Tiny Light's Annual Essay Contest

Contest Results from 2004

Awarded Winners

First Prize of $300

Two Kids, A Corolla, and the Journey to Silence by Eileen McVety

The world beyond my windshield unfurls its sinuous limbs, beckons me with its come-hither bends and sultry promises of escape. Behind the wheel of my ’98 Corolla, I sit with a half-eaten bagel on my thigh and a single goal in mind—to flee my children. Only in an absurdist twist, I find that my only available option in escaping my kids on this raw and frenzied Tuesday afternoon is to bring the buggers along with me.

“Mommy, where are we going?”

This marks the fifth time my four-year-old daughter, Molly, has posed this question since our departure only minutes ago. For once, I answer, “To the mall” and am satisfied by the bout of silence that follows. My previous attempts at explaining the truth: “Nowhere. We’re just taking a drive” got caught in some neurological turnstile in her brain. To a preschooler, people don’t get in their cars just to drive around. They head to Target. The grocery store. Sometimes, but never often enough, to Chuck E. Cheese. People drive with the intent of arriving. Not escaping.

“Mommy, what’s a yellow light mean?”

In the back seat, Molly and her one-year-old sister, Erin, have called a ceasefire to their squirming and bickering to take in the refreshing change of scenery. Molly is sucking on a green lollipop; Erin, on a Lincoln Log. It is the quietest they have been all day. It’s then that I realize this is what’s missing from my life. Quiet. A sustained and restorative absence of noise. Most of my days are spent in the firing squad of electronic beeps and buzzers, high-pitched meltdowns, insipid shrieks from cartoon theme songs, angry tugs-of-war over such valued possessions as a bottle of nasal mist, and the onslaught of questions whose answers matter less than the simple need to voice them some fifteen or twenty times. I long for silence. I crave it like an addict does heroin. Shoot me up, Johnny. And yet I know that the pursuit will prove elusive for years to come. Silence is the dowry you sign over once children enter the picture.

“Mommy, what’s a yellow light mean?”

I turn onto the highway, knowing only that I must keep driving. I am lulled by the click of tires over grooved pavement, the swish of passing cars, the occasional squeal of brakes in the distance that, with the right imaginative spin, can be warped into the throaty call of some exotic bird. A loon maybe. Except I don’t know what a loon sounds like. Probably nothing at all like squealing brakes.

“Mommy, a yellow light means slow down.”

At least once a day, usually toward the end of it, I will plead with my children to “Shh.” Molly continually challenges me on the rationale for this order: “Mommy, why shh? Why shh?” Because I need quiet in my head, I tell her. Because I have not been able to hear my internal voice for years. I’m sure if I could, I’d find it siphoned of any of its former melodic peppiness, replaced instead with a biting, world-weary hoarseness. A sort of Bea Arthur/ Harvey Firstein vocal cocktail. Why shh? Because, dear children, I refrain from telling them, the two of you are driving Mommy crazy!

Maybe so, I imagine them saying, but at least we have the courtesy to hit upon a destination.

Even when the wee ones are nestled beneath their pastel bedding at the end of the day, the barrage of noise is inescapable. Erin still wakes up every two to three hours throughout the night. Which means that during what should be my most restful period, the quest for repose still eludes me. I’ve gotten to the point where I wake up seconds before my children’s nightly outbursts, eyes fixed on the shadowy ceiling, just waiting. I am able to perceive the early genesis of the bad dream, the first stab of the gas pain that will go on to pry my kids from their slumber. You have the gift of clairvoyance, a friend of mine suggests. I nod in modest, almost embarrassed acknowledgment, when in reality I know that my “gift” is nothing more than the unwanted fallout of being a mother.

“Mommy, does a truck have poopy?”

For a moment, I consider exiting at an outlet mall, craving the thrill of browsing for boot-cut jeans at The Gap. But I know I can’t. At 60 mph, I am in an unstoppable groove. Speed, I determine, is the close cousin of silence. There’s an unbroken rhythm to both.

“And on this farm he had a pig, E-I-E-I-O!”

