In April, Selkie held a short story contest that was to be inspired by someone in your life and to take place in the future. Many stories submitted were apocolyptic- some very sad and some quite funny. One even revolved around a very silly pun! It was a pleasure to see you all compete for the pink package, but in the end two stories really stood out, and since I couldn't decide between them, they are both winning. The first, The Trees by Ashley Waller, who won the full package- a dress, book, TP, jacket and top, was chosen because of the way she dealt with the theme of "future", that future to her was interpreted to be introspective. The descriptions are very beautiful and I was happy to see a message that reflects the changes we go through as young women- carrying around our former selves. The second story, Catalina's trunk by Kennedy H, was chosen also for it's interpretation of the theme "future" I love that she wrote about the power of clothing. As a fashion designer I often grapple with working in a business that can be so polluting to this earth. I cringe at the thought of landfill clothing! I love that she put into words what it is to pass down a dress- how dresses can represent you and your character and that can literally be given to future generations! With Selkie I really think about this when I design, I want to make sure that (ESPECIALLY if it's made from polyester) it's something you'll be proud to own for your lifetime. Kennedy illustrates that moment when you feel the power of incarnate from your relatives.
A few others came very close, but in the end these really struck a chord, the girls paid close attention to grammar, details, and good storytelling. Enjoy!
The Trees by Ashley Waller
“Just write what comes to your mind,” my teacher says. She passed out some random photographs before class, and told us to write about whichever one we were stuck with. I didn’t want to take creative writing in the first place. I was put here by accident, and I feel like this exercise is asking too much of me. The unmarked page of my notebook before me seems to agree.
My picture is of some evergreen trees, presumably in a forest. I feel something, staring at these trees, but I can’t quite decipher what it is yet. I turn and look out the window to my right. It is framed dramatically with attractive old wood, and it’s large enough that a person could stand on the sill without their head touching the top. All of the windows are like this in the school’s oldest wing. This one is on the second floor, overlooking a number of the colorful stick-frame houses that characterize this neighborhood of the city. Snow falls peacefully beyond the thick glass pane. It is a lovely scene. A feeling stirs deep within my chest, one I hadn’t felt in a while. I pick up the pencil.
In times of struggle, there is this common reaction all humans share. Something evolutionary, gifted by our cave-dwelling, berry-picking ancestors. A type of fight-or-flight instinct. A feeling of exposure. Where your mind jumps past all methods of working out a solution to the conclusion there is none. Where your heartbeat elevates to the point that you can feel it throbbing in every limb. You become suddenly aware of the fabric on your skin and the sweat breaking beneath it. Your blood thrumming past your ears, draining into your cheeks. Your breath picks up. Nausea creeps in. We’ve all felt it: wanting to escape your own body.
I felt this for the first time my freshman year. I remember spending a lot of time in first period religion, in the back corner of class staring out the window at the world outside. People driving down the busy highway, going to the bank across the parking lot, or the Dunkin Donuts across the intersection. A nun who substituted for my teacher would be killed by a car in that intersection months later. But no one knew that yet. Not the girl who sat behind me, with the blonde streaks in her hair and the headphones concealed illicitly underneath it, headphones that blasted rap so loud I could discern each expletive-laden lyric. Not the Bible Camp counselor in the front row, who answered questions like they were preprogrammed in her Jesus-loving brain. Not my teacher herself, with her chunky glasses and cochlear implant and her choppy gesticulations when describing particularly stimulating Old Testament passage. Certainly not I could’ve predicted the tragedy; no matter how fervently I watched it would that cracked pavement reveal its secrets to me.
During that year I came to have a particular fascination with buses. I watched them stop every 20 minutes in front of a bench with an ad for an ambulance chaser on the back. In the movies, a character would always be getting on a bus to start a new life. But characters also got on buses to do mundane things, like go to work. When you were on a bus, you didn’t know which person was which. A bus is leaving. Or just going back. It’s up to you.
I dreamt about these buses, looking out the window in the back corner of the classroom where I ignored questions about Abel or Abraham, listened to rap music I wasn’t supposed to, smelled dust burning in the ancient metal heaters, and wished I was someone and somewhere else. This fantasy was never more real to me than on these dark winter mornings. I would picture it across the concrete, watching the sun bleed brilliantly into the sky, yellow then orange then purple.
