“In high school, I was in the process of writing out a character’s background for a different story via little snippets of her life. Going through my computer, I found such a snippet containing a paragraph that then became the core of my flash fiction piece. This paragraph centered around an exchange that dropped into my head one day, years ago, and stuck there: ‘You drank bleach? … thought it was water.’”
“I drafted this story by taking that initial conversation and expanding around it, thinking about what would lead up to and wrap around such dark humor. Instead of having a plan, I let the story write itself as I explored the narrator’s complex feelings about the difficult moment she observes.”
Thoughts on win
“I am honored to have won this year’s Flash Fiction contest. Cara Blue Adams’ comments were lovely, and I feel so lucky to be supported by my family, friends, and professors. I was at home, in my bedroom, when I found out I had won. As soon as I got the email, I shouted downstairs to my parents to tell them.”
Story: "Better Left Unsaid"
My mom and I followed the directions to Jamie’s room from the lady at the front desk, navigating the maze of hospital corridors. We only made one wrong turn this time before we found the elevators. I thought about how they rushed him down a hallway like this one on a gurney, his bloody vomit smearing across the white tile floor. I remembered watching the doctors whisk my brother away and then a social worker asking me for my mom’s phone number.
My vision was tilted with the past when we got to room five-oh-three. The door was cracked open, and I could hear a quiet voice inside. Jamie’s girlfriend, Kate, was sitting on the edge of his bed, clasping his hand. She was wearing his favorite sweatshirt; he was wearing a hospital gown. I tucked myself behind the door so they didn’t see me watching.
“I just… God, Jamie. You drank b leach? ” Her bluntness stunned me. Maybe that was why Jamie liked her. She could acknowledge the things my family was not capable of saying aloud.
He gave a halfhearted smile and rasped, “…thought it was water.”
She laughed, but it was a humorless sound. Then, she was sobbing, the hysterical type, eyes squeezed shut and everything shaking. Jamie guided her head to his shoulder. He ran his fingers through her wavy hair, clumsily, his hand like that of an uncoordinated child’s.
“S’okay,” he murmured to her. “S’okay.”
She tried to say something else, but the words were blurred and smeared into nothing, like fresh ink under rain.
I couldn’t watch anymore. I took a seat in one of the chairs across from his hospital room until I could breathe again.
My mom remained upright. She looked like she wanted to go into the room, but she hesitated, leaning forward on her toes. “We should wait until Kate comes out,” she said softly.
“She shouldn’t have to… to be alone after seeing him.”
“She should leave,” I said. My eyes were burning. “She should be comforting Jamie. He shouldn’t be comforting her.”
“I think it’s good for him.” My mom blinked fast. She looked much older all of a sudden, under the yellow hospital lights. “He needs to see how scared we all were to lose him. I think that’s important.”
But why could Kate cry in front of him, when I could barely find it within myself to look at him? All I felt was sick to my stomach. My brother almost died, and now there he was, comforting his girlfriend like any of this was normal.
I left to wait in my mom’s car.