EDITOR’S NOTE: Reading the Scintillating Starts you submitted was an eye-opening experience. I had trouble knowing whether many of them were memoir or fiction. That didn’t figure into my decision about the winners, but it made me realize that I could honor more people if we had separate contests for fiction and memoir.
In 2016 we will have four contests, one per issue. One will be for Flash Fiction and another will be for Flash Memoir. A third will be for the Scintillating Start of a work of fiction and the fourth will be for the Scintillating Start of a Memoir. Guidelines are on the Guidelines Page.
Because of those four contests, we have two winners, whose works are posted below. Another six people have been designated as Honorable Mentions. They can claim that as they submit to agents and publishers, and I’ve reimbursed their entry fees. They are Barbara Bentley, Faith Colburn, Patricia Crandall, Tom Pyun, Marianne Rogoff, and Carol Wilson.
Congratulations to First Place Winner, Stephen Galiani;
Second Place Winner, Donna Kennedy;
and our two Honorable Mention Winners,
and Deborah Staunton.
By Stephen Galiani
Photo by Eric Schumacher, schumacherphptography.com
That horrible instant, many years ago, as my daughter plunged headfirst towards the pavement: I still cringe to think about it, refuse to let the inevitable conclusion come into my mind . . . . .
It was a routine summer evening. I had come home from work at about 4:30 PM, and, as was my habit, took my daughters out for a “walk around the block,” both for the opportunity to spend some “daddy time” with the two of them as well as to give my wife a little break. As usual, they pleaded for a ride on my shoulders, and, as usual, I let them take turns. Gaby, almost 5, had the first shift, and now it was Maddie’s turn. I hoisted my blonde 2-year-old onto my shoulders, her bare legs dangling against my chest, admonished her to “hold on tight,” firmly gripped her left leg with my left hand, and, taking Gaby’s outstretched hand in my right, continued on our journey. But a few moments later I let go of Maddie’s leg for just an instant to wipe the sweat from my brow, and, at that precise moment she let go of my forehead to gesticulate at a dog barking at us from behind a fence. The result: Maddie tumbled backwards off my shoulders, head first towards the concrete sidewalk.
You know what they say about time slowing down, and about seeing your whole life pass before your eyes? Well, it’s true. That’s what happened. Not that I saw my whole life pass before my eyes, but I saw a lot. I saw my neglect, over and over again, letting go of her leg and feeling her fall backwards from my shoulders. I saw her plummeting head first toward the concrete. I pictured myself standing over her, horrified, while Gaby screamed hysterically. Then there were the paramedics, and myself trying to explain what had happened to them, and to my wife, and to everyone.
One thing I did not see or hear: Madeline hitting the ground. Nor did I see her on the ground, afterwards, or being administered to by the paramedics. Was it so horrible that I couldn’t bear to see it, that I was hiding it from myself, like a secret concealed behind a veil?
Then I realized that time had stopped. Maddie was suspended in mid-air, while my mind instantaneously made the switch from visualizing the worst to frantically searching for a solution. Some instinctual force, some primal reflex took over, racing ahead of my brain. Without turning, I reached both of my arms backwards. In the same swift continuous motion, I brought my hands towards each other behind my back, catching Maddie by her waist in a vice-like grip, suspended upside down, her head just inches above the sidewalk. Carefully I pulled her to my body, her back against my back, and moved her around to my left side, keeping my hands on her waist and using my left forearm and elbow to brace her against my side. Then I quickly brought my right arm back around in front of me, reached down and grabbed her under her shoulder, turned her upright, and squeezed her to me.
I saw the fear as it faded from her eyes, and her usual sparkle return. She looked at me inquisitively, then giggled.
I gently lowered her gently to the sidewalk. The three of us walked the rest of the way home.
Stephen Galiani holds an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco (2013) and an M.A. in Humanities from Dominican University (2009). Current occupations: writer, teacher. Prior occupations: investment manager, social worker, vagabond. Avocations: writing, percussion & back-up vocals, theatre, travel, wine. His poetry and short fiction have been published in numerous small press magazines including California Quarterly; Newtown Literary; the Marin Poetry Center Anthology; Gutter Eloquence Magazine; Mobius, the Journal of Social Change.
Here We Are Again
By Donna Kennedy
The twins let go of our hands and raced onto the school playground. Bruce lined up for tetherball and Chelsea joined a girlfriend. All around us, children shouted and laughed.
Bill and I looked at each other. “What are we doing here?” he asked. It was a reasonable question for retired 71-year-olds who had already raised two children. But the answer was obvious. Three years before, we’d rescued his grand-twins, then five years old, from a home filled with fights, flies, meth and illicit prescription drugs. The children lived on red candy and Cheetos. They needed us.
One morning, a few months after they’d moved in, Chelsea added another dimension to the story. Knowing her daddy was my stepson, she asked if I had any children of my own. “I did,” I said, but she died when she was 28. I pointed to her picture on the wall. The photographer had caught my daughter in mid-leap—her ponytail flying—in a college production of “Westside Story.” Clutching her favorite blanket, Chelsea looked at me and back at the picture. “She’s not old enough to be dead.”
“Do you miss her?”
Chelsea stroked the satin edges of her blanket. “It helps that we’re here, doesn’t it.”
I took a breath and thought about her question. Oh my God. She’s right. I no longer lie awake at night, punishing myself for my daughter’s death. I no longer cry over what I should have known, what I should have done to stop the cancer.
Now I get up at 3 a.m. to soothe Chelsea’s nightmares and Bruce’s sore throat. I meet with teachers and counselors, schedule visits with family members who love the children but can’t raise them. Grandpa Bill does laundry, repairs toys and reads stories. In between, we try to find simple ways to answer their wonderings about sharks, stars and death.
Bruce and Chelsea do their part. He gives hugs and she offers insights that push aside the grief that clouded my vision for so many years. So my answer to Chelsea’s question came easily: “Yes, we needed you.”
Donna Kennedy is a former newspaper feature writer, community college English instructor and book editor with a doctorate in mythological studies. After raising two children, she and her husband are now legal guardians of eight-year-old twin grandchildren.