Saturday, November 13, 2010

three-minute fiction contest

I entered National Public Radio's most recent "Three Minute Fiction" contest. My little story didn't make it into the favorites, so I'll share it with you here.

Keep writing, keep trying, keep striving, and, most of all, keep dreaming.

Draw the Shades

Some people swore that the house was haunted.

Not me. I wasn’t afraid of the wrought iron fence, the eyebrow window, or even the wild cats that lived under the expansive front porch.

When I passed the Murphy house on my way home from school, I walked nonchalantly.

Except last Thursday. I heard someone crying. It sounded like a kitten at first but I knew it was a girl. Who was she? This was an ordinary small town with a few old two-story houses sitting squat down in the middle. They stood out like parade floats. Murphy had been the piano teacher and her house was one of them. I listened.

Murphy died last winter and everyone said her daughters would hold an auction come spring. The older girls had left town years ago. Since her death, people walking or driving past the towering house claimed to hear sounds and even music from the piano. I wondered how many kids, like me, had waited in the dark, sunless parlor to play at the worn keyboard.

“God love us,” my mom said as we drove home from the IGA, hearing music from the Murphy place.

To my mom, who loved a good haunting, and to Emma, who was willing to believe anything, and to her ever-worrisome mother, I said emphatically, “It’s not a ghost, it’s a girl.”

Maybe she’s Murph’s daughter, the one nobody talked about after eighth grade. She was just gone one day. Maybe she’s a girl who stopped here on her way to somewhere else.
I stated boldly, after dinner at Emma’s house, that we would go there tonight. We’d miss the Friday night football game. I’d save Emma from a date with Brendon. She didn’t understand that  “B” stood, frankly, for bad news. Emma believed that kindness could cure anything, and I couldn’t dissuade her. I’d forgo a date with Mark the Magnificent. He’d make fun of my Goodwill clothes. I could live without it. Emma would don her best Nancy Drew and go with me. She was my best friend.

After loading the dishwasher, Emma and I walked across the church parking lot to the Murphy place. We killed our flashlights as we got close. We heard humming. We looked up into the heavily draped first floor window, from which emanated a beautiful waltz.

Emma asked, “do you think she’s back?”

They had been friends in grade school. If she knew, Emma never said why she went away or where she had gone. Mom hinted at reasons, and they didn’t sound pretty. I remember hearing isolated words as she talked on the phone: father, fork, blood, middle of night, crazy. None of it made any sense to me as a kid—nonsense that I tried to ignore over wheaty-oats and milk.

But that night Emma and I sank down into the foxtails growing along the fence. We listened to the piano for a long time and panicked when we heard crying.

“Linda was a sweet girl,” Emma said. I grabbed her as she stood up. “I know she was.” We sat close to each other as the sobs turned into humming.

We watched the cars driving back from the football field and avoided their headlights as we walked home.

Sometimes we can piece together the past and sometimes we can understand it. The future, however, is something else entirely.

I will always love Emma for her kindness and her unwavering acceptance of those she loves.

But, it took many years to understand why, between us, nothing was ever the same again after that.


nReilly said...

interesting...I'm gonna have to reread it to see how I feel about it. not sure. I'll get back to you though.

Beckie said...

AS always, I enjoyed your writing friend. Start writing about some of your childhood stories, you're got some good ones!

Anonymous said...

I thought is was quite good. I prefer your shorter, declarative sentences to the flowery purple prose that seemed to litter the NPR favorites list.

I submitted an entry myself, although I imagine it wasn't P.C. enough to qualify.

Or it just might suck.

The Twins Adventure said...

I stumbled across your blog using the "next blog" feature, and read your story. It's good, very intriguing, but leaves too many unanswered questions. Have you thought of expanding it?

Laura McGowan said...

Thanks so much. I think it would be fun to expand it.