Winter, 2009
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!


The small wood stove kept the tiny chapel warm and their snowy footprints had already melted by the door. The dim light from the candle nubs played on the faces of the minister and his wife, and made the bride and groom's shadows dance on the empty pews.

The minister's monotone continued, "If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace."

All four turned abruptly when they heard a cough by the door...

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
by Shelagh McNally, Pincourt, QC, Canada

I could imagine the expression on their faces when I spoke up after the minister asked the question. Just cause? Oh there was just cause alright and I had the photos to prove it. These photos were taken before all the pills and plastic surgery, before all the makeup and fancy clothes, before the name change and new identity.

I replayed the scene over in my head: opening the church door, quietly sliding into the pew, waiting for the minister's question, stepping forward to denounce the bride, the look on Pat's face. Maybe I should use the new name ñ Suzanne. What a pretentious choice for a new identity. How many times had we listened to Leonard singing that song, lying in each other's arms?

The song is running through my head and the wheels of the bus are keeping time. I checked my cell phone again. The battery is fine. I want Stacy to be able to reach me. She's a pretty sensible 14-year-old but I still felt guilty leaving her alone with her brother and sister. She's done her fair share of babysitting. I watch a young couple get onto the bus. They are laughing as they brush the snow off each other and throw their change into the box. Everything is wonderful when you are in love - even being out in the biggest snowstorm of the year. Isn't young love grand? Stupid, as well.

I check the photos - I want to keep them dry - after all, they are my evidence. I try to smooth down the yellowed edges. There is a crease on our wedding portrait dividing Pat's face in half. We both look so young but so happy. I made sure to bring along the last photo taken with Pat holding newborn Sally, three-year-old Jack on the left and seven-year-old Stacy on the right. Two days later Pat walked out, leaving me a single parent to raise three kids on my own. What kind of person would leave their own flesh and blood behind because they needed to "find themselves?" I wonder how the new fiancÈ will feel about his sexy new bride when I throw that photo down on the altar.

I remind myself to unclench my jaw. Pat deserves what is coming after causing the kids so much grief. I'm doing this for them. Why should there be a second chance to be happily married with the past kept a secret? Life would have been easier if my kids had two parents instead of one half-dead from exhaustion. While Pat was off finding the meaning of life, I was juggling two jobs and raising three kids. And never one penny given to help out.

Not one word after all those years and then this invitation for the "children to share in my new life." My hands were shaking when I tore open the cream-coloured envelope and saw the photo fall to the floor. The family resemblance was still there - no amount of makeup could erase the genetics. As if I would allow the children to go be part of that circus. No, my children were safe at home while I was on my way to stop a wedding.

My cell was ringing.

"Hello," I said

"Hi mommy," said Sally.

"Hi honey. What's up?"

"I'm making cookies for you with Stacy because you looked sad when you left. We are putting chocolate chips in them."

I reached up and pressed my thumb to the frosted window. Through the tiny, oval shaped window I saw a brightly lit florist's shop. I remembered the red tulips by the hospital bed. I brought them because they were my mother's favourite. I was holding her hand for the last time when she looked at me and smiled, "You are surrounded by love. Promise me you'll be happy and forget the past. Be grateful for what you have," she said. She wouldn't approve of what I was about to do.

I could picture the kids in our blue kitchen with the walls the same shade of Jack's eyes. Suddenly I was crying.

"Are you coming home soon, Mommy?"

"Yes, honey, I will be home soon."

"I'll make sure Jack doesn't eat them all. You know what he's like around cookies. Come home soon, Mommy."

I got as far as the chapel door. When I heard the organ start, I let the invitation drop into the snow and turned away. I let my ex-husband walk down the aisle as the newly created Suzanne, ready to marry the man of her dreams. All these years, the children thought their father was dead. Now he really was.

There would be time for a wedding some other day. Right now, I was on my way home for some home-baked cookies.

What Shelagh won:

$200 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)

Contest guidelines are HERE.

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