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We are pleased to feature
our annual
creative writing award for fiction and to congratulate the winner
of this year's TenTen Fiction Award of $1,010.00.

:: Welcome to Word Smitten :: Native Shore Fiction :: Native Curlew ::We are pleased to award the 2008 WordSmitten TenTen Award for Fiction
to Lindsay Coppens for her short story, "Passing Days."

Our short story award winners are featured in our creative writing section,
Native Shore Fiction,
under the wings of angels, perhaps,
but most certainly under the watchful eye of the native curlew.
Join us in congratulating writer Lindsay Coppens on her award.
Our fiction panel is quite impressed with the quality of these stories.
We'll be publishing the five finalists of this year's fiction competition, so look for their stories soon.

The deadline for this year's event is July 1. For guidelines, click here: The TenTen.

Passing Days
by Lindsay Coppens

The TV clicks on as I finalize my plan.

“Time for your show Mr. Stais.”

No matter how many times I turn the damn thing off somebody comes in to flip it right back on. They don’t like the idea of an old man looking at a wall. They think I’m staring at nothing, and it makes them uncomfortable. But I’m just reliving my life and don’t need to close my eyes to see the days gone by.

The orchestra drifts up and down till the baritone breaks through announcing “Like sands
through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”

“Today’s the day I’m gonna die,” I announce, but it comes out like a crackly whisper with a
phlegm grumble at the end.

“What’s that Mr. Stais? Couldn’t hear you with the TV up so loud,” the blond girl says as she opens the drapes and walks to the bed.

I don’t say another word as she slides the blood pressure cuff around my wrinkled arm. I’ve decided that I will choke and drown. The inflating squeeze is like little Maggie grasping on as she squealed with fear and joy next to me in the wagon when I’d let the horses open up all the way home.

“I hear your girl Maggie’s in town.” Thinking I can’t hear, she shouts, “That’s mighty nice of her to come all this way to see you.” Pulling off the cuff, she turns to go to the next room.

My girl Maggie is sixty four years old. She’s coming here because my boy Russell is dead. Four days ago he died while he was just sitting doing nothing, they said. But I know he wasn’t sitting doing nothing. He was living in his head. I’ve been imagining what Russell was living, if he was deep in the past, with me, when he died. I picture it being the day he hit the winning shot at sectionals. When the ball swished through the hoop like magic the crowd opened up in a roar, and Russell, hustling down the court, looked right at me, pumping his fist in the air, and smiled. I live it like it was yesterday. Maggie’s next to me on the wooden bleacher screaming for her big brother. Mary’s over with the other mothers standing, clapping her hands over her head, healthy, beautiful, hair in soft auburn curls, cheeks flushed, alive.

My boy is dead. He’ll be joining Mary in the ground tomorrow and I can’t go. I’m too weak, they say. They think I don’t understand as my days drown in blue television light, beeps of machines, cries of the folks down the hall, meals sucked through a straw. My real life was under the sun, listening to the wind rustle corn, crying for the cows to come in, eating Mary’s fine cooking.

Room 16B is mine for now. It was someone else’s, a good man named Charlie they said, and it will be someone else’s again. My life’s been whittled down to a hospital bed, a picture album, Mary’s porcelain Holy Mother, and framed photographs of Maggie’s grandchildren that I don’t even know.

I have a spot waiting for me under an oak tree next to Mary. We picked it together when she first took sick, a shared stone thirty eight paces off the main path. Grey granite, rough round the edges like we are, we joked, with two hearts of ivy entwined. Mary’s to the left, just like where she slept for fifty four years in our bed. She went to rest so long ago. Seventeen years waiting for me. I thought I’d be soon to follow. When Johnson did the engraving I said he might as well put my dates on there too; marking my place just seemed the right thing to do. “James Paul Stais 1913-19--” carved in next to “Mary Anne Stais 1917-1991.”

But then I lived. Eight years ago Johnson had to go ahead and sandblast out that nineteen and chisel in a twenty. It’s all wrong.

God won’t let me go, no matter how much I wait and pray. Some days I let out all the breath I can and I think it’s time, I’m empty, let’s go home. But then the old lungs just get to working and breathe in despite what I’d like them to do.

I know suicide is a mortal sin. My Mary would up and kill me herself if she knew how much I think about it. I see her leading the rosary ladies every Sunday, starting the Hail Marys with her clear strong voice. The morning sun casts a glow on her curls as they turn from auburn to gray to white. Those prayers were a part of her heartbeat. But I’m so tired of this room that I hope she’ll understand.

At my age it should be simple for a man to die. People die all the time before they’re ready.
Russell wasn’t ready to go, but he went, like that. No waiting. No praying. For a while I thought if I prayed to live I might be let go, but nothing. There were all the times in my life I missed death by a blink. The time Goldie hoofed me in the chest and my heart stopped. The time the Ford got stuck on the tracks as the 4:05 came barreling down. The time I choked on next to nothing and fought like a drowning man clawing for air.

Now I can’t let more days pass, waiting and praying. The days of my life are over. When
Maggie comes I’ll give her a kiss. We’ll visit for a while. Watch TV. Talk about Russell and old times. I’ll tell her I’ve got no fight in me anymore. When she’s about to go I’ll fill up my mouth, picture my Mary’s loving eyes, swallow, breathe, choke, and die. Please God. A simple swallow. An everyday act. An accident. My girl will be here. She’ll squeeze my arm, holding me as I travel home.

~ * ~

:: Lindsay Coppens :: Fiction Award Winner for 2008 ::

WordSmitten is very pleased to present Lindsay Coppens
with our annual award of $1,010.00 for her short story
"Passing Days"
--an unflinching exploration of a character
who faces endings of time and of lives.

- The Editors and Fiction Panel
The WordSmitten Annual TenTen Short Story Award


The TenTen Short Story Award :: Previous Winners

Andrew Davis :: Maria Headley :: Mary McNulty

Storycove Award Winner Mukta Singh-Zocchi

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