Summer, 2005
24-Hour Short Story Contest

1st Place Winner!


The ocean water was warm, not offering much relief from the relentless heat. It was July 23rd, an anniversary she always honored by returning to the spot where her life had changed so dramatically. She stepped on something hard and reached down. She froze when she realized what she held in her hands...

Still Standing
by Rita Such, Plainfield, Indiana

It was difficult for me not to envy women outside the hotel at the beach where I stayed, their suntanned bodies in bikinis. I missed being one of them, but protected myself from the general viewing public, as well as harsh rays from the sun, with a comfortable white long-sleeved tunic and ankle-length skirt of gauze fabric. A wide-brimmed, straw hat shaded my face. And I blocked out the noise of summer vacations while I walked; carried my sandals so warm ocean waters could flirt with the hem of my skirt.

At times I paused to look out over the ocean. Watched the water come in, wash over my footprints and carry them out to sea, as if I'd never stood anywhere at all.

"I suspected I'd find you here."

Startled by a voice that shouldn't have reached my ears, I turned to see my friend, Jared. He approached in denim shorts, a white T-shirt, and thick brown sandals.

My retreat discovered, my privacy invaded, I didn't greet him with open arms. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Cameron, I," he stammered. "Don't be upset."

"I slip away for a few days to Florida and you show up uninvited?"

"You're upset," he concluded.

I darted past him, not sure where I was going, just going. But after a few steps I threw my sandals down, hopped into one at a time to spare my feet from a sandy beach torched by the sun, pushed back tears, and looked at Jared.

"Cameron," he said. "You've come here the past three years, haven't you?"

I glared at him. "Four."

"Four years ago you were here with me."

And I was. Because I had to run away from long days and endless nights of holding my left breast to my heart like I could hide it from doctors and cancer. I had to escape the pressure of chemotherapy, choices, decisions, no guarantees, and well-meaning support groups.

I had to feel desirable and desired, be those things, one last time. Because I'd seen pictures, and I knew I wouldn't let them engrave a scar on my back to enlarge the scar the mastectomy would leave. I applauded every woman who could, but knew I wouldn't.

The evening of July 22, 2001, I excused myself to a Ladies' Room and fled from a support group. I called Jared. He met me for drinks. We talked about life, about death, cancer and sex. About how I would miss my left breast. The pleasure it had given me through the years. Never feeling that way again. And then we drove to the airport, flew to Florida. For two days and nights we were lovers.

Now, the tenderness in Jared's eyes told me that though we'd never spoken of that time since, he hadn't forgotten, either.

"This isn't about us, Jared. It's about me," I said.

"I was here, too," he said. "I'm here now, Cam."

I blinked back tears. "Don't even go there." Jared was calm. "You're there when you come here. Because you've assumed the life of a forty-nine year old spinster. You're afraid of recurrence. Afraid no man would want you with one breast. So you come here once a year to reflect on what was, and to grieve."

I considered this man who was my friend, who'd been my lover. The way we had always been there for each other before cancer, during, and after, in whatever roles we allowed.

"Are you finished?" I asked.

Jared reached for my hand, but I turned to walk back to the hotel. He followed me in silence until I stepped on something in the sand. We stopped and Jared bent, picked it up, and handed me a red disposable lighter.

I clicked the mechanism on the lighter and a small flame appeared. Crazy, I thought, still, it quickened memories, and I cried. "When I was in grade school," I told Jared, "it was fire prevention week. Sister Mary Walter passed out a test to the class. In the mix, a multiple-choice question posed: Which girl is best prepared should fire strike? Four images to choose from: a) girl asleep in bed, b) girl in chair reading book, c) girl seated at table eating, and d) girl standing.

"I became that girl, Jared. Have been that girl. Her arms empty, at her side, always prepared, ready to act, to walk, to run." I let the flame go out. "But I wasn't ready for breast cancer. And I don't know how to do this."

"Cam, you must know that I love you," he told me.

His expression warmed my heart. How hard it must have been for him to speak words we'd avoided for years. At the very least, he deserved the truth. "And I love you, Jared. I just don't know how to let you touch me again, touch my right breast. Because that would mean it matters that my other breast is gone."

"It would be different," he admitted. And then Jared placed his hand where my left breast once was, where a prosthesis would have been were it not so bothersome that I chose not to wear one. "But I've longed for the day you would grow comfortable enough with me, with yourself, to let me thank your scar with my kisses, because it means that you're still standing here with me, Cam."

"That feels impossible to me," I said. "And unfair to you."

"Your arms don't have to be empty, Cam," he insisted. "We'll find our way. Take it slow. Unless, of course, you don't want me?" "Of course, I want you," I sobbed and welcomed his embrace.

Jared kissed me. I didn't pull away. I let his mouth linger on mine, kissed him back. Then he looked at me. He took the lighter from me and smiled while he awakened the flame to stand tall, to dance with life, with him, again.

What Rita won:

$300 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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