too big for her face. Her stubby, clubbed fingers. The angry, crimson scar tracing its way from her clavicle down to her bellybutton—a souvenir of her last open-heart surgery.
Ruby. Their miracle baby. Born when Lyn was thirty-seven, Harley forty-two, long after they’d given up hope they’d ever have a child. Diagnosed with congenital heart failure minutes after she was born, her skin dusky, her mouth frozen in a cry that couldn’t burst forth from her underdeveloped lungs.
Ruby. Their princess. Given to them against all odds and then taken away six years later. Six years of suffering. Six years of waiting for the inevitable, but trying to give their perfect girl the best, happiest life she deserved.
Eventually the memories of Ruby drove Harley out of bed. He wandered through the house, wood floors cold against his bare feet. Sometimes he’d hear Lyn crying behind her closed door. He’d pause and then move on, down the hallway, past the living room and into the kitchen, where he slipped through the back door.
The shed still smelled like Ruby—bubble gum, cherry cough syrup, and a hint of coconut shampoo. Harley sat at the drafting table, still laid out with pink plastic tea cups. Moonlight tumbled through the windows; paper hearts dangled from the ceiling. Harley watched them tremble in the exhalations of his breath.
Harley remembered Lyn telling him that she would come out here before Ruby was born. She’d imagine the shed was some kind of church, and she’d pray for a child. Then Ruby was here, filling this space with her short, brilliant life—her Backyard Palace, they called it. And now Harley sat alone in this little space, watching paper hearts float above his head. He lay back on the rough wood floor, unyielding under his shoulder blades, and stared up at the hearts.
They looked so far away, like he was buried underground with his daughter, and they were staring up at the unreachable stars.
He spoke Ruby’s name in the dark. The shape of it floated on his tongue, a cherry-flavored gemstone.
The peonies died away, the irises, the daisies. In their place bloomed purple aster, white yarrow, orange daylilies. Brilliant bursts of color on the lawn. The leaves began to turn, emerald green to pale citrine.
One bright autumn morning, Harley took Lyn’s hand and led her out of the yellow house. They walked side by side across the lawn, both of them smiling sadly when they looked upon their daughter’s old swing-set, now rusting into the earth. Inside the old shed, faded paper hearts swayed from the ceiling, pink curtains fluttered in the cool breeze. The room smelled like oak, sunshine, a blank canvas, bubblegum.
Lyn looked around and sighed, laying a gentle finger upon the dusty table where long ago they would sit with Ruby, drinking pretend tea, giggling over nothing. Harley squeezed Lyn’s hand and pulled her closer.
“Kiss me here,” he whispered, his mouth a breath away from hers. He unbuttoned his flannel shirt. “And here.”
Shannon L. Bowring grew up in Aroostook County and now resides in Bath, where she works for the Patten Free Library. Her fiction has appeared in Silver Needle Press, Crack the Spine, The Seventh Wave, JMWW, The Maine Review, Sixfold, the Hawaii Pacific Review, and the Joy of the Pen online journal. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award, and her short story “A Marriage of Similars” won the Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award in 2016. From 2015-2017, Shannon ran a blog through the Bangor Daily News, centering around her adventures to used bookshops throughout Maine and New England. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Maine and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at USM Stonecoast.
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award
What Ewe Said by Robin Hansen
She licked it
She pawed it.
She begged it to breathe,
Her lamb, her first.
She pawed it until it bled,
But it never moved
It was a dream, I said to her,
picking up her limp
wet cold dead lamb.
A sad, a tragic, end but
a dream, a beautiful dream.
And now it’s gone.
I’m so sorry.
She bawled. She called.
She rubbed her face in
the place where the
lamb had dropped from
I took her to the barn
and shut her in the jug,
where I could watch her
To make sure she passed the
She jumped out and
stood in the barnyard
Calling for the lamb
that never drew breath.
I put her back in the jug
with another lamb.
I rubbed Other Lamb all over the
But she knew.
So did the lamb.
They both jumped out
and went different ways.
I caught her and held her,
lay along her back and
wept with her and
sang to her.
It was just a dream,
I told her. Only a
beautiful dream and now
I’m so sorry.
And we wept.
In the morning
I moved the pasture fence south.
In the morning she
jumped the electric fence.
She never did before.
