Each winter hundreds of stories descend from across the county, and the country. Many are exactly 101 words, many aren’t. This year one delivered only nine words, and nearly won a spot on the podium with the best of this year’s crop. All are rich with enthusiasm (if not clarity), most reflect society, a number speak to the very essence of life in Monterey County. Taken singularly, each offers a fleeting window into humanity and creativity. Taken together, they provide a mirror into the meaning of being.
Her hand felt inside her right coat pocket. She blindly fingered two foil-covered teeth bleaching packets, a Kleenex, a lone button to a forgotten garment, a ticket stub to a San Francisco play, a restaurant receipt. If someone found her now, dead on this beach, what would anyone make of her life? “Always looking for self-improvement, no time to mend things, but time to go to a play, to eat a good meal.” It’s OK, she thought. Her pocket would be an OK summary of her life. Nothing to make a book of: just a short story.
Shirlee A. Anderson | Monterey
I peeked around the corner into the living room. Nearby stood, yes stood, a fluffy calico kitten with saucer eyes. It begged innocence, but the doobie stuffed under its whiskers growled the opposite. I’d heard screams next door, but didn’t think to involve myself. A stubby red lightsaber sizzled in its paws. This talking, 420-friendly kitten, I realized, traded in death. I wished I shaved off my lumberjack beard, worn sweats instead of skinny jeans, and not thought this kitten was so cute that I let it in. “Iz haz you now,” were the last words I heard before it attacked.
Patrick Whitehurst | Marina
“Does he love her?” “Not like he loved you.”
Rachel D’Agui | Salinas
Each evening, Peter wanders through the aisles of Whole Foods, searching for something good. Tonight he lingers on the brown boxes of locally-made pastas, their shapes so elegant, their smooth surfaces flour-kissed. He admires the long-necked bottles of organic, virgin olive oils, noticing variations in shade that bespeak hours in the sun and promise bouquets of subtle flavor. In the produce section, his fingers graze the succulent heirloom tomatoes until he brings one close to breathe in its lovely ripeness. And just before closing time, Peter steps out into the night, his basket empty as always, still hungry.
Deanna Ross | Del Rey Oaks
Davy’s mother tucked him in and kissed him, saying “Good night, sweetie.” But a giant fur-covered vacuum cleaner with claws and a wide red mouth with sharp white teeth chased him around the house all night, roaring, “I’ll chew you into little pieces and stuff them in my bag!” In the morning Davy’s mother said, “That was just a dream.” She made cookies. They went walking in the park. They played cards. At bedtime she read him a story, tucked him in, and kissed him again. Davy told the monster about his day. “That was just a dream,” it said.
David L. Book | Carmel
“I think I love you,” he said as he cocked his head to one side. She smiled and mimicked his posture as she had always done. Although she knew he couldn’t see her. It was more for herself she supposed. His smile lines stayed warmly on his face after his smile faded; a consequence of the decades he’d spent in good humor. She relished every line. “Don’t you look beautiful today?” he spoke. “I don’t think you would say so if you could see me.” “Ah, but that’s the best part about losing my sight, darling, all I see is you.”
Melissa Ghergich | Bakersfield
Was he talking in the next room? Impossible! He hadn’t spoken for 24 hours. She hurried into his room, “Joey?” Silence. She felt his cheek. It was cold. His arm didn’t respond to her touch. “No! No! Joey!” But he was gone. She recalled a nurse said that they sometimes come back, so she stayed beside him, praying and crying, but he was truly gone, forever. The voice on the phone said, “We can pick up the body within the hour. Your credit card please.” “I don’t have the money right now.” “Call us when you do.”
CarolDominguez | Carmel
That cat ran across the patio with something blue in her teeth, and I knew that she was going to bring her catch into the house. I tried to fend her off at the garage door entry, but she beat me, coming in before spreading feathers all over the floor. “Molly, not again.” “Meow… ” One colorful parakeet, still alive but struggling, I snatched it from her mouth, walked outside and threw it up into the air with a big blessing, as it spread its tiny wings and flew away in the wind.
Rad Roach | Gonzales
I was still in my party dress from the night before. I had fallen asleep on someone’s floor and was very thirsty. In the bathroom I cupped my hands and drank the city water from the tap. Outside the air was cold and my party dress offered no protection. I passed the feral punks who slinked in a blue haze of smoke. They hissed hello. But I lowered my eyes unable to look at them or to speak to them with their spiked rigid thoughts of freedom. I only wanted for the day to pass and the night to return again.
Marie Gilmore | Pacific Grove
Garbage piled high next to my home address. I found comfort in the roof that had been repaired; the hinge was no longer operable and left a gap allowing rainfall to stir me from my nightly slumber. I love my home with the kitchen only a few steps from the master suite; it is quite efficient. I use the work triangle layout to maximize this efficiency with the sink, prep area, and range all within the sum of the three sides not exceeding the recommended 26 feet. Now if I could only get the city to paint this dumpster teal.