I had it all planned out. I would walk out of school with just my backpack and the lunch money in its front pocket. The teacher would assume I was going to the bathroom. And I would, at first. But then I would take a wrong turn at the end of the hall. I would not get a pass, or go to my locker, or sign out in the office. I would walk to Dunkin Donuts and get a muffin. I would get on the next bus, buy a ticket with the lunch money, and go all the way to New York City.
Unrealistic, but enough to occupy me for 40 minutes each morning. Or when I felt confined to a reality I couldn’t escape. Like when I locked myself in the single occupancy bathroom, hands on either side of the stark white sink, staring at my sallow cheeks in the mirror, wondering whether I was about to puke before English. Or when I balled up the sleeves of my cardigan in my fists, focusing on the graining of the wood of my lunch table, wondering that if I didn’t respond to my friends’ taunts, it would be like they were never said to begin with. Or when I sat in the backseat of the carpool each morning, never saying a single word, and never having a word said to me.
The pine trees scrape the sky, their trunks getting smaller and smaller as they climb further and further upward. Tying to outrun themselves, but only running out of places to go. The branches slope downward, stranded in the air, frozen in time. I wonder if they miss the ground.
I had always been a talkative child, but when I stopped talking that year nobody seemed to notice. Nobody noticed when I went straight to bed after school and waited in the dark until the early hours of the morning. Nobody noticed when I never raised my hand in class, because they never learned to expect otherwise. Nobody noticed when I stopped washing my hair, then brushing it, but they noticed when I dyed it black. A change in style rather than a cry for help. The trees strain to move upward until they can’t anymore. Thinned out to a point. Stalled in the sky. Trapped.
I snap out of my reverie. The picture should be beautiful, not sad. It shouldn’t conjure up images of parking lots and porcelain sink basins and the synthetic fibers of my school cardigan.
Trees only grow so tall, but they have pine cones, that have seeds, that grow into other trees. Reaching the sky isn’t the end. B ecause from one tree, old or new or dead or alive or chopped down to make a table at which a sad fourteen-year-old girl would sit and stare at its flesh during her lunch period, comes countless new beginnings. Their growth is not limited to one direction. There are other places to move than up, other places to rise than the sky. There are other ways to escape than on a bus. There are other futures to have than the one that you think you’re growing towards.
Staring at this picture in the creative writing class I hadn’t wanted to be in, at the school I transferred into sophomore year, I know then why I think of my freshman self. I think of her not because she is the past; I think of her because I wish I could show her the future. A future where she strips the dye from her hair and uncurls her fingers from the sleeves of her sweater. Where she stops being quiet and starts talking, talking so much that she forgets what it was like to be silent. Making messes with words but making amends with them as well. She puts her words everywhere: her skin, her walls, sometimes even in her creative writing notebook.
In this moment I understand: I am my freshman self’s future, but another version’s past. A girl who will be even older and wiser than I am now. A girl who will look back on her freshman self with the same degree of empathy, but with an even greater degree of separation. She will graduate as valedictorian of her class, without puking in the bathroom before she delivers her speech on stage. She will be thankful that she took creative writing, because she secretly enjoyed it, and hasn’t stopped writing since. She will move to New York City, not on a bus, but in a car with her belongings in the trunk, humming with excitement to meet her roommate and move into her dorm. She will still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and feel her heartbeat in her limbs and her blood running behind her ears. That evolutionary instinct, that ancestral gift. But she will accept the feeling, and wait for it to pass, and know that everything will be okay.
But for now, this girl, my best friend, my greatest adversary, my most ardent supporter and harshest critic, the most important person in my life, doesn’t know this yet. She sits and stares at a picture of some trees, and wishes she could tell her freshman self that everything will be okay. She knows her future self would tell her the same if she could. After admiring the image which moments ago seemed tiresome and trivial, she obliges the assignment and writes about these trees. The snow continues to fall softly outside of the window next to her. She knows that there is an entire future out there waiting for her. Maybe in a Dunkin Donuts, or on a bus, or in New York City. But for now, it is enough just to be in class with a calm stomach and a steady heartbeat. It is enough to know that if she doesn’t like where she is, she can always change it. She has other places to grow than the sky she is staring at.