And she went to
the place where the lamb
had fallen from her,
all dark and slimy
and waiting for life.
She spoke then,
as clear as could be:
It wasn’t a dream,
Because here is the very
It was right here.
It was real.
It was my lamb.
Born in Stephen King’s home state, Robin loves stories that ring true but have a twist of magic or off-ness—a blond European tribe kept as livestock in central Africa, mittens that become a compass when you’re lost, that sort of thing. She has a writing background in journalism and knitting traditions, but writes stories and poems when deeply moved. Her articles and stories have appeared in regional and national publications from Yankee Magazine to Family Fun and Saturday Evening Post.
Poetry Honorable Mention
Third Book From the Last, Top Shelf by John Reinhart
Opening the book,
she slipped the minute sample
of her DNA. Some piece
of her. Some piece would remain.
Slipping the book back
on the dusty shelf’ in the geography
section, a forgotten area
in a lost region of a library
nobody knew anymore. A book.
A story. Encoded, She slipped
out through the window
into the muddy garden, flowers
nodding to her in graceful
conspiracy, their thorns a wishing
well, a get well card
as if they could repair the chain
broken. Tears. Theirs, hers.
In the sky that night, a star
fell, shattering into a spiral
staircase, turning up and up and
up until she could no longer
see the rotting earth, her fiery tail
leaving black ash in the form
of a love letter, unrequited.
Look for me, she wrote, in between
where the trees whisper to themselves .
I sing in the empty spaces now.
In the tears, slipping between
and out, into everything.
Perpetually sharpening his fiddle at the crossroads, John Reinhart is an arsonist, father of three, and poet. He was born in Denver, which suffered major fires in the 1860s, leading city officials to change building code standards. A long distance admirer of Herodotus and William Butler Yeats, he has encouraged his children to play with matches from an early age.
The recipient of the 2016 Horror Writers Association Dark Poetry Scholarship, he’s won the Poetry Nook Weekly Contest and has been a Pushcart, Elgin, Rhysling, and Dwarf Stars awards nominee. His work ranges from fantastical to experimental, and has been published in Pedestal Magazine, Holy Shit!, Fleurs du Mal, Liquid Imagination, Popshot, Better Than Starbucks, and many others, various anthologies, and across seven collections of poetry. Find his work at http://home.hampshire.edu/~jcr00/reinhart.html, and on social media.
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award
The Pawn by April Leavenworth
At my poorest, I pawned the Tiffany jewelry he’d given me. When he left two years earlier, I wore one or both pieces (even though they didn’t match) every single day as I dragged my body through the motions of making myself presentable to the world. Wearing them was an homage to our broken love and a symbol of hope that we could repair it. The necklace, a small
diamond at the end of a simple, silver chain, cost him almost $1,000—it was a lofty gift for our first anniversary, when we were much younger and I was a full-time grad student and he barbacked at a fancy French restaurant. It was appropriate, though. We had thrown ourselves into this love as though we dove head first into the cavern of a deep, blue ocean. The reserved air of
our obsession sustained us as we sunk further; we weren’t worried about drowning then.
I thought I lost the necklace once, maybe two months after he was gone. I’d walked into my classroom and clutched my hand to my chest to feel the chain under my fingers, to reassure me that it was still there and that he still loved me. When I couldn’t feel it I stamped my hands all over my neck, my shoulders, my back. I retraced my steps through the hallways and it was
nowhere. I sent out an email asking the other faculty members to keep an eye out for the necklace and one wrote back that she would pray to St. Anthony for me. “It always works.”
I texted him later to tell him that it might be lost forever—we were texting almost daily then, inexplicably—and he said it was okay, that we could get another one. When?
I found it a day or two later strung over the pump that moves the driver’s side car seat up and down.
The other jewelry, a pair of drop-pearl earrings, had been my favorite. They weren’t as fancy as the diamond necklace, nor as expensive, but they were somehow sweeter. They were the dangling fruits of our labor, of a love that was comfortable and warm and honest. He handed the Tiffany box to me in the dim hallway of our crumbling North End apartment, a note tucked
inside—“Pearl earrings for the prettiest girl in the world”—in his all-capitals handwriting that was the signature of hundreds of other notes he’d written me before. It was our fifth anniversary then; we’d just come home from dinner where we’d sat at the bar of Aquitaine in the South End by accident. The wait for a table was an hour, so we squeezed into the two remaining bar stools
for a drink and an appetizer, staying there for several hours as the bartender gave us free champagne in celebration and a couple from Beacon Hill quietly paid our bill and left without a word.
