Tiny Light's Annual Essay Contest

Contest Results from 2001

Awarded Winners

First Prize of $250

A Perfect Circle by Judith Ryan Hendricks

The first snow of the new year has fallen in the night. This morning the world is white and lacy as a bride's dress. I open my front door and smile at the man standing on the porch. He smiles back-a familiar, lopsided, heart-stopping grin.

"Ready?" he asks.

Good question.

In my brief hesitation, the past comes pouring over the wall that I've built to contain it. The man on the porch is my husband of twelve years. He's here to pick me up for our day in court.

The first time he stood on a front porch and smiled at me was at my parents' home in Atlanta. We had never met. He had come to pick me up for our first date, arranged by his sister, my sorority sister Joyce.

Joyce was more confident than I was-probably because she hadn't had as many blind dates as I had. "Not to worry," she smiled, dismissing my apprehensions. "It's gonna work."

I vaguely recall opening the door and seeing his face-boyish, square jawed, handsome-ice blue eyes with nice crinkles from smiling, thick, wavy brown hair too beautiful for a man. My gaze shifted past his shoulder to the white mustang parked on the street and I sighed audibly with relief.

Then I remembered to suck in my stomach, wishing I had worn something prettier than my white culottes with a navy-and-red striped cotton sweater. I was thankful my parents weren't home so we didn't have to muddle through introductions and stilted conversation about what he was studying at school.

As I stepped down off the porch he took my elbow, something I had watched my father do countless times for my mother. I think I fell about half in love then and there. We walked down the driveway and he opened the car door for me. I remember we both lit cigarettes before driving off into the warm spring night.

The dog, pushing past me to greet him, jolts me out of the memory. As he bends to scratch her long ears, I think how little he's changed. Just a few gray hairs and a few more crinkles around his eyes, not all of them from smiling. Once more I find I am sucking in my stomach and wishing I had worn something prettier than the gray wool suit I will wear to work this afternoon. Even in the face of the impending dissolution of "us," part of me still wants him to think I'm beautiful and to feel the same irrational longing and regret that I do.

We've been separated for over a year-long enough to almost forget why we can't live together. Even now, in defiance of all reason, I hear the voice in my head. What if something happened? What if power lines were downed by ice and we got stuck in traffic and we didn't make it to court and we ended up spending the day together? Just talking. And we.

No. God knows, we've been down that lane before, separating and reuniting enough times for a whole season's worth of All My Children. Let's just be done with it.

"We need to get moving," he says. I glance at my watch, the one he brought me from a Hong Kong business trip.

He always gave me presents for my birthday and Christmas, but never spontaneously for no reason. As an engineer, his spontaneity was circumscribed by the mathematical precision of his mind, as was his choice of presents. Flowers were a waste of money; they didn't last. Godiva Chocolates would sabotage my diet. Jewelry was frivolous.

Gifts he proudly bestowed upon me included a perpetual motion machine for my desk, a top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner, an automobile first aid kit, and any number of other items that ended their lives as garage sale fodder. Of all of them, only this watch was not tied to some occasion. And it's the only one I've always liked and still use.

The divorce proceeding has been completely bloodless so far, as promised in the book I bought months ago, Do Your Own Colorado Divorce. "No attorneys!" the banner on the front cover trumpets. "No high fees." As the old television commercial said, no muss, no fuss, no bother.

We flipped a coin to see who would be the petitioner and who would be the respondent. I won(?) and faithfully followed the book's instructions on filing. Three weeks later we each received a notice in the mail giving a hearing date and time, along with a street address. True to form, he's already consulted a map and knows exactly where to go. As we weave through the light mid-morning traffic I watch him from the corner of my eye. He drives seriously, purposefully.

We were riding along a curbless suburban street on a hot Houston afternoon. I was lost in a daydream of houses and gardens. A very old woman dressed in black inched her way across the street with the help of a cane. A car was coming toward us, one of those cars that had to belong to a guy whose part-time job was robbing gas stations. It was dirty brown, one fender primed but not painted, front bumper missing, tires bald. As it passed the old woman, the guy on the passenger side threw the contents of his cold drink cup out the window, soaking her.

Before it even registered with me, Jerry had turned the car around and was in pursuit. In classic cinema car chase fashion, he caught them within two blocks, wedging our Dodge Charger in front of them so they couldn't move. He got out and ran over to the passenger side, opened the door with one hand and dragged the guy out by the front of his shirt with the other.

