Friday, March 15, 2013

Selected Shorts

So I went ahead and did it. I entered the Selected Shorts 2013 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story contest. Yep. The one on NPR. Maybe you've heard the show some Sunday afternoon while chopping vegetables.

Of course, having known the date of the deadline for months, I let it get down to a week before to figure out what to submit. I had it written, but knew it needed editing. Then when I re-read the contest rules I discovered the story I wanted to use was something like 2500 words too many!

The rules:
  • Must be about complicated family relationships
  • Must be no more than 750 words
  • Must have a title.
That last one tormented me for days. Couldn't figure out what to name my baby. Still can't, but what I came up with will have to do. 

The chances of them choosing my story from the hundreds of submissions (guess that's why the lame word count?) is slimmer than Posh Spice with a flesh eating virus. But hey. I did it. Cheers. To. That.

Here it is in case you want to read it. All exactly 750 words of it. And yes, a longer version of it is in the part of the book. Enjoy.

Like Aurora and Emma
By Amanda Schuster

Sitting beside my daughter as she sleeps off another round of her medication, I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve wanted to kill her. 

I swore when Delia became an adult and moved out into the world, I would find a way to forgive and be more involved in her life. Terms of Endearment always made me cry. Not because the daughter dies in the end, not the transfer of exquisite pain at a mother’s loss. It was witnessing Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger as mother and daughter, as best friends. The first time I saw it I cried at my own lost chances. The second time I cried from sheer jealousy. From then on it was the line, “Momma, that’s the first time I stopped hugging first. I like that.”

I had to take her back in again.  Guess I’ll have to stop calling her an asshole behind her back. 

I know none of her behavior was meant to intentionally hurt us, but it did. Ira said he left when our young love went empty, but all the trouble she caused took its toll. Why couldn’t they give Delia drugs back then? These days, kids don’t feel like reading in school, and it’s diagnosed as a legitimate disease. I would like to be the doctor to say, “Sorry Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, I’m afraid your son/daughter has Childhood. I suggest you let them play outside for an hour and threaten not to let them watch TV if they don’t do homework.” All those screens and flashing pictures now. It’s no wonder they can’t concentrate! 

None of the doctors could find anything wrong. Compulsive lying is not a disease, they said. Everything else checked out. She was happy. She was perfectly normal in every way. She would grow out of it, just a phase. She even made them laugh. Everyone thought that conniving little scamp was so funny. 

Things would be different if I knew she really couldn’t help it. 

Now she has something real. They have a word for it, but they don’t have the right drugs. Why is it they can cure Distraction but not this? 

One of the worst humiliations happened when the school moms held a gathering at Jane and Phil Fogerty’s house. I never enjoyed those mandatory social events. I wouldn’t voluntarily call or hobnob with these people if our children didn’t know each other. They always looked at me in my hippy skirts like I was some sort of gorgon.  

Almost every mother from Delia’s class was there. The house was decorated in hues of noncommittal, muted colors that matched in their collective blandness. They drank white wine with ice cubes. Phil walked in, made some comment about being afraid of so many women in one place (I’ll bet, Candyhips), filled his own glass and left the room. No one offered me any, so I helped myself.
I got strange looks. Was some unseen servant supposed to be doing this for me? The wine was too sweet and a little skunky, but I drank it anyway. I heard someone behind me say, “Marcy, I can’t believe you’re still so thin!” Said in that way those women had, the last word in a sentence emphasized with a corrosive shriek. 

I turned around. Everyone was staring. One of the ice cubes made a popping noise and slid further down the glass. I noticed most of the ladies were looking at my hand. The one holding the glass. Or was it the glass itself? Was I using the wrong one? I thought that was forks. 


“How far along are you now? According to Delia, it must be at least five months!” she shrieked. 

Delia sleeps with a hand under her head, same as her baby days. Would she be able to take some soup soon? Maybe what’s left of the bond between us can be bridge by food. That is, if she eats what I prepare for her.  

As I peel the carrots, I think about the days and weeks ahead. Will I have my “GIVE HER THE SHOT!!!” moment with the nurses? The real panic is more immediate. She’s going to wake up in a few minutes. I haven’t got a goddamn clue what to say to her when she does. 

Let’s start with soup and go from there. 

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