Fall, 2006
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!

She turned away from the crisp fall wind, shivering as her long skirt billowed wide and her hair slapped her face. She'd lost her prayer kapp again. Mamm would be real mad. Dry leaves were racing past, heading in the same direction. She'd always wondered where all those leaves ended up, year after year. Some were already brown. That made her sad. The dark orange ones reminded her of Mamm's pumpkin cookies and she turned toward home. She walked slowly, fingering the package hidden in her apron and thinking about the Bishop's visit yesterday, when he'd said she was too simple-minded to care for a baby...


Coffee Stains
by Darcie Friesen Hossack, Kelowna, BC Canada

Mamm doesn't believe in having mirrors around the house. She says it keeps people worried about the outside of the cup instead of giving the inside a good scrubbing. Whenever she takes her dish brush to one of her plain white coffee mugs, she swirls it vigorously with powdered soap. Then, if she thinks they need it, she says a prayer for the person who drank from it.

From across the table in her kitchen, Mamm watches as her grown daughter dips a pumpkin cookie, the colour of orange autumn leaves, in her coffee. She thinks about the soggy crumbs that will be left in the bottom, the smudge of soft pink lipstick on the rim; how she'll gently wash them both away after Theresa leaves.

The cookies are Theresa's favourite. Mamm makes them every year in October. By November her sugar pumpkins have begun to freeze on their vines and she leaves them to compost in the garden. And while she knows she could puree batches, enough for the whole year, Mamm believes in keeping certain things sacred. Like birthdays. Theresa was born in October.

"The Reverend came by this morning," Mamm says, then takes a sip of dark black coffee. "He was sorry he missed you." It was only half true, though. He did come by. Same as every Saturday, which was when he made his rounds through the entire village, interrupting wives as they baked and readied their houses and children for Sunday morning. Most of them, the younger ones especially, thought it was a bother. Some said they'd all be better off if he had a wife of his own to make cakes for him. But no one ever suggested he come a different day.

"Did he now?" Theresa asks, her voice the merest bit sour.

Mamm sips her coffee again. The truth was she hadn't said anything to him about Theresa coming for a visit. Nor had he asked.

"I wish you wouldn't let him in," Theresa says. She gets up and lifts Mamm's old aluminium percolator from the stove, kept warm over the pilot light. She feels coffee slosh around inside and, without asking, warms up both of their cups. "You know he only comes to check up on you. On everyone. After all this time, I don't know why you can't stop being bothered by what he thinks."

"Everyone cares what a minister thinks," Mamm says, as though it's the truth.

"Not everyone," Theresa argues.

"Everyone around here," Mamm says firmly. She looks at Theresa, then down at the table, sweeps a few crumbs into her hand and brushes them into the pocket of her apron. She thinks about the first time Reverend Hildebrandt came to the house to see her. Before, he had only ever come to visit with her parents.

At thirty-four years old, Marie Martins was an old maid. The oldest of eleven children, she had watched with admiration when each of her sisters married. Sandra was first, then Carol and Nora, until Marie was the only one left at home.

"Marie will be better off staying with us," she once heard her mother say. "Her father and I have known she isn't like our other girls; seems she's just never had a mind for being a wife and mother. She'd rather be up a tree with her head in a romantic book."

Her mother was right. While Marie's sisters had played with dolls, making up homes that looked just like their parents' house, Marie read Jane Austen stories that she bought from garage sales with pennies she'd found and saved. When the Martins girls started to turn the heads of young men in the village, Marie wasn't one of them.

There was a time when Theresa wanted to know about her father. She was thirteen, and the other children in school had begun to tease.

One night, while tucking Theresa into her bed, Mamm told her there wasn't much to say, that she hadn't known him. She'd been swept up in a declaration of love that she knew was a lie. "And that's all you ever need to know," she said. There was no reason to take old sins out of storage and rummage through them. "It doesn't do anyone any good."

Lately, since Theresa came home wearing a diamond ring, she's been asking again.

"I know you, Marie," said Reverend Hildebrandt. "You're not the kind of girl to raise a child. Nora's already agreed to take it. People will forget soon enough where it came from so long as you give them a reason to look the other way." He put his hand on her shoulder, like a father would. But when he looked down at her swollen belly, no longer able to be hidden under an apron, he withdrew his hand and slowly wiped it on his pant leg.

As he stood to leave, he reached into his pocket and handed Marie a paper-wrapped package. Inside was the prayer kapp she'd worn the day, nine months ago, when she went to the church to pray.

"I think you'll need it," he said as Marie got up and followed him outside into the crisp fall wind.

Although she had always preferred cooler weather, she shivered as her long skirt billowed wide and dried leaves raced past. Before, she'd always wondered where all those leaves ended up, year after year. Now it no longer seemed to matter.

After the Reverend left, Marie walked slowly back towards the house, fingering the package she'd hidden in her apron.

While Mamm sits at the table, fingers curled around her coffee cup, Theresa gets up and carries the other dishes to the sink where the Reverend's mug has been since he left.

"Do you want me to wash these for you?" Theresa asks, already reaching for the faucet, the box of soap.

"No, you can leave them," Mamm replies. "It'll give me something to do once you've gone home."

"Are you sure? It looks like this one's been left too long," she says, lifting the Reverend's cup by the ear and showing the inside of it to her mother. "The coffee's starting to stain through the glaze."

Mamm is quiet for a moment, then says, "Those stains have been there for years."

"Can't you bleach them out?" Theresa asks.

"I could," Mamm says. She stands up, takes the cup from her daughter and puts it back in the sink. "But it's not up to me."

What Darcie 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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