Kevin Silva | Hollister
“I’m looking for the nutcracker,” I whispered, leaning over the counter. “Over there,” she pointed. I shook my head, “THE nutcracker.” She watched me, then signaled me to follow. “Wait inside,” she said. A moment later a large man came in. “Who’s nuts you you vant to break?” he asked, thick with his Russian accent. “I don’t think – ” “Whose NUTS?!” he shouted. “Well… m-mine, not the type – ” He looked confused, “Your nuts?!” He smiled and cracked his knuckles. He squeezed harder, but even the bulky man couldn’t break the chestnuts I brought. The lady returned: “Use hammer to break his nuts.”
David Johnson Williams | Watsonville
Here'’s Looking at You
The last TED talk of the day. My mind awash with dreams of a better world, I settled in my seat to experience “Holography of the future.” A woman in the front row glanced back at me and smiled. The smile stuck with me as the talk flew past, and I imagined the two of us in that better world. As the presenter thanked us, I raced to her chair and reached my hand out,but I froze as my hand went through hers, and I felt the empty space that her image had inhabited.The presenter, still onstage, winked.
Eliot S. Light | Pacific Grove
So I’m in the dirt, digging up an eight-foot redwood tree that’s rooted through its container into the not-so-perfect spot in my garden and the older, sweaty, panting Craigslist guy who’s going to give the tree a new home says, “Too bad there isn’t a husband in the picture who could have given us a hand with this thing.” I put the shovel down, give him The Look, get a good grip on the trunk, and pull the tree up out of the ground. The guy steps back a bit, clears his throat, and says, “Or maybe not.”
Deb Busman | Carmel
“Is she yours?” is the first question on everybody’s mind when they see an adult and child with different skin tones holding hands. Some suppress the urge and just stare at us with a puzzled look. Others don’t hold back and ask as politely as they can. I am obviously not holding the hand of a child who grew in my tummy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her. Funny how they never ask that question. After battling with the system you think it will be smooth sailing from here, but the stares remind you, this is somebody else’s child.
Jessica Holt | Seaside
It wasn’t what the ad had promised. The “quaint bungalow in a quiet neighborhood; pool; view” turned out to be an abandoned shack. The pool was empty except for discarded beer cans crusted with gray muck; and old newspapers which concealed, he imagined, the turds of derelicts.The “view” was of a vacant lot, overgrown with weeds and surrounded by rusty barbed wire. Still, he thought, it was close to work. And it WAS quiet. And he knew he’d be filing for divorce in the next year and that his wife would probably wind up with it. He made an offer.
Steven M. Beutler | Carmel
She jumps on my bed. I can barely make out her shape in my dark room. “Mom,” she squeals, “today is the day!” I wrap up in my bathrobe as she tugs me outside. She has already tied the balloons to the mailbox at the end of the driveway and her pink butterfly wings shine in the early morning light. She hops up on the swing and begs me to push her. We play until dad opens the door, telling us that pancakes are ready. Shrieking with excitement she runs straight through the glass door.
Suzanna Coffin | Nevada City
Word Nerd Love
Identify incorrect verb usage in the following.
Herbert desired Hortense, but Hortense, being virtuous, would lie with no man before marriage. “I mean, no guy’s gonna lay me without that little ol’ gold band.” Herbert’s insistent charm proved too much for her, though, and one night he laid her in his ’57 Chevy. Then, chivalrously, he asked for her hand. “I guess I better,” she replied demurely, “since you like ruined me and all. But when we’re married we better not spend all our time layin’ around in bed.” Herbert retorted, “You start usin’ better grammar or Iwon’t marry you!”
Victor Urbanowicz | St. Paul
I guess I got caught up in trying to help.Maybe it was an unconscious desire to have wanted to do the whole Peace Corps thing or something.And I had heard about those noble doctors risking their lives in Syria.And then there are the engineers building drinking water wells in Africa.Maybe as an undergraduate geography major dropout I felt called to support this particular organization.Anyway, I probably should have known it was a scam.I mean, what the hell would they do anyway?Apparently, there is no real organization called “Cartographers without Borders.”
Jay Tulley | Pacific Grove
Field of Dreams
She blinked away the tears as she struggled to see which berries were ready to pick. Even Señora Acosta was outpacing her in the field this morning. “I’ll never make it,” she repeated over and over to herself, until she felt her words blurt out. Mr. Lopez looked back at her. “Don’t worry, mija, we’ll get your car out of the mud.” “Gracias,” she said. “Miguel is getting his iPad after school. Teachers won’t give it to him if I am not there. No excuses.” Mrs. Acosta murmured, “We should not have to park our own cars in the mud.”
ChrisRicker | Greenfield
To the Rain
The little girl’s nimble fingers dance across the piano keys, quick and eager. The notes rise and fall, almost obscuring the sound of the rain falling steadily on the rooftop. Her fingers still, and she hesitates before turning her young eyes to the old man sitting by the fire. “Grandfather?” she asks. “Yes, my dear?” he murmurs from behind the pages of his book. “When will it stop raining?” “When the world in new again,” the old man says. The little girl nods once, her curiosity sated with his answer, before resuming to play. The rain continues throughout the long night.