Winning Entry; 2nd place
Catalina's trunk by Kennedy H
“She adorned a tangerine dress And had eyes that were hazel A face so beautiful
You would think it a fable
Her home brimmed a fragrance
Of sazón and basil
A woman of style and moxie
Who did everything she was able.”
It had been raining all weekend, the outside dripping endlessly and the air riddled with petrichor. I loved rain, how it bathed the trees and my garden of sunflowers, or how in the aftermath it left the outside air thickened with moisture to the point where taking a single breath filled your lungs so quickly, and breathing out you could kind of taste the very essence of the greenery surrounding you. I had decided to leave the window cracked open and let the scent coat my room whilst I cleaned out the attic. Moving some things around, I found my mom’s old poetry book which I’ve told her myriads of times to publish, but to her I’ll always be a little girl who doesn’t know any better. In reality I'm 20 years old and I gobble down literature like kids do candy, I may know a thing or two, but moms will be moms...I open it up for the umteeth time, brisking through her writings, smiling & laughing as if I’ve never seen the stories before. Until to my surprise I did stumble upon one I haven't seen before...
“A woman of style and moxie who did everything she was able”
I read the last sentence out loud as a tear sneaks from my eye & cascades down my cheek. It was a poem about my grandmother.
‘For my beloved mother Catalina whose contagious smile, left an immortal imprint on all those who were lucky enough to have seen it’
It was dated May 7th, 2099, a little over a year ago when my grandmother had passed. I thought of a time once when I was little, when she had told me,
“when it’s pouring outside, I mean really pouring, nena, God is crying”
I responded to her with my quizzical little voice saying,
“why? Did something hurt him?”
she’d say while stirring up something yummy.
“sometimes he’s lost someone, or you know they can be happy tears, too”
she smirked. “Happy tears?” I repeated, those words just didn’t seem to go together.
“Yes, I cried happy tears when you were born Cielo and you cry happy tears...”
she said while rhythmically tapping the wooden spoon against the pot, quickly turning away from the stove
“when you get tickled!”
My curiosity bloomed into hyperness and I ran as fast as I could, her and I filling her hallways with laughter. “Cielo, is that my book?” a voice brought me back and I could hear the rain again, beating against the roof, and my mom’s foot tapping as she pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. I looked up and guiltily grinned with grandma’s happy tears in my eyes.
“Hey mom, can you tell me about grandma Catalina?”
Her slight annoyance softened and she stopped tapping her foot, a bittersweet smile crept onto her face.
“in her youth?”
I nodded anxiously, rubbing my tears away.
“She was ethereal...”
“timeless beauty, ridiculously witty and sweet and her style is unmatched, she had such beautiful items, she used to collect them as she travelled, she used to model you know.”
My jaw dropped, she had never mentioned that!
“what happened to all her things? Her photos, her portfolio, and--”
the phone rang.
“All her old things are in that big pink chest in the corner CC, I gotta take this”
She dashed away. Without a second to spare, I crawled over to the trunk and eagerly flipped back the gilded rose gold latches. It’s clichè but I almost heard cherubic melodies as I flipped the top back, my eyes raced to and fro eating up all the potent colors and deliciously vivid designs. All types of patterns, but nothing cheesy or harsh, just fine fabrics that drew out Catalina’s eclectic taste. My eyes settled upon one particular pastel purple gown, as I picked it up the colors seemed to shift and mimic the color of the sky. That unmistakable blue-lilac hue that painted the sky after the rain, the dress seemed to glow. “Phantasmagorical” the word left my lips as a whisper, it was as if the dress had told me itself. And then suddenly it was on, the fabric seemed to dance in the light breeze coming from the window. I rushed over to the mirror. I was speechless, there was nothing I’ve ever seen like it, truly stunning, dripping with elegance and nostalgia. It mirrored my every curve so well as if tailored. The door blew open then, but I felt no wind, I felt an aura, a pride, an adoration swept over me, a certain and familiar joy. I felt love, remembrance, etherealness. I swung around to my desk and grabbed the frame, Grandma Catalina. There she was frozen in portrait, but her warm smile shining through, I felt her then. Almost hearing her cheering me on as she’s done so many times before, another breeze blew in from the window and I swore I heard a voice say,
“Try another on, nena.”