Each month Writer’s Digest hosts a writing contest called, Your Story. The contest comes with a visual prompt and writing guidelines. The prompt based on the picture below had the following instructions: Write a short story, 750 words or fewer, based on the photo shown here.
This is the story I entered. It didn’t win but I enjoyed trying something new; I don’t usually write short stories. I hope you enjoy and, as always, I welcome feedback. 🙂
She sits on the cool, white sand, thinking about the recent events. The salty air exfoliates her skin and smells of rotting seaweed. She leans back on her hands to stare at the sky, legs bent at the knees.
Earlier she had arrived at the beach and found it blocked off by a weak, pitiful fence. The thin wooden planks were spaced widely apart, put up crudely by an amateur. They bent over like a frail tree branch beaten by the wind. The thick, rusted wires holding the fence slats together had pinpoint barbs. She took care not to stab herself as she slipped through the small opening.
She noticed a pair of pink water shoes that had been hung to dry on one of the fence posts. Her stomach plummeted; she needed this time to reflect, to contemplate, to try and make sense of things nonsensical. Had the owner hung them to dry and ventured barefoot on the sand to pick up shells? Was she making love to her boyfriend, the sand sticking to their slick bodies? Perhaps she was a kindred spirit, drowning in sorrow and unexpected loss.
She felt the water shoes. They were dry, coated in a layer of salty, white chalk, small ribbons of cobwebs connecting them to the fence. She breathed a sigh of relief and scampered awkwardly down to the water. Her shoes sunk into the sand, each step promising a twisted ankle. Tall, sparse shoots of grass poked up through the sand, interspersed with clumps of bright green, prickly plants. Feathery, stringy clouds floated in the sky, painted there with a brush of slowly drying white paint.
Now, an hour later, she gazes up at the clouds, feeling sad that the beach of her youth is abandoned, spoiled, as though no one cares. She remembers the vacations she took with her family each summer during her childhood. She silently counts the number of years it has been since those days. It was nearly 30 years; she was 14.
Until the last year, she lived an innocent, unassuming girlhood. The final year she began flowing into waves of adolescence. She walked along the pier each evening with a local boy, holding his hand and gazing at the water. She had her first kiss… and her first broken heart. Although painful at the time, she understands with the wisdom of adulthood that this is the way summer romances go, and that her experience is not at all unique or special.
She wonders if she will have an epiphany when she is 80 about this time in her life. She is transitioning from her thirties to middle age, and her heart is shattered more intensely than when she was young.
She yells and her voice cracks. “What wisdom is there to learn from this?” Perplexed, the seagulls on the shore stare at her and then fly away.
The images flash before her eyes, lay heavy on her heart, embedded in her head. She had walked through the front door, the house silent as a church. She pushed open the bathroom door that was closed tightly, but not locked. She saw the tub of bloody water, the color of tomato juice. On the tub’s edge she took in a bloody knife with tufts of skin sticking to it. The last thing she saw before backing out of the room was her daughter’s face, white as milk.
She called 911, knowing it was too late. She called her ex-husband, crying. Ironically, the tragedy of losing their daughter bonded them in a way that the joy of their marriage never could. There was no note, which was the most unsettling of all.
She thinks of the funeral that she was supposed to attend. Instead, in her black dress and unsteady, high black heels, she drove three hours and arrived here, at the beach where she spent her summer childhood, experiencing things her daughter never will.
She covers her face and gasps. The tears flow, unashamed. They wet her hand and drip onto her black skirt, joining the particles in the air and floating on the wind to drown in the ocean.
She looks up and stares vacantly into the distance. She stands and without further thought, approaches the water, determined to wash away her choking pain.