"Navigating Stormy Seas" by Julie Meier — Our March 2020 Silver Medal Winner

by - Thursday, May 07, 2020

Julie is our second place winner from the contest posted in our March 2020 issue!

What the judges had to say:
"This story offers a glimpse of the hope that buoys people on despite the trials they go through."

"The descriptions in this story are sharp and tickle me with their uniqueness. The author has squeezed a great deal of emotion into a short story."

"The absent character lives inside each of those present on the pages of this story. This fact elevates the writing to a new level, and makes the story stand out. Readers can feel the very presence of the antagonist, and watch those present evolve and re-shape their lives in the short window of time where we see them interact. A touching story."

Meet Julie:

Julie Meier resides on a farm in Alberta, Canada, where you may find her writing, cuddling lambs or playing ‘80s rock music for her bees. Her flash fiction has been published in several online publications and her story “These Walls” was recently shortlisted for the 2020 Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Award.

The photo prompt:

  the unedited story:

Navigating Stormy Seas

by Julie Meier

“I didn’t even know he had a cat,” Deidre hiccups, tears making her slow-drip coffee increasingly briny.

“Seems out of character,” I mumble while nibbling like a demented beaver on my fingernails, which agitates me greatly. I quit chewing my fingernails 25 years ago. What’s next? Thumb sucking? Bed wetting? This place causes me to regress - I have a feeling I’ll be in therapy for months afterwards - and I resent the memories that so quickly flood to the surface.

We are both set at the kitchen table of our childhood home, carefully considering the feline in question. He (or she) is lounging nonchalantly in an empty guitar case as though he owns this place. The scene borders on ridiculous for several reasons including but not limited to the fact that my father hated cats, the fact that my father did not play the guitar, and the fact that I cannot remember the last time I willingly set foot in his kitchen.

And yet, here we are. Just me, Deidre, and the cat, who has just challenged us to a staring contest which he is most certainly planning to win.

“Maybe Dad changed,” Deidre squeaks as the waterworks, which had temporarily abated, begin anew. “People do that sometimes, you know.” She snuffles loudly.

I make a sound which comes out less like a laugh and more like I am choking on a grape.

“Yeah. Ok, Deidre. He changed.” I roll my eyes - a gesture lost on Deidre as she is too busy leaking to notice.

The kitchen is littered with flotsam and jetsam. Far too many whiskey bottles lounge on the counter. A bottle of antacid has vomited its contents onto the floor, and toast crumbs festoon every surface.

He never changed. Of this I am certain.

Our father passed away last week from a heart attack, or at least that’s what they told us. Or, he drank himself into a watery grave. I hold this as a distinct possibility. Under normal circumstances a person, upon hearing of their parent’s passing, would mourn for their loss. However, thanks in large part to my father, I never had the opportunity to experience “normal” and therefore I have decided that I will not be offering myself the opportunity to mourn. The vexing presence of this cat, who is hosting us reluctantly, has turned any hint of sorrow into flat- out resentment.

“What do you suppose he did? Just sit in his lounge chair and stroke that damn cat all day long?” My eyes burn and there is a roaring in my head - a sea brimming over with water, waves surging forward, pressure mounting, whitecaps breaking over a rocky shore.

I’m shouting now, even though I know Deidre hates shouting, and for good reason.

“Can’t you just see him sitting there, whispering sweet nothings into that stupid cat’s ear all day long?” I wave frantically at the living room where memories lap at the edge of the shadows, slowly licking at their wounds.

The room tilts - whisky bottles and piercing golden eyes and a picture of two little girls in pigtails spin past me again and again.

I am on the floor when I regain my senses and Deidre is leaning over me, stroking my hair. That has always been my job - to protect my little sister from harm. I was always the one to reassure her - to tell her that everything was going to be ok, even when it never was. This role reversal feels unnatural, yet strangely comforting.

The cat watches us dispassionately, looking regal as it towers over me in my compromised position. It tilts its head subtly, assessing my worth and appears to approve of what it sees as it ambles over to rub against my shoulder, purring loudly. I enjoy the extra attention for a moment and then sit up slowly, testing the waters, ensuring that the storm has subsided.

“Come on, Deidre,” I say, sounding much weaker than I should as I shakily stand, getting my sea legs under me. “It’s time for us to go.”

She opens the door and I turn to close it quietly behind us. Old habits die hard. I almost open it again, just so I can slam it out of spite, but decide against it.

Together we step into the September sunshine - Deidre and I - as the memories slowly crabwalk their way into the shadows. Neither of us looks back. My right arm is draped protectively around my sister as we stroll away, shielding her from harm. And, under my left arm, I am reverently cradling a cat.

[Read the first and third place stories]

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