Winners of our 2024 Writing Contest


Carolina Woman's literary showdown attracted brilliant pieces of fiction, nonfiction and poetry this year. It was a story slam! The submissions often focused on courageous women and girls. Last month, we ran the Grand Prize to Honorable Mention winners. Here are our Staff Faves. Tune in next month when we'll share Crowd Pleasers.

– Debra Simon, Editor & Publisher




"All This"


nonfiction by Emily Dunlap Carter of Beaufort, N.C.


The café is open seating. Sofas and fat cushioned high backs nestle the perimeter. I sink into a chubby armchair in the corner near a bay window. Two turquoise-colored purses reserve a burgundy couch. The barista created a feather with my latte foam. I admire it before sipping. As I do so, the owners of the purses return with hot chocolates. They look at me as if I’ve rolled in dung, as if the mere sight and scent of me offends them. The disdain emitted toward me catches me off guard.


“Hope y’all don’t mind if I sit here.”


“Guess not,” says girl one.


When our dog, Toast, senses bad energy, she growl-barks, suspending herself above the floor. It’s part cartoon and part werewolf. I consider how satisfying it would feel to impersonate Toast levitating above the wood plank flooring, pushing their long hair back in my caninesque wake.


“We’ll have to finish this conversation later,” girl two says.


“Right,” says girl one.


I consider, “I’m not from here. I’m just wanting to enjoy a latte and be nice to people but y’all put that task to test.” Instead, I watch my foam feather disintegrate.


“What do you think it is?”


“They say I’m carrying like a girl, but I think it’s a boy.”


“Cody says he’s gonna get the baby’s name tattooed on his bicep.”


A table opens and I stand to relocate.


“Have a good one.”


They say nothing back.

All this from people who look like me.


I attended a Writers’ Conference in the mountains. Think camp - single bed, no air conditioning, wake up bell, room sharing, family style dining. I had my car, but I was blocked in by parking ingenuity holding me hostage in rustic conditions.


My roommate had allergies. She closed our window, sealing us into a sauna like vault. I was hotter than a wool coat in Satan’s crawl space, yet I kept it together and found friendship with the sweet woman from Kentucky.


Theme night was Renaissance Faire. People adorned themselves in leather plague masks and fairy wings. Poets struck poses with Shakespearian vests and suede boots. My Urban Outfitters’ dress laced up the front, in Ren Fairish fashion. I looked like I just finished my shift in the smoking section at Steak & Ale.


I went to meditation sessions to quiet my mind. It took days to feel the energy we were supposed to be moving in Qigong. Never valedictorian in this space, I’m happy with little strides of improvement.


Heading home, my GPS took me down the mountain along 226A. Daddy worked for the NC DOT, so I’m well versed in road speak. The signs on the snaky road were new vocabulary. “Only Runaway Truck Ramp,” “Last Chance to Cool Brakes,” “No More Truck Ramps,” and “Road Worsens Ahead.” What the heck does that mean? My Subaru wedged between a pick-up and dump truck. Alert to the shrinking shoulder as we plowed forward toward a place where the road might worsen, it felt good (and scary) to live in faith along the scenic route.

All this from people who look.


Mid-week, released from hostage parking, I sought provisions (wine.) The average age at Ingles in Spruce Pine was sixty. The cashier looked younger; her dark red hair pulled back in a pony. Her green eyes rimmed with black liner. It was her teeth that told the story. Growing up in country without fluoride, I relate to substandard dental health, but her mouth spoke of drug use and days gone wrong.


“You got an Ingles card?” Her mountain drawl, the accent of angels.


“There’s not an Ingles where I live.”


She scanned her personal Ingles app, giving me the discount with a wink.


Paw Paw was bagging. My three-item purchase confused him. At one point he was physically leaning on the cashier for support. Though Paw Paw had challenges, the cashier helped him, never raising her voice, losing patience, or commanding his job though it would’ve been faster to have done it herself.

All this from people.


Five years ago, I got a health diagnosis. For eight days, I stared through the bars from the death row of cancer. Breakthrough meds, good luck, prayers, and God’s healing gave me a comeback. My doctor says that I’m better than I was five years ago, “stable and not spreading” outshining the unknown era before tumors were discovered. From this benchmark, silver linings glint with metallic wonder, a vibrant of privilege to live in technicolor.

All this.


When I was a child there was a man in our community who walked the road to town. His name was Clarence, and he was missing an ear. I asked my brother what happened to Mr. Clarence’s ear, and he said he lost it in a goat roping rodeo incident.
Brothers. Sigh.


Mr. Clarence waved at my family, and I waved back. Noticing this exchange, Daddy told me to stop waving. “Next thing, he’ll ask for a ride and then he’ll ask for money.” I knew we didn’t have extra for loans to Mr. Clarence, so I stopped waving.


