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Your Story #119: Vote Now!

Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

Prompt: Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt above. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

Email your submission to yourstorycontest@aimmedia.com with the subject line "Your Story 119."

No attachments, please. Include your name and mailing address. Entries without a name or mailing address with be disqualified.

Unfortunately, we cannot respond to every entry we receive, due to volume. No confirmation emails will be sent out to confirm receipt of submission. But be assured all submissions received before entry deadline are considered carefully. Official Rules

Entry Deadline: CLOSED

Out of over 100 entries, WD editors chose the following 5 finalists. Vote for your favorite entry using the poll at the bottom of the page.

Firenze

As Flori opened the shutters to catch the morning sun her cell phone chirruped. Seeing the name she almost smiled while swiping to connect.

“Good morning, Selma.”

“It’s evening here. You really did it, then?”

“I’m well, thank you. And you? ... Did what, exactly?”

“Moved halfway around the world without telling anyone.”

“Not precisely. I moved, but Italy is only about a quarter of the way around the world. And I left you a detailed voicemail over a month ago.”

“Well I just got it.”

No, you just bothered to listen to it, Flori thought, pulling a chair over so she could drink in the view of the Duomo sparkling in the distance.

“I can’t believe you moved without a thought for me or Nash or Paris. Really Auntie Flo, I thought...”

“What? That I needed your approval? It doesn’t work that way, Selly.” Flori sank into the chair and lifted her bare feet to the windowsill.

“You know I hate to be called Selly,” Selma snapped.

“And you’ve known for some time that I prefer to be called Flori, and yet here we are.”

Total silence on the line. A small bird flew up and perched on the sill next to Flori’s foot. How convenient if the call dropped now, she thought.

“I’m sorry, Auntie Flo..ri but really I... I’m so surprised and hurt... we’re all surprised and hurt that you would do this to us. We worry about you.”

“Really? Precisely how is my decision to move to Italy hurtful to you?”

“But...”

Flori held up her hand even though Selma couldn’t see it. “Still talking. Furthermore, if this is so distressing to your brother and sister, who I also called weeks ago, they can contact me themselves. Now, do elaborate about why you’re suddenly so worried about me?” The bird cocked its head and flew off.

“Well, moving away from your family at your age doesn’t seem wise. Plus selling everything without considering that there might be some things of Grandma’s that we might want.”

Murmurs of the wakening neighborhood wafted in on the breeze. “Ah, I see.” Her sister Beverly would never be dead while Selma was above ground, Flori thought, shifting in her chair. “On the day of your grandmother’s funeral three years ago, you and Paris announced you would like certain things of hers. A bit insensitive, perhaps, seeing as how I was trying to come to grips with my mother’s death. But I said - very graciously, I think – I’d be willing to discuss this with you the next time you came to the house. That never happened because none of you - my so-called family - have visited or called me in the past three years.”

More silence. Flori decided not to fill it. It was Selma’s dime, as they used to say. She uncrossed her ankles and crossed them the other way.

Just as she was beginning to think the call really had dropped, Selma said, “Well... the pandemic... my sense of time... I didn’t think it had been that long. And you never called either.”

“No, I didn’t,” Flori said. “I guess I thought that your deep concern for your ancient relative who lived alone would prompt you to call me.” The bird reappeared, twittered, and flew off. “Apparently I was mistaken.”

“But we love you!”

A door closed nearby. “Well you have an interesting way of showing it. Anyway, I sent you a note with my current address. If you want to visit, there are many wonderful Air BnBs in Florence. Now I’m sure you’re busy so I’ll let you go. Ciao, Selma, buona sera!”

Flori disconnected as Paolo appeared at her elbow carrying cappuccino and pastries from the local panetteria. “Per te, cara.”

“Grazie, tesoro.” Flori smiled, tilting her head to meet the young man’s kiss.


Avenue de Manzanita

Marcus sat on a simple wooden chair that he had placed not quite on the balcony of his small apartment. He had just enough view to gaze out but not be easily seen. He didn’t want to be seen anyway. He hadn’t wanted to for a long time.

The Avenue de Manzanita sprawled out five stories below him as it swept down into the valley into the heart of the city and eventually to the river. The manzanita shrubs the street was named for long ago had slowly given way to tall buildings, brick sidewalks, and pavement. The few trees left along at least this stretch of the road had once been manicured and well kept but now were scrawny and scraggly.

Marcus poured another shot, or was it two, into the glass on the small folding table at his side. A table, a chair, a bed. Nothing else in the room. He needed nothing else. He’d gotten rid of all of it years ago.

“Wasteful,” he said, swallowing the whiskey quickly, spilling a little of it on his chin, which he didn’t bother to wipe away. No one would visit him today anyway except perhaps for that damn-fooled busybody who lived across the hall. What she saw in him he could never figure out. He’d tried so many times to offend her as much as possible but she just didn’t take the hint.

