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.




Third Prize


"Eula Dare Hampton Agrees to Edit
the Quaker Ladies' Cookbook"


By Ashley Memory of Asheboro


The reasons why she could not mounded as high as the plums on her countertop oozing to be jammed. She was 76. She was retired from public service (the U.S. Post Office, no less), she had taken up senior water dance at the Y, and best of all, her granddaughter-in-law Miranda had just given birth to Davis Farrell Hampton IV, a fat little cherub with the most precious marmalade curls — her first great-grandchild!


But the reasons why she should pelted her faster than she could fend off. "You are our President," said Violet at the June meeting of the Hickory Grove Quaker Ladies.


"A model of discretion and taste," said Betsy.


"You get along with everybody, even Brindella Lawson!" said Mattie, her dearest friend in the world.


Everybody knew that the Hickory Grove Quaker Ladies were the best cooks in town. People from all denominations regularly crashed their gatherings — even those snooty Lutherans had been spotted balancing a cracker or two of Juanita's Zesty King Crab Dip at the annual homecoming. It was time, they decided, for a cookbook of their own. The proceeds might just be enough to finally pave that humpy, lumpy, and increasingly dumpy Meeting House parking lot in asphalt. Eula Dare Hampton, by unanimous vote, was the only one who could make this happen.


She had no choice but to agree. If her beloved husband Farrell, God bless him, had still been alive, he would have pooh-poohed the idea. But the more Eula thought about it, the oddest thing happened — the more she wanted to do it. Even though she knew pride was a sin, especially for a Quaker, she secretly ached to do something grand. Something that made people think twice when they heard the name Eula Dare Hampton.


When she threw herself into the task, sorting, reading, and editing the recipes, her head bubbled with excitement. Even her toes tingled. Who better than Eula to decide how many Parker House Roll recipes one cookbook needed to have? Certainly not 7! She picked Brenda Boyd's because she knew Brenda's extra pat of shortening gave her rolls their velvety softness. And if crotchety old Mary Jane Bishop "accidentally" omitted the powdered thyme from her "Jiffy Salmon Casserole" recipe, who better than Eula to add it back in? She had a nose like a bloodhound for secret ingredients like thyme and nutmeg. As for her own contribution, she put in just one dish — her "Light as a Feather Pancakes" — Farrell's favorite.


She was one day away from sending the file to the printer when the unthinkable happened. On Sunday, right in the middle of the sermon, Brindella Lawson had the gall to pass Eula a handwritten recipe called "Candle Salad." Mattie cringed as soon as she read it. "Shameless!" she said to Eula. "You're not going to include it, are you?" Eula hesitated. Brindella's entry was past the deadline. And it wasn't really a salad, not like the others.


Brindella Lawson might have been a Quaker. But she wasn't a Lady. She'd had a certain beauty long ago, it must be admitted. But Brindella wouldn't forget it. She still wore sweaters with a Bardot neckline instead of a bateau. And she was always saying the most scandalous things during Open Worship. Once she'd even said they ought to put the Devil on the prayer list because she felt so sorry for him! And she could not cook. She was the only Quaker Eula knew who couldn't. The brownies she made were so hard Clifford Gentry whooshed a whisper down the buffet line that Brindella used Portland Cement instead of cocoa.


But how could they not at least consider Brindella's recipe? They were Quakers, after all, she reminded Mattie and the other ladies at the emergency meeting of the executive committee. If they didn't, it would be nothing less than a slap in the face with a rolling pin.


So Eula tested the recipe. Peel a banana, stand it in a pineapple ring, and stick a maraschino cherry on top. Spread a tablespoon of mayonnaise at the base like melted wax. And Mattie was right. "You know what it's going to look like, don't you?" she had warned. Eula assured her that having been married for over 50 years and being the mother of two sons, she had indeed seen that sort of thing before. But the final result was surprisingly tasty. So good in fact that Eula made herself another one. And another. And another. And then she prayed. And prayed. And prayed.


The morning that The Quintessential Quaker Cookbook was finally offered up for sale was remarkably anti-climactic. Eula even plopped down on her tufted easy chair for a few minutes. But her peace was short-lived. As word spread that recipes like Sondra Plueddemann's Persimmon Pudding and Laurie Rudolph's Shrimp Creole were now available, it seemed that everyone in Hickory Grove, Gum Springs, and even as far as Cedar Run in the next county over, decided that the family bookshelf would be incomplete without a copy. The first printing of 5,000 books sold out by noon. This meant that the parking lot at the Hickory Grove Friends Meeting House wouldn't just be covered with asphalt — it would be paved in concrete.


