1st Place 14 – 17
Where to Look
He must have heard her coming because once she’d slammed the gate and stomped her way through the yard, he was already sitting expectantly on one of the lopsided boulders lining the garden. Various gardening tools lay strewn across the lawn in front of him. He held one in his hands—an odd looking contraption used to pull out weeds, he’d once explained to her—and rolled it back and forth along his dirt-smeared palms. A curious smile touched the gardener’s face as he watched her storm towards him. She wore a rumpled blue dress and hauled a knapsack over her shoulder. Arms flying at her sides, frizzy brown hair poking out of her braid—she looked incredibly annoyed.
“How was school?” he offered, a smile still tugging at his lips.
In reply she dropped her knapsack to the ground, ripped off her shoes and flung them through the air. They hit the fence with a thwack and dropped into a shrub of lilacs. She then dropped onto her back, stretched out on the lawn and looked to the sky. “Sam,” she said, breath heaving. “This planet sucks.”
“Watch your mouth,” he reminded her, crouching down next to the lilacs. Finding no damage, he turned back to her. “What happened?”
“Frankie Collins, that’s what,” she snorted as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Rolling over onto her side, she twisted a strand of grass around her finger and looked up at him. He had dark hair and eyes, and his sun-browned skin was marked with scars—a large one ran along his jaw and smaller ones were mysteriously strewn across his arms. She’d asked him about them once, but his face had taken on that sad look he got whenever she asked too many questions. She didn’t want to make him upset, so she had stopped asking. “The principal called my mom. She’s mad.”
Sam just looked at her.
She groaned, rolling onto her back. “I may have hit him.”
He sighed, looking out into the yard. It was very large—with freshly cut grass, surrounded by hedges and an assortment of trees bearing apples, plums and cherries. A stone pathway curved through the middle—lined with shrubs and blooming flowers—which led to a polished gazebo, scattered with potted tulips. The house itself was enormous. Furnished with white panels, elegant windows—it was grand, a model Victorian house. He considered the girl, barefoot and chewing on her lip, “Now why would you do something like that?”
She watched the sky. “He called me fat.”
“You believe him?”
“Ugh,” she groaned.
“I know what you’re gonna say. It doesn’t matter what others think, it’s how I look at myself. Blah blah.” Irritated, she attempted to change the subject. “Why don’t you go to school Sam?” It was something she’d always wondered since Sam first began working for her family months ago. Sometimes he spoke like her grandpa, but he wasn’t old. He looked about the same age as her eldest brother, who’d gone off to college a couple years ago.
The moment the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Sam’s face fell, his eyes taking on that glazed-over look he got whenever he disappeared. She wanted to know what he was thinking, but couldn’t stand his miserable expression. “Look, just forget it,” she backtracked. “School sucks anyway.” She observed him awhile longer, searching for something to say but not finding the words. Defeated, she flopped back onto the grass and stared up at the sky—the big, lonely sky. “Everything sucks.”
It made her angry. She felt her fists clench, nails digging into her palms. Before she knew it she drove her fist into the air and jabbed the sky. She imagined it cracking in two, shards of blue glass bursting around her knuckles, falling, shimmering, with wisps of cloud here and there. Beyond it she saw nothing. Or maybe it was everything. Emptiness stretched out above her and she felt herself slowly rise, arms outstretched, floating. And suddenly it didn’t matter that her mom was mad, or that she might be fat, or that she wasn’t good at gymnastics, or that Frankie Collins was a stupid-head, because she was so small and she was floating and everything would be okay.
She wanted to turn to Sam and say, “Come with me,” but then he’d ask “Where?” and she’d have to say “Outer space,” and that would all be very silly. So she said nothing.
Silence filled the air. She felt an itch at her shoulder but was too afraid to move, too afraid to break the spell.
“It’s not so bad.”
She sat up to find the voice attached to a familiar, curious smile. He turned to the shrubbery, knelt in the dirt. Gingerly, he wrapped his fingers around a tiger lily, orange petals flecked with black—like scars, the girl thought. She watched him, mesmerized by his knowing eyes, that peculiar smile. Sunlight bounced off of the lily’s fiery petals. Splashes of greens, purples and blues as soft and serene as the afternoon sky, sprouted around him. He inhaled and the girl could almost see the colours waft their way toward him. He closed his eyes, indulging in each one, each colour. When he spoke at last, his dark eyes reached for her to understand.
“You just have to know where to look.”
I wrote this story last year, heard about this contest and submitted it not knowing what to expect. I saw this contest as an opportunity to simply submit something and see the outcome. At first, this piece started off as a sketch of two characters and then somehow turned into the idea of finding beauty in odd places. As for writing goals, I’ve loved writing ever since I was little, so I imagine myself one day in a writing-related field. Thanks for the opportunity. – Simran Hothi
Since being published on October 12, 2012, Simran’s story has had 5,883 unique views from 109 countries with an average time of 3:37. That is an amazing amount of exposure for a young writer’s short story. (October 18, 2013) Simran’s story also caught an editor’s attention and she agreed to have it published in YoMag. You can see it on pages 38-39.