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Fall, 2005
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

The pristine snow on the hill was marred only by the bright orange and red leaves that had fallen in the night wind. The early snowstorm had pushed fall into winter, but fall was still fighting for recognition. She couldn't dwell on the beauty around her, however, because she had only moments to decipher the etchings on the gravestone...


Are You My Wife? Are You My Mother?
by Jonathan F. Keiler, Bowie, Maryland

Bernard stumbled quickly along the path, slick with blown snow and wet, dirty leaves. He poked his cane ahead like a blind man, though he could see perfectly well, even at 85. Until he reached the kitschy Rosenfeld mausoleum, he'd kept his eyes fixed on the dangerous ground ahead.

Now, at the granite tomb, carved with outlandish and fanciful Old Testament reliefs, including one of David battling Goliath like a kung fu master with a slingshot, the old man paused. In years past he'd smiled at the carvings, but today he only registered the location of the tomb, orienting himself for the next leg of his journey.

About fifty yards further along the walk he came to a jumbled and empty corner of the cemetery. A number of stones were knocked over, and many others choked with weeds. On a very few of the grave markers, stones lay atop, indicating a recent visit by a loved one, but most of the graves had not seen a visitor for many years.

His eyes moved along the markers at the site. Although he squinted it was not for failing sight, but failing memory. The marker was here he was sure, but where exactly? Over to his left along a broken set of flagstones he spied something familiar. The gravestone stood upright and looked relatively new, unlike the tumbledown graves around it. Bernard stared at the etchings on the stone, trying to decipher the words. He found it hard to concentrate, the wind through the trees distracted him, and he heard a soft pleasant buzzing in his head that made him pause and stare ahead, his mind for a moment blank.

A sudden noise broke this fugue state. He heard a scrambling sound along the shattered walk, rocks and gravel cracking and bouncing among the wretched flagstones. An old woman approached him, heavy set, not unattractive, with a kind face. It was his mother. She must be impossibly old he thought, remembering for a moment that he was born in 1920. Oh well, people live a long time nowadays he reasoned.

"Dad! Dad!" The old woman appeared to be speaking to him. Bernard blinked and focused on the face. She looked to be about sixty. "Dad!"she repeated, huffing and puffing from the long chase. "You just ran ahead of me, you should be more careful. I can't even keep up with you anymore!"

"Are you my mother?" Bernard asked.

"No dad."

"Are you my wife?"

"No, Pop, I'm your daughter. I'm Carol."

"Am I married?"

"You were married to my mother, Ruth Marcus. That's her headstone in front of you. We've come to visit her grave."

Bernard considered this. "Was I married a long time?"

"Fifty-two years. I'd say that was a long time," Carol answered measuredly.

Bernard looked back at the headstone in front of him, carefully reading again the words.

Ruth Marcus

Beloved Wife and Mother

1925-2000

His memories are fractured and scattered. He looks at the tombstone again. Where is my Rosetta stone, he thinks. Why can't I put it together?

"Did you take your medication today?" the old woman asks. "Did the nurse give you the medicine for your Alzheimer's?"

Bernard can't remember. There was a nurse this morning. There was food and pills. Did he eat them?

"I don't know," he answers, quite honestly.

"Do I have children?" he asks.

"Yes, Dad, I'm your daughter. You have another daughter, Emily. And you have three grandchildren. And a great-grandchild". She doesn't bother with the names.

Bernard parses this information. He begins to put it together, but as he does so, it seems to separate and fly away. He concentrates.

The old man looks at the gravestone a third time, trying to decipher the words in front of him. "Ruth Marcus" His plaque scarred cortex turns these words over like a child playing with a smooth colorful block.

Suddenly a flood of memory overtakes him. The memory is both good and bad. He recognizes joy and anger, ecstasy and frustration, a life long lived, a friend and lover lost. For an instant he is complete and whole, and in that moment wishes he could end this madness and join his Ruthie.

Carol approached her father and looked down into his eyes which seemed to be filled with tears. Bernard looked up from the stone marker into the face of his daughter. She gently gripped his bony shoulder through worn tweed and cotton.

"Are you my wife?"he asked. "Are you my mother?" For the thousandth time, she told him.


What Jonathan won:

$250 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)


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Contest guidelines are HERE.


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