Jerry is not a big man, but he's strong, and at that moment he was also ablaze with righteous indignation. The kid looked about seventeen years old and scared. Jerry got right in his face, speaking so quietly that even in the intense silence, I couldn't hear what he said.

After a few minutes he relaxed his grip on the shirt, and the punk actually slithered back into the car. The driver oh-so-carefully backed away from our car, circled around it and drove away. Jerry came back to the car and sat for a moment, breathing heavily.

"What did you say?" I asked.

He looked at me sheepishly. "I told him I was an off-duty cop."

"It's a wonder his buddy didn't pull out a .45 and kill us both," I said. But I was secretly thrilled.

He gave me a loopy grin. "You knew when you married me that I had a thing for old ladies."

I don't think I ever loved him more.

The address on our official notice turns out to be a new three-story office building on an I-25 frontage road in my Denver suburb. The only visible sign says The Rusty Nail Pub and Grill. We find the suite number on the official hearing notice. The room reminds me of a high school multipurpose room. I almost expect to see a volleyball net set up at one end or a folding table laden with donuts and an industrial size coffee urn.

Light comes from green-hued fluorescent tubes and skinny windows near the top of the beige walls. In the middle of the vast linoleum floor, like a tiny island lost at sea, is a metal office desk, behind which sits a gray man wearing a gray suit. A plastic desk plate announces that this is Mr. Nolan Thomas, Arapaho County Court Referee. I choke back a hysterical giggle. Do we arm wrestle for our decree?

Mr. Nolan Thomas asks us if we have a property settlement. My soon-to-be ex-husband produces the notarized document. Mr. Nolan Thomas then asks us if we are Jerry C. Ryan and Judith D. Ryan, as named on the petition, and if we are certain the marriage is "irretrievably broken." We both answer quietly but firmly that we are. Mr. Nolan Thomas scribbles his signature, uses his official stamp, and pronounces us divorced. Within ten minutes it is over.

As much as I try not to, I am remembering our wedding--the months of planning, the unexpected complications that occurred anyway. Vickie, my maid of honor, went out with one of the groomsmen after the rehearsal dinner, fell in the back door at three a.m., kneewalking drunk. Halfway between my parents' house and the church, I realized I'd forgotten my shoes. Jerry's best man Alan fainted in the minister's study right before he and Jerry were supposed to take their places at the altar. A pregnant guest from north Georgia went into labor during the reception. These are the things I remember-not the vows that we labored to write, not the way he looked at me when he slipped the ring on my finger. The ceremony itself was just a blip on the screen.

We are escorted from the room by a clerk, who tells us that we will each receive an official copy of the decree by mail within thirty days. The door clicks shut behind him, and my ex-husband and I are standing alone in an empty hall, just us two statistics.

I say the first thing that comes into my head, which is, "I'm hungry."

"Me too." He tries a weak grin. "Let's have the reception at the Rusty Nail."

Lunch is pleasant. The food is good and our conversation is intimate, but not painful, more like that of two old friends at the end of a visit than lovers about to part. He tells me that he is going to San Diego again this summer and that he and Karol, the woman he has been seeing there, plan to marry. The news hardly comes as a surprise, but when he reaches across the table and touches his napkin to my face, I realize that I am crying. His eyes are wet, too.

In a few minutes we compose ourselves and finish our lunch.

"Well, it's been a lovely party," I say lightly, "but I have to be at work at 1:30."

He signals the waiter and pays the check while I think of the thousands of times I've watched him perform this ritual. He casually figures the tip (I would have had to count on my fingers or hunt for my pocket calculator) and signs the credit card slip.

The cold air burns my lungs after the overheated restaurant. We both automatically look up at the heavy gray clouds poised over the front range of the Rockies.

"Looks like another front coming in," he says.

"We're supposed to get more snow tonight." Then, forgetting he is no longer mine to protect, I admonish, "You be careful driving up to Boulder."

He starts to say something, but the only thing that comes out of his mouth is a cloud of breath.

He takes my elbow and steers me gently toward the car.

Second Prize of $150

The Wall by Ken Rodgers

I stood looking at that sleek wall, black as onyx and fifty-five thousand names. The Wall, long on the horizon, angular, like a black bayonet on an M-16. It was cutting my guts, that fucking wall. I was standing there, looking at the names, the ones I found in the notebooks that tell location. Had hell finding Wine, but Wine ain't no damned name. Found it when I found Jones and Partee and Lindquist, Wine's name in-between like he was when we packed them back, when we brought Mister Marlowe in, his balls shot off, the sheen of his brand new Lieutenant's bars dulled by blood. Wine was stacked in there with the rest, like cordwood waiting for the journey to Graves Registration.

