Third Place Tie
KISS AND MAKE-UP
By Gretchen Clark
My girlfriend got me hooked in high school. It was her gift to me for my fifteenth
birthday. This present came in a slim, silver tube. I took the cap off and twisted. Up
came the loveliest shade of mauve lipstick. I rotated it in the sun. It sparkled like
metal flake paint on a Classic. I rolled this shimmery, purple-pink cream over my lips
and looked in the compact mirror. A different girl got reflected back to me. I liked her.
Her blue eyes popped more, her hair shined more, her pale skin glowed more. And more
is just what I wanted that year.
I began to spend copious amounts of time in the drugstore cosmetic aisle.
Magic lived in this part of the store and I was obsessed with the perception of
beautiful I was trying to create. A new pink gloss or a few brush strokes of peach
blush could mean transformation. Presto-O Change-O. The chubby-cheeked girl with
the sparse eyelashes got killer cheekbones and a black forest of fringe to bat. Just like
that: plain went to pretty.
Photo by Joanne Riske
At home, I sat on my wood floor in front of a full-length mirror, trying out different looks. My six-foot poster of Jon Bon Jovi with his tight jeans,
leather jacket, long hair, naughty smile and sexy eyes was taped to my pink closet door. He’d watch me spend hours trying to find myself in the Maybelline
rainbow laid out at my knees.
I believed I became a “vixen” or a “flirt” when I wore products with such seductive monikers. I believed those labels seeped into my skin and turned
me into the babe or the fox that I wanted to be because I wanted to be noticed, wanted a boy to take a second look, wanted that paper man on my wall
to come to life.
One day it worked. I netted a wild punk rocker in my P.E. swim class. His rigid Mohawk turned into a flowing horse’s mane of blonde when wet.
Maybe the pink and white bikini I wore made him glance my way but I was sure it was the sparkle of Sugar Cube on my eyelids and the glitter of Plum
Romance staining my lips that kept his eyes fixated on me.
The punk rocker asked me to come over to his house after school. In the locker room I pulled out every lipstick and gloss I owned. I needed shiny,
something a little sweet and totally irresistible because I wanted to be completely kissable to this boy. I slicked my lips with strawberry-flavored Kissing
It doesn’t matter what we wore (white thermal shirt, jeans, combat boots and a sundress). It doesn’t matter what we talked about (school, my
braces, his dogs, the poetry we liked to write). It doesn’t matter where we were when he kissed me (on his parent’s couch with September sun making
abstract art on the wall behind us). It doesn’t matter what he smelled like (clove cigarettes and Gray Flannel cologne). It doesn’t matter what it was like
(odd, great, awkward, natural). What does matter is what he said (whispered into my ear when he came up for air):
“You’re so beautiful.”
Gretchen Clark has published work in Hamilton Stone Review, Literary Mama, Word Riot, New York Family Magazine, Switchback, Foliate Oak, Flashquake,
and Tiny Lights, among others. She holds a B.A. in English and teaches creative nonfiction at Writers.com.
Third Place Tie
By Lili Flanders
Isaiah Dyer’s memory is like a connect-the-dot puzzle, an array of random bits of information
that he tries to organize into a meaningful image. But the lines he painstakingly draws from one
detail to the next keep getting erased. Each day he has to reestablish relationships between the
facts floating around his head. Number 3 Swale Way: his address. Two eggplants, three tomatoes,
two green peppers, two zucchini: ingredients for ratatouille. June 26th: today’s date. Maya: my
daughter’s name. That woman, walking by the water…that woman. She looks familiar to Isaiah, but
he can’t find the word for what she’s called. He sits forward in his low beach chair and grabs at the
sand, digging his fingers into the shifting grains and then squeezing them solid in his fists. He pumps
his hands in the sand until the muscles in his forearms burn, until enough energy reaches his brain
to spark another connection. That woman with the broad hat and the tablecloth tied around her
waist: she is called Sabine.
She strolls along the sandbar that has been exposed by the out-going tide, stopping occasionally to pick up stones. Some she palms in her right
hand; others she tosses aside. This woman, Sabine: she is left-handed. Other famous lefties: Einstein; that pitcher for the Sox; the fellow who, who made
sounds with…that wooden thing.
Sabine leaves the wet sand and walks toward him, up the incline of the beach. She’s smiling. Another line drawn from dot to dot: Maya and Sabine
have the same smile.
She kneels at his feet and lays a collection of smooth white stones on the sand.
“I know you,” he says.