It wasn’t the first time someone had paid our bill for us, actually. We’d had others tell us that our love reminded them of something of their own and they wanted to buy our pancakes, if that was okay.
At the counter of the pawn shop I laid out the earrings and necklace to be critiqued. What was their value? Were there scratches or nicks I couldn’t see? There were, of course. There had been for a while. My soul panged with hurt when the guy hovered a magnifying glass over each angle and curve of each piece and something new, some invisible flaw, was pointed out. I parted
with the earrings for $50. I took the necklace with me clutched in my palm, and sold it the next day to a coworker who was planning to give it to his wife, a recycled symbol of love.
I took the $350 and paid bills and bought a few Christmas presents and continued on with the mundane task of trying to make ends meet. It was all gone within a day or two—the jewelry, the money that came, ultimately, from his departure. What I couldn’t sell or erase or even blur were the moments they stood for, and him. Sometimes I still catch myself reaching for the
necklace—I am met by the empty space instead.
April graduated with a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in 2008. Since then, she has worked in the education field as an English teacher and educational therapist. Her first and favorite love is writing. She has been published in xojane.com as well as in journalistic capacities for the Boston Bruins and Martha Stewart Omnimedia. She mostly writes poetry and creative nonfiction, though she is currently seeking representation for her first middle-grade novel.
Nonfiction Honorable Mention
A Snapshot of Erma by Deanna J. Baxter
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is a statement you hear often, and most would agree is true. Wonder if you cannot find a valued picture of someone who made a difference in your life? Would it be possible to describe in a story an apt description of the person you have in mind? Granted, it would be a sketch done with broad strokes and then flecked or speckled with a colorful depiction.
The image in this drawing would be Erma and the setting another time other than the present. She grew up in the rural south, but within fifty miles of an urban area. Her family were sharecroppers who lived on what was still known as a plantation, even though it was the 1940s. In conversations, Erma presented a complex narrative of growing up. Usually her recollections were sparse, a memorable comment and then silence. Sometimes she would reminiscence. Other times, relate an observation regarding the turbulence of growing up in segregation and then living with the ramifications of striving for integration.
Erma was not striking in physical appearance. In some ways she was reticent to be noticed; not that she was aloof, but rather shy. She was chocolate brown in color with a hint of gold in skin tone. Her hair was worn short and cropped. The spiral curl in her hair presented a hefty bowl around her head. She was a few inches over five feet with a sturdy build. One characteristic you would remember was her smile which began with a twinkle in her eyes that permeated through her wide rimmed glasses, and ended with a big grin.
Erma’s walk was distinctive. Shoulders were bent slightly forward, and one foot was put straight in front of the other giving an impression of a purposeful rhythm. She seemed always to be in a bit of a hurry.
A noteworthy reminiscence was to hear Erma speak about the overseer of the plantation. A childhood memory was that the overseer before school each fall provided for all the sharecroppers’ children a pair of Buster Brown shoes. They were a prized possession. In the warmer months she and her siblings went barefooted. The hurtful part of this recollection was when school started, the white children all rode to their school in shiny yellow buses, but the black children walked to their separate school and when it rained or it was icy, the school bus driver would go by, hit the puddles and mud, and make a mess of their Buster Brown shoes.
In one conversation she shared her memories of the family’s livelihood – picking cotton. In the cotton fields the family picked as a unit. They would line up as a team. She was the youngest and her place was at the back of the line. There was a rhythm to the work and each had a particular responsibility. Erma’s was to pick up the loose sticks and debris. The cotton was placed in big sacks. It was back breaking work leaning and walking for long periods of time. The cotton was picked out of a protective case called a boll. Fingers would be numb and irritated, and nails would be patchy. Cotton was the cash crop and the family knew they were dependent upon a good harvest. Enough sacks of cotton had to be produced and sold to have money for the next year and to pay off debts to the land owner who provided the land, housing, tools and seed.
In Erma’s late teens the family moved off the plantation and headed to the urban area fifty miles away – Memphis. All that had been familiar was gone and there was no going back. There was one consistency – discrimination. They found a small apartment in a segregated low income neighborhood. The family lived among strangers with new customs and attitudes.
