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Fiction Winners

Swimming With Dolphins

Third Place

Illustration By Daniel Krall

Fiction & Poetry Contest 2007

Our Annual Fiction and Poetry Contest Once again, this wasn't easy. With more than 150 short fiction entries and more than 200 poetry entr...

Summer Boys First Place | By Holly Nicole Hoxter

The Great American Museum of The American Nickel Second Place, City Paper's 11th Annual Fiction Contest | By Donna Sellinger

Swimming With Dolphins Third Place | By Rob Roensch

Dusk Arrangement First Place, Poetry Contest | By Hastings Hensel

Business Loafers Second Place, Poetry Contest | By Batworth

Untitled Third Place, Poetry Contest | By John Mazur

By Rob Roensch | Posted 11/28/2007

When I pick up the phone and say hello,

the voice isn't human: "This is a collect call from:" Then my sister's voice: "Westford Wawa." Only a place. Never her name.

"Yes, I accept," I say. "Hello? Hello?" But the line is dead. The line always goes dead.

I'd hang up the phone, tell my mother, who'd leap. Forget her coat. She'd make me wait in the car in the lot of the Wawa while they argued in the cold by the pay phone.

I watched the ordinary people go in and come out of the Wawa. An old man with a Dr. Pepper. Two college girls, her age, sweats and ball caps, radiant white teeth.

After a year of this, we made my mother leave her wallet home. So she'd hide cash in her shoes, slip it to her when I looked away. You can't make your mother take off her shoes.

The days loop. Remembering anything before, when life wasn't a loop, is like escape. Like forgetting.

I once swam with dolphins. Spring break in Mexico. The day my friends went parasailing.

In a hollow among hotels, a concrete cove painted and formed to look like stone. A great pool of shimmering clear water separated from the sea by the beach and the strip of bars.

Two dolphins hovered weakly. Ill, beautiful creatures. A woman in a wet suit glared into the water from a high white chair.

The night before, I'd met a girl at the Golden Sombrero. You cannot imagine how beautiful she was, naked, crawling up over me from the foot of the bed.

Her hair in her face, the ideal seashell curve of her waist to her hips, the moles along her spine, the points of her canines. It hurts to remember.

I am rinsing out a beer can to get the girl a drink of water. She is coughing. Just after dawn, piercing dry yellow light already through the crack in the curtains.

The sea in the hangover light. The dark woods in the buzzing dark.

I'm at some college party, getting drunk. This kid and I are giggling and hucking rocks into the woods. It's like throwing myself. Snapping cracks of rocks against other rocks.

That same day I found out I was flunking out of school. But I wasn't ashamed. There was only that one day, no future or past, the rocks flying and cracking.

But the past: Here I am, a child, shooting at birds in the backyard with a BB gun. Home is a yellow house I can return to at any time, inside a mother, a father, a sister.

Ice cream at the farm stand. Scoop of coffee for Dad, scoop of pistachio for Mom, for me, anything at all, with jimmies.

For my sister a sundae with strawberry syrup, marshmallow, caramel, and two, no, three extra cherries.

The sticky picnic table, the rusting tractor, the dusk and traffic and bugs in the lights. The cows behind wire, still as stones, eyes open.

"I don't want it," she says. Why not? It looks great. "It's gross." So: I'll get you another, she says. Don't, he says. It's what she asked for. "I hate it," she says. "I hate it, I hate it."

The phone is always ringing. The phone is always for her. In the dead of the night, one screaming ring clipped, cut off like a hand over a mouth.

Here she is in the choir at Christmas. Her bright red robe. Her hair just so. I remember hearing her practicing in her room through the wall we shared.

When they find it in her room for the second time she screams and throws her old dolls, hollow heads against the wall. They take her to a program. Two nights, she's gone.

Six months earlier, I'd found bloody cotton balls in the trash. Did not say. Went back to college. Went away.

When I came home for real I came back to my old room. I am saving money this way, I tell myself. I don't talk to my friends. I go to the bar my uncle goes to.

At work I don't think about the future like I thought I would. I remember things, out of order. It is frightening how vivid and sad they are. When I lived, they were just days.

Here is my sister dancing around in the kitchen to that song she loved. Smell of pine soap, brownies in the oven, my mother working at a crossword puzzle.

This kid I punched, the blood bright in his mouth.

I can type without looking at my fingers. I know all the keyboard shortcuts to Word and Excel. I use them with pleasure, like a musician.

I work very hard, early to very late. After work I lift weights. I want to have a burden to carry and if it is too heavy I will carry it.

Here I am at some sports bar, wandering around some used-car lot, watching the local news because I can't find the remote. And here I am in Mexico.

Days at the beach. The girls baking themselves in the sun, the boys drunk by noon, staggering around and laughing, tackling each other in the hot sand.

Then I met that girl. Early next morning my head was dry and ringing. She wanted water. I got her water, then I peeked out at the dawn and the beauty of the sea. It hit me.

So when everyone took off for the dock of motorboats and jet-skis I didn't go. I didn't want to go. No more beer, no more noise. When the girl tried to stand she got sick.

I tried to help her, gave her water and aspirin and fresh air from a window open to the sea. But what she wanted was, of course, to leave.

I walked to the sea alone, with a giant carton of orange juice. I sat in the wet sand and drank and looked. A streamer in the sky: swim with the dolphins.

I paid the money but did not go in at first, stood on the side in a life vest, watching two girls not much younger than you slipping in, shrieking with delight.

They did not imagine the dolphins as I did, free. I went down in slowly, on the ladder, treaded water. Felt them passing beneath, like currents.

You must change your life, I thought. I did not change my life.

Often I remember and, more, hatch plans for rescue. If I could only get back there: perhaps a dolphin could be purchased-a few thousand dollars, a few months' work.

Perhaps it would necessary to break the law. Perhaps a rented helicopter, or a hired man with a pickup truck and a tank. Perhaps if I simply carried you to the sea. ★

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Fiction Winners archives

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And the winners are... (12/2/2009)
City Paper's 11th annual Fiction and 10th annual Poetry Contest

An Airline Ticket to Romantic Places (12/2/2009)
First Place

What Was Janie Looking At? (12/2/2009)
Second Place

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