Write On!
Winners of the 2018 writing contest



In the spring, more than 100 talented scribes submitted their work to the annual Carolina Woman Writing Contest. Those who shared their craft and submitted their creations to scrutiny are made of tough stuff, and we congratulate everyone who entered. It was a huge accomplishment. The well-caffeinated judges got immense satisfaction from reading all the prose and poems. The strong writing and well-developed characters made choosing just a handful of winners extremely difficult. We're thrilled to announce the champs (and their splendid prizes) here and to share their masterful words with you. Take the time to read them – it'll be well worth it.
– Debra Simon, Editor & Publisher



Grand Prize


"After the Ring"


By Sharon Kurtzman of Raleigh

Buzzy's throat was as dry as a dirt road. "They're called wrastlers," he told his granddaughter.


Ainsley's blue eyes lifted from her iPad, blonde brows pulling together in eight-year-old concentration. "Wrastler," she mimicked with her cartoon-princess voice. "Did I say it right?"


"Make it tougher." He coughed. "As if you'd swallowed rocks." He didn't tell the child that it took decades of hard living, and even harder knocks, to do right by the word.


Her next attempt sounded like a mouse pretending to be a lion.


"Prize-winning perfect," Buzzy said and picked up the silver-framed photo on the coffee table, the one of him firing up the crowd from the middle of the ring. "They took this thirty-five years ago when I was 'The Wrecking Ball' Diamond. I pinned The Fire Spitter in the final seconds."


"I know that story." The girl tapped on her iPad.


He put the picture down. "Yes, you do." His opponent's real name was Pete Rancic, and when Pete wasn't wrestling, he played weddings all over the Carolinas. Buzzy loved his Elvis impersonation. "From that ring, I sent your daddy and Aunt Bethany to college, and took your grandmother on those cruises she loved."


"The one where she bought me the hula skirt?"

"Yup, that one, too."


"Were you rich, Grampy?"


He scrubbed a hand over his bald head. "Never rich, girlie, but your grandmother knew how to stretch a dollar." In the photo, Buzzy held the gold championship belt. "We bought this house a month after that match."


They were in the tidy cottage's living room, where Buzzy spent most days on his beloved Margie's floral sofa. His wife had stalked the piece of furniture waiting for the store in downtown Raleigh to slash the price.


"We have a perfectly fine sofa," he'd told Margie when the piece went on sale after Christmas.


"It's an old has-been."


"So am I."


She swatted his arm. "Don't talk about my husband that way. Buzz...I don't ask for much. But I want to die with that sofa in my house."


Neither of them knew that she would die on it. Goddamned heart attack.


Ainsley scratched her nose. "You were really strong back then, Grumpy."


Sometimes the child called him Grumpy instead of Grampy. He didn't mind. "I had smarts, too. I made the audience like me. I was a good guy."


"The audience hates the bad guys." The iPad beeped and chimed.


"Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't. There were fans that cheered for the bad guys, too." He nodded to the child's iPad. "What are you playing there?"


"I'm not playing. I'm reading Charlotte's Web. It's about –"


"I know Charlotte's Web. A girl and a spider work as a tag team to save a pig. Your Aunt Bethany loved that book."


"She's the one who told me I should read it."


"Nice story. Friendship is important."


She puckered her lips thinking hard on something. "Do you miss your wrestling friends?"


"Some." A bunch of fellows he'd known had passed on. They were tussling with God now, or something darker. His time wasn't far off.


"Grampy, can I have a juice box?"


He was minding the girl for the afternoon while her mama ran errands and his son, Jasper, was in his office in Chapel Hill. Jasper sold insurance. When he was a teenager, the boy had asked Buzzy if he could be a wrestler, too. Thin as a pole and without an ounce of muscle on him. Jasper was built like his mother and smart like her, too; he had a head for numbers. Buzzy was proud of his son. He'd never wanted him to live his life in the ring.


"Go get your juice, and while you're in there grab me a beer. Grampy's legs won't carry him into the kitchen today."


"Sorry your legs hurt."


