"Spot, Sun, or Otherwise" by Jennifer Turney — Our March 2019 Silver Medal Winner

by - Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Jennifer Turney is our second place winner from the contest posted in our March, 2019 issue! This is Jennifer's second time taking the silver slot - you can read her last winning entry here.

What the judges had to say:

"An interesting portrayal of mother-child and internal conflict, the protagonist's voice was reflective and honest."

"...really well written and I like the direction you went with the prompt. I think this story had a good emotional depth and tried well to convey an idea or thought from author to reader in the form of story.  The flow was really smooth and the story was easy to pick up."

"A very professional and deep character study. The details are precise and familiar in building the characters layer by layer. The author shows great control of the narrative and brings the story to a final, resonant close."

Meet Jennifer:

Jennifer Turney lives in Huntsville, Ontario, where she can usually be found exploring nature and the outdoors with her 3 very active kids (and her husband).  She writes a little bit of everything: flash fiction, short stories, poetry, novels and short-screenplays. She has participated as a writer at the Muskoka Novel Marathon for the last 4 years and won in 2018 for best YA! She has read her stories to audiences at the Tall Pines Tales events throughout Muskoka. Besides her passion for writing, Jennifer is also a ninja-in-training, on track to earn her Black Belt in Shorinji Ryu-style Karate in 2019.

The photo prompt:

  the unedited story:

Spot, Sun, or Otherwise

by Jennifer Turney

“It's time for more botox,” My mother said the words as easily as if she'd stated the need to run to the store for milk or eggs. “Lordy, I may need something stronger. Collagen implants, maybe an eyelift.”

She was pinching her face, twisting for an angle in the small bathroom mirror, her skin reddening under the cruelty as she inspected imperfections that weren't there. “I don't remember the last cleanse I did. So much water weight.” She'd moved on to her jaw line and tugged at the flesh of her neck while the vanity lights hummed overhead.

“You don't need botox,” I said, leaning against the bathroom doorframe, flipping through the stills on my camera and deleting images that didn't come out as candid as I'd hoped. “And you don't need a cleanse. You need a cheeseburger,” I quipped, earning me an eyeroll in her reflection. My mother had declared herself vegan long before it was hip.

I reached for her hands, taking them in my own and saving her face from further assault with a gentle smile. I decided then, seeing her furrowed brows that we'd spent enough time in front of the mirror and badly needed some fresh air and a long walk.

We'd finally gotten away from it all; a plan we'd rescheduled, pushed back, and postponed so many times I'd begun to think we'd never escape the city. Such was the life of an artist, an actress and model. My mother was all of those things. She'd spent her younger years having strangers tug and squeeze parts of her body, sewing her into outfits she wore as familiar as a second skin while judging every curve and inch mercilessly. It was a habit she never escaped, one that was victimizing her again with her most recent rejection.

“The spotlight can be incredibly cruel,” she warned me. Yet I grew up, a witness, as she'd rip herself apart, starve herself for auditions and bend impossible lengths for bit parts in scripts. It seemed to me that the spotlight she coveted could scar a person worse than the sun. The spotlight I craved didn't focus on how my breasts looked in a sweater or if my nostrils were symmetrical enough. I hoped my spotlight would shine on my work, my photos, linking my name to images of naturally beautiful things.

It pained me to realize she'd never see what I saw: she was beautiful, and not because of her body alone. She was a voracious reader with an affinity for Boggle, her competitive streak so powerful  she never let me win. That same streak served her well in her prime, earning her positions on catwalks in Paris and Milan, balancing obscure shapes on impossible heels, entirely focused while flash bulbs burst like fireworks around her.

It had been years since then. The cameras chasing her now weren't complimentary. The pictures were taken to showcase insignificant flaws, her transformation into real and human as if it were a curse, the Where Are They Now? crowd. I despised those blasphemous lenses.

They are what destroyed her, picking at scabs of gossip, causing her essence to bleed out as they clicked and shared pieces of her. They owned my mother in a way I never could. My reassurances became her background noise. She'd gotten used to my compliments the way a person gradually ignores a squeaky floor board on the stairs or the bizarre noise an old fridge makes in the middle of the night; briefly a comfort and easily dismissed.

She sat quietly on the shoreline as I sat occupied on the porch freeing a stew of crushed gravel and excriment from the treads of my hiking boots, the scent officially breaking them in. It was late in the season, the summer berries were gone and a dampness had taken hold foreshadowing autumn. We'd walked several miles and left the shop talk and my camera behind.

Despite championing me at every opportunity, she hated posing for me. “You know I believe in your talent, but you can't photograph me right.” Our boxer, Rocky, five years young and plagued with hip discomforts that excused him from our walks groaned and lumbered his way to where my mother sat, nudging her with his nose before disgracefully settling his weight down beside her.

“Just one, you and Rocky with the sunset,” I pleaded, gesturing with the camera towards a horizon broadcasting temporary colours, their existence too brief to assign names.

“It's the sunset you want, and the dog,” my mother argued. “I look dreadful,” she said as her hands fluttered over loose strands free of hair products. I fought an eyeroll: she looked dreadful, but I had poop on a stick in my hand.

I settled the camera in my lap and waited, confident that the moment would reveal itself.

My mother turned, a rustling catching her attention and causing Rocky's head to tilt curiously though he was long past his chasing days. Watching the two of them, their calm exhales churning the air into a light fog, I imagined the look on her face. It was a look of serenity, free of wrinkles, pay checks and concerns of tomorrow. It was innocence and wonder, and incredibly rare. It was perfect.

I took several shots of them together, and while I believe it is one of my best, it's a photograph I'd never share in a collection or hang on the wall of any museum. Instead, the picture hangs on my fridge secure under a magnet. I don't feel like I merely captured the moment, but made it immortal and undefined, representing endless possibilities: Were my mother's eyes open or closed? Was her face relaxed? Her lips smiling? What were they looking at, what did they see?  That's how I wish the world had seen her. I would have loved for her to see herself in such a light; spot, sun or otherwise.

[Read the first and third place stories]

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

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