The trouble with round-the-clock auditory disturbance is that it leads, quite naturally, to spells of insanity. Deprive a person of sleep long enough and their senses turn on them. One day, I find myself dodging the subtle but discernible odor of vinegar that persists in following me from room to room. The next, I’m bearing witness to steam rising up off my kitchen chairs. But despite my sometimes fragile grasp on reality, I nevertheless am able to diaper, iron, bank-by-phone and clip baby fingernails without gouging skin or drawing blood. Somehow, I muster the wherewithal to strap my children into their car seats, start the engine and drive skillfully to nowhere in particular.

I glance in the rear view mirror. Erin is passed out, drool bubbling from her open mouth. Her head is slumped to the side, half buried inside her fur-lined hood. Her fingers still clasp territorially around her Lincoln Log. Molly is staring vacantly out the window, her cool blue eyes glassing over. For a moment, all is quiet, though it would be a mistake to expect this blissful interlude to continue. When it comes to having kids, I determine, there are really only two recognized states of existence—commotion and the dreaded anticipation of its reappearance.

A sprinkling of rain dots the windshield. I turn on the wipers and am serenaded by their squeaky drag across the glass. As the miles fall away behind me, I question whether peace and quiet is an attainable destination at this stage in my life. Maybe disruption and clamor is to be my lot until the girls morph into teenagers, until they’re old enough to lock their bedroom doors, scribble angst into their diaries and suffocate me with the silence I crave so desperately now. Maybe there are things worse than noise, I determine, as I make the decision to turn off at the next exit and make my way back home. Slowly, the roar in my head softens to a manageable din and for the first time all day, I feel as if the crisis is past. I pop in a cassette tape, ready to rejoin the world of sound. Springsteen is casing the Promised Land, heralding that glorious intersection of rubber and road. I join in his anthem, my voice and Bruce’s merging like two lanes on the highway to someplace better.

“Mommy, shh!”

Eileen McVety is a mom and writer who recently moved back to her native Philadelphia from Chicago. Her writing has appeared in The Minetta Review, The Chicago Tribune, Hair Trigger, and Philosophical Mother.

Second Prize of $200

In the Tradition of Tulips by Anne Warren Smith

A big part of my job at Oregon State University’s music department was cranking out enthusiastic press releases. That January day, with three months of a major music festival stretching before me, I’d written seven of them. I printed the last one and checked my e-mail, happy to see respite from work–a note from my daughter Amy.

Amy lived in Ithaca, New York, much too far away. “Last night we got engaged,” her e-mail said. “I'm so happy I can hardly breathe. The wedding will be in five months, in early May.”

My mood changed. I moved the cursor toward “delete.” A wedding? How could they? She and Sharon were a wonderful couple. But lesbians didn't get engaged. Didn't get married. Did they?

Of course, I couldn’t delete it. I hit “reply.” “I'm so happy for you,” I wrote. “You know how I like Sharon. It's a great idea to celebrate your friendship.”

Presto! “Wedding” had turned into “celebration of friendship.” That worked for me.

Over the next months, however, Amy’s e-mails and phone calls continued in the same vein. They'd chosen periwinkle silk for their dresses. They'd selected a flower girl and other attendants. They'd registered for gifts. I mumbled words of encouragement. The rest of the time, since they were so far away, I didn't think about “weddings” at all.

One evening in February, the phone rang. “We're finalizing the guest list,” Amy told me. “Our limit is 150 people.” As I suddenly thought of my mother I sagged into a chair and pulled a pillow into my lap. Almost ninety, DAR, Republican, Westchester County–my mother was going to be scandalized. “We have to leave Mother out,” I said.

“I expected that,” Amy said.

“But we can't,” I said in the next breath. “If there's a family gathering that doesn't include her, she’ll be furious.”

Besides my mother, there was her brother, a former Presbyterian minister. Plus my own brother and his family. Amy's dad's family. “Couldn’t you call it a celebration of friendship?” I asked. “They might go for that.” I certainly had.

“It's a wedding, Mom,” she answered. “With a minister. In the church.”