Leaning forward, her sandy hands on his knees, she blows gently into his face. He closes his eyes and hums.
“Were you lonely?” she asks.
“Why are you wearing a tablecloth?”
She pulls the material more tightly around her waist. “This is a sarong. You brought it back for me, remember, from Sydney.”
“I remember Sydney.” He pictures a Chocolate Labrador puppy and a little girl, rolling
together on a bleached lawn.
“What happened to that dog?”
She looks out toward the water and is quiet for a moment. When Isaiah coughs-a deep sputter, like a motor turning over in his chest-she grasps his
hand and strokes the long, yellow fingers.
“He was old,” she says.
“You’re my wife.”
She kisses his thin, dry lips and then rests her forehead against Isaiah’s, as though, in this way, she could transmit the energy of her brain to his.
Lili Flanders is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Drama and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She writes and teaches in Los
Angeles. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in literary journals.
Third Place Tie
By Rochelle Weidner
Easy Eddie crumpled onto the gravel. A practiced fall I’d
seen before, but the crowds startled like birds. Some called for
help, some inched away. Eddie’s eyelids fluttered as he eyed
“Wait, he’s coming around.” A young mother gripped her
“He’s conscious. You okay, mister? Want us to get a
doctor?” The bus driver looked relieved.
An elderly tourist hurried inside, returning with a cup. Eddie
“Where am I?” Eddie’s voice shook.
“Needles, California.” The driver announced.
Last time I laid eyes on Easy Eddie I was ten. He hadn’t changed much, thinner carrot hair, shabby, and still working his convenient spells. As the
elderly tourist turned away, Eddie deftly lifted his wallet. I stifled a laugh with my hand. Eddie hadn’t changed at all.
Eddie wouldn’t recognize me now. I took after mom more than dad, my towhead hair darkened to a muddy brown, and it wasn’t my father’s face
reflected in the mirror.
Why Eddie and my father were buddies escaped me. Both men I guessed leaned on each other and encouraged their petty crimes and
Only my dad was the one who got caught.
Mom packed us off to Tucson. She had sense enough to change our names, and pride enough to work shit jobs, go to night school and make us a
better life. I was ashamed of my father, told my classmates he was dead.
“I want none of your father’s ill-gotten gains.”
He was a thief. He couldn’t help himself. No job lasted; he always got caught with his hand in the till.
But I didn’t tell her he took me with him that last time.
Mom was late from work. Dad was supposed to be watching me.
The two robbed another convenience store and possessed a box full of cash that needed quick disposal. A witness nailed them and the cops
were hot on their tail. I watched as Dad emptied dressers and drawers, stuffing money from his previous robberies into the small box.
“Won’t the kid know what we’re doing?” Easy Eddie fretted the whole time.
“She’s just a stupid kid, she won’t know. Now, shut up and grab the shovels.”
Stupid kid or not, I knew they figured they’d bury the evidence; the cops would have nothing on them.
They were wrong.
Tailing Eddie was a piece of cake. He lifted one more wallet from an unsuspecting grandma’s purse. Then he set off on foot. We reached the park,
him first, as the dark settled over the town.
The place was abandoned now. The swings still stood. I saw rusty hinges and flecks of paint peeling off the legs. The stand of Eucalyptus was as
I remembered, and in the half-light of the moon, they seemed to whisper and lean closer together. Did the trees remember me, half-starved, rag of a
kid, dragged here by her good-for-nothing father?
Eddie was predictable. He knew my old man had died in prison.
I remembered Dad yelling at me. “Go on, get out of my hair.” Dad pushed me toward the swings, then there were still seats on the ends of the
ropes, and I half-heartedly swung back and forth as I watched.
Was the money still there? It was likely. This part of town had gone downhill and no one was itching to renovate. Eddie had been in jail until
yesterday. The only person besides me who knew the money existed.
I should have gone earlier. But kids are not supposed to go wandering off to seedy neighborhoods. I thought I had time to wait for the right
opportunity, but the phone call from the old cop who’d arrested my dad changed that.
My mother answered with monosyllables. “No. No. Yes. I understand.”
“Eddie’s out. Detective Sam wants us to be careful.”
My mother’s eyes were sad. I patted her hand, and kissed the top of her head. All her life trouble and hardship. I bought the bus ticket that night.
I brought my own shovel. It was easier than I thought to bring it down across the back of Eddie’s head. Like swatting a bat. He fell face forward
into the dirt. He’d never cause trouble again and Mom and I wouldn’t ever have to worry about him coming back into our lives.
