I wrote this short story for a Writer’s Digest contest. It was based on a photo prompt. Alas, I didn’t win but learned from the process. Hope you enjoy it!
I stare at my keys on the sidewalk, blindsided by raw memories that flash forward and grab me by the throat.
One moment I’m scurrying down Main Street, a million things on my mind and desperate to get them all done before the next winter storm hits. Then it happens. My keys launch into the air and tumble across the icy pavement, sending me careening thirty years into the past.
I dropped them that day, too.
You walked up to me. You, with your coal black hair and even blacker eyes, left me dumbstruck by your Italian beauty. You smiled, but it was tentative, as if to mask your less-than-perfect teeth. I was captured. I couldn’t look away.
You scooped up my keys. The warm lake breeze fingered your perfume and dragged it through my senses, willing me to understand it was something exotic like you, something torn from a fashion magazine.
I had no words as you offered my keys. You laughed, probably at my open mouth, but I wasn’t hurt—it was pure honey for my soul. It left me hungry, wanting more and desperate to find a way to make it happen again.
“My name’s George,” you said. “Short for Georgina.”
Of course it was, and it was perfect. You, a girl with a boy’s name. Plain Jane that I was, I expected nothing less than something that completed you.
Your eyebrows lifted, and I scrambled for my name.
“Sue,” I said, wishing I weren’t so bland, boring and beige as I stood next to you on the crowded sidewalk. You might have ignored them, but I noticed. Boys gawked, strained to be seen, and smiled at you as they passed, leaving me stranded in my nothingness.
A brief, awkward conversation revealed we shared common interests. I thrilled when you offered friendship and leapt at the suggestion to become roommates. I was just so damned proud that someone so beautiful would choose me.
Our bond survived milestones, then weakened as delicate threads broke. Moving in, moving out, marriage, raising babies—all applied tension to fabric spun from invisible silk. We had no time, no energy to create new connections, so we relied on our past to carry us forward.
But memories alone couldn’t sustain our friendship. Our last day together severed those threads.
It was my fault, really. I should’ve known all those years later I would still feel like nothing standing next to you. All those arguments, followed by bouts of silence reflected my struggles, not yours. My soul needed someone to fill the emptiness, so I clung to you.
Only when I heard your last words, whispered into a cold telephone, did I realize how much your soul needed filling too.
“I was always jealous of you, Sue. You were the confident one, so able to take life head-on…”
An arctic blast from the lake brings me back. I stare at my keys on the sidewalk, aching to see your pale fingers reach down and pluck them from the cold concrete. Wishing memories didn’t offer proof of where I went wrong, and remind me of what I can never have again.