I hugged the pillow against my chest. Why couldn't I enter into this?

A week later, Mother called. Her voice sounded like she’d discovered something dead under the refrigerator. “What's this about?” she asked.

I forced a laugh. “It's going to be a good party,” I told her. “They've found a great band for the reception.”

“What is this about?” she repeated.

I drew a deep breath. “They are a committed couple,” I answered. “They want to make their commitment public. Everyone else does.”

“Who did they send these things to?” she asked.

I told her who. “They didn't know what to do about your brother,” I said. “Should they send him one?” She thought a moment. “Yes, they should,” she said. I shook my head in disbelief. My mother could still surprise me.

In the meantime, Amy’s sister was locating fabric and offering to sew the dress for the flower girl. I began to feel left out. I was the mom who’d always joined into the planning of birthday parties, backyard carnivals, Campfire Girl outings, all-night graduation-party breakfasts. Surely, I could help with this celebration. Er, wedding.

I phoned Amy. “I want to help,” I said. “Maybe with the flowers?”

“That’s a relief,” she answered. “Thirty-five tables at the reception will need centerpieces.”

“How about little vases of spring flowers?” I asked.

“Perfect,”she answered. “Can you come early? We’ll choose the flowers when you get here.”

In the following weeks, we discussed reception halls, menus, and contracts with the band. I sewed the junior bridesmaid’s dress and researched flower girl baskets. The details kept me from thinking.

A week before the wedding, I flew to upstate New York. Amy and Sharon’s living room was hidden under boxes of votive candles, loops of artificial ivy, and bolts of periwinkle tulle. Wedding gifts stood in heaps next to the dining room table. Thank-you notes, ready to mail, mingled with lists on yellow tablet paper. This wedding was actually going to happen. I took a deep breath and picked up the yellow sheet that said “Mom.” “Decide the flowers” was the first line.

“Did you know my family is Dutch?” Sharon asked me. “My mother loved tulips. We want tulips on the tables.” Her face held the wistful expression I saw whenever she spoke of her mother who had died while Sharon was in college.

“I pictured wild irises,” I said. “Forsythia and little daisies.” Unreasonable stage fright filled my chest. “Tulips don’t arrange! They droop.”

“Traditions are a big part of this ceremony,” Amy said. “The flower girl is going to scatter bay leaves; that’s a Slovak tradition for Dad’s side. We think the reception should have tulips for Sharon's.”

They sat together at the table, their faces glowing. I told myself to love them more and stop thinking so much. But I well knew that a tulip once it's cut develops a mind of its own. I imagined thirty-five vases holding 175 independent-minded tulips.

Amy's other grandmother had said, “I don't understand her choice, but I love her. I'll be there.” In fact, she was going to stand in for Amy’s dad who couldn’t attend since his wife was ill. My own mother had a different concern. “I'm afraid they'll lose their jobs,” she’d confided. “Why can't they be quiet about this?”

All around me the gifts, the lists, the thank-you notes rebuked my doubts, my mother’s doubts. “Did you ever hear from Uncle George?” I asked.

“He sent beautiful bath towels,” Amy said. “And this letter.” She handed it to me.

In eloquent ministerial language, my uncle had written about how families love and support their children. And how the God he believed in accepts all unions. Tears filled my eyes. I didn’t know my uncle very well. Suddenly, I loved him.

Later that day, we went to see their church, a tradition in itself with rough-hewn stone and tall columns and stained glass, smells of candle wax and old hymnals. Amy handed me a church bulletin. When she pointed out the announcement of their wedding, my fears returned. Did the church members really approve? Would demonstrators come? Would someone shout something and stop the ceremony?

The next day, Thursday, Amy’s sister arrived with the flower girl’s dress in her suitcase. The same day, accompanied by their minister, Amy and Sharon went to City Hall. “They wouldn't give us a wedding license, so we filed a complaint,” Amy said when they returned.

“Are you disappointed?” I asked.

“We expected it,” Sharon told me. “But it was important to try.”