Ten steps from the right front leg of the swing, three to the slide, my probe hit something hard below the earth. My college fund.
C. Rochelle Weidner’s stories have appeared in Coe Review, The Alembic, The Griffin, and other publications. Her story “A Party to Die For” appeared in
Forge, Fall 2013. She resides with her husband in Oahu.
This year we have 3 Honorable Mentions
GOT YOUR BACK
By Nathan Wermerskirchen
The night was cold and the full moon lit our way as we carefully descended into the canyon. His steps were quick and confident. Mine were
clumsy and careful, even though I'd made the trip many times before. The whole way down I imagined my head exploding on the jagged rock
bottom. He was waiting for me as I tried to catch my breath, his eyes scanning the darkness that surrounded us. I pointed in the direction we
needed to go. He grabbed my hand and led the way. If he was afraid, it didn't show. It never did. I continued to breath heavy, as if each one
was going to be my last. He knew I was afraid of the dark and that's the only reason he came down here. That and I couldn't leave it down in this
cave to be forgotten or discovered by someone who didn't know what it meant to us. It was once his and now was mine. I couldn’t lose it.
He continued his determined path until we saw it. A simple baseball cap, old and faded. He picked it up and looked at it with a smile. It was
just as important to him as it was to me. Something so simple like a hat. It belonged to our father. It was all we had left of him. He dusted it off
and put it on my head, hard, letting me know not to lose it again. I wouldn't.
We walked back to the canyon opening to climb back up. It was now even colder and I began to shiver. He took off his favorite sweatshirt.
A black hoodie with a hole in the right elbow. He lifted me up, patted me on the back and we started up the jagged wall. Almost at the top, I
looked down and fear took over. But he was there, that confident smile driving the fear away. "I've got your back. Always". The funny thing is, as
I remember I never heard anything after that. I reached the top. I adjusted my father’s hat. I zipped up my brother’s hoodie. I waited for him.
But he never made it up.
Nathan Wermerskirchen is a writer of short stories and screenplays. He studied Mass Communications at The University of St. Thomas before
moving to New York to study Film Production and Screenwriting. He currently lives in Minneapolis, MN.
GOT YOUR BACK
By McKenzie Hightower
I wish something catastrophic would happen to my daughter’s elementary school. I wish it would catch on fire or that the old bricks would slip out of
place like soap and refuse to slide back in. I even wish for both, because the place needs to be destroyed before my daughter graduates from 5th grade on
Her name is Lucy and her mum’s name was Lucy, but now there is only one.
“Look right there.” She says each night. “Look at that big star right by Carina. Mum says that it’s mine. She says that she bought it in the city and
that it didn’t matter if she was gone, because she can still give me the best things.”
Lucy ran off with Billy Joe a year ago. I heard they got lost in the lake together before they got lost in their love. She left one night when the air
was so humid that sweat ran down my back like her fingers used too. I wasn’t home. Only Lucy was, and her mum left a star and her daughter behind.
Now there is this graduation and there is this talent show. Lucy doesn’t have any talents, but everyone has to have one at the elementary school,
so she is going to climb the rope in the gym. She is going to climb it and touch the ceiling and be as close to her star as she ever has been. I watch her
sometimes, outside, after I’ve come home from my shift at the mill, blackened and heavy and distant. She does pushups and sit-ups and runs back and
forth through the dust that the sun dances with. She tries to get a good grip on the rough rope I tied up for her. She tries to wrap her legs around it, hug
it, cling to it with all her might. She tries to pull herself up so many times that her hands become blistered and leak clear puss onto the parched earth.
Jesus Christ she tries so hard.
If only there weren’t so many celebrations in life. So many ceremonies. They raise things up and up until its unbearable. No one in this town knows
what to really celebrate, but maybe that is because there isn’t much too.
Lucy received a post card from her mum the other day. It had an apple on the front and the words “YOU ROCK” on it. Her thumb ran over the frayed
right corner of the card before she pressed it against her nose, took a deep breath of the apple cinnamon perfume pressed onto the paper, and ran back
outside to practice. She has never said a word about her mum, but one time I peeked into Lucy’s room and saw her curled up with her mother’s old Sunday
dress on the floor, the moonlight throwing her body’s shadow across the wall in great angry lines.
I wish it didn’t have to be so hard.
Friday came and the school did not burn down, but God stopped answering my prayers a long time ago. There is just me, far off by the corner of the
bleachers, watching the kids sing and dance and juggle. Lucy is in the middle of the line and all of her classmates stare as she walks over to the tall rope in
the corner, by me. It’s noon and there are no stars out. Her small little hand brushes the rope.