Maddy Brown, 12 | Monterey
The Little Teacher
My little boy grabs my pinkie finger.He wants to walk down our usual path to the post office.It’s a curving sidewalk on a tree-lined street.We have to look at, what it seems, every stone and flower as we slowly walk.The scent of wet sycamore leaves on the ground lifts into the breezes.I let him take his time as he watches a Steller’s jay in the redwood canopy. I tell him that it is time to go, but he is not ready.I’m amazed that I constantly learn patience from a one-and-a-half-year-old.
Shawn T. Boyle | Pacific Grove
When the crocodile grabbed her jacket and began pulling her overboard, Victoria plunged her stiletto into the reptile’s yellow eyes. Reaching shore she checked the pockets for the blow gun, revolver and Chanel perfume. Snuffling warned her as she blew a poisoned dart into the ear of a feral pig. When she spotted a leopard, she hunkered down, spraying herself with Chanel, disguising her scent from the predator. By nightfall she reached the ruined temple. A tall, dark figure reached out and seized her arm. “What took you so long?” said her father.
Ethelyne Hughes | Monterey
I once took an elegant oil painting to an upscale consignment shop in La Jolla. I explained to the owner the reproduction of Francois Millet’s (1814-1875) “The Gleaners” was a family heirloom which I had inherited. She interrupted me to state she did not accept reproductions, but that if I had the original she’d be interested! I left without telling her the original was in the Louvre in Paris and that if I owned it I wouldn’t be in a consignment shop!
Rae Berry | Carmel
Warm and Fuzzy
I became a dog lover at 5 when Tippie, a terrier with paws that smelled like Fritos, was adopted to save me from an unloving household. Each rescue since Tippie has something of her in them. With Frapoochino it was his sparkling hazel-rimmed eyes. With Goldie it was her smile that lit up a room. Bobo resembled Tippie the most, right down to her Frito-smelling paws. I became a dog lover at 5 and a dog rescuer the day they told me I was adopted like Tippie.
Eleanor Church | Pacific Grove
I’m alone in the room, stretched out in what should be comfort, eyes closed, willing myself to stay calm, be relaxed, and not expect too much. This is my first, and trusted friends have warned of all manner of scary consequences. I hear his footsteps in the hall, the door opening, and I actually smell him as he comes closer and bends down over me. I feel my body tense as he touches my arm. He clears his throat and in a gentle voice says, we’ll have to do a root canal.
M. Melendez | Monterey
Several years ago while driving through a farming region of Northern California I stopped at a small restaurant adjacent to an orchard. When I ordered my breakfast I asked if the orange juice was fresh. “Of course,” replied the waitress, “I just opened the can this morning!”
Rae Berry | Carmel
Charlie wakes at 3:42 to his phone buzzing. “Really Lil? Don’t you know what time it is?” he says sleepily into the phone. She replies with, “Charlie it’s been 4 hours and 17 minutes since I’ve seen you. Can’t you seem a little bit more excited?” “No, because it’s 3:43 and I told you to stop calling in the early hours.” “Well, whatever, I just called to say I miss you! Love you Charlie.” “Goodnight Lilly, I guess I’ll see you when I see you.” Charlie turns over, throwing his arm around his wife, careful not to wake her.
Lauren Garcia | Marina
A Brother's Shoulders
The little boy took his father by the hand and led him out to a tree in their backyard. “Daddy, how tall was Henry?” The boy’s father bent over to pick up his son and placed the boy’s hand over a spot on the tree. “Where would his shoulders be, Daddy?” His father moved the boy’s hand down. “Make me a seat.” The boy’s father lifted his son onto the wood planks nailed into the tree. The little boy looked around and began to cry. The world would never again look as it had on top of his older brother’s shoulders.
Fagie Singer | Monterey
And that was the end of that. It was the end of the custody battle that lasted half his lifetime. Instead of preparing for his two separate 7th birthday parties, two separate Christmases, two separate lives – it just ended. That was the end of that. It was the end of court dates and mother-son movie nights, the end of baseball practices and mind games. They, the two, had to work one last time at the one thing no parent wants to do. They decided on wood grain, flowers, incense, and service prayers. And that was the end of that.
Collette White | Monterey
Nothing sexual or emotional had ever been explained to me. At 13 I remember my mother Fannie telling me not to kiss a boy and get pregnant. You think I’d have known what pregnancy was but I didn’t. That year I had a birthday party. Howie Monheit came. He was the mostest, bestest boy I’d ever seen. When he said I looked pretty I felt all tingly. Howie asked me to dance. We danced to a dark corner of the basement where he kissed me. I kissed a boy. And I felt nothing.
Eleanor Church | Pacific Grove
Patrick met Grace at a laundromat. She was holding up a pair of fuzzy black pajama pants and looking doubtful. The PJs sported a sprinkled-donut print (sweet and sexy, he thought) but appeared too small for her curvaceous body. “Shrunk!” she moaned, shaking her head. “Maybe they’re leggings?” he ventured. “Or furry shorts.” She laughed, and hope flared in his chest. “I’m Patrick,” he said, his voice only mildly wobbly. “I’m Grace,” she began. Ten years later, they hit the same laundromat with a load of worn sheets and their boys’ Little League jerseys, just for old time’s sake.
Deanna Ross | Del Rey Oaks