Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.
There is one day remaining until the contest deadline. The entry deadline is September 15, 2020. Be sure to finish your stories and submit them. This might be a good time to remind everybody of the prizes…
- 3rd place: 1 year paid WF membership
- 2nd place: same as 3rd place, PLUS a one year gift subscription to the winner’s choice of either Writer’s Digest or Poets & Writers magazine
- 1st place: same as 2nd place, PLUS Writers Forum Membership Director Aaron Steinmetz’s help in e-publishing the winner’s book
- If the winner has a full length novel (or novella if they’d like) he can take them all the way from Word Document to printed copy (similar to what he did with River’s Edge) and also produce a Kindle version. The winner can also do this with short stories. Aaron will set them up with an account and the winner will have full access to it to create either hard copies or Kindle versions or both.
- Aaron does not edit manuscripts. Winner is responsible for all pre-publication editing.
Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.
All submissions will be posted to the website and the Facebook page, and will also be considered submissions to the Writers Forum anthology, River’s Edge, to be published at the end of the year.
Photo by Claudia van Zyl on Unsplash
Lily turned and cut through the Social Services parking lot. Full. She entered the Amtrak area, made a U-turn, and parked along the street. Ten minutes later, she led Miss Radda down from her third-floor “Lady Bella” room, fastened her seat belt then started the engine.
“Wow, you have beautiful legs,” Miss Radda said. “You shouldn’t have any problem catching a man, even at forty-five!”
“Thanks, Miss Radda, that’s nice of you to say.” Lily smiled.
“Where are we going first?”
“You said you needed to go to the post office and get your check, right?”
“Oh, yes, but we have to hurry.” Miss Radda held the dashboard as Lily turned the corner and faced the familiar tracks. “The lady at the bank told me to be there by 4 pm.” She pressed her hands together. “Please, please, Lord, don’t let a train come.”
Lily stepped on the gas and they bumped over the tracks.
“Oh, goody, we made it!” Miss Radda squealed.
Lily parked at the eastside post office, left Miss Radda buckled in and fetched the mail. After returning to the car, Lily handed her once mentor the two envelopes she had retrieved. Miss Radda put the white one containing her monthly check into her handbag, then stared at the yellow one.
“What’s this? Probably a piece of crap. They are always sending me junk mail. Just yesterday I got a call. The lady said, ‘You won a three-day trip to Florida. Three days and two nights.’ Well, I’m smarter than that. I know you don’t get something for nothing.”
Lily began the drive to the bank while Miss Radda rambled on. “Okay, what time is it?” she asked. “I have to check my watch.” She put her face less than three inches in front of her wrist. “We have 13 minutes. I can’t be late.”
“We are only two blocks away,” Lily said.
“But now we have to stop at a damn light.”
Lily entered the bank parking lot and sighed in relief.
“Oh, here we are,” Miss Radda said. “What time is it?” She checked her watch again. “Eleven minutes before 4 pm.” Looking at Lily, she said, “You are a good, fast driver. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Lily rolled down her window and turned on the radio to a welcoming melody. I sure hope someone is there for me when I get older, she pondered. But, am I being selfish? Do I help her because I believe it will guarantee a return when it’s my time?
Several evenings later, Lily penned the following in her journal.
She seems different, not her normal crazy self. Sunday I stopped to drop off the items she requested. Miss Radda explained why she didn’t want me to buy her normal items.
“You know, I’m going on a trip.”
“Oh,” I thought for sure Miss Radda would tell me she was taking a bus to her sister, Elsa’s, near Sacramento. “Where are you going?”
“Outer space!” Miss Radda lowered her head and crossed her eyes toward Lily.
“Outer space?” Not quite the answer I expected. “That should be fun.”
“Yes. I need to go before the Antichrist comes.”
“How are you going to get there?” I asked.
“A space ship is coming for me.” She opened her refrigerator and put the two half-gallon jugs of milk on the door in her uniform manner. “I have credit, you know.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, and I’ll call you and let you know when it’s coming so we can both escape the Antichrist.”
“Okay, thanks, Miss Radda. You get some sleep now.” I headed toward her room door. “Remember, you have a doctor appointment with Cindy tomorrow.”
“Well. I hope I feel okay. Tuesday is my hair day. I told her I might be too tired. Good night now. Thank you. I’ll call you. Bye-bye,” Miss Radda had the door locked the minute I stepped out of her room.
Even though the doctor changed Miss Radda’s medicine and she hadn’t talked about her trip to outer space since, she seemed withdrawn, and more childlike. She started calling me more often. “Am I her only contact?” I wondered.