“Stop.” The crowd doesn’t quiet though and no one hears me. “It’s not fair. She’s just a kid. None of this is fair.”
No one knows what they should really be celebrating.
McKenzie Hightower is an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame. She is studying Film and English, but in her spare time she is an amateur
photobomber and professional TV watcher. She has been published in (Re)Visions and the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards.
REFLECTIONS ON A NEEDLESTICK
Drawing by Richard T. Brown, Jr.
By Judy Williams
Jane’s left pinky toe fidgeted slightly as she observed the waiting room occupants. The cast -- a twenty something student and her attentive
boyfriend (no rings), a well-dressed woman in her forties, maybe undergoing fertility therapy, and a gay couple - male - probably with their female
surrogate. Normally, she completed each patient’s story puzzle with all the tantalizing details, but not today.
“Jane, come on in.”
The opening door spared her further thoughts as she rose slowly and moved towards the interior. She knew Dr. Thorpe’s office almost by heart.
It was located in the medical office building next to University Hospital where Jane had done her residency. The layout was essentially the same in each
suite. She also knew Dr. Thorpe, but not as well.
“Third door on your left.”
“Right. Grazie,” Jane said.
Mary, the office assistant who had known Jane a long time, smiled. “She’ll be in in a moment. Just relax.”
The door closed. It was quiet. The moment Jane dreaded more than any other during her many doctors’ visits had arrived. She was alone in the
room. Sterile surgical trays lay on the counter. Sterile needles in protective wrapping lined a shelf above. She took a deep breath.
Ten years since she had been a resident. It had happened in a split second. A nurse dropped a tray. The infected needlestick pierced Jane’s
calf. Hepatitis C. Though Jane was mostly asymptomatic it was a lot to live with. In some ways, the “accident” as Jane called it, had made her a
better doctor, but the price was high. Jane had long since forgiven the nurse and the hospital. Doctors and nurses were injured by needlesticks a
surprising amount of the time -- it was a part of the territory. Jane always greeted the nurse when she ran into her next door. But she still faced a
possible liver transplant down the road and when she was alone with sterile trays and packaged needles, she felt anxious and afraid. As she
acknowledged to herself only, it was probably a mild form of PTSD.
A large picture of University Hospital hung on one wall with the Hippocratic Oath next to it. “I will keep them from harm and injustice.” Had she?
Jane adjusted herself on the examining table. Moving was getting more difficult. She was five months pregnant with a girl, past the time she could do
anything about it. An outstanding resident in cardiology, she had never wanted marriage or children but the randomness of her “accident” had made her
crave roots. Six years later, she paid cash for a house and found the perfect sperm donor. Cardiology had given way to teaching and running the
hospital’s medical outreach clinic.
“Hi, Jane.” Dr. Thorpe opened the door. Did Jane imagine it, or was her tone slightly disapproving? It didn’t matter.
“Let’s have a look. Slide down please.” Jane put her feet in the stirrups while Dr. Thorpe conducted the pelvic in silence. “Looks normal.
Everything’s fine. Go ahead and sit up. How’s Marissa?” Marissa was Jane’s four year old.
Dr. Thorpe pressed. “Was the test positive?”
“Yes. It just came back.”
“Maybe she’ll outgrow it. Lots of Hep C babies do. If she doesn’t, I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure she has a healthy life.”
“But now you’re pregnant again. . . .”
Almost on cue, the door opened. It was Mary, with Marissa in tow. “Here she is. Fresh from day care. Your Peach.”
“Thanks Mary.” Jane’s eyes lit up as Marissa ran towards her. “Hi, Peach. How was your day?”
Marissa giggled. “Good, Mommy. How was yours? “
“Sister,” said Marissa, pointing at Jane’s tummy. My sister. She’s in Mommy’s house.”
“Yes,” said Dr. Thorpe, “she is. Jane, you’re fine. See you in a month, unless there’s a problem.” Dr. Thorpe patted Marissa on the head and left.
Jane eased off the table. “Give Mom a minute.” Marissa dangled her legs from the red child-sized chair. Jane watched as Marissa flexed her left
pinky toe. Her eyes wandered to the sterile tray and the row of packaged needles above.
“What are those, Mommy?”
“Needles, Honey. Sharp. Not for little ones. But, someday, when you and your sister are older, I’ll tell you a story about them.”
She took Marissa’s hand and headed for the door.
“Mom? Tonight can we tell the story of me?”
“Yes, . . . .Peach. I’m sure we can.”