It was hell standing there, looking at the names, seeing the ghosts slink out of the chiseled letters, cutting your guts. This fucking wall, I thought, dazed and fearful like maybe the memories would become something more concrete than black stone polished like the new blued barrel of a rifle.

I found Linc and Slick and Ski and Alphabet by date. I found Swede by name. Walked down in the low spot before The Wall; like a trench bottom. I found the panel, felt the slick black stone, found his name, Arnold Olaf Swenson. I looked back at my woman, her cousin, both sitting on a bench beneath trees greening happily in May. Saw a defeated Vietnam vet sitting beyond, cigarette dangling from his mouth.

I turned back to the name and saw it snake on the stone, saw the ebony rock rise and shrink, saw it pulsate. I bent my knees and tightened my stomach muscles. Waited for the blow from the ghost of the day - May 31, 1967. It came.

I could see Swede, his tall frame also like a bayonet--not an M-16 bayonet--a Chicom bayonet--round and long and hard and sharp: a killer. I remembered Swede and me in a trench down south, below Da Nang, back from drinking beers, telling lies. I remembered Swede, long blond mustache, ruddy face and huge hands, hands like spades. I remembered his Camel smoke spiraling into the oncoming April night as he told me about operations in the A Shau Valley and Marines on line sweeping through villes and paddies, rifles ready, booby traps and snipers slowly thinning the men, feet gone and legs, and bullet holes wide in the back of olive drab utility jackets where they exited.

I remembered his telling, the shit stink rice fields and dikes, small palm trees and c-rations. I remembered his words, the frustration, the elusive black hats, the bad guys, only the smiles of old ladies and babies and old men, and sandals and thatched roofs and rain and rain and water and Marines on line and chickens and squealing pigs leaking blood in the rice paddy water and old ladies shot through the head and homes burned and storerooms burned and sacks of rice stabbed and millet fed to the chickens who were then massacred by machine gun fire, the cluck and strut now a bloody feathered mess; a counterpoint to muddy dead dogs. I remembered his words - "We went fucking nuts. From the Old Man down to the newest boot. We went fucking nuts, man." - I can see him saying that, a scoop of dip bulging his cheek. He was hooked on nicotine - dip, chaw, roll your own, store bought.

At the Wall, I thought about Lieutenant Calley and the murders at My Lai, and I thought, are any of us really guilty - I mean, when we murder like that? Is it murder? I thought of salty old WWII Marines from Tarawa and Peleliu telling me they took no quarter, killed all the Japanese, lined them up and offed them while their hands were tied. Offed them - goddamn the hatred. I thought of the Tiger of Malaya, that Japanese General, Yamashita, I think that's his name, his feet jigging as he dangled on the end of a rope after the trap door was lowered. Was it hemp or nylon we hanged him with? I mean, they strung him up for murders his men committed in the south Philippines in 1945 - hell, he didn't even know about those murders, I'll bet. Hung him. Was he any different than our guys? Fuck it, man, the winner writes the rules.

Listening to Swede, I thought he might be lying about massacring all those Vietnamese. Americans don't massacre. I'm smarter now. My shock then at the thought left me thinking I needed more clothes. I felt cold. But Swede's eyes were like those small steel balls I used to use for taws when I played marbles in the playground dust at North School--hard and gray--his eyes were hard and gray. Kind of like looking at a shark when Swede started talking about shit like that, when he'd twirl the right handlebar of his mustache, when he'd spit brown streams of Red Man, trying to sear a centipede. Like when he'd start talking about Robillard, that corpsman from Quebec. I remembered Swede saying about Robillard, "He ain't no Yank." Then he'd spit a stream of Red Man and look at me with those steelies and sneer. "He ain't no Yank. He's a fucking Frog."

I stood before that sleek black wall with all those names and I could see Swede refusing to eat c-rations with Robillard. He'd say, "It's like being eaten up with fleas. Have to get away from that fucking Frog and his nasal twang fucking Frogese."

