With our second edition of Wild Atlantic Writing Awards (WAWA) open for entries, with generous cash prizes, we continue our initiative of sharing with you some stories that reached the final round of our first WAWA competition.
Elizabeth Osta, from Rochester, New York, was among the Top Ten in our Creative Non-fiction category and A. Joseph Black, from Carnlough, Northern Ireland, was among the Top Ten in our Flash Fiction category.
We hope you enjoy their stories and we look forward to reading your creative entries in our new competition over the coming weeks.
A Woman To The Last
The scene is the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles, New York, an old stage-coach stop in an upscale Finger Lakes town, a meeting place for young, old, single, married and yes, widowed.
My father had died the last day of June the summer before. My friend Cheryl and I are with his widow, my mother, on a balmy Friday night in August, to help fill her now companionless evenings.
We are all painfully aware of Dad’s absence, the impact his loss has on my mother, who for all her independence, counted on his presence for so much. After dinner, lights lower, room softened, the band moves into the spotlight. Our gab fest slows. Cheryl spots an older man, alone, across the room. “I think he’s looking.” Expecting Mother to dismiss Cheryl’s observation, I am stunned when she excuses herself for the Ladies room. She has a bladder of iron. I chuckle inwardly, suspecting my mother is about to flirt.
Within minutes, lipstick freshened, her sashay overdone, she is standing at the man’s table, leaning toward him, standing on one foot, her red purse dangling. She is a seventy-two-year-old attractive woman. Hazel eyes sparkle defying need for eye make-up, her skin firm, Pond’s Cold Cream, her proclaimed secret. The lilt in her step bespeaks vibrancy and vigor.
The longer she stays, the more I’m afraid to look, like watching a train wreck. I’m so glad Cheryl is here as witness and buffer.
When she rejoins our table, I ask, “Did you ask him to dance?” She nods, her disappointment evident.
I hate the reality that impelled her to act, the seven-bedroom house lonely, Dad’s death creating the biggest space. She’s been an executive secretary, raised seven children, grandmother to five, volunteered, a bevy of friends, now jolted into retirement years alone, no one to share morning newspapers, grocery lists, meals, television shows, to say nothing of a tender kiss, gentle touch, comforting hug.
Mom died within seven months, complications due to surgery, complications due to a broken heart.
My own wedding day is fifteen years after that night at the Sherwood Inn. As I stand on a grassy slope in the Bristol Hills, a mild July evening blessing us with a soft breeze, I breathe in the fragrance of the gardenia in my hair, a reminder of Mom’s Easter Sunday outfit adornment. I finger her cultured pearls, a part of ‘something old.’ I hold tightly to Dave’s hand, whom I had met at the First Universalist Church in Rochester.
Cheryl and husband, Vincent, read from Corinthians: "...there is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.”
As we stand together, witnesses to new love, my heart fills with gratitude. I realize the beauty of my mother’s act. She was living with possibility, with maybe. An impulse so purely feminine. As I say my vows, I remember my mother, a woman to the last.
Elizabeth Osta began using a typewriter as a pre-teenager to capture her stories. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including the Democrat and Chronicle Golden Pen Award, the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award and Honorary Mention for Big Brick Review. She has been a frequent reader for the Writers and Books Genesee Reading Series.
Here she is beside Canandaigua Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in western New York. Her message to ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ and WAWA: “Thanks so much for this opportunity. I've thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Fragment, for Possible Future Use
“If you want things to stay just how they are, then everything’s gonna have to change.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“There’s nothing else?”
“So you’re a single line?”
“Um… I guess. What is this place?” In the absolute darkness, no one knows who or what they are, or who or what anyone else is. “You’re in a folder on her laptop called ‘For Possible Future Use.’ We all are. Even award -winning writers, which is all of them, produce inordinate screeds of material they don’t use. At least, they don’t use them immediately. You’re part of that now, like the rest of us.”
“No. No, you wouldn’t. With respect, you’re just a line. But we have the entire gamut in here. Some, like me, are completely constructed characters with full lives and exhaustive back stories – I have a job in the city and a childhood medical condition, for pity’s sake. There’s a couple of complete chapters, discarded as she eliminated whatever particular subplot they failed to adequately serve, and a rejected unreliable narrator too – don’t believe a word he tells you. We also have some quite lovely passages, the purplest of prose, darlings killed (eventually) on the long murderous journey from first draft to final proof.”
“And other lines like me?”
“Yes. Lastly and leastly, there are the lines like you. Just scraps, really. I imagine she thought you made a zesty opening but couldn’t conceive of a story to use with you. She does that a lot.”
“I’m not sure I’m following all this.”
“Look, we all have something – a delicious sound, a sliver of literary merit, or maybe just the investment of many hours’ work. So, while we have been removed from our point of origin, we have been retained. On the basis that we will at some indeterminate future point be of use to her. “
“So, what happens now?’
“I wait, my friend.”
“In the darkness.”
“In the darkness I wait, in anticipation of the glorious day when she comes for me.”
“When she needs a whole character?”
“Yes, with extensive background, a full romantic and family history.”
“And that happens a lot, does it? She’s writing a story and she thinks, ‘You know what this needs? A new and entirely unrelated character, just dropped in there arbitrarily with no integration or context whatsoever.’ That’s what you need to happen?”
It is very quiet in the darkness, where not all can speak, nor do all who can.
“I’ll take my chances over yours, to be honest. I mean, I’m happy I’m just a line.”
“You’re perfectly entitled to tell yourself whatever you please.”
“Better though, isn’t it? I’ll just clip right onto the start of her next story, that’ll be me gone. Early doors.”
“Early days, I suspect you probably mean.”
“You know, man, I’m going to miss you when I get out of here.”
A. Joseph Black is from Carnlough in Northern Ireland and writes short stories and flash fiction. Over 30 of his pieces can be found online, in literary magazines and in print anthologies. In 2017, he was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and in 2018 was runner up in the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award. His short stories, ‘By the Lake’ and ‘Nora’ have been published as chapbooks in Australia by In Short Publishing Co. A. Joseph Black is currently working on his first novel.