She doesn’t talk about getting out any more. Normally she goes to the restaurant around the corner at least three times a week. She gets her change for her twenties from there so she can pay me the exact amount due. Now she’s asking me to cash her larger bills on a regular basis instead of doing it at the bank. Her grocery list is shrinking which gives her reason to call almost every day. I told her on Friday that I’d be busy all weekend and wouldn’t be able to help her again until Tuesday.
“Not until Tuesday, huh?”
“That’s right. I have too much to do. You should be set for now.”
“Okay, well, thank you. God bless now,” she sounded off.
The next night I played my voice mails and heard her plea. “This is Miss Radda. Could you please return my call. I’ll be up until 9:30. I need a couple things from the drugstore. Bye, bye.” That was Saturday night, just a day later. I didn’t feel like calling her back. I don’t want her becoming so dependent on me.
Else warned me. “She’s smart. She’ll call you all the time if you let her.”
“I know. That’s why I hold her accountable and make her pay me every time she wants me to run an errand for her.”
“Yes, but she’s got more money than she knows what to do with. There are other people who can help her. She can call a taxi.”
“I know she can afford a taxi, but I also know she’s afraid of strangers, especially men.”
Else hasn’t seen her sister in over a year. She doesn’t realize how hard it is for Miss Radda to walk, or to get in and out of a car by herself. I can’t help but think of my own mother who’s older than Miss Radda. Fortunately, she is still able to get around on her own. But taking care of Miss Radda reminds me to call my mom more often. It also reminds me of my own demise one day, and I can’t help but continue to ask:” Who will be there for me when I am in need? Will someone special take a liking to me as I have with Miss Radda?”
Lily closed her journal, placed it in her drawer and turned out the light. She prayed before drifting off to sleep. “Thank you, God, for today. Thank you for tomorrow and each day I am granted. Thank you for Miss Radda and for me being able to watch over her.”
“I’m coming, Miss Radda. I’m coming. I’ll save you, I promise!” Loud sirens jolted Lily from her sleep. The blare of morning fire trucks was a harsh reminder of the hazardous north state summers.
“Oh, thank God, it was just a dream,” she said upon waking. With the morning sun peeking through her townhouse shades, all she could recall was watching Miss Radda being sucked up into a cloud funnel. Knowing that her friend of almost four decades finished breakfast by 7a.m., Lily phoned an hour later.
“Oh, good, you rang,” Miss Radda said. “Are you ready for my list?”
After another triple-digit-temperature day of errands, Lily slipped into her sneakers and ran a brush through her coal black hair. Crunched for time, she hesitated before answering her Samsung.
“Hey, it’s Macy.”
“Hi. What’s up?”
“Calling about ‘girls night out.’ We’re meeting at Max’s for dinner at six for starts.”
“Oh, I can’t.”
“What? Did you forget?”
“Yes, and I made other plans.” Lily glanced up at the clock. She had fifteen minutes. Miss Radda worried if she was even minutes late.
“Only a date could be better than girls’ night out,” Macy chided.
“Well, I do have a date . . .”
“With who? You keeping secrets from your bestie?”
“No, not that kind of date,” Lily examined her teeth in the bathroom mirror. “I promised some things for Miss Radda.”
“Didn’t you visit her yesterday?”
“Yes, but . . .”
“And didn’t you tell me she’s back on her psych meds and everything is under control?”
Lily could picture her childhood friend’s stance. “Yes.”
“Lily, she doesn’t need you. She’ll probably be asleep by seven. Besides, how often do you get asked out, for anything, these days?”
“I know, but last night’s dream,” Lily caught her breath. “I don’t know how much longer she’ll be with us.”
“Hey,” Macy’s tone softened. “She’s not going anywhere. She’s what, in her sixties?”
“She seems so feeble now.”
“Yes, but I can still hear her bragging, ‘We Swedish women outlive our men!’ And that was her reason for never marrying?”
Lily’s shoulders relaxed.
“I’ll call you when we’re done with dinner,” Macy interrupted their silence. “You can meet up with us.”
“Thanks, but I can’t promise.”
“Okay,” Macy sucked in a deep breath. “You know, you’re not going to be able to offer that youthful figure to the right man for much longer . . . and, you don’t need to own Miss Radda’s motto.”
“Well, the right man will love me beyond.” She stole a sideway glance into the mirror. “Besides, all you want me for is my body—as your designated driver!” Lily turned the light off in her bathroom and headed toward the kitchen.
“You got that right, Babe. Now what are we going to do?” Macy squealed the high-spirited laugh that first drew Lily to her.
Lily bent over and inhaled the lavender plant on the counter. “Sorry, Macy, I’ve got to go.”