I could see Swede on that day in May and our patrol and the jungle grass waving pretty like a wheat field in the breeze and the copses of trees where the creeks ran looking like green lines in the amber. And the beans and franks I heated and started eating during the break we took and the thump thump of the mortars as I heard them leave their tubes on the ridge west of us: the way they seemed to walk across the top of our ridge blasting little depressions, gray smoke staining the green copses that highlighted the amber. And after the mortars blew holes in our formation and holes in some men and we were moving to assemble, those goddamned NVA were hiding beyond us, in the grass, stems stuck in their helmets and packs, making them part of the 'scape. When we turned and moved to re-form and make for a little escapade, they were waiting, and they got up and started shooting us in the fucking back, like they didn't have any fucking honor, but that's probably smart. Shoot us in the back, so we couldn't kill them. I think I kicked the bean can over.

I stood at The Wall and remembered bodies falling like soft dolls, legs and arms twisted and stretched. The looks on the faces--I dream about those--lost little boys wishing they'd seen their mommas just once more. Peters and me were toting some wounded men to an LZ where Medivac choppers droned in like big mean bees, their door gunners stitching the waving grass to keep the NVA from shooting them down. I saw Swede lying on the ground, his face bloody mush. He was all blue and gray and waxen, but I knew it was Swede from the shape of his boots and his legs, long like slats on the side of a house, and Red Man stains on his utility jacket mixed with fresh stains of blood.

I stood before that wall and remembered Robillard and The Man deciding who would be evacuated and who wouldn't, a triage thing. The bodies were stacked like sea bags and the moans and cries were a bitch to listen to. The Man said Swede was done for, couldn't breathe, said he was a dier. He told us to put the livers on the choppers, and they roared sideways, door guns rattatattatting into the day. I thought to myself about Swede and how I'd miss the stories and how he was better off dying, because if he lived, he'd look like a repaired piece of siding that somebody had sanded after patching with some kind of wood fix. That's what I thought at the time.

At The Wall, I wondered what was more elegant, the exit hole out of the face, like the old ladies in the A Shau Valley or the Japanese on Tarawa, versus the entrance hole in the face, like Swede. In or out. The fucking shrinkologists say, "Let it out."

I stood before that black glassy announcement of death, a memorial of deaths that nobody gave a fuck about at the time, just the mommas, and I remembered those Medivac choppers going and coming. I remembered that we got on line, went back up that ridge, and kicked those fucking NVA off the top. I was so fucking scared I peed in my pants and the dribble of piss was cold on the inside of my legs.

But before that, I remembered I heard a voice say, "Let's see if we can do something with Swede." The voice was foreign but familiar and Robillard grabbed my hand and somebody else's and smiled in a beatific way, like San Sebastian, maybe or Saint Olav or some other semi-deity. He said to me, "Hold his arm," and to the other Marine, "You hold his legs." Then old Doc Robillard dug out a scalpel that was as sharp as the living sky on that dying day and he took it and found a spot on Swede's throat, and he bored a hole so Swede would breathe. Right this instant, I can hear Swede saying, "Fucking Frog, why'd he have to save me so I can be faceless?" But hell, he's dead. His name's on the fucking black wall.

And as I stood there remembering, looking at the long viperish wall that's some kind of national tombstone, it seemed like it took a while for me to think about how Robillard tried to save Swede, but I didn't recollect it taking much time at all for him to get shot in the face, toted to the LZ, judged unfit for saving, have a hole bored somewhere around his Adam's apple so he could suck some air, so he could be like a new man, a new face, deformed, alive.

Back at The Wall, to the left, where the bulk of the dead are etched in the black granite, there was a glass jug filled with withered roses, probably red at one time. I thought about my rose bushes, thorns that eat my flesh, that protect the stems, the leaves, the beauty. Plant breeders have fucked with them so much. The rose bushes are deformed, it seems to me. There was a white handkerchief and a letter--the handwriting perfect--like the script had been written by some machine instead of a wife who can't forget. There was a young girl crying. Some crows were cawing in a tree across the mall, over by the Korean War Monument.

Third Prize of $125

Willy by Stephanie Marshall

Puffed up, from the chest down, like an airmattress filled with too much air. Skin stretched over bone, from the chest up, like a wet rag on a dish. Cancer eating away his twenty-two-year-old Greek statue body. Termites eating wood to rot. Too late. It's all too late. Ten pound tumor removed, couldn't get it all. Everywhere cancer-infested, weeds in Willy's garden. There's always hope, the hall pacers tell themselves. Visualization, herbs, another opinion. Will power, Willy power. Oh God. This can't be happening.

Together, the hallpacers, the Willy lovers, the dreamers, the me, find solace. Together, we sleep on naugahide chairs, on top of cafeteria tables, lounge tables, cold floors. We share toothbrushes. Who cares? We drink black coffee, whiskey, and for the first time in fifteen years I smoke Marlboros. I suck smoke through the filter. Sucking, sucking, sucking comfort from my mother's breast. Mommy fix it, make it all right again, make it better, Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.