Judy Williams is an LA attorney who focuses on appellate writing. She has contributed to and edited plays, screenplays and non-fiction books and is a
published poet. Her short play “Leaves” was performed at the World Cultural Open in NYC.
The lighter’s fire burned his fingers and brought his thoughts back. He lit the candle: then snapped the Zippo’s cover closed: the lighter’s flame
extinguished; but not the heat of his thoughts.
He lay on his cot, seeing a note on the table. He could read the words ‘Kent State’; then the note folded. I’ll read it later he thought, and closed
his eyes. His hand rolled the grenade pin back and forth over the dried blood on his chest. He must write his love tonight. But only good letters home: not
about lives taken; or lost. His mind re-lived this last mission; the stench of death invading his senses; the vill the NVA had attacked. A little child, naked
and bloody, ran among the bodies, crying out for his mother; (ma^; ma^). The Sergeant picked him up. He pulled him against his chest to shield him from
the carnage. The child grabbed the Crucifix that hung from the Marines neck.
“You can have that” the sergeant said. His hand clutched a grenade. “This is for those who hurt your mother: I promise.” The Marines moved all
night. They made contact with the enemy force as the sun rose. The first sound the enemy heard was the grenade explode in their midst. None
surrendered; none escaped: the promise kept.
The Sergeant laid the grenade pin on the ammo box and started his letter… May 5th, 1970-My love, sorry I haven’t written sooner. We went to
help a vill. A little kid was crying. I gave him my Crucifix. We walked through the valley that night. I will never forget the sunrise.…
Carl Small lives in Quechee, Vt., with his wife of 42 years. He served with a Marine Rapid Response unit in Vietnam In '69 - '70. He has written a
children's book The Indoor Cats Outdoor Adventure to be released this August.
The Marine chopper thundered up the valley; an iron eagle flying back to its
nest. Its blades cut through the pre-dawn darkness. It circled, and plunged toward
a command base carved in the mountain pass. Dust of Viet Nam churned as it
The twelve-man assault team filed off; this mission over. The pungent smell
of gunpowder lingered on their bodies. Their shoulders bowed under the weight of
The sergeant entered his hooch. An empty ammo box: his table: a melted
candle; his light. He reached in his pocket and felt the loose grenade pin, not
knowing why he had saved it. He took out his Zippo lighter, flipped it open, and
spun the flint wheel. He stared at the flame; thoughts racing home. He yearned for
her touch to renew his soul.
By Carl Small
THE GOOD LETTERS HOME
We are pleased to share Bari Benjamin’s letter to her daughter, which was the winner of our new Open Letter Contest.
You grabbed my hand and squeezed so hard your newly manicured, blue nails dug into my sweaty palms. You were scared. You kept your
eyes glued to the floor, as though hoping to miss seeing your Grandma in this cold room, reeking of alcohol and urine. I was scared, too. I barely
recognized her. Her frail body looked haphazardly strewn across her bed as if she had no control over her limbs. Her warm brown eyes glazed over,
lifeless. As I leaned over to whisper in her ear, I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. My heart swelled and for an instant, I felt happy.
Then it was gone and she didn’t know me.
It was then that I realized I didn’t know her either. “Wait,” I wanted to scream, I need to know things. I have questions, Ma. What were you
like as a little girl? Did your Mother hold you when you were frightened? Did you sit on your Daddy’s lap? What was your first kiss like? Did you hate it
like I did? Did you wonder if it would always be like that? How did you feel when you married Dad? Were you happy or did you know in your heart it
was a mistake? How did you feel when I was born, how did you really feel? I need to know your stories.”
Grandma died one week later. Mourning has been difficult for me because instead of mourning her death, I’m grieving my disconnection from
her life. I’m grieving the loss of not knowing her enough. This longing will never go away. I know that you, too, carry a similar longing for your
biological mother. Taken from her at six months, too young to remember her, and swept halfway across the world to your new home, changed your
So I’m offering you a substitution of sorts, an opportunity to know me as your mother as well as a woman, who is human with her strengths,
flaws and limitations. Know me, Laura. I won’t hold back. And know that everything that has happened to me, every choice I’ve made- good ones,
dumb ones, have led me to finding you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We were honored to have so many wonderful submissions to our 9th Flash Prose Contest. This year we had an honest-to-goodness
unbreakable tie for Third Place, so both stories were winners.
Congratulations to all who entered. It takes courage to send your work out. To encourage you to keep sharing, we have a brand new contest.
Read about it in the gray box on the home page.