“No problem, I’ll call later. Give Miss Radda a hug for me, and tell her I’m jealous.”
“Why don’t you come visit her and tell her yourself?”
“You know how I hate those old folks homes. I’ll send flowers. Bye.”
The phone clicked off before Lily could respond. She dropped it into her purse and headed to her car.
While backing out of her garage, Lily rubbed the lump on the back of her neck that never seemed to dissipate. Her thoughts wondered back to the day her, Macy, and Miss Radda’s friendship cemented.
“Hey, squirt, you okay?” At nine years old, Macy towered in height over Lily by four inches. With Lily flat on her back after slipping during a “no hands” twirl on the bars, Macy stood tall as a Redwood.
“Yeah, I think,” she managed.
“Don’t move.” Macy turned and hollered out, “Hey, where’s Miss Radda?”
Her voice lowered as she bent down toward Lily. “Miss Radda isn’t just our school nurse. She’s like Florence Nightingale in combat boots.”
“Well, you can’t be dead if you’re trying to laugh.” Macy’s freckled cheeks bounced with her smile. “I tell you kid, you need spiker legs, like me, to do the 360 without holding on.”
“Okay, move aside,” Miss Radda scooted past Macy. “How’s the wounded child?” The native Swedish woman of twenty-five swept Lily up into arms of muscle and carried her gently but firmly across the school yard toward her nurse’s office. The hint of lavender on her medical shirt calmed Lily’s nerves.
Still, Lily feared she’d never hear the end of her fall. She thought for sure Macy would chatter about her clumsiness in the same way she heard the clowns at the circus make sport of the shortest one in their group. Instead, over the weeks to come, Macy carried her books for her, and Miss Radda asked her every day, “How’s my patient?” Then she’d wrap her up in a side-arm hug. It reminded Lily of how her hen, Loretta, huddled her baby chicks in under her wings at night.
The school nurse not only presided over children at school, but she also rounded them up for church on Sunday mornings. It reminded Lily of watching her Uncle Roger with the cows at the farm. Uncle Roger used horses to get the cows to go where he wanted them, but Miss Radda bribed children with fresh baked bread.
“All you children have to do is get dressed for Sunday school. Can you dress yourself?” She’d ask the K-2nd graders. Her smile showed a round of milky whites outlined by valentine red lipstick. “Of-course you can. You’ve got two hands, don’t you?” She cornered kids on the playground every chance she got to remind them about Sunday school.
“You don’t even have to wake your mom, or grandma, or whoever it is you live with.” She passed out permission slips for students to bring back to her with a signed autograph from their guardians. “And don’t worry about breakfast. No need to bother anyone. I will have the best tasting, sweetest cranberry bread you ever salivated for.”
“What’s a cranberry?” Kenny’s face crinkled.
“Those red things that make up the jelly we eat at Thanksgiving. Right, Miss Radda?” Lily pushed her glasses back up her narrow, chestnut nose.
“Well, sort of, child,” Miss Radda turned her attention to Kenny. “You like raisins, young man?”
“Well, yeah, I guess, Miss Raidy.”
“You guess? Well, I guess you like sugar, right?” She tousled his hair. “And call me Miss R.”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, l love anything sweet.”
“Good. Don’t worry about what a cranberry is; you’ll be too busy demanding seconds.”
Within fifteen minutes, Lily settled upon Miss Radda’s lone kitchen chair. The torn vinyl seat rubbed against her bare legs and the two-room unit smelled of Lysol.
“By the way,” Miss Radda’s voice rose a notch as she sat in her rocker. “Did I tell you Marilyn and her mother came to visit?”
“Yes, you did, yesterday,” Lily said.
“But did I tell you, some witch is trying to screw up Marilyn’s looks!” A mischievous gleam brightened Miss Radda’s eyes.
“Well, no, you didn’t tell me that,” Lily suppressed a chuckle.
“Oh, yes! I hated to tell her but . . .” Miss Radda brought her hand up to her puffy, spotted cheek and paused. “I said, ‘Marilyn, what happened? You look so old!’” She stole a glance around the room then continued, head bent down. “Marilynn said, ‘That’s because you haven’t seen me in over twenty years, Radda.’”
“That’s true, right?” Lily asked.
“Well, still,” Miss R. covered her mouth and coughed. “I said, ‘Yes, but you look older than your mother right here.’” She bellowed out in laughter. “Oh, my goodness.” Lily’s elderly friend took a tissue from her pant pocket and dried her nose.
“What did Marilyn say to that?”
