Winner: “Footing” by Terry Spangler Dunham
Honorable Mention: “Safety” by R.A. Savary
By Terry Spangler Dunham
Winner, Short-Short Story
The physician centers her hand and rakes her fingertips lightly over my eyelids and down my face. Do I feel the pressure evenly? I don’t feel sensation on the right side of my face. How does she know?
I watch through dark sunglasses as a third, then a fourth drug, push into the vein in my forearm. I lose count, but I care less now. I rate it an eight on the scale when they ask.
Time passes, and I begin to breathe like a puppy curled in a warm bed after an hour of play. Pink and green paisley shapes form against the back of my eyelids. They pulse, then move up and down as though they are animated notes on a musical staff. The cadence of the shapes’ movement takes form then the color dominates again, like bold graffiti.
The expected unearned hangover ensues but I am grateful to open my eyes to my own surroundings. Routine is recovery, so I get up.
I tentatively sit behind the wheel, acclimating myself again to the world of timing, balance and reactions. At my destination, a sweeping gust of wind blown off the lake and up the hill brings an intense smoky-sweet aroma. The coffee wholesaler located a few blocks up from the rocky coastline is roasting beans. The smell doesn’t sicken; I turn my face toward it.
In a grocery store parking lot overlooking the lake, I climb out of the car and walk to the edge of the lot to stand against a corrugated metal railing. A 600-foot salty waits to enter the canal and take on its cargo of hard winter wheat. I imagine the ship making its way through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River, and finally out into the Atlantic. A half-mile or so out she rotates slightly in the chop and the sight, as I lean on the rusty railing with my hair blowing across my face, anchors me.
By R. A. Savary
Honorable Mention, Short-Short Story
I couldn’t help wondering if any of the people on the shore—and the few that dared walk out onto the ice, as I now walked—harbored disparaging thoughts like mine, or were they all smitten with spring fever?
A smile crawled across my face. After all, it was some twisted version of that emotional state that brought me out here, committed to go through with actions I’d been brooding over for the better part of the winter, actions apt to be slated as the result of the short, dark days of a northern winter.
I hadn’t pictured many people being out.
“Perhaps I should go somewhere else.”
But there was familiarity here. It was almost ritualistic for me to come out here, with ice and snow on the shore and covering part of the lake.
“No. This is where I need to be.”
I remember a hot September afternoon, over a decade ago, when I was new to the area, new to the Big Lake. The sun was making its way over my right shoulder, over Duluth, as I faced southeast. Looking out across the blue water, taken by the vastness of the lake, with a hodgepodge of thoughts popping in my head like firecrackers: seemingly all the facts I knew about the Great Lakes; my dreams and emotional ties; the infiniteness of large bodies of water. Just before moving I’d watched a documentary about Leif Erickson. In grade school I had always been fascinated by early explorers. As I looked at the east horizon of Lake Superior where the water met nothing but sky, I remember trying to put myself in their shoes: setting sail for unknown lands when you knew you couldn’t return to your homeland; then again when the land that was spotted was practically nothing but ice!
Another significant meandering of thought that popped into my brain was the ending of the movie Valley of the Dolls, which I had watched as a teenager. One of the women attempts suicide by simply walking away from the California shore, farther and farther towards the ocean until she is overcome by the waves. At the time I had felt the extreme conflict between that desire for the tranquility of death and the innate instinct of self-preservation. I understood it better after years of chronic alcoholism—and in that moment as I gazed over the lake. There was something about the peacefulness in the view of the horizon and the lulling of the incoming waves, the way the sand whispered when they flowed back out—I could see myself walking out towards that horizon, just putting one foot in front of the other, until the cool water consumed me.
Someone yelled, pulling me from my thoughts. When I turned around, I was surprised to see how far from the shore I’d walked.
“Hey! It’s not safe out there!”
I turned away and continued walking.
“Depends on your point of view,” I whispered to the snap-crackle of the ice.