We turned our attention to neckties for the ushers and earrings to match the periwinkle blue, but through it all, the problem of the tulips haunted me. In a burst of floral genius, I proposed using apple blossoms that we could cut from the trees that had just burst into bloom. I figured apple blossoms would support the tulips. Amy and Sharon said that would be fine.

All at once it was Thursday night. With the wedding less than two days away, nothing was on schedule. The seamstress hadn't held the next-to-final fittings. Wasn't it time for FINAL fittings? The church program was mere words on Sharon's computer screen. Why couldn't they just print it out?

Things are always late at weddings, I thought. Why should this one be different?

On Friday, I filled the dining room table with vases, tulips, apple blossoms, and periwinkle tulle. Amy’s sister and I worked together, inhaling scents of apple blossoms, fussing with the wimpy tulip stems. Thirty-five vases later, we moved on to corsages and boutonnieres and finished them off with tufts of periwinkle tulle. We sent the vases and corsages to stay overnight in coolers.

Relatives from both sides stopped in on their way to motels. We spoke of traffic jams, new construction, the weather. I studied their faces. What were they really thinking? I couldn’t tell. All I knew was they’d made the trip. They’d be at the wedding.

The rings arrived. The seamstress promised to work all night. Someone printed out the program. But then, things went wrong again: The harpist phoned from O'Hare to report his plane was delayed. He’d miss the rehearsal. Always something, we groaned.

The whole time, my mind kept skipping through Amy's life, as if in a series of photos: Amy, three years old, playing in the sandbox, wearing her pink sundress. Amy, sixteen, dressed for the prom in an emerald gown, her beautiful red hair fastened up with white camellias. Amy's letter, the one she sent us from college, telling us she was a lesbian. I was undone by that letter. I grieved that her life would be harder than it should be. Like this wedding. How would it go? How would we remember it?

On Saturday, the big day, we gathered in the old sanctuary. The photographer grouped and regrouped us. I pinned on corsages and met more people who would be Amy’s new relatives. Amy and Sharon floated through it all, wearing lipstick and blusher, elegant and graceful in periwinkle silk.

Finally, it was time for those of us who would be in the processional to go upstairs, to wait for the signal. Below us, we heard the sounds of people arriving. I looked out a front window, pretending to check the weather, really checking for hate signs, for demonstrators. I saw none. Downstairs in the sanctuary, a lilting Irish tune began, the harpist playing beautifully in spite of being up all night.

The harp music ended and the African drums began. I followed the drummers down the aisle, carrying one special vase of tulips to place beside the photo of Sharon's mother. As I turned around, I realized that every pew was filled. I saw my brother from Minnesota, my nieces and nephews. My mother. Aunts, uncles, cousins from both sides–Sharon’s and Amy’s. The others were their friends from church, from work, from drumming groups.

As I took my place, the flower girl scattered her bay leaves. Amy and Sharon, looking radiant and beautiful, followed her down the aisle. The drums stopped.

We stood in silence as the minister stepped forward and raised her arms, her long sleeves spread at her sides like angel wings. She invited us to give Amy and Sharon our love and to bless this marriage. The traditions that followed were drawn from every branch of family and friends. Sharon's Aunt Karen sang “Ave Maria,” her sweet voice soaring into the rafters of the old church. Amy and Sharon spoke of their commitment to each other and exchanged their rings. They signed a Ketubah to publicize their commitments, a Jewish tradition. Amy's sister bound the couple's wrists with a golden cord, performing the pagan tradition of “handfasting.”

Amy and Sharon kissed and hugged and ducked through an archway made of apple blossoms. As they went up the aisle, in a final tour de force, they “jumped the broom” in honor of black slaves who had once celebrated their unions in this way since they too were forbidden to marry. At that, we couldn't help ourselves: We applauded and cheered in a most unchurchly way. Recalling where we were, we wiped our eyes, blew our noses, grinned crooked grins. We reached for the hands of our own loved ones.

Beside me, my mother tucked a damp tissue into her sleeve.