One frosty morning, Mom and I passed Mr. Clarence shuffling along the road’s shoulder. Mom slowed, pulled off the asphalt, shifted to reverse, and told me to roll down the passenger window.


“Where you headed?”


He pointed toward Carthage.


“Get on in. You can ride with us, it’s freezing.”


We were in daddy’s truck, I scooted over to the middle of the bench seat. Mr. Clarence crawled in beside me. I was hoping for a look at his ear hole, but he wore a toboggin.


When Mr. Clarence got out near the city limits, he nodded thank you, leaving a peppermint candy on the seat. Maybe it fell out of his pocket, or maybe it was payment for the ride, or maybe it was an act of kindness toward a little girl who once waved to him.








"Dress Code"


fiction by Anne Kissel of Pittsboro

Jo put her bare left foot up on the old table, wiggling toes still wet from polish. The same table had sat in her mother’s quiet living room; in her grandmother’s even darker, quieter parlor. The very table which once held only translucent tea cups and white lacy napkins, delicate as spider webs.


Feet were never allowed near this table top. Feet stayed firmly planted on the floor, tucked into proper closed shoes, nary a colorless toe peeping out. Feet were never discussed. Jo popped her right foot up too and tapped her heels together like Dorothy seeking home. That felt great, as small acts of rebellion do, even long after the battles are done.


Slouching into the cushions, Jo relished the bonus sin of poor posture. With a nod to those long gone guardians of propriety, she took a dreamy barefoot trip through the many closets of her past. Clothes may make the man, but they mostly made the woman uncomfortable. How bound up we were: underwear like armor, long sleeves, cinched waists, girdles tethered to stockings on the hottest summer days. All those fine feet stuffed into shoes with heels never made for walking, let alone striding with purpose. If fashion makes a statement, what the heck had Jo been saying?


Now she dressed for her notion of success. A successful outfit today included no belts, buckles or bras. Ahhhhhh. Wearing only ten small dabs of Revlon Posh Pink, Jo and her free feet stepped out.








" '48 Ford"


nonfiction by Veronica Krug of Emerald Isle, N.C.


“All out, car barn,” my grandfather would shout when we returned from a Sunday drive in his 1948 Ford Deluxe. It was 1965 and Grandpa’s seventeen-year-old auto was his pride and joy. New, it was a shiny battleship gray. He bought it after winning a bonus for selling the most fire extinguishers, but since then, he quit his job to run a small farm and the car’s shine evolved to battlewagon flat. It still ran like the well-oiled machine Grandpa maintained. He was under it almost as much as in it.


Grandma decided it was time to learn how to drive. Working on the farm made it difficult for Grandpa to drop everything and take her to meetings and shopping. The farm had a long drive with a roundabout at the end, so she wouldn’t have to worry about backing up. The only obstacle was a lone tree in the middle of the circular drive. It was an ideal place to learn.


The event sounded exciting to my brother, Gary, and I so after insistent begging, we were allowed to ride along on the back seat. We were not disappointed.


“Pull the what?”


“The choke.”


“That knobby thing? Why?”


“Let the clutch out.”


“Let it out where?”


“The brake. Hit the brake!”


“I can’t find it!”


The ‘48 Ford gunned forward, and we pressed against the seat. The car lurched to a sudden stop, and we were thrown against the front bench. No seat belts. She managed to spin the wheels in the gravel drive, kicking sand and rock everywhere. It was more fun than a carnival ride until the ‘48 Ford careened straight for that tree. Grandma’s foot had the gas pedal down. Grandpa reached for the steering wheel. Gary and I fell onto the floor bracing for impact.


Screech! The sound of metal raking against wood. The car stopped. My brother and I sat up. Grandma had her face in her hands, but she was alive and unhurt. We all were. We got out of the ‘48 Ford Deluxe to survey the damage. One long scrape ran the length of the car. Grandpa rubbed a hand over it; the mark remained. The tree lost its bark where it was assaulted. Grandma sobbed.


Grandpa picked up the rear-view mirror from the ground and ceremoniously placed it on the dashboard. He sighed, went to Grandma, and hugged her.


I hugged her too, “Nobody’s perfect the first time, Grandma.”


There never was a next time. Grandpa continued to drop whatever he was doing to take his wife to shopping and meetings, and not another word was spoken about the scrape on Grandpa’s 1948 Ford Deluxe.









"December 31st"


a poem by Camille McCarthy of Asheville


Someone flips a switch and
Santas and snowmen rise
all at once


from puddled forms,
post-Christmas lights aglow
but faded in fog.


The woman who lived
in that house passed away
a few weeks ago,


and her daughter still managed
to drag these figures frontside
and arrange all the flashing lights


to cover the grass
in a facsimile of
silver snow.


