SHORT STORY CONTEST WINNERS
Thank you to our judges: Head judge – Jo Popek – and judges Mr. Lynn Carroll
and Annie Evett. Without them, there would have been no contest. Many
thanks! Here are their decisions for Creative Writing Institute’s
Third Annual Beginner’s Writing Contest:
1st place: Secrets Best Kept by Diane Davis
2nd place: Annabell Hated Being Asian by Michelle Yu (age 15)
3rd place: Apples, Pumpkins, or Manure by Shirley Dilley
Honorable mentions: Helen Crall, Sneha Koilada, Shirley Dilley
Read 2nd place, 3rd place and honorable mention stories here:
And now for our first place winner’s story in it’s entirety…
SECRETS BEST KEPT by Diane Davis (See Diane’s bio at the bottom)
Rachel pulled the last box out of her mother’s closet and set it on the bed. Putting her fists in the small of her back, she stretched her aching back and rolled her shoulders. With a sigh she opened the flaps. She had delayed long enough. The cleaning service was due this afternoon.A loud clang from the kitchen indicated her older sister, Sylvia, had things moving along in there. Packing up the debris from the life of a sixty-two-year-old woman was physically exhausting, but when she was your mother it was emotionally taxing too.
Rachel pulled a pink baby afghan out of the box and laid it aside. She didn’t know whose it was, but she and Sylvia would never have kids. Maybe she’d give it to the Cradle Guild at church. Next came a jumble of stuff. A tassel from a graduation cap, a Kewpie doll, an old Timex, a pair of baby shoes.
At the bottom of the box she found a small brown notebook bound with a thick rubber band. The cover had no writing on it, front or back. Rachel started to take off the rubber band, but hesitated. It felt wrong, digging through Mama’s personal things like this. She had been a private person, loving but reserved, even with her family. Now that she was gone, Rachel felt like she was violating some unwritten rule. But she couldn’t throw the notebook away without looking at it. After all, there may be something important in there. She pulled off the rubber band and opened the cover before she could change her mind.
In the upper right-hand corner of page one was what looked like a date:14 Juni, 1968. The page was crammed with line after line of her mother’s fluid cursive, but Rachel couldn’t understand a word of it because it was in—German? Did her mother speak German?
Flipping through the rest of the notebook, Rachel’s unease grew. She didn’t know what this meant, but she sensed it was bad. Why would Mama have a diary written in a language she never spoke in everyday life? Had she been hiding something?
Rachel’s first impulse was to show it to her sister. After all, Sylvia was thirteen years her senior—maybe she would remember a time when Mama spoke German. Rachel almost called out to her, but the words died unuttered. Her sister had taken Mama’s death hard. That’s why Rachel had the task of packing their mother’s room. Sylvia had finally managed to achieve a certain amount of calm. Showing her the notebook might send her on another crying jag. Besides, maybe it was nothing.
Slipping the notebook into her purse, she decided to find a translator. If it turned out to be harmless as she hoped, she would show it to her sister when the time was right.
* * *
Weeks passed. Rachel had forgotten about the notebook after she scanned the pages and emailed them to a college friend who knew a German language major. Now it was tucked away in the bottom drawer of her nightstand under a half-finished novel and a crossword book. Life went on.
The packet came on a Saturday. Rachel sat at the kitchen table staring at it, torn between the urge to burn it and curiosity over the contents. Once she opened it and read the translation, there would be no going back. Not knowing would drive her crazy, but did she want to deal with the revelations it might contain, good or bad?
Grabbing the packet, she tore it open and pulled out the loose pages. The cover letter was a courtly salutation followed by a polite request for payment, signed by the translator. Her hands shook as she laid it aside and started to read the text.
The first dozen pages related everyday anecdotes about Sylvia and Father, along with notes about her rosebushes, and various church activities. Rachel scanned them, charmed by the light tone of the entries. Her mother seemed to be happy in those days.
At page thirteen, the tone became dark and frightened and angry. Rachel’s reading pace slowed as she tried to comprehend the horrible things her mother had written. She reread portions, too stunned to take it all in. By the end, tears streamed down her face and sobs clawed at her throat. It was much worse than she had ever imagined.
Hilda didn’t know when the incest began, but she gradually became aware of subtle clues. Sylvia shrank from touching her father and avoided direct eye contact with everyone. She had always been shy, but every day she became more withdrawn. Her appetite decreased and she rarely smiled. Finally Hilda was so worried she took her to the doctor. That’s when she learned the depth of her husband’s depravity.
Twelve-year-old Sylvia was pregnant, and Hilda suspected her husband was the father. The family would never survive the shame. To be so young and unmarried and pregnant was bad enough, but to bear a child of incest was horrible. There was only one thing to do.
Hilda put the word out that she was pregnant then took Sylvia with her to stay with a friend in Phoenix until the baby was born. She told her friends that her doctor had recommended the drier climate so her asthma wouldn’t flare up and endanger the baby’s life. After the child was born, Sylvia and Hilda brought her home with nobody the wiser. Rachel grew up blissfully unaware that her loving older sister was her mother, and her mother was actually her grandmother.
Robert never touched Sylvia again, as far as Hilda could tell. Perhaps her threat to go to the police scared him into compliance. But it seemed his depravity only went dormant for a dozen years.
To her horror, she noticed that he began to pay special attention to Rachel. He touched her frequently and his hands lingered on her arm or back. He insisted she kiss him on the lips and he hugged her tight, often pulling her onto his lap. Hilda knew she had to do something before it was too late.
She couldn’t let history repeat itself.
Over the next few days she began to put digitalis in his food, gradually increasing the dose. Never one to go to the doctor, he stayed in bed, forcing fluid even though he kept vomiting, trying to sleep in spite of his splitting headache. Two days later he was dead of a heart attack.
Rachel laid the last page down. She stared at the wall as she struggled to find her balance in this new topsy-turvy paradigm. Her grandmother had killed her father to save her from incest, and her mother was alive. Why she wrote it down, and more importantly, why she wrote the whole tale in German were mysteries that had died with Hilda.
Her mother was alive! Smiling for the first time in hours, Rachel jumped up and rushed to the phone, but she put the receiver back after dialing a few numbers. She covered her mouth as a fresh round of tears rolled down her cheeks.
Sylvia had lived with the pain of this secret for years. Would it be more painful for her if she knew Rachel had learned the truth? Or would it be better to go on as sisters with a close, loving relationship?
Sinking back into her chair, she closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. Letting go of the tension, sadness and fear, she opened herself to accept everything the diary had revealed. She was still the same person she had been before reading Hilda’s words. There would be time to decide what to do with the knowledge later.
The phone interrupted her meditation. She checked the caller ID and her smile came through in her voice when she answered.
“Hello, Sylvia. I was just thinking about you.”
About the Author
Diane Davis, an Arizona native, is a happily married mother of two with a life-long passion for words. She’s had ten short stories and an essay published in online ezines like Long Story Short, Menopause Press and FlashShots, and won first place in Phyllis Scott Publishing’s short story contest. Diane’s goal is to become a novelist.
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