Willy can pump morphine into his body anytime he needs it now. He holds the pump button in his hand at all times. Pushes it every minute. Click. Click. Click. Injections to numb the unnumbable. His mother insists on vitamins, too. After all, it can't hurt. No more Popsicles or Slurpies spoon-fed, hand-held, sipped and swallowed with strain, pain, no gain. Willy, Willy, Willy don't die, don't go, please get well. Let's go, let's go back to the way it used to be.

Read to me, Willy, from the funny part of your Ramona Quimby book. Sing to me, Willy. Sing that song you learned in school. Show me, show me your fort, Willy. Show me your new silver jacket. The one you got for the first day of school. You know, the one you used to wear even though it was ninety degrees outside. Show me how fast you can clap out "Bingo," your cannonball splash into Rey and Gwennie's pool. Bring Danielle that little stuffed monkey, the one you bought with your own money. Hold her on your shoulders piggy-back. Give Simon the business. Dutch rub his hair, show him who's the boss. Who's gonna tease Chelsea, protect Nick? Come on, Willy, come back, get well, don't die, not now, not ever. Willy!

Remember when we met? The day after you were born. 1969. You were a baby- wrapped cocoon, cuddled in your mother's arms, tiny fingers peeking out from the fuzz. That was the last time you were in the hospital. Here you are in the hospital again. Instead of hello, it looks like I have to say good-bye.

Do you remember? Your mom was eighteen, I was seventeen. Your grandfather, the Reverend, had kicked you both out. After all, no daughter of his was going to get pregnant outside of marvelous matrimony, then live under his righteous roof in his holy household. No sir! "Get out and don't come back, Whore!" he screamed. "You're going to have to fend for yourself now!" he hollered. "And you, Stephanie, are forbidden to see your sister. She's a bad influence on you." I don't know, Willy. All I know is I never cared what Grandpa did or did not say about you and your mother. I wanted to meet you, and so I did.

Oct 29, 1969. Will Oaks. I held you, new baby, smelled your sweet baby neck, put my finger in your tiny hand, let your fresh fingers wrap mine, inspected the perfect ovals. Rubbed my nose in your soft cheek, smelled your sweet hair. Sweet Willy Welcome. You came home to a Halloween party on the hill. Too Noisy. Go into the bedroom, close the door. Candlelight, aunties, uncles, your father. A Willy Fan Club. There, we loved you, adored you, brown-eyed baby boy.

Now look at you, lying there so still. No more wiggling and giggling for you. Just enough energy to breathe, oxygen-masked, pushing your morphine button, murmuring things like, "Who is it?" "Get me some ice." I wonder if you ever feel hungry. You haven't eaten in weeks.

At last, we take a break from Willy Watch. We sleep at Danny's house. He moved onto his boat in Sausalito just so we could have a place close to the city to stay at no extra cost. Becky, Jenny, and me, just like the old days in Stockton when we all shared a bedroom. We talk about the day, make plans for tomorrow, and sleep. I dream. I see a large picture window, light flooding through it onto me. I can hardly see. There is singing, heavenly singing. "We are climbing Jacob's ladder. We are climbing Jacob's Ladder." I wake up. What the hell is Jacob's ladder? You'd think I would know being a minister's daughter and all, but I don't. I look up Jacob in the Dictionary. It is a ladder in a dream that Jacob had. He dreamed of a ladder for angels ascending and descending from heaven. I think I know where Willy is going.

Grandpa and Grandma visit Willy today. Grandpa offers Willy his last rites. I don't know what Willy said about his last rites, but I do know he asked Grandpa, "Why Me?" And really, I ask the same thing. A seventy-four-year-old man survives a couple of cardiac arrests, a quadruple bypass, angioplasty, battlefields of WWII without a gun, while a strong, athletic, twenty-two-year-old boy is losing his battle with cancer instead of graduating from Sac. State. Grandfather giving grandson his last rites? Where's the right in that?

Grandpa loves Willy now. Willy may have taught Grandpa how to forgive. Grandpa changed his mind about his grandson when Willy was about three. I guess he decided Willy wasn't such a bastard after all. Saw that Willy is a child of God, too, no matter how he was conceived or perceived.