Two days later, when the hullabaloo finally died, Eula decided to treat herself to a little vacation. She so longed to see Miranda and Little Davis. She was packing, in fact, when the phone rang. It was Ann-Marie Peacock, a producer from Good Morning America. "Is this a joke?" Eula asked. No, it was not, said Ann-Marie. She was preparing a story for their show, and they would love to interview Eula and one of the authors of this now-famous cookbook. Was there a recipe that could be demonstrated in 2 minutes or less on national television? "Yes ma'am," said Eula. "Yes indeed."


After she hung up, Eula fell back on her bed, catching her breath. She looked up at the ceiling, where, among the stucco dollops, she saw Farrell and his pancakes floating in the clouds. "Well done, angel pie," he'd have said, even though he would have been as amazed as Eula at the turn of events. Who could explain such a thing? It was wondrous, miraculous, and it was not the work of Eula Dare Hampton. Most certainly not. But her heart swelled with joy. There would be peace with the Quaker Ladies and like it or not, cooks throughout the land would be serving "Candle Salad" at Sunday's dinner.





Fourth Prize


"A Reader's Creed"


By Vicki Collins of Graniteville, S.C.


I believe in reading literature
written by those who plied their craft
with parchment and pen,
wrote longhand on lined paper,
bent over manual typewriters
to fashion characters and plots
that enlighten, entertain, and engage;
writers with minds yearning
to sow seeds on the page,
a sacred garden bed
for bibliophiles like me,
ravenous for a word feast.





Fifth Prize


"The Pill"


By Anne Anthony of Chapel Hill


They tell me today's my birthday. Who's to say if it's the truth? Everyone here lies through their teeth, or what's left of them. I'm not that forgetful. Oh, Arthur, what a day I'm having with Nurse Wanda, such a young slip of a thing. You remember her. The one with the 'swing in her backyard,' — your exact words. You loved women with a generous caboose. She wouldn't leave me be. Kept trying to get me to swallow another pill.




—One more pill and you can go. Please, Miss June.


—No, no more pills.


Nurse Wanda. How can she leave her house looking the way she does. The ends of her dark hair dipped in layers of pink, orange, and green. Wears a different colored ribbon tied in a large bow on the side of her head. Every day. Reminds me of a Kewpie doll. And her voice! High-pitched, sugary sweet, and in a decibel range that makes a dog howl.


—C'mon, Grammy. It's only a pill.


—Why, you look all dolled up today, Molly. What's the occasion?


My granddaughter is what, all of fourteen? Easy to mistake her for eighteen with all her makeup and her low cut blouse. I don't need to ask why she dresses the way she does. It's that boy, my physical therapist. Molly only visits on Mondays and Wednesdays when he's here. What a strapping young man, but Good Lord, he works here. He can't provide for her.


—No occasion, Grammy. Thought I'd dress up for a change. Do you like my new dress?


—Pretty purple. Flatters your pale skin. A good thing, I'd guess, since your dress shows so much of it.


How else to answer? Her cleavage, exposed the way it is. The girl's got my figure — big boobs and narrow hips. I told Bella she needs to talk to her. I may be old, but I know this much: boys haven't changed since I was a girl. They're eager things with no thought to a girl's tender heart.


—Mother. Please.


—Why are you fussing? I'm giving the girl a compliment, dear.


Bella surprised me coming with Molly today. Always so busy to visit, only stops in a few days a month, and stays for less than an hour. Thinks I'm too far gone to pay attention to her inattention. Sends her daughter as her delegate. I'm pretty sure she pays Molly something, anything to assuage her guilt. No granddaughter can replace a daughter. Still, I enjoy Bella's visits, especially when she brings something for my sweet tooth. Today she brought cookies. The soft ones. They're easier to chew with my new dentures. My daughter tries, but she's got a life beyond these walls, and it mostly doesn't include me.


—The pill will settle your heart, dear. Besides, what would Arthur say?


—I'd ask you to mind your own beeswax, Miss Carlson.