"Nothing to be sorry for. It is what it is."


The refrigerator door opened and glass clinked. His gaze slid back to the picture. Buzzy had beaten four wrestlers that night, beginning in a steel-cage match. He broke two ribs on the way to winning the belt. He hated when folks asked if the matches were real. His injuries were real.


His old body was a road map of lumps, jutting joints, and scars.


"Here, Grampy." Ainsley handed him a Coors can.


She took a hard tug on her straw, cheeks sinking in, before she set the box on the coffee table still crowded with Margie's Southern Living and Good Housekeeping magazines. The idea of throwing them out made it hard for him to breathe. A woman came to clean every week, and she straightened the stacks the way Margie would have liked.


"We forgot to knock glasses, Grampy."


"Oops." He tapped his can to her juice box. "Cheers."


"Here's mud in your eye," she said.


He laughed and coughed until his chest rattled.


"Grampy, do you want your breathing machine?" The girl was on her feet.


"No, I'm all right." The fit subsided. "I'm going to close my eyes for a bit."


"Do you want me to read you some of Charlotte's Web?"


"I'd like that."


Her voice washed over him like the gentle waves on Ocracoke Island, where Margie and he used to take their brood for the summer. Those were good days. Jasper and Bethany would rush off the Hatteras Ferry and time slowed.


These days, Buzzy saved his strength to get to the bathroom and back. His mind was a different story; it took him to special places.


Today, it led him to the ring and to the champion he'd once been. Buzzy "The Wrecking Ball" Diamond held the winning gold belt overhead, and his knuckles grazed the rafters. The crowd roared and drowned out the sweet spoken story about a spider, a girl, and a sorry little pig who wanted nothing more than a few extra days to enjoy the sun.





First Prize


"Let Me Count the Ways"


By Mary Hennessy of Raleigh


I love you and this world
with a brothel's heart
with the focus of Cousin Ruth
at the greyhound track
with the excess
of a zucchini harvest
with the terror of a plane
lost at sea.
with the anxiety of
one who still waits
with the sadness of the bed-less
with the sadness of those with no dry place for their books
with the sadness of those with no books.
I have loved you and this world
with a mailman's steadfastness—
skipping only federal holidays
and taking every Sunday off.





Second Prize




By Anne Kissel of Chapel Hill


Automatic doors whoosh them in on blasts of cool dry air,
dusted with that familiar, faintly floral 'Eau de Mall' scent.
VISA cards hum eagerly in pockets and pocketbooks, as
muffled Muzak tickles the edges of their ears and
invisible voices whisper wishes into limbic brains.
It's always bright here, like a Vegas casino, flat and timeless.


The Sketchered AARP crowd completes its morning circuits
while young moms push strollers tricked out like sports cars,
arms bent with designer bags, hands full of designer coffee.
They deposit tiny future shoppers in the communal play pit and stare.
Packs of 'tween girls, giggling, thumbs talking, roam en masse,
looking for what they can't yet define in the latest fast fashions.


Storefronts beg attention with signs shouting in sharp black and white:
"Sale!" "Discounts!" "NewNewNew Things Here!"
Huge posters of impossibly beautiful women and tumble-haired lads
silently flirt with each other from behind their glass cages,
sharing Victoria's secrets with guys lost in The Gap.


Global options fill the food court with meals on a stick
or in a cup or mashed in a pasty white bun.
Fried, tossed, baked, roasted, jerked, steamed or sliced,
it all tastes strangely the same.
Calories hang over each kiosk, drip from the sticky counters
and fall slyly on diners' hips and arms.


Millennial staffers call robotically from the midway carts,
hawking phones, sunglasses, hair decor, potions and lotions.
Seasonal pop-ups add candy, toys, puzzles, calendars and hats.
The credit-worthy and un-shy choose sessions of public grooming:
teeth whitening, neck massage, eyebrow threading and makeovers.


Deeper in debt, weary from the hunt,
numb from contact without connection,
they trudge to the immense, sun-scorched parking lot.
Still hungry.
Still looking for the perfect fit.