A friend of their family told Erma to look into attending a community college. A branch of the community college was located about five miles away. Anyone could attend, not just white people. Erma did have her high school diploma, but she had no job and no prospects. She was hesitant, but decided she had nothing to lose. There was little money in the family and none to be spent on frivolous items; therefore, she walked and located the college using the directions the friend had given her. Fortunately, a college counselor was available and with her assistance, Irma was registered and given a Basic Education Opportunity Grant. With the grant and Work Study, she could financially survive and go to school. It took her longer than the normal two years to graduate. With no money for transportation, she always walked to school and walked home. Sturdy black or brown work shoes that tied were extremely important, just like her Buster Browns.
After graduation, the community college hired Erma. She worked in several departments and eventually the academic dean’s office. Because of her strong work ethic, she was sought out to head up large mailing projects or other projects demanding organization and manual dexterity. She would study the project, line up a team of helpers and present the plan. There was the reminder that they had a mission and a goal to accomplish. Possibly, in the back of her mind she remembered a little girl who with her family worked as a team to harvest the cotton.
There were heated discussions at the work place regarding integration and anger over segregation. When Erma spoke her thoughts, they were conflicted. She did not want to experience harvesting cotton again with its back breaking work and small reward. What she would like to see and feel again was that sense of closeness and belonging she knew with her family and their peers. They harvested, they worshiped, and mourned together as a community. When they socialized they had good times and most importantly, they looked out for each other’s children. Erma was worried about the young black people. They had been thrust in the middle of a powerful struggle of moving towards civil rights versus those who wanted to honor the status quo. She lamented the lack of education and jobs plus the fracturing of the young people’s sense of community making them all too vulnerable for social mischief.
Normally Erma was not on the picket line marching, but what she did do was conduct her own ‘open house’. Her apartment was small but it was always open to family members including nieces, nephews and cousins. Their friends and maybe the friends’ friends would show up. They were welcomed. What they all had in common was that they needed help. Their needs were varied. Some were behind on the rent and had no place to go. They could have lost their jobs or had no job. All were confronting some personal crisis. Erma’s solution was to give them a quilt and they would sleep on the floor. Resources were pulled together for food. Erma knew how to comfort. She told them, “We don’t have much, but we have each other.” Soon enough one group would be gone, and another would arrive needing Erma’s encouragement and her know how on how to survive.
That snapshot of Erma has never been found. What is left is this verbal depiction of impressions. It is a broad sketch flecked and speckled with memories representing the character and the likeness of an unforgettable individual and friend.
Deanna is retired and enjoy writing as a hobby. It is a way to express her thoughts in a creative way utilizing her imagination, empathy and insight. Her goal is to present a story or a poem that captures the attention of the reader and also presents an awareness of a greater truth.
TPL Teen Fiction Award
Confession by Will Kinney
Father Wenceslaus McCready had been the pastor of a small parish in a northern New England town, never mind which, for nine years. His predecessor had fled the parish (or been reassigned, rather) in scandal—and from there no one would give him any other details when he asked, so he had stopped asking. He had pieced together that it involved a love for Johnnie
Walker Black and a parishioner’s husband, but that was all. Wenceslaus himself, a tall, paunchy, balding man, son of an Irish father and Croatian mother (the two had split ownership, and thus national representation, of his name exactly in half), had never slipped (entirely) into drink or the flesh or other evils like some men of the cloth, but he was a man troubled little by doubt, even less by faith, almost the ideal priest for this kind of place.
Fr. McCready now sat in a chair by the window in a small room, looking out the window at the receding sunlight of a Saturday afternoon in September. The confessional. To his left, an extra-small kneeler with a vertical screen attached to it if the penitents happened to like the (false) feeling of anonymity, and a chair across from him if they wanted to face him. Of course, Wenceslaus knew almost everyone who came in to the confessional by sight, regardless of what measures they took to conceal themselves, knew them if he didn’t see them by their irritatingly quavering voices, specific elements of their lives they revealed, sometimes even by what sins they told him. In this business, McCready thought, you can sometimes tell just by looking at
someone what their transgressions are.
