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Fall, 2002
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!


By Kelly Gamble, Henderson, NV

Poker in hand, I watch as the small fire burns in the fireplace. I can attack the logs and attempt to stir the flames, or I can let them die naturally. This is my first fire, and I'm not very good at it.

Frustrated, I lie in the middle of the floor, small bicycle parts surrounding me, strung in every direction. With Christmas morning only hours away, I have decided to give up. I'm not much of a single parent. But David made that choice for me.

Slowly, the fire burns, hanging on to what life it has. I try not to focus on the flames. They entrance me and bring back a flood of memories.

My family. They tell me that I should get on with my life and try to forget the past. My father calls David a coward; my mother never mentions his name. They won't be over for Christmas this year.

I look at the directions again, this time attempting the Spanish version. I don't speak Spanish, but it sure can't hurt. My anger grows as I realize what a waste of time this is. I at least need tools, but I can't bring myself to go to the shed where David kept his fix-it box. That was his place, and I'm not ready to enter it. Counselors. They wait while I voice my questions, wait again for me to answer them myself. If I had the answers, why would I spend what little money I have on them?

There are no answers, just questions. He left no note, he showed no sign that he wasn't happy. Although death is rarely a choice, it is the choice David made.

My friend. Andrea, had convinced me to meet some acquaintances of hers that claimed to be witches. Maybe they could cast a spell that would lift the hurt from my soul. They chanted in some unrecognizable tongue and doused me with incense. I left feeling unfulfilled and knowing Shakespeare would have been appalled.

I try not to think selfishly, but it's the little things I miss the most. Someone to change the light bulbs, to fix the television, to make sure the oil is changed in the car. Someone to put a bicycle together for our six-year-old son. Jimmy. He's now the man in the family and tries to protect and comfort me. It's hard for me to look at him sometimes. I can't remember when I last saw him smile.

As I lay amongst the pieces, I scream. "I hate you for what you did to us!" Then I curl into a ball, crying myself to sleep as I often do. Missing David's smile, his scent, his touch.

I wake when I feel a cold chill as the front door opens. My husband, dressed for the weather, stands over me and smiles. I can't speak.

He sits next to me, looks sadly into my eyes, and touches my cheek lightly.

"I'm so sorry."

I can't respond. I watch silently as he begins putting together the bike, using the tools from the fix-it box he thought to get from the shed. He talks as he works, showing me how to use the many gadgets that are in his precious box. "You can fix just about anything with this stuff," he says as he begins replacing the tools in their designated slots.

"But not everything," I manage to whisper.

I want to know why he chose to leave us, but I am afraid to ask. More importantly, desperately, I just want him to stay. Without looking into his face, I say, "I can't do this without you."

He kisses my forehead and traces the tear that runs down my cheek. "I'll always love you," he whispers as he stands and turns to leave.

I wake Christmas morning to the sound of Jimmy running down the hall. I'm sure I look a fright, still in my clothes from the night before, but Jimmy's eyes are focused on the bike. Or what resembles one.

It is our first Christmas without David. The laughter that had always filled our home on Christmas Day isn't present this year. But Jimmy and I make the best of our party of two.

The gifts are all open, but one small box remains under the tree. Jimmy picks it up and hands it to me. "It's for you."

I tremble slightly, holding the small gift in my hand. "Open it," Jimmy urges.

Inside the box is a small key, one that I recognize. I pick it up, hoping its weight isn't more than I can bear.

"It's the key to Daddy's fix-it box." Jimmy says softly. "If we learn how to use all that stuff, maybe we can fix some things, too." He glances briefly at the bicycle, and then lowers his eyes, cautiously waiting for my response.

I gently take him in my arms, feeling a tear trace the same path that it had the night before. "Thank you, son. It's perfect."

As I rock my son, I clutch the key tightly in my hand, wishing the items inside the box could fix everything. I glance at my fire, which struggled through the night and survived. I have to smile.

I have the tools. It's time to learn how to use them.

What Kelly 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)


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