I had the great honor of being nominated by Faces Ottawa Magazine for Favourite Author of 2019, 2020, and 2021 Ottawa has tremendous talent in the arts and the authors do not disappoint.
This was a really fun contest hosted by McCloskey Hotel and run by "A Bunch Of People Arts" In the town of Chesterville.
Our goal was to write a 1000 word story in 150 minutes and I'm proud to say my short story came in first place.
Wander on without me
By Jen Pretty
Her hair flowed like the river I traced up the mountain. My memory of her had grown ragged, fraying at the edges. But an image of her, dark hair blowing in the hot, summer wind as I drove my convertible through the streets of our hometown could never be erased by time or disease.
My heavy boots crunched over the shale of the cliffs as my muscles burned. Sighing, I stopped, closed my eyes and tipped a bottle of water to my parched lips. The sun burned through my eyelids, sending sparks across my vision. Flashes of the fireworks on Canada Day as we sat beneath the old oak tree in the park. Far enough from the families to have privacy. Her lips tasted like sweet cherries.
I opened my eyes and rubbed at the tears that threatened. My work wasn’t done.
Pushing myself, I followed the trail as it meandered away from the river and into the forest. Green swallowed the sunlight as leaves blew softly, crinkling like her gentle laughter. I could once again hear her joy at our wedding, when her brother got drunk and made a fool of himself. She laughed and raised her glass in a toast to us and our future.
I let my hands drag over the rough bark of the thick trunks, remembering her soft skin beneath my fingertips. Milky white and smooth, I couldn’t get enough of her.
As I left the forest behind for the scraggly scrub brush and grasses that struggled to survive on the rock face, the precious cargo in my back pack was no weight at all. The reedy grasses, barely knee-high, pressed toward me like the beautiful children we brought into the world. Scraped knees and training wheels seemed so long ago and like just yesterday. But always her face shone bright through it all.
The top of the mountain seemed as far away as the bottom now, but there was no looking back. I could only move forward. Move on.
A sob cracked through my chest, but I wouldn’t fail her in this one last thing.
My legs were not as young as they once were, even the last time we came here together to celebrate our anniversary, nearly a decade ago. Her eyes sparkled with mischief and wonder as her hand held mine and she made jokes about the state of our world. A despaired smile curled my lips at the memory. Her humour was darker than some, maybe, but her heart was so light. As if we would have a million years to continue our climb.
The sun slowly dropped in the sky as I continued my lone climb. Sweat dripped from my brow and my muscles screamed at me to stop, but I could see the top now. It was a rocky flat barely big enough for two people to sit and edges so steep a person could die, if they fell.
I forced a last burst of strength, remembering how she carried me through the loss of my parents, the loss of my career and my retirement--every milestone in a life well-lived. She pushed my life to greatness and I wouldn’t fail her today.
I reached to the final boulder, a thick, jagged one that bit into my fingers and scraped the skin from my knuckles, but I continued pulling while my feet scrambled on the loose rock for traction. Trying to find something to hold on to, something to push from, some way to continue.
It was the final destination. And when my feet finally got the purchase they longed for, I pushed up to the peak of the mountain and rose to my feet, breathing laboured.
Fresh tears fell to the barren rock. Memories of a picnic and a shared bottle of wine flooded me like a wave crashing over a rocky shore, nearly bringing me to my knees. I had almost forgotten the way her eyes twinkled in the fading sunlight like stars in the heavens. I looked up at the sunset, its colours so bright in red, pink and fading purple. I wiped the tears from my eyes with my dusty sleeve.
“How can I go on with no more mountain to climb?” I asked the setting sun, hoping she would hear me somehow from wherever she was and maybe she could send me an answer. Maybe somewhere she watched me as I had watched over her while she suffered and struggled in her last days. Maybe then she would know I loved her, even still.
Before the sun could slip beneath the horizon, I set down my backpack and pulled the metal canister from inside. It was plain. Too plain to contain something so spectacular.
I twisted the lid off slowly with shaking hands.
“Where do I go from here?” I asked the soft wind.
My thoughts continued to wander as I stepped toward the edge and looked down at the last fifty years, blind to the beauty of the view, so enraptured by the beauty of my memories. The best years anyone could ever hope for.
The wind caressed my cheek like the brush of her soft fingertips, as if telling me it was time.
“What if I’m not ready?” I asked with a hitch in my voice. Tears landed on the canister as I forced my hand to tip it. Ashes and dust floated down and across the canyon, the wind carrying them out of my reach to settle in some far-off place.
I watched until the last trace disappeared with the setting sun, leaving me in darkness.