I clear cobwebs from corners
and scraps of poems from my desk,
reserving a blankness


for new growth,
though the limp, bleached kale
in my raised bed


tells me this is still
a time of death. My love
and I whisper of a house of our own,


inspired by edible frosted
structures, holiday movies
about desire and miracles,


though we’ll go silent
by January, interest rates
rising faster than our raises.


The ball drops in Times Square
on the computer’s livestream
and they are singing Imagine and


What a Wonderful World.
We are in a cloud of moisture,
clangs and cheers heard faintly


and the stippling of fireworks hazy,
most homes dark, residents sleeping.
I step into the new year


back sore from lifting
buckets of water up
and down the stairs,


smelling of

soap and grease.











fiction by Nancy Werking Poling of Black Mountain, N.C.


Maybe they’re in a giant room the size of Madison Square Garden. Millions of rows of switches, beside each switch a number so when it’s time for three thousand and one to be disconnected somebody walks over and...


Just turn the switch off, Lord, then pass the number along to somebody new.


Ellen, she thinks I need an up-to-date model, red instead of this black one. With buttons you push. Says it’s easier to push buttons than...Said, not says. She’s gone too. How long’s it been? Two years, three? Probably more like ten.


Just because something’s out of date doesn’t mean a body ought to get rid of it. There’s some value in being the only one of your kind still around.


That phone Martin and I had out on 38th Street. Pedestal kind, where you talked into a mouthpiece and put the listening part up to your ear.


Couldn’t always hear real well.


Back then you didn’t get a long-distance call unless somebody died. Or was about to. So when the phone rang we knew it was one or the other. Turned out to be Hal calling to say Gladys passed during the night. My little sister, dying out in Oregon. I sat the longest time after Hal said goodbye, my head against the phone, clutching its long column like it was Gladys herself. Mad at the phone for bringing the news.


Now, Anna, you know phones aren’t living things. Well, if my phone’s dead now it must have been alive at some time. Alive, it would bring news about my own death. Anna, this is to inform you that you died last night. In your sleep, while dreaming about joining Gladys.


What would we have to talk about, her being up in heaven ever since she was twenty-two, me here on earth turning gray, hands all twisty. Lord, the laundry I did all those years. Martin’s overalls, sheets for five beds. And not in your automatic washing machine. No dryers. Hanging sheets on the line in freezing cold weather, fingers so stiff they could hardly grasp the clothes pins. The cooking. Used to get up at the crack of dawn to start making dinner for the hired hands – pies, cornbread, coleslaw. No mixes back then; you had to make everything from scratch.


Gladys never had to deal with a foreclosure or the folks at the mill who didn’t measure right. Didn’t have to get along with a husband past the time of lovey-dovey.


So Gladys and I are up in heaven talking about – what could we talk about? She surely wouldn’t be interested in what I’ve done all these – is it seventy years? She’d still be young and pretty, I’d be old and gnarly. Maybe we could talk by phone so we wouldn’t have to look at each other.


We’re sorry but that number’s been disconnected. They flipped the switch. And people are left to wonder...What people? Nobody left to call me except folks trying to sell something. Why pay good money so strangers can call and ask me to buy something I don’t need?


We took the call from Paul on this very phone, when he told us he’d found the right girl. He talked and talked, like the phone bill meant nothing compared to love. Martin and I, we took turns listening to how wonderful she was. Now what was her name? Allie, Addie?


Ellen putting the grandkids on. “Say hi to Grandma.” “Hi.” “What you doing?” I’d ask and they said, “Nothing much.” Then it would be quiet because I didn’t know anything about their world, and they certainly weren’t interested in mine.


The time Larry woke us up at two in the morning. We didn’t mind, were thrilled at the news. Little Laura. Now she’s out in California with kids I’ve never met. Larry’s been dead now, has it been seven, eight years?


Flip the switch. The line is dead. I am dead. No, I’m not. That’s the trouble. Everyone else is, but I’m still here in this blasted room with nobody left to be connected to.


Paul called to say it wasn’t love after all. They were getting a divorce. What was her name? Ellie, Ulli? They’d drifted apart, he told Martin and me. Like two ships, he said. Heaven sakes, they weren’t ships, they were a woman and a man. Years later he said the same thing about the two wives that came along after her. What were their names?


Flip the switch. Disconnect.


I spent hours on this phone talking to my friends. Mildred, Susan, Grace. All of us going through The Change at the same time. Husbands who didn’t talk much. There was the time Helen Watson’s boy was in jail. Gossip, did we ever. Nothing wrong with it; it connects you. That was back when what we did mattered. When Martha got pregnant, people talked aplenty, wondering how our family would cope when she gave the baby up for adoption. Their gossiping – it meant we mattered.


So who gossips about me nowadays? Hardly anybody even knows who I am. Mothers shouldn’t be allowed to outlive their children. We’re sorry, that line’s been disconnected.