He tapped his black-shoed foot on the tiles that made up the floor of the confessional, making a slight clap that soothed his growing frustration. While doing this, he checked his watch: 3:45 PM. He had been in here for thirty minutes, and perhaps three people had come in. In a quarter of an hour, the vigil mass would technically begin, but as at just about every Saturday mass he could recall having said, McCready would be detained a further ten minutes by penitents who had begun entering the confessional around 4:00, taking what seemed like hours to describe in descriptive and numeric detail peccadillic moments of calumny, impurity and overeating, while Wenceslaus checked his watch and hurried through the script.
The door opened.
He couldn’t help but look over and see a young man, sixteen or eighteen, one he’d seen at mass with his family for years, walk in. Tall, thoughtful, slightly vacant-looking. Though he met McCready’s eye, he kneeled at the kneeler, muttering something. McCready turned his head back to face forward and cleared his throat, telling the young man to begin. Truth told, he was surprised. The usual confession-goers were the elderly or the scrupulous middle-aged. It never failed to shock him, the quiet brazenness of the dozens of people who stood up for communion every mass having been to reconciliation years ago, if at all since they were seven or eight. Of course, if he had to hear the sins of every single parishioner weekly, he might have to be committed. One would occasionally get a youngster during Lent, but they were almost always there by parental urging—and their confessions tended to be like listening to a baking mixer.
The young man took a breath. “I’m not here to make a confession, father,” he said, almost as if he were testing each word and modifying his enunciation as he went along.
Goddammit, thought McCready. Just what I need. He felt a thrust of annoyance through his system.
He realized he could kick this young man out right now, was well within his rights. He was taking valuable time from other penitents. This might have been what some of the priests he’d met on missions around and out of the country would have done. Ruthlessly holy Irishmen (either bred or part of that pastoral school) who could still rip off a nice fiery-depths homily when they wanted to and loved the law even more than the Holy Spirit. But he wasn’t, had never been, this type. I don’t intend to suggest he was the sort who gave God female pronouns in the Creed and quoted the Bhagavad Gita in his homilies. McCready had, since his days in seminary, always sought a middle ground between these extremes; this was the only thing he had approaching a pastoral philosophy. He decided to apply that ethos in this instance, more out of apathy than conviction.
“Oh?” he said. “Then what are you here for?”
“Well… basically, I’ve been having a rough time. I’ve lost my faith. I don’t know what happened. I believed one day, and the day after that didn’t believe at all. Well, I retained a few things, but essentially lost almost all of it. And I don’t know what to do, father.” He sounded genuinely stricken. McCready, despite himself, felt a twinge of sympathy that was soon overpowered by jadedness.
He rubbed his hand over his forehead, pressed the meat of his palm into his tired eyes.
“You don’t believe, yet you want to?” he tried.
“It’s not quite that.”
“Then what is it?” He sounded sharp, but felt more like he was pleading.
“It’s… I sort of want to want to believe, and I sort of don’t.” The young man was even more nervous now after McCready’s shortness.
McCready was beginning to regret his prior standing by his conviction. With a breath, he softened his tone. “Jesus wants everyone to believe so we can be in Heaven with Him. But He can’t force you. No one can. You must arrive at faith on your own. Of course, you can pray to ask God or the saints to guide you.”
“I can’t do that. I’m not certain they exist. I’m not certain of anything. I just…can’t.”
McCready’s body trembled with desire to do something violent. He calmed himself.“Well, possibly, you could read the Scriptures, you could try and pray—to something—or you could just wait. God can work within us without us knowing it.”
“Ok… But, Father. What is it all for? Is all of this ceremony or is it real? You don’t seem to know.” His voice was hesitant, anxious at sounding contentious. There was a loud sound outside of crashing rocks, but McCready dismissed it as being a dump truck far away.
“Oh? You think I don’t know? What makes you say that?”
“Because I’ve heard you at mass. I’ve heard your homilies. You seem to be feeding us these ideas about mercy and love and all that just to soothe us. You don’t seem to care; you don’t seem to even think about it all that much. You’re just like the religious everywhere; speaking but not saying. You don’t mean a damn—sorry—a damn thing. How’s that going to help me? How
will anyone be closer to God—if He exists—with that? You drive people away, even more than the extremists do, with that.”
