The Submission – HA – that wasn’t – to NPR’s three-minute fiction contest. (Don’t get all excited, the deadline was last night at 11:59 p.m.)
What I can I tell you . I had the best of intentions, but the family here fell down with a bug last week and that meant, lots more work for mama! No time for blogs, no time for fun. So, at 8:00 p.m. last night – not the best time of night here mind you: baths are finishing, one kid still doing homework, one just getting into bed – so yeah, completely interrupted left and right I just couldn’t get it together. I mean, I did, but not within the 600 word parameters and not without the tasteless joke that was also within the parameters at the end. Requirements: someone has to cry and someone has to tell a joke. Not as easy as one thinks – this is to be read within three minutes – 600 word count limit. So, I abandoned all effort at 10:30 and took a bath myself instead!
Here’s the result. Be kind – but critique away – it’ll do me good!
“Wendy. My name is Wendy.”
“As in Peter Pan?”
” Yes, but no. I’m a Gwendolyn. After my grandmother.”
Smoke curls up around his nicotine stained fingers and he squints taking her all in.
“Huh. Sorry to disappoint you.”
” Oh, no. It’s not that. It’s just that it would have been more interesting if you were named after the Peter Pan Wendy.”
“Ohhh kay. It was nice talking to you.”
“Wait. Don’t. I didn’t mean it that way. I love that name, actually. When I was a kid I would sit for hours and imagine myself flying through the cold night air just like Peter. I’d land on Wendy’s windowsill and fall in love with her instantly. I was convinced I’d marry her someday. I just thought it would have been ironic if you were named after that Wendy.”
“That’s sweet, I guess, but I need to get back.”
“Just give me a minute. We got off on the wrong foot. Don’t you believe in redemption?”
An unfamiliar feeling tugs at her, deep and low inside her stomach and makes her pause.
“You’ve got five minutes.”
He takes a quick drag from his cigarette and exhales with a loud breath.
“Wendy was the one thing my mother gave me before she left. I mean, she didn’t give me Wendy exactly. She was always pre-occupied with whatever was going on in her life. In her head. In her heart. But, this one night she came into my room, sat next to me on my bed and she pulls out this decrepit copy of Peter and Wendy. And I mean, decrepit. It was ratty and had weird stains all over it. I remember the stains were the color of weak coffee or diluted blood. When she opened the book it smelled like mildew and little bits of paper fell like dandruff all over her lap each time she turned a page.”
“How old were you?”
He takes his last drag and inhales deeply. He thinks back as he watches the smoke drift away into the dark.
“I was ten.”
“That’s a bit odd. Bedtime stories at ten?”
“I think it was her way of leaving a piece of herself with me. It took her a week to finish. Each night when she was done she’d look me in the eye and tell me that I could be anyone I wanted to be. Anyone. The farther she got into the story, though, the harder it got for her to read. She’d get choked up and have to walk out of the room for a few minutes until she could continue. I knew she was crying, but she always denied it.”
“Listen, we just met. You don’t need to tell me any of this.”
“I know. It’s just. I’ve never met someone named Wendy before. Isn’t that strange. I’m thirty-seven years old and you’re the first Wendy I’ve ever met. God, I haven’t thought about this stuff in years. She left the same night she finished the book. She kissed my forehead so tenderly and said she’d always love me. She walked out of my room and I could hear her sobbing; this deep mournful noise. When I woke up the next day, she was gone. She didn’t take anything, only the book. It sounds so cliché when I say it out loud.”
“It’s not cliché, it’s sad. Weren’t you scared?
“I guess I must have been terrified. My dad had been gone for years at that point and my grandmother lived five hundred miles away.”
She reaches out and touches his arm. Her fingers feel warm and inviting on his skin. He looks at her and the yellow flecks in her otherwise cornflower blue irises remind him of the scene in the meadow that Tiger Lily walks the pirates through. He smirks, wanting to lighten it up before he frightens her away.
“What do you get when you cross an alcoholic and a narcissist.”
“Tiger Lily Cobain.”
“Actually, you only get me. Britt. My names’ Britt.”