“Wasteful,” he said again.

Marcus could just make out the latest installment of the on-going argument in one of the tenement apartments off to his right. Ricky was drunk again and Maria was upset and yelling at him about taking care of the family and being responsible. After all, they were his kids. A plate crashed against a wall. A door slammed shut. Ricky had probably just escaped again. Maria was a pleasant enough young woman who had made the mistake of loving a loser and bearing his children.

Another shot of whiskey poured and then quickly drained.

The low buzzing of a busy street in a city that was bigger than it needed to be. The smell of exhaust, the smell of heat and sweat. The smell of long days with nothing to do but stare at the Avenue de Manzanita where there was too much to look at but nothing to see.

How easy it would be to bemoan “the good old days” but the truth was they had never been there. Marcus wasn’t even sure that the Avenue de Manzanita had ever actually had shrubs and trees and grass along it. He couldn’t remember them anymore.

He could remember living down there, though, and playing in those streets and running into traffic. He could remember the horns honking as angry drivers tried to avoid the people also crawling along the streets. He could remember the small food stand that his grandfather and then his father ran a couple blocks away from where he now lived. He could remember the argument with his father when he told him that he wasn’t going to take over the “family business”. He had bigger dreams. He was going to be somebody. He was going to get away from this Avenue and this neighborhood and this city and these people.

Was!

There was a knock on the door. “Marcus, dear. Are you in there? Mind if I come in for a visit?”

Was he in here? Marcus wasn’t sure anymore.


Untitled 1

The smell of baking bread and freshly brewed espresso clung to the cool morning air, waves of steam spiraled through the breeze as it rose from the street cafes below and crept up through the open window of an apartment above where Martino was taking a deep breath to calm his nerves.

His hands, steadied now, gripped the body of his camera more firmly as he gently rested the telephoto lens on the window frame and took a knee. Placing his eye against the view finder, Martino methodically exhaled his lungful of breath, failing to appreciate or even notice the pleasant array of aromas he’d imbibed.

“That’s your problem,” his wife had said. “You’re incapable of seeing beauty anymore.”

Maybe she was right, he thought. Maybe he had never acquired that skill to begin with. But he’d had other skills, far more marketable skills. He was a paid snoop. His job wasn’t to see beauty, it was to take pictures of people in the midst of their indiscretions and supply the photographic evidence to the suspicious spouse. He knew first hand that things that had the appearance of beauty, such as a happy couple out for a stroll, were capable of hiding the most astounding deceit. While others might see it as a beautiful image of love, he knew first-hand the type of deception that hid behind such a facade.

Waiting for his subjects to appear, he viewed the scene with a careful eye, picking apart every piece of beauty on the street below.

His wife, he knew, had suffered under the weight of his gaze. The little imperfections in her features that he used to find so attractive had started to repulse him. The crooked shape of her mouth when she smiled…

When was the last time he had seen her smile? She was unhappy with him, he understood that. He may even bear the brunt of the blame for her misery. Whatever the case may be, however, the simple fact of the matter was that her unhappiness was ugly to him.

How long had this gone on? Had he ever found her beautiful? All those years ago, when they met, on a street very much like the one he viewed through his camera, had he not been capable of seeing her beauty?

The whining hum of a vespa speeding up the road brought his attention back to his work. He watched as the driver swerved, narrowly avoiding a tabby cat stretched out in the road. The cat opened its eyes briefly, looked up at Martino and gave him an indifferent look, before turning its back to him.

Through the aim of the camera, fixed as it was on the cafe across the street, a sizable spider could be seen dutifully putting the finishing touches on a web that hung between the door and the wall, only to see the tapestry torn apart when the door swung open.

Despite all of his experience and his breathing exercises, Martino couldn’t help but feel his body tense into an aching knot. He’d read that “snapshot” was originally a hunting term, and that’s exactly what he felt like: a hunter about to make a kill. His finger rested on the button, but he pressed it as though he was pulling a trigger. A tall and handsome young man emerged, an unseen woman trailing behind him, as Martino fired off several pictures.

Later, when Martino examined the spoils of his hunt, the freeze-frames of the man he’d been following for the better part of a week revealed that he was accompanied by a woman whose happiness was undeniable. She had a strand of hair covering her eyes, but there was no hiding how piercing they were.

Her smile, big and crooked as it was, was so beautiful that Martino could barely hold back his tears as he deleted the pictures.


 SHORT STORY #119

“Sad.”

Jay looked at his companion, lounging half on, half off their high perch overlooking the city.

Roused from his torpid state, the other looked back at Jay. “Huh?” he replied.

“I said it’s sad.”

“What’s sad?”

“Look at that city beneath us. So empty. Remember the days when the streets fairly teemed with life. And now, nothing. Barely a single person scrambling about.”