Wenceslaus McCready might have given into his inner, always-lingering, Irish-Croatian nature in that moment and jammed his foot in this young man’s ass had he not realized, with some shock, that this young man was not exactly wrong. Fuck it, he was right. In what he guessed was an epiphany, if such things existed, McCready realized that he had never seriously considered a single belief of his; that he had never affirmed nor denied them, but had always considered them as immovable, fixed parts of his person. As a boy, he had gone with his mother to mass, never paying anything but scant attention, and was bribed (quite deftly on his mother’s part, he thought now) to sit still and listen with doughnuts afterwards. His mother never
questioned what was said, so he didn’t, either. He headed into the priesthood in much the same way; not as a shepherd, but as a man who desired the idea of being one. And now, a dipshit kid was telling him, a man well past middle age, all of this.
“I, I don’t think I can help you, my son. You need to do this yourself. But have faith. Always have faith.” He knew this was more of the weak refuse the young man had been talking about, but he was unable to say anything else, he realized, with despair and humiliation.
A pause of perhaps three-quarters of a minute. “Whatever. I’m sorry to have wasted your time, Father. I guess I’ll figure it out myself.” The young man stood up and walked out the door. But he didn’t shut it, leading the now annoyed priest to have to get up and shut it. But the young man was standing motionless a few inches away from the doorway, staring at the altar all the
way across the church.
The church—St. Francis de Sales, it was called—was nothing special. There were no stained-glass windows or frescoes. There was only the tabernacle, statues of Joseph and Mary, and a large statue of Christ on the Cross, with blood and thorns and everything, to set it apart from any Protestant church. Of all the churches in the parish, Fr. McCready considered this one
the most depressing. It was improperly heated, and even on this early-autumn day, he could feel a distinct draft. That was only a physical example. More abstractly, there was never any real ceremony to the masses, nothing like ecstasy or real faith even possible. A distinctly Puritan nature resembling that of doing a job and finishing it infected everything in the church.
McCready stepped out of the confessional and walked around the young man. He saw a man in a dark suit standing in front of the statue of Christ, touching the Lord’s feet. Around the man lay black bits of what McCready realized after a moment were the Joseph and Mary statues. The altar was a mess. This man had dumped, not one but every single garbage can’s contents all over the floor. McCready marveled at the ambition it must have taken to do this. The few
parishioners in the church were either infirm or too shocked to move. They looked back at McCready, expecting him to act, maybe to strike the man down in holy rage. The man pulled his hands away from the feet and McCready saw he had a knife. He put a piece of the statue, a toe it looked like, in his suit pocket.
The man began walking across the church, toward the door, briskly, as if on his way to work. Fr. McCready ran over to the aisle and cut the man off.
“Why…?” he said, hoping to finish his sentence, but not able to.
The man, whom McCready had never seen before, and whose face he could only describe as thin, shrugged. He was dapperly dressed and groomed and wore black leather gloves. He stared at McCready a moment longer, then walked past him toward the door. McCready instinctively got out of his way, feeling light with fear and curiosity.
The young man watched the man in the black suit walk out, horrified. McCready wished he could feel something like that, or any emotion at all. He wished he could do something of value, something with finality, but he realized he couldn’t. The man disappeared into the late afternoon, or early evening, or whatever you want to call it.
He and the young man looked at each other, then at the fellow in the black suit’s handiwork. The young man looked at McCready in that same expectant way, and walked out shaking his head. Father McCready sat down in a pew, waiting for more people to come in.
Will Kinney lives in Topsham, Maine.
TPL Teen Poetry Award
Mary by Myah Garrison
Met you in the middle of a grocery store parking lot
“Hail Mary, the price of spinach went up two bucks.”
you look … pale and folded, like my disappointment
in the produce aisle is tantamount to the sulphuric stench
of your boy’s bloody end.
Tonight you will be beautiful;
draped with blue, in the arms of Michelangelo.
But now, here, under the hammered-out-gold of a secular sky
with a frowning baby on your hip
you resemble a crumpled up postcard
of your better days.
We try to keep you perfect,
try to give you heaven—
“You look like hell.”
can’t blame you;
You’ve been nursing
A doomed infant for
Two thousand years.
You squint against the florescence of your own halo.
This new, power-efficient, grace
turns your powder-white skin seasick.
But times are tight; saints must learn to save more than souls.