With bottom lip pushed out, Miss R. glanced downward before answering. In a whisper, she managed. “Marilyn shouted ‘I told you, Radda, my mother died years ago. This is my daughter, not my mother!’”
Miss Radda rocked slowly. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
“Of course not,” Lily reached out and patted her blue-veined hands. “You had a nice visit though?”
“Oh, yes.” Miss Radda’s chest lifted. “She brought me this mini rose plant.” Her hook-shaped finger shook in front of it. “But the damn thing died.” She reached over, pinched some brown foliage then pushed the plant off the table top. Watching it land in the trash can, she asked, “Did I ever tell you what my name means? Radda?”
“No,” Lily’s voice caught. “You haven’t.”
“Rescue, and retrieve.” Miss R. cupped a flittering moth off her lamp, stood, went to the screen-less window and released it.
“My foster parents retrieved me and my sister from the village orphanage after my parents died in a car fire.”
“I, I’m so sorry,” Lily managed.
“Don’t be. “Radda” became my life’s purpose.” Miss R. stared toward the sound on the other side of her room door. “I miss saving children like I did you that morning.”
“Say,” she plunked back down. “What do you have for me?”
The question jarred Lily back a moment. “Oh, yes. I brought you an apple fritter like you asked.” She passed a white paper bag Miss R’s way. “And I finished your laundry. Where should I put your tops and pants?”
“My other lady friend puts the blouses on the white hangers, and the trousers go on the blue ones. Did you wash my brassiere?”
“Yes, I did. Should I put your underwear and socks in the drawer with your bra?”
“Yes, yes, that would be fine. Do you see my purse? No one stole it, I hope.” Miss Radda’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s right there, on your bed.”
“Oh, yes, I see it.” She got out of her rocker and clutched it to her sagging, but ample chest. “Wait right there. Make sure no one tries to come in and use my bathroom. I need to go in there for a while.” Her eyebrows lifted.
“Take your time, Miss . . .”
“Oh, come closer, dear.” Miss Radda stretched out her neck from the bathroom doorway like a tortoise looking for lettuce. “I’m not going in here to extricate or urinate,” she muffled a childish giggle. “I did that right before you arrived. I need to check my money. I want to pay you for your time and for the laundry soap and for the electricity it took to wash my clothes. Will ten dollars do? That’s what my regular lady charges me.”
“Yes, that will be fine. Take your time. I’ll wait.”
Lily heard a light tap on Miss Radda’s door to the hallway. She opened it to sky blue eyes of a snake-skinned woman teetering on her walker.
“Who are you?” Her hand shook midair. “Why are you here?” A smudged lanyard revealed ETHEL as her name.
“I’m visiting my friend, Miss Radda,” Lily said.
“Sh e . . . h el p s m e.” Ethel’s head shook with each sound she rolled out. “Got to go,” turning her handle bars, her slip-free, socked feet scratched onward until she halted at the end of the hallway. A crash into the glass door exposing a small fenced-in grassy area set off an alarm.
“It’s Ethel again,” a heavyset, thirty-looking assistant called behind her at the male resident nurse as she waddled toward the escapee.
From across the hall, Lily heard, “Arnold, it’s time for medicine.” She watched an Asian gal push the wheelchair of a crumbled-up man back toward his room. Pausing in the doorway, like the mother of a new-born, the gal wiped the drool from Arnold’s mouth.
Oh, God, I hope in my later years, I’ll be shown the same grace and compassion that these employees give.
Miss Radda’s beckon, “Come, I’m done,” brought Lily back. She closed the door behind her and faced Miss R.
“Here’s for all your trouble.” Miss Radda grabbed Lily’s hand. “Now don’t tell anyone about our arrangement. People are so nosy around here.” She pressed the neatly folded one dollar bills into Lily’s palm.
“Thank you. Don’t worry, it’s our little secret.”
“Yes,” Radda giggled. “Our secret. It’s okay to have little secrets.”
“Yes, it is.” Remembering last night’s dream, Lily asked, “Are you feeling okay?”
“We Swedish women out live our men,” Miss Radda recited. “Now, you go on home.”
Lily slowly shouldered her purse strap. “Thank you for sharing about your name.”
“Oh, nonsense,” Miss R. winced. “Come here, let me hug you. You are such a nice lady.” She stepped forward and stretched out her rag doll arms. Lily enveloped Miss Radda’s slightly hunched back and shrunken shoulders.
“You call if you need anything else,” Lily said.
“I will. You are such a sweet lady. God bless you. Bye, bye now.” Miss Radda pointed upward. “He rescues me,” she called out. Lily managed a smile and walked down the hall toward her final exit at the Applegate Rehabilitation Center.
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