I’d stopped worrying about the tulips. As we entered the reception hall however, I saw that, just as I'd feared, some tulips had turned to stare at the windows; some tulips had bent over to touch the tablecloths. Not one vase looked like any other.

All that work.

But then. I had to admire the delicacy of those arched stems. I noticed how the petals belled into perfect cups. I remembered that they were, after all, a gift from the mothers–from me and from Sharon’s mother.

Tulips, I thought, are like children. They sometimes turn in directions we might not choose for them.

They are still beautiful.

The bio: Anne Warren Smith of Corvallis, Oregon, has written essays and memoir for national publications that include Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. "In the Tradition of Tulips" placed Fourth in the 2003 Writers Digest Competition for inspirational writing. Her latest children’s book is Turkey Monster Thanksgiving (Albert Whitman, 2003).

Third Prize of $150

Piranha by Maureen Stanton

You cannot drive to Iquitos, Peru, a city that once exported more rubber for automobile tires than any other in the world. The city is a prisoner of the Andes Mountains. Access is by plane, or by boat up the Amazon River. We arrive by plane from Miami, via Lima, a dozen donors to the environmental group I work for, and me, the liaison.

In Iquitos, our guides Angel and Roldan help us onto a thatch-roofed skiff and we motor three hours down the Amazon to our camp on a tributary, the Rio Negro. As we make our way downriver, chunks of the bank fold into the water and huge palms belly-flop and drift like tiny branches in the swift current. It is the middle of the rainy season and the water is high.

When we arrive, people scatter to nap in hammocks. Angel invites me to ride in the dugout. He is a somber man, with smoldering good looks; angular jaw, high broad forehead, pronounced cheekbones and smooth skin the color of the muddy water. He paddles until we are alone, dives overboard and treads water.

"How about we play I be the piranha and you be the bait."

I dip my finger in the silty water and he bites it. I become nervous, my finger in his mouth.

"Take me back," I say.

As we walk up the path toward the huts he says, "Meet me at ten tonight."

Dinner is rice, red beans and fish just pulled from the water, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over hot coals. Mangos for dessert.

"I show you how to eat a mango," Angel says. He halves the fruit and makes a cross hatch into the flesh with his sharp pocket knife. He inverts it and neat, divided squares pop up like buildings in a city. I bite into the pulp, and he leans over and licks a drop of carrot-colored juice from my wrist.

Later, at ten o'clock, when Angel has asked me to meet him, I am under gauzy mosquito netting safe from bites in the night.

The next morning we cruise down the river. I feel the splash of the Amazon cool on my backside as I pee in a hopper mounted over the engine, hidden by a makeshift wooden screen. We dive off the boat and swim with pink dolphins, which, in legend, make love to women; the women, the story says, give birth to otherworldly creatures that cannot live on land or in water. The dolphins swim off, and the guides heave us back into the boat like big white fish.

That afternoon we hike in the jungle. I stumble over roots as I crane my neck. Everything is oversized, the jungle a humid, dense womb. I recognize philodendron, a houseplant, except here it is fifty feet tall and makes me feel Lilliputian. Leaves are the size of my body. I want to lie down in one and fold it around me like a blanket. Katydids are as big as my hand. Huge, thousand year old trees--kapok, mahogany--rise from buttresses three cars wide, space you can live in.

In the canopy the oropendula, bird of liquid gold, drips its call onto the jungle floor. Monkeys mock us, glide through the treetops like it is another dimension. On the footpath, I nearly squash a poison arrow frog the size of a marble, orange and deadly. Roldan slashes at a rubber tree with his machete. We touch the milk as it oozes out, viscous, pearly.

After dinner we head to the bar for cold beer. I can feel Angel looking at me. I am dirty, pale, patchy with insect bites. I perspire industriously, my hair wrapped in a wet knot. I drink one beer, then another, waiting for something to happen. I return to my hut, but can't sleep because of the heat. In the distance I hear a drum beat.

It is drizzling at dawn but the moisture feels cool and good as we chug along the shore. Angel points to specks flying through the air and flashes in the foliage. Yellow-headed cara cara and blue crowned motmot. He has learned the Latin names of species from the world class scientists who study this remnant of virgin, uncut forest, nomenclature added to his native knowledge.