Myah is in her senior year at Maine Coast Waldorf Highschool. Myah writing, acting, and aimlessly surfing Wikipedia. Myah has been published in the ‘Maine Woman’s’ Magazine,’ ‘Islandport press,’ and the Telling Room’s ‘Gen Z Magazine.’
Just Write Maine-related Nonfiction Award
Eternally Green by Robin Hansen
They have driven for hours, looking for a campground. They don’t want
much, they say to each other: a little green patch to erect the tent on, fresh water, toilets, a hot shower.
The first campground is neat, tight rows of campers with no tent sites.
At the second, the owner complains that he can’t make grass grow under the
pine trees: It just isn’t possible. They drive through and out of the second
campground. It reminds her of rural slums at home: Campers with canopies hanging loose, mobile homes with wooden decks rotting, railings falling off, the small properties awash with plastic toys and discarded clothing.
The third campground has to be better. It’s on the map produced by the
provincial tourist bureau. It can’t be a slum.
Besides, the sun is going down. It will be dark soon. Too late to cook supper
outdoors. They turn, following the tourist bureau map.
But it is tucked back into the trees, almost hidden in oak leaves. It’s small,
peeling, and handpainted. They back:
Eternally Green Campground
2.6 k to the left.
But the road curves left. Does the sign mean to follow the road to the left? or
to turn left and drive 2.6 k?
With growing desperation, they follow the left-curving road 2.6 kilometers.
Then 3 kilometers. Then turn around and go back to the sign, crumpled under the trees. It definitely points left.
A camper passes and turns left onto a dirt road they hadn’t noticed.
They get back in the car and turn left too to follow, but the camper is long
gone. They drive 2.6 kilometers. Then 3 k’s. Then 3.5 k’s. No campground.
Maybe it closed down last year.
They pass a V in the road and take the paved side, unlike Robert Frost.
He turns around. She whimpers. She’s tired. She’s hungry. They haven’t
stopped at a superstore, because they wanted to set up camp first.
He feels guilty but doesn’t know what to do.
A woman they passed going the other way is walking a spritely German
shepherd, who smiles at them. The woman smiles too, one of those strange,
unhappy smiles sometimes seen on women who want to help but don’t know how.
Eternally Green Camp Sites, the woman repeats, calm and firm now that she
knows what to do.
Turn around. Go back a ways. Take the left fork.
The unpaved fork?
Yes. About a mile. Maybe more.
Canadians still think in miles, although they went metric eons ago.
But there’s no sign.
It’s badly signed. It’s the only campground.
They follow the woman’s directions. What else can they do? It’s nearly dark.
Hope springs eternal.
She smiles a little, trying to figure out what kind of supper to make with two
eggs, a tomato, some lettuce (baby lettuce) and — and what? a half-dried-up
cucumber. There’s rice. And Red River Cereal.™
ETERNALLY GREEN CAMP SITES.
There it is, after two or more kilometers of bumping down a dirt road.
They turn in, relief flooding them.
Little green camp sites interspersed with campers and mobile homes.
She’s picking a site while he goes up to the office, which is oddly dark, darker
than the falling dusk.
She walks down to her chosen campsite, noticing: There are no lights in the
campers or the mobile homes. There are no kids on bicycles, the spice of northern campgrounds.
There is not a single car or truck at any of the campsites.
But wait! A single trailer is lit up, festooned with colored plastic lanterns, as if
for a party.
And a woman comes toward her, middle-aged, hair a familiar reddish brown,
a smile wide, toothy, and welcoming.
Hey! Are you the owner? or a camper?
A camper. The owner will be back sometime tomorrow morning. Just take a
site. He’ll check on you tomorrow. The bathrooms are down there.
She shakes hands with the woman. The woman’s bull terrier checks them out
with a snaggle-toothed growl and large, bulgy eyes.
The woman retreats to her celebration of lights. The dog turns too after
considering and dismissing mayhem and trots after its owner.
He comes back and moves the car into the driveway of the site she has
chosen and they walk down to the toilets in the near darkness. No lights.
She realizes that “Eternally Green” sounds more like a cemetery than a
She wonders if the woman might be part of a secret society of cannibals who
have eaten all the people belonging to the other trailers.
If it took them this long to find Eternally Green Camp Sites, would they ever
be found, should something happen?
She knows she won’t be able to sleep here tonight. At all.