“Yeah. I guess it is kinda sad.”

“I mean, all those lives lost. All those dreams crushed. If they had only paid attention to the world around them, instead of focusing on their own puny lives. Imagine if they had all banded together to react to the threat they faced. If they had put aside their petty differences and worked together.” He turned to look at his friend. “They might even have been able to thrive a bit longer.” Jay sat there for a moment, slowly shaking his head.

“What’s it to you, my friend?” replied his companion.

“I don’t know. Just looking at all those empty streets, I guess. Imagining all the work that went into the construction of this city. Thinking about all the promise their builders looked forward to creating.”

Jay’s companion hitched himself up and gave a deep-throated chuckle. “Well, I guess it’s a little late for their what-if’s, don’cha think?”

Jay sighed.“Yes, I suppose you’re right. But there must be a lesson in there somewhere.”

He roused himself from his perch on the rooftop and began to climb down to street level, his companion close behind. Reaching the street, the two friends began to make their way through the silent chasm formed by the buildings around them. The streets were littered with the detritus of daily living; windblown newsprint tumbling down the roadway, discarded fast food wrappers flapping in the breeze, vehicles abandoned and beginning to rust.

They looked into the storefronts, their plate glass windows shattered, their store shelves empty. In one, the lights still flickered and the clacking sound of metal against metal drew their attention inward. Climbing over the remaining shards, the two friends explored the empty aisles until they found the source of the sound, a ceiling fan banging against a partially collapsed support of the suspended ceiling. But nothing moving. No signs of life.

Shaking their heads in disgust, they made their way back to the front of the store and climbed back out.

“Not much left to scavenge, amigo.”

Jay shook his head sadly.“I’m afraid not.”

They continued their way down the broad thoroughfare. The signs of the natural world beginning to reclaim it’s own were everywhere. Small plants beginning to push up through cracks in the sidewalk. Small rodents scurrying from one sewer cap to another, nervously scanning the landscape.

Jay pointed at one of the creatures. “See. They know how to survive. They take nothing for granted. They work together. And they will likely survive longer and more effectively than any of this city’s residents were able to do.” Another pause. “And why? Because they know what the inhabitants of this city did not. That despite all of their fancy accomplishments, their inventions, their technologies, the people who lived here couldn’t adapt. They couldn’t take threats to their security seriously. They always figured that their technology would protect them.” Another sad shake of his head.

His friend gave a low chortle. “Guess they were wrong. Huh, partner?”

They walked on a little further.

Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, Jay caught a brief glimpse of movement at the next intersection. Silently signaling his friend, they hurried to the spot in time to see the shadow disappear into a building.

The green alien carnivore turned to his friend and smiled, his teeth gleaming in the bright sun. “A little one. I guess that’s all that’s left at this point. But just about the right size for a snack.”


Untitled 2

I am actually here, standing in the same place my grandma stood when she took that picture all those years ago. Apartment 26D of the Mayberry apartment complex. The complex sits vacant now, however I can still sense the last occupant's presence, and smell their cigarettes that stained the walls. Looking out the window I can see what she saw: a city full of hope and promise. She would've said, “Well dear, it almost looks the same, save for the peeling paint and the cable dishes.” Same tall buildings, so tall they almost crowd out the street. But Grandma isn’t with me to make any comparisons. And the picture she took is now hanging on my wall, with a reserved spot next to it, for this picture.

I used to stare at that picture on her wall and make up stores of all the people who lived in the buildings, of all the people just out of view walking on the street. I would look at that picture with wonder and imagination. Grandma would look at that picture with sadness, of a time long past.

“That picture, so you want it?” my mother had asked, as if she had to. Her tone held an edge of annoyance, she must have repeated herself. I had been holding that picture, staring at it as I once did as a child, getting lost in my own thoughts. Now just a piece of decoration that was unwanted, something for us to “deal with” as we clean out grandma’s house. The funny thing is, Grandma wouldn't care what we did with it, she didn’t hold value to things.

“Memories are priceless, Julie, don’t ever forget that. Everything, every possession, can be replaced,” she had said to me, more than once over my lifetime. And I believed her. She had to start over when she came to America, a young girl with her parents and older brother, Sam. Starting with only the money hid in their shoes and the clothes they could carry on them, as they could not afford to pay for luggage. Sam was killed not long after he started work on the docks. Grandma’s time in the Mayberry apartment complex was not the best time of her life, but it was the start of her American life. “I would do it again, if given the change,” she had said, “after getting through the rough times, life was rather smooth. And don’t forget, I met your grandfather here,” she would smile the biggest smile when she talked about Grandpa; “and don’t ever be afraid to try something new, even if it means giving up everything to do it.”

So I kept that picture, to remind me of her advice. Now next to it, is the picture I took, to remind me of a starting point, as I start new adventures wherever I can find them. 

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