Several people in the group become wildly excited. "Ornithology alert!" one man says, binoculars poised. Angel's vision is acute from boyhood days of hunting monkey and jaguar. He spots a sloth fifty yards up a tree that I swear is a burl until I stare long enough and it inches upward.

We return for breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bread, thick, yellowish, sweet star fruit juice, and dense succulent fruits, bananas and pineapples. After, we hike deep into the jungle. Angel stalks a butterfly, catches it by its wings, which are perfectly clear, like windows. He strokes its thorax until in is enervated, hypnotized. We catch sight of an erratically flying butterfly, iridescent, like a piece of shiny taffeta. A blue morpho. We hush as it rhapsodizes into the canopy.

At a small pond we climb into shallow, tipsy dugouts. The guides' smooth, sinewy biceps stroke water so black you cannot see into it, an onyx mirror, a lake of oil. We glide inches from electric eels, caiman, piranha. Hoatzins, claw-winged birds as ancient as dinosaurs and big as chickens, perch heavily in boughs above us, while bats swoop and dive-bomb our heads. We drift into giant lily-pads, chartreuse carpets the size of bathtubs. I want to leap out and float on one like I want to jump out the window of an airplane into cottony clouds. Angel lifts the lily pad with his oar. Its pink underside is delicate and naked, fleshy. I want to bite it, to feel it, to rub my body against its texture. I drink in the beauty of the guides, their stone hard thighs, as they carry the dugouts over their heads and lead us back to camp.

When we return, Angel invites me for a swim. He paddles us into a thicket of mangroves, past a man fishing for piranha.

"They taste sweet," he says.

"How can we swim here with piranha?" I ask.

"They just do like this." He pinches my arm lightly. His fingers rest there. "They only attack if there is a lot of blood."

We get out of the dugout and hang onto a protruding branch. Angel kisses me. I pull away just as the fisherman strokes by. On our way back, Angel steers towards a woman scrubbing clothes in the river.

"You want to wash your hair?" he says.

I stand in the water, mud swallowing my ankles, as Angel gently circles his fingers on my scalp. This act feels like a gift in this land with no running water, with no modern luxuries, this man who lifts dugout canoes and carries them on his shoulders, washing my hair with the tenderness and attention the women near us wash clothes, an act more intimate that our fumbled kisses. We paddle back to camp in silence, past catfish crawling out of the water up the banks to their holes. Fish that walk on land, prehistoric, futuristic, creatures of two worlds.

After dinner the single women from our group go to the bamboo-hut bar. The guides play guitar, bongos, flute.

"Malagueña," Roldan sings, his voice like warm gray coals. The air pulses with the sounds of mosquitoes, crickets, frogs. We dance with the guides, slow, smooth, close.

The night moves away and the women slowly, dreamily go back to their cabanas. Angel walks past me, whispers, "Meet me." Back under my netting I am waiting for the time to arrive. Fixed time in the jungle seems odd. Everything moves, vibrates, grows so fast that the guides have to machete the trails every other day. I steal down the path toward the far end of the camp where the guides sleep. I hear a whisper from the bushes. Angel leads me to an empty shelter. We are silent as we lift the netting and lie together on the mattress.

His lips are sweet. I buff my tongue across them to taste the sweetness, and he presses his body against mine. I am white, ghostly, glowing. He moves his mouth over my body.

"I show you how to eat a mango," he says.

The next day we visit a village that is celebrating the rains. Men and women parade around a pole, stagger, sleep on the ground. Children squat to pee on the grass. Angel takes me over to an old woman sitting cross-legged in a corner. He scoops up some lumpy, white, yeasty liquid and I drink it.

"Masata," he says, "from manioc."

Women chew the roots for days and spit them into the clay pots. The saliva enzymes ferment the liquid. I grimace. This is the first time I hear Angel laugh, I realize; he is brooding, unlike the other guides who tease and play.

