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Claudia Ann Seaman Awards for Young Writers, 2017, Fiction

2nd Honorable Mention: Eleni DeBre, Los Angelos California

 

Champagne

The chandelier hung an inch away from my head – I was six feet too tall for my one- story house with low sloping ceilings and plastic, sagging chandeliers.
“Good night,” I called into the kitchen. I knew the running water would muddy my words before they reached my mother’s ears, so I didn’t bother to wait for a response. My mother was constantly at the sink after the divorce, washing and rewashing dishes. She relaxed into the rushing, warm, bubbly water, reminding her of wedding champagne and the bath she doesn’t have time to take.

A midnight silence had long settled over my house when his squeaky left tire slid down my street. Tiptoeing through my narrow hallway and into his Volvo, I could almost taste the smoke on Damien’s breath as I pulled a New York Rangers sweater over my head. The one my dad got me last Christmas because he forgot how much I hate hockey.

We rolled down the silky street, still wet from the evening rain, a wary silence fogging the windows. After the second left turn, Damien gave me a hard sideways glance, a satisfying grin spread on his face.

“Ah man, I never thought I would see the day. Theodore Campbell, sneaking out at midnight!” He laughed at the silhouetted trees dancing in the chilling navy sky. He rolled down the windows and popped on his radio. Rap from the deep 80s exploded from the stereo.

“Teddy, man, this night is going to be epic. We’re going to be telling our grandchildren about this years from now – I mean it’s going to be that legendary.”

I looked out the window, ignoring him, my heart synchronizing to the quick beat of his turn signal. I tried to seem calm, but nerves spiraled down my spine. Driving faster and faster, we were now miles away from home where my mom thought I was asleep, safe in my bed. Guilt and fear swirled into one, enveloping me in a tight embrace. I felt physically sick.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. Let’s turn around,” I said.

“Jesus, don’t wimp out now. It was your idea in the first place.” Damien skidded to a stop in the middle of the freeway and looked at me, almost apologetically, his silver eyes illuminating with warmth. But there was something still deceiving in the curve of his nose, the bones protruding from his wrist. “Besides, it’s not like we’re doing anything that bad, we’re just getting our healthy dose of revenge,” he yelled over the symphony of horns blasting behind. I gave him a slight nod as he revved the engine and we continued speeding below the moonless sky. The music pulsed louder and louder in my ears, a cool air burning my cheeks. I thought about my mother at the sink and our abandonment, I thought about our tiny house and my New York Rangers sweater, the divorce, and the birthday cards sent a week late. It had all been bottled up inside me for too long – like last year’s anniversary champagne rusting in our cupboard. So we sang the wrong lyrics at the top of our lungs as Damien took his hands off the wheel to join me in a quick air guitar solo. The night wore on, the station got closer.  We pulled up to the railroad tracks, dark and tired beside the cobalt ocean. A steam train waited in the smoky night.

“The station is closed, right?” Damien’s eyes flickered around nervously.

“Yeah, they closed about an hour ago. No one’s here.” The metal spray can was cold in my hands as we trudged toward my father’s train. It was small with just one car nudged between the locomotive and the caboose. In the ocean fog, I remembered when my father showed me this train for the first time, how he presented it like God itself, how he idolized it – he was so proud of its gleaming tires and the single shining car he spent hours scrubbing each night. He was so proud to show me, and in that fragile moment before the slamming door, before my mother cracked, before I was fatherless and aching, I was so proud to be his son.

“This is it.” I said, and we pressed down on the cans, blasts of red and blue shooting across the gray train. And for a moment, my heart felt lighter as I pressed harder, my pain and my anger, my love and disappointment releasing, splattering the train with graffiti, with feeling, with freedom.

 

Mr. Ritchell writes: Emotional writing is hard to do well, and easy to overdo, but this piece handles the objective with grace, patience and real talent. Writers need to show, more than they tell, if they hope to reach the reader and open the many passages of the heart. This piece does a wonderful job of building the stakes and moving the immediacy and tension toward the apex, and it does not disappoint. Very well done. 

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