Miss Carlson occupied my Arthur's attention more than any woman on this floor. Asking him fool questions about the weather and politics and such. Did she think my eyesight faded along with my memory? Her twisted fingers wantonly stroked the back of his shoulders and neck. He'd say to pay her no never mind, but as his wife, I took exception. The scales on Miss Busybody's lips are flickering, a sign her useless advice will flap my way yet again.


—You know he'd tell you to take the pill, June.


A wet mist sprays from her loose dentures and hits me square in the eye. I refuse to blink.


—Arthur is none of your concern.


I grip the arms of my chair and lean forward to reach my walker hoping to make my escape. When I lift off from my seat, I pass wind without regard to this party of spectators. My legs sway. I recall my daughter-in-law's lesson from yesterday and drop the tips of my toes to the floor.


'Balance is a matter of physics,' Nancy said.


—Good for you, June, you remembered to drop your toes. We don't want you to fall on your birthday like last year. Oh, Bella, remember that day? David and I organized quite a celebration for Mama's 85th birthday. The children swam all afternoon. Perfect sunny day until Mama got up from the sofa and stumbled. EMS took her to the ER. Thank God nothing was broken. She never cut her own cake. A spectacular cake with delicate baby blue rose buds. Her favorite color. Wait, I have pictures.


—God, I know, Nancy, I was there. I don't need to see pictures.


—Thought I'd show June is all. Would you mind releasing my arm? You know of my condition.


My chatter-in-law chatters on, repeats the same stories whenever we're together, and will repeat them again in the same visit. Like I'm a stranger. I know what she's doing, weaving those stories into our conversation. She's hoping I'll feel less lost. How can Bella not see that? Of course, she's never here visiting. Neither is her brother. David visits less than Bella. I'm his mother, for god's sake.


—Why, hello, Pastor Charles. Would you walk me back to my room, young man?


I smile, and his face, held up by three chins, returns my smile. My hook catches my fish.


—Anything for such a lovely lady.


Lovely my ass. The lobby's wall-length mirror ended the lying to myself after moving into this dump, but I accept his ready hand. This do-gooder is doing good. From the corner of my eye, I notice Nurse Wanda stepping forward, breaking into our dance.


—She needs to take her pill.


—Miss June, you best listen to this nice lady.


I follow the sweep of his eyes to the 'nice lady's' ample chest. Dear Lord. I make my move down the hall at the speed of a snail and regret involving this fool minister when he blocks my way. Get your puffy hands off my walker I'd like to say, but I don't. He's what fifty years old? The man still lives with purpose.


—I don't want the pill.


This man of the cloth only worsens my day. Anyone with a bit of sense can see nothing but ego in his eyes. The ladies eat up his attention like a babe sucks on a mama's tit. He makes my hard day harder. But, I've run out of steam, and it's only past noon. I had more spunk in my younger days. Can't seem to fire up the engine the way I once could.


—Fine. I'll take the god damn pill. Everyone happy now? Thanks for coming, y'all, but I'm going to lie down for a nap."





"I cheeked the pill, darling. Spit it into the toilet when I got back to our room. My room. I want to be with you, Arthur. You were a good husband, bossier than most, but hardworking. I miss you holding my hand while I fall to sleep."


—He was a good man, your Arthur.


I turn towards the doorway. What does that nurse want now? Did she hear me say I never took her fool pill? She's stepping into my room uninvited, and picks up my photograph from my nightstand.


—Your wedding photo?


—Sixty years ago. Handsome, wasn't he?


—And fresh, I'd imagine. 'Swing in the backyard.'


—You knew?


—June, some days I swung 'my swing' harder just to amuse the man.


—Me too, dearie. Me too.




Honorable Mention




By Terresa Haskew of Prosperity, S.C.


for Emma, who is two
Sun drunk, she rests against me,
caught in this cage of shadows cast
by screen porch slats—
her mother's long lashes, father's full cheeks;
hands miniature roses opening
on lifelines into infinity.


Her granddaddy circles the house
on the red lawn tractor.
Dew-damp blades rise to the light,
growing even as the mower takes their tops,
the air, alive with vibration,
is sweet with gasoline and green.


He waves with each passing.
She is eager for his every return,
arms reaching for what she cannot yet see.
My blood pumps its slow circuit, lazy
as the whispering fan overhead.


Now parallel with the property's limits,
he disappears – a final silence –
while she slips free from my lingering hold,
from the swollen heart's entreaty:
don't go / don't go / don't go.