Later, we take a long boat ride and hike to see the Yagua Indians. The elders don the traditional grass skirts for visitors, sell amulets and bowls and belts. Children swarm around a tourist who hands out rubber bands. Tiny hands pull at the bag and yellow, red, green, and blue rubber bands spray all over the ground. The children scramble like pigeons in a park. I search my pack for something to offer. Cough drops and a Wash 'n Dry are all I have. Someone gives the children gum and they throw the wrappers on the ground. The ladies in the group cluck, and instruct the children to pick up the papers. Roldan talks with the Indians, jokes around with a blow gun. I look for Angel. He is leaning against a tree on the edge of the opening, watching.

"It's a shame," one of the women in our group says about him. "He's an intelligent man." They notice it too, his longing, his quiet studying of everyone, of everything. He has traveled to Lima once, he told me, which separates him from the other guides, from the people in the village. He sends money back to his family to educate his younger siblings, has been doing this for the ten years he’s worked as a guide, which is considered by the locals to be a desirable job.

"So good looking too," one older woman says. They fantasize, even the married women with their retired doctor and businessman husbands. One woman is paying Angel an extra twenty dollars to take her to hunt for tarantulas. The other women ask to come, and Angel leads five of us into the jungle. He stops, tells us to cut our lights, be still.

"Listen," he says. We stand in complete blackness. He scans his flashlight across the path, finds a hole in the ground and shoves a stick into it. A tarantula comes crawling out, furry and fat, like a pet.

"Touch it," he says, but we are afraid of its bite.

For the remaining nights Angel and I meet. I say, “You must meet a lot of women who come here.” He is insulted, and I apologize.

“Only one other woman,” he tells me. “Years ago.” She’s the one who returned and took him to Lima for a week. I ask him why he was interested in me. “You are smart,” he says. But I don’t think he means this exactly because the rest of the women in my group are smart too, educated and bright. I think he means I am like him somehow, critical, discontent, yearning, the worker in the group, not a member of the leisure class on this trip.

On the last night, sheets of rain pour down on the palm thatch roof over our heads like bullets. I feel warm air from his nose on my throat. Outside the rain stops, and the insects and owls and night creatures call with urgency. In the morning at the airport, Angel hugs me tightly. I leave him the rest of my dollars, my flashlight, my day pack, not much, but things he can use. I wish I could give him more. I write my address and phone number on a scrap of paper and place it in the pack in case he finds a way to travel to the states, though we both know we will never see each other again.

On the plane I stare out the window, the sharp peaks of the Andes like knives that could cut into the silver belly of our plane. I dream that I return home pregnant, don't tell anyone, just let the life grow inside me, and then pull and push into this world a half wild child. Tiny, brown, a swimmer, a small fish in a wide river, a dolphin child, a piranha like his father.

Maureen Stanton's essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, The Sun and other literary magazines and anthologies. She’s received the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, the Penelope Niven Award, and grants from the Maine Arts Commission, the Vogelstein Foundation, and the Barbara Deming/Money for Women Memorial Fund. She holds an M.F.A. from Ohio State University.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order

Contestants received $

On Loving a Body by Patti Hinson


In no particular order

Missing Piece by Elizabeth Eidlitz, The Forever Dogs by Nina Gaby, Woman in Red by Lisa Libowitz, Scavengers by Katy Read, Year of the Probable Boom by Sandra Soli

Entries of Note

And Comments from Susan

Thanks to those who entered Tiny Lights' 10th annual personal essay contest. Your writing helped raise the bar and made the judging delightfully difficult.

So difficult, in fact, it's important to remember that writing markets are unpredictable and more subjective than most of us dare to acknowledge. As André Maurois said, "In literature, as in love, we are astonished by what is chosen by others."

I hope you will be astonished in a positive sense by the winners of this year's contest, whose work will appear in Tiny Lights this summer. All contest participants will receive a copy of that issue. Additional copies can be purchased for $5 by sending to:

Tiny Lights Publications

P.O. Box 928

Petaluma, CA 94953

As always, keep writing. And next year, please try your skill and luck with us again.

Susan Bono, Editor

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