“Your father’s dying,” I told the kids. Called them from this very telephone, my hands shaking. Lord, I remember how my hands were shaking.


It didn’t seem right he should go, but the doctors said a lot of damage had already been done. The kids and I, we talked and cried. Wanted to do what was best for Martin.


Nobody to be connected with, to gossip with. Nobody to share news about birth and death. Nobody’s death, not even my own.
The phone company said if I didn’t pay my bill they’d disconnect me.


Lord, how long does a body have to wait?









"Hurricane Tattoos"


nonfiction essay by Jessi Waugh of Pine Knoll Shores, N.C.

Last August, the pine trees were dancing like inflatable tube men, the power was out, Hurricane Idalia was here, and I was in my element. I suspect that hurricanes and I are made of the same substance, and despite their danger, I love them.


Which is why I have a hurricane tattoo on my ankle. My best friend from graduate school, Lea, has a matching tattoo – we got them in lieu of graduation rings or other sensible mementos. We'd earned Masters degrees in teaching science, from a NC coastal college. What was more appropriate than hurricane tracking symbols?


The deal was, if we ever got our PhDs, we could add a "5" to the hurricane's eye. Neither of us have a "5," but Lea started a PhD program, so she at least earned a "3," in my opinion.


A Category 3 hurricane is the strongest I've experienced – Hurricane Fran, from 1996, when we lived oceanfront in Atlantic Beach. A news crew came to interview my family: the fools who stayed. But the house, built in 1939, had seen bigger beasts, like Hurricane Hazel in 1954. It had stood up to wind, rain, and waves before, and survived; we expected it would again.


Ours was a wooden house – four stories, all wood except the cinderblock garage at its base. The ceiling, walls, and floors were wood. A wooden staircase climbed through the house's center, to the full-story attic with open windows, where the wind howled so loudly at night, I can still hear it today.


Hurricanes always come at night; it's a rule of the storm. I went to bed on the third floor, feeling the upper stories sway in one hundred mile an hour winds, the rain beating against the boarded-up windows, begging to be let in, until eventually, it was.


Rain cascaded down the walls like a waterfall; I stuck my finger in the sheet of water just to make sure it was real. You can still see the watermarks, pale streaks on dark-stained oak walls.


In the morning, water flowed between the dunes and the house, where the ocean had broken through the dune line and ran parallel to shore until it found another outlet. We rode that lazy river on blow-up beach rafts, delighted.


I think that was during Fran, but I can't be sure. All the hurricane memories blend together; there were so many. During which storm did I walk on the beach in the eye, the sky a churning cauldron, the air damp and charged, the light a sickly gray-yellow color?


And during which hurricane did a 2x4 go through my dad's roof, picked up by a tornado and hurled like a Highland warrior? Which one had the frogs piggybacking in the flooded streets, then a million frog babies, soon squashed by traffic?


And when did I lean into the hurricane's wind, letting it hold me up, fighting to stay in one place, the threat of flying never so real, never so possible? It happened more than once; I hope it happens again.


I used to show a hurricane tracking map depicting storms paths from last 100 years to my science classes. It looked like cross-hairs centered over SE NC. Bam! Here comes another one!


In the past, that meant I'd load up on beer – beer I could tolerate warm, something in a green bottle, for when the cooler ice melted and it was eighty degrees outside. I'd buy plenty of chips and cans of soup, fill the bathtubs with water, and ride out the storm, thrilled at the drop in pressure, the whipping trees, that buoyant wind.


Now, with two young children and home ownership, hurricanes mean evacuation and fretting about our house. Since Idalia was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrived, we decided to stay. It came at night, and I scooped the kids into bed with me, away from big the live oaks by their rooms. In the morning, the power was out and the storm was on.


We walked to the neighbor's house across the street, facing Bogue Sound, and stood on the shore, hair blown back from our faces, waves splashing us like spectators at a log jammer ride. My five-year-old went right up to the seawall and danced, ninja fighting the waves with all his might, singing and shouting like a wild animal. I was so proud.


Maybe one day he'll get a hurricane tattoo and earn that "5."








poetry by Zoe Wynns of Chapel Hill

I don’t want to talk about the sirens, or the helicopters,


or the boy yelling for someone to stop shutting their binder so loudly.


I want to talk about seeing the arboretum, the place so lit up


and green, the place where I fell in love with this school, and


hating it. I want to talk about the text, saying “STAY IN A SECURE LOCATION,”


exposed, in broad daylight. I want to talk about the hands


shaking, pulling up Google Maps, “5 min”, “starting walking


directions to coordinates” that my friend sent ‘cause she’s


in the parking lot, blinkers on, waiting for me to


burst through the garden, see the sun, realize I’m going to be


okay and everything is ruined, forever.