Your Story 68: Winner!

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Prompt: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, based on the picture prompt on the left. You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

Beach swim shoes drying on wood fence on Florida Beach

Once again, you’ve made the Your Story competition a success! Thanks to everyone who participated in competition #68 (either by entering, reading or voting).

Out of more than 300 entries, readers helped us pick “Jasmine Candles” by Julia Mueller as the winner. For winning, Mueller’s story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.

Winning Entry

"Jasmine Candles"

by Julia Mueller

Our parents never talked about what happens when you leave home.

You’ll expect to leave crying but you won’t. You won’t cry until your unpacked traveling bags are folded in the wardrobe. In the morning, you’ll wake to someone cooking downstairs. You’ll get busy.

In a bakery you’ll find a man that looks like father. He’ll laugh with wrinkled eyelids shut and a smile pulled taut across his face. He’ll serve you a cup of peppermint tea and without knowing his name you’ll feel at home.

A mail-order novel will have a bookmark between its pages. Something about the generic lamination will strike you with a thirst for authenticity, and so you’ll bake cookies for the neighbor you’ve never met. She won’t be home when you take them over. Later, she’ll trip over the plate and throw it away.

A boy will kiss you in the streets, much to your surprise, so before he touches you, you’ll ask him why. He’ll say that it is because of your beauty, because of what you do to him. You know you never meant to do anything to him, and deep down he probably knows, too.

The first employee in the building one morning, you’ll have to wait for the guard to come unlock the front gate. The pair of you will walk inside together, making small talk. He’ll tell you about how his dog broke off the leash and you will laugh. The guard will laugh, too, ceasing for a moment to be a guard and becoming just a friend walking another friend inside from the cold.

The next morning, you’ll oversleep and get to work late. The first-shift guard will have gone home for the day, and you’ll never see him again.

It’ll seem for a time like the world is dripping with melancholy. An old friend will send a postcard from the coast and you’ll decide you never want to see the ocean; you never want to see something so big and endlessly lonesome. You’ll follow your friends to a party and watch them from the corner the way you’d watch the waves from the shore, a darkly colored sea that you are scared to understand. But a stranger will take you by the hand, and you’ll wade in.

The only market open past midnight will sell tangerines. Orange juice will trickle down your friends’ chins as they laugh, cheering for the vitality of togetherness. Your friends will scream with drunk, uproarious hysteria but it will not drown out the proud drumming in your heart.

When it thunders, you’ll light jasmine candles and imagine it is you up there, cracking whips at the sky. Everything will start feeling different. Better.

A new boy will bump into you in the park. His cheeks will be ruddy even though the cold front’s lifted. He’ll be gentler than the first boy, and move away instead of moving closer. He’ll look at you a little too long, a little too confusedly, and you’ll be polite, making a comment about the brand-new copy of Medea in his left hand. He’ll tell you he has never read it.

Like some cosmic order’s pulling strings, you’ll bump into each other again. He’ll say eagerly that he’s read the whole book, that Medea spoke to him of another world, another set of human emotions running deep down the stitching on the spine. He’ll talk about the book but he’ll be talking about you. When your hand first takes his trembling one, he’ll feel like a gladiator coming home.

You’ll go with him to the seaside, breaking your old promise, wearing reef-walkers over the rocks as you wade out. You’ll trip, falling into the biting cold summertime water, and decide you want to feel the sand underfoot. Taking your soggy shoes, laughing, you’ll hang them to dry, bright pink and awkward on the fence behind the sand dunes. The ocean is still big, endlessly lonesome, but you are not. The boy will catch you in his arms on the shoreline.

I’m no oracle, sister. I could write ‘goodbye,’ but that’s heartless. If instead I tell you about jasmine candles, you will buy some to light. If I tell you about the boy and the beach, you will find both of them soon enough.

I can give you little save the promise of a hearty, storied life. Take what you want of mine and then take the world as your own. I promise that will be enough.

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