As part of this year’s One Read program, we invited you to take inspiration from “A Gentleman in Moscow” and tell a nostalgic tale in 250 words or less. The stories could have been about anything and anyone, but we asked to make sure it evokes longing, explores a memory or reflects on better days past.
Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your stories of nostalgia.
Our two winners are Bethany Bade and Grace Gomez-Polacio. Honorable mentions go to Jenna Cunigan and Bonnie Zelenak.
We are excited to share these stories with you!
Turning, Bethany Bade
The world turned faster than I realized that summer. I rode my bike everywhere, bare feet on the boiling pedals. I was young then, but in a different way than I am now. Back then laughter flowed like liquid honey, a sweet inescapable thing on the tip of my tongue.
We were often in the kitchen, us two. I watched her as she stirred and simmered, as she trembled gliding the peeler down the apple. I watched her with unlistening eyes as she explained how to keep pie crust crisp, how to pick the best herbs, how to make a meal from nothing. She, the same woman who taught me that the world was an empty flowerbed I was in charge of planting. I grew taller. I thought perhaps my new height was why her eyes seemed to grow softer, stiller.
That summer I ran in circles, convinced if I went fast enough, I could move the Earth myself. She sat on the porch watching the sky grow grey. She watched as the air grew stiff and I was the ruler of the world. We watched the downpour start and finish from the porch, breathing in every molecule of our favorite fragrance, the smell of summer rain. We sat, her in her white rocking chair, me on a torn quilt on the freshly dewed grass, watching the last golden hour cascade over the yard, the fireflies conducting their final dance, admiring the stillness of it all.
tradition is the plaything of change, Grace Gomez- Palacio
endless, awful eons ago, there was a lake and a forest and a handbuilt home settled among homemade trees, there was a potbelly stove and grit in the bathroom carpet, there was a weathervane and a bridge and baskets of flowers dangling off streetlamps.
there was, and then there wasn’t.
why are you crying?
it was supposed to be constant, is that it? were you supposed to rely on it? you weren’t finished growing up, but the world was finished with you, is that why you miss it? (he had a stroke, your mother tells you.)
there was always supposed to be a place for you in this bouquet postcard town. most of you belonged in the city and the halls of your high school and the bookcases of your bedroom, but you had always thought at least a shred of yourself belonged to sand dunes and soda fountains and the mexican grocery with nopales on their tacos. (i don’t think we’re going back to the cabin this year, your mother tells you.)
the pieces of it you carried back are not enough. the bags of rocks and lake-glass you pushed in the front pocket of your backpack are not enough. your digital pictures of swimsuits and sunsets are not enough. you want it back so ardently you can taste ice cream and lakewater on your tongue.
(oh my god, you tell your mother, oh my god, i hope he’s okay.)
20 Old Mystic, Jenna Cunigan
With merely the scent of coffee and eggs, I am swept back into Papa and Grandma’s kitchen on a late summer morning. Sitting in my own kitchen twenty odd years later I am pulled into the moment of arrival beneath the towering stories of my grandparents’ home. Siblings topple out of the van after our cross-country journey to the exuberantly waving arms and smiles at the top of the steps. Grandma pinches my cheeks and tells me I’ve grown. We are bombarded with food – salami, provolone, red pimentos – peppered with questions. I fondly conjure up the atmosphere of the dining room on the first night. A feast of pasta, homemade sauce, bread and salad; a din of chatter and louder guffaws. Cousins clamoring in and out of rooms planning a magical show for the adults with the caveat that they pay their ten-cent entry fee.
Just as quickly as my senses rush me back down banister slides, slow jazz evenings, and ginger snaps in the parlor, the must of a hundred roses in the florist’s refrigerator can pull me back to Grandma, coffinside. Layers of grief rival the dust that accumulates on Papa’s family room mantlepiece until he is a small oak box carried down the aisle in tears. And then in a harsh modern twist an empty house with a price tag stares at me from my computer screen. Yet still, no price touches the heart of a home sitting high on a hill on Old Mystic Street.
The Sea, Bonnie Zelenak
I was thirteen. She? Ageless, Timeless. Evermore. When first we met, I was Deaf. Blind. Unaware. Unquestioning. Not arrogant, merely ignorant. She grabbed hold of me and spoke in caring, quiet ways. Or sometimes roared her truths. Timeless truths that would smother the beach like soft clouds or slam it with force. She created and she devastated. She told of microscopic intimacy and unaccountable, universal knowing. My heart and mind eased as she informed me of our common creation — my kin, her progenitors, our descendants. All loved. The more we visited, the more I understood. We are one.
I’d race through hot, dusty sands to be near her, to be absorbed by her, to learn from her. While watching her moods from the upper windows of an old shack, tingles traveled from my chest to my fingers and toes. Or a soft, warm lambswool blanket covered me. She awakened me. Taught me. Changed me. She culled yearning from unknown depths and returned comfort. I’d steal away to lie beside her. She breathed unexpected, inexplicable mysteries into me. She informed, soothed, excited me. Her wisdom anointed the globe, penetrated the depths.
She knows the unknowable. Shares the unimaginable. She is far away, her comfort and energy beyond reach. But I listen, imagine her voice, her touch. She tells me, “Take comfort, my friend. All will be well.”
1 thought on “Flash Fiction Contest Winners”
Jenna Cunigan touched my soul. My mother had eight siblings, so reunions at my grandparents were always loud, boisterous affairs, multiple adults surrounding us cousins with boundless affection and acceptance. Those reunions were my safe place, the one time each year I felt cocooned in total, unconditional love. We cousins grew older, spread out across the country, but still those magical family gatherings drew us together until the older generation, one-by-one, began to slip away. This weekend the last of the nine siblings passed away. And, like Jenna, I long for a time that is no more and will never be again.