They passed a motel on the way here, a few miles back. There were
Born in Stephen King’s home state, Robin loves stories that ring true but have a twist of magic or off-ness—a blond European tribe kept as livestock in central Africa, mittens that become a compass when you’re lost, that sort of thing. She has a writing background in journalism and knitting traditions, but writes stories and poems when deeply moved. Her articles and stories have appeared in regional and national publications from Yankee Magazine to Family Fun and Saturday Evening Post.
Maine-related Nonfiction Honorable Mention
The Budding Outdoorsman by Mike Giggey
Jacob caught three fish on Saturday.
I knew it was important to him when he said, “Gramp, that makes 13 fish this summer!”. From my lawn chair on the dock, it looked to me that Jacob had caught the same 5-inch sunfish three times. But that was a detail that would only damp his enthusiasm, so I praised his skills landing those three big fish.
That same morning, Jacob also “discovered” the fishing rock. As he jumped from rock to rock next to the dock, he landed on the flat top of a car-sized boulder. One of many blocks of granite dropped by the glacier that carved out our pond, it sits just close enough to the water’s edge to be the perfect spot for casting. And although Jacob did not know it, just beyond the fishing rock is the waterline entrance to the mink den. It is difficult to spot the secretive mink, but the delta of freshwater clam shells carpeting the lake bottom betrays their home.
I say that Jacob “discovered” the fishing rock because I recall a day 60 years ago when that rock became part of my fishing domain. Jacob is the fifth generation of my family to enjoy the camp and pond, yet the fishing rock has been there for about 10,000 years, or maybe 400 generations. In geologic terms, the boulder is but a recent visitor to this part of Maine.
That afternoon we launched the kayaks. As we debated which part of the lake to explore. Jacob piped in, “Let’s go north since the wind is blowing from that direction”. It pleased me that he remembered the advice I had given him earlier in the summer: It may be the easy choice to head off downwind, but you will regret that decision when your tired shoulders battle the wind and waves to get home. It wasn’t just the content of his words that pleased me; it was also the hint of confidence in the voice of a budding 7-year-old outdoorsman.
I suspected we might spot the family of loons that frequent a small cove to the north, so we made that our goal. Rounding the point, the wind picked up enough to make me glad we had followed Jacob’s advice. Headway was difficult, so we turned back without spotting the loons in the cove. But looking back toward camp, we could see the bobbing heads of at least two loons—and maybe three or four—a hundred yards ahead. As we got closer, three adult loons closed ranks and quickly paddled away from our approaching kayaks. We were commenting on their seemingly effortless glide when a fourth loon popped to the surface just a paddle-length away from the boat and quickly joined the others. My heart was still beating quickly until we were nearly back on shore.
That evening after Jacob went into the camp for bed, I lingered over the campfire. Something about glowing embers and sparkling constellations prompts a philosophical view on the day’s activities. I quickly realized the importance of the family camp and wondered if Jacob’s grandchildren would rediscover the fishing rock yet again in another 60 years and be thrilled by the surfacing loons and the circling osprey.
There have certainly been changes in the lake over my six decades at camp. Yes, the water has remained relatively clear, but phosphorus levels are rising, and the jet skis and power boats churn up enough silt to make swimming less enjoyable. I now must stay ashore with my paddleboard until the cavalcades of pontoon boats pass by. I cannot tell if all the commotion has limited the loon, osprey and mink populations, but those raucous evening fireworks cannot be helpful.
As an environmental scientist and engineer, I know that there are ways to preserve water quality, soften the impacts of development and protect the habitat of the mink, the loons and the osprey. I also know that the issues are complicated, that lake preservation may be contrary to the short-term interests of some, and that no one solution is readily supported or implemented. Yet my time with Jacob last weekend tells me that we cannot let inertia prevail. We must determine the carrying capacity of our lakes, and forge management plans to stay within that capacity. I expect that support for action will not easily be won, nor will funding be readily available. Yes, there are headwinds, but we should not shy from responsible stewardship of natural resources, the very reason many of us live in Maine.
So let’s launch our kayaks for lake preservation, head into the wind and give our grandchildren the chance to eventually glide home with breezes at their backs. And maybe their grandchildren will hook the descendants of Jacob’s “catch-me-again” sunfish.
Mike Giggey is a semi-retired environmental engineer, one-time chair of the Topsham Planning Board, and life-long advocate for Maine and its water resources.