Here we are, standing by your bed again. Nothing seems to make you feel better anymore. Raise the bed up 1 inch, down 1 inch; up 1/2 an inch, down 1/2 an inch; 1/4, 1/8; 1 millimeter; you still hurt. Cold rag on your forehead, warm rag, no rag. Read aloud. Too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow. More morphine. "Sleep pretty darling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby," I hum. "Who's humming? What's that humming? Stop that buzzing sound." Matted nest of hair., sunken eyes in skeleton head, old oriental whiskers on your chin, just a few. You still have hair. You never even got to try chemo. It was all too much, too late, too incredible. Can't even sing you a lullaby. Willy, you sleep. I stand by your bed, monitors bleeping, pumps dripping, oxygen blowing. I want to touch you, but I won't. I know it will just hurt too much. "Willy, Willy," I whisper. "If you die I want you to give me a sign from wherever it is you go. Give me a sign that you're all right. I just want to know you're all right."

"Let's get out of here for awhile. Jimmy's turn for Willy Watch."

It's dark now, a glittering evening gown sky, all dressed up for us to admire. Back at the apartment, climbing out of the car, Danny comes out and says, "Jimmy called and said to bring you back to the hospital."

I don't wonder if Willy is dead. Instead I think, oh great. Now they want to send him home so he can have another heart attack. The first time they sent him home, after his surgery, the doctor said a little walking would be good. He walked himself right into a cardiac arrest with his determination, his desire, his will to get well.

Danny drives slowly through the Presidio. Black tar weaving through beach trees; headlights fold into each curve. Parking garage echos dark, cold, gray. Concrete. Fourth floor, slick , shiny, flashes of light-streaked white linoleum. Nurses' station on the left. Rubbing alcohol air blending with floor wax, medication, sickness.

Everyone is here, standing at the end of the hall in a huddle. One big group huddle, like 49ers without helmets. They're all looking at us. Janet's crying in the corner. "Is he dead?" I ask. Eyes caught in the question. There are no answers in this hallway. Only silence.

I am underwater. Can't hear, can't speak, can't think. Let me just rewind or fast forward this tape. Anything but now. I'm stuck on pause. I wade, I wonder. I know, I don't know. There's Nick, my boy. "Hey, Nick, is Willy O.K.?" He hangs his head, my knees are shaking, I have to hold onto the wall. I go into Willy's room. Tousled, sweaty, irritated sheet transformed. Clean and still now, a perfect hospital cover, a bed just changed, a wilted and withered Willy underneath. No more wiggles. No more giggles.

They've combed his hair for the occasion. They've shaved off his Chinese whiskers, too. He would like that. Willy always liked to be groomed, even at his worst. He still looks pregnant and starving, kind of like a centaur. Half man, half horse. Willy: half stuffed, half starved. Yellow, green-gray, cold. Oh! His eyes are looking, looking, forever looking. No, Willy, don't you want to sleep? Golden Slumbers, remember? Golden slumbers... I reach out to close his eyes. They're stuck like a rubber mask. They won't shut. I snatch my hand back as if he's too hot to touch. His teeth are showing still. He has a Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are smile pasted on his face. More rubber mask. The last look of Willy. Man, oh, man, he's dead. Willy's dead. What are we gonna do now? I weep, I weep, and I weep. World without Willy. Who would have thought?

Danny, Jenny and I buy Marlboros and Jack Daniel's, sit by the edge of the bay in Sausalito at 3:00 a.m. What else can we do? We smoke, we drink, we stare at the stars. Water licks the edge of the bay.

Mount Tamalpais. Willy was conceived on this mountain twenty-two years ago. The Summer of Love. Today, a perfect day. The bagpiper plays "Amazing Grace" out over the cliffs of the Pacific. Windbreath of the angels carries Willy's grace to forever. Kneeling by the mountain stream that will carry Willy out to sea, I reach into the urn. Crunchy, heavy, dry gravel ashes, Willy ashes in my hand. Willy bones, Willy arms and legs, Willy smile, Willy heart sifting through my fingers. This is the last time I will touch the firstborn boy of my sister's that I loved so well. Now, Will ashes float to the sea. The sea, waving its welcome to Willy. Drop the ashes in the stream. Let them go, let them go, let them go, and I will sing a lullaby.

Stephanie makes her home in Sonoma, with her husband and the two youngest of her four children. Hairdresser, grocery shopper, manager by day. Counselor, taxi driver, writer by night. Art in any form, visual, written, performing, has always been her passion.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order

Contestants received $50

Belly Roles by Patricia Harrelson, Gone Home by Joan Leslie Taylor

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