Our week ends with the first place story in the 7th annual Voorheesville Short Story Contest, Megan Odorizzi’s “Spoiled.” Megan’s story addresses the effects of past trauma on her main character, Mary, and how that character must fight to regain some remnant of herself. As our judge put it, “When harm is caused, one of the most important things a person who has been traumatized can do is to reclaim agency for themselves.” Enjoy!
We hope you have enjoyed this week’s stories! Congratulations to all of our winning writers!
When a girl comes to a certain age, her future feels like each empty space in a crocheted blanket. For Mary, she felt the holes when her boyfriend proposed. Suddenly her fingers were trapped and as hard as she tugged, the yarn would not budge.
It wasn’t a traditional proposal. A spur-of-the-moment decision while Mary was on a work trip in Florida. Two in the morning for her, eleven at night for him. She was out on the hotel’s patio, smoking a cigarette. Her eyes were caked with the want of sleep, but the crazed desire to get out and feel the heavy air on her skin. The prickle of the wind ruffled her hair just like the hand of her father.
The call disrupted her as she yanked her phone out of her pajama shorts. Noticing it was Seth, she frowned, picking it up with a simple, “Hello?”
He sounded hysterical. He was out of breath, his words coming over muffled at first; Mary had to flick her cigarette to focus on his voice.
“Slow down, Seth, you good?”
She could hear the tangible swallow and suddenly the air outside no longer felt comforting. “I need to ask you something.”
Her heart dropped. She took a seat in the lawn chair laid in the corner, the back of her thighs already sensing the uncomfortable imprint they were going to have when she finally got up.
“You’d marry me, right? If I asked, you’d marry me, right?” She could feel the nod of his head on the other line. “You would marry me.”
Don’t you dare ask, Mary. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say–
“Are you asking me?”
There was a scratchy laugh on the other line. “Yeah,” Seth cleared his throat. “I guess I am.”
“You guess?” She scrunched her eyes shut, trying to shake off the impulsivity from her response. Her fingernails found their way in her mouth and she bit down hard on them until her teeth hurt and she had to spit the nails out. A thin line of blood followed the curve of her thumb.
She could hear the hint of disgust in Seth’s voice as he tried to speak over her spitting. “Well, you would, wouldn’t you?”
“Seth,” she sighed. “We haven’t even talked about marriage.”
There was silence on the other line and then, “Well, yeah, I know but we’ve been dating for three years so I thought you’d want it.”
She felt the life drain out of her, stomach swelling and twisting, having to hold back her urine.
“I gotta go.”
“What? No, you don’t—”
She ended the call, the wool-crocheted blanket shoving itself down her throat; she gulped deep breaths of fresh air like a dying fish.
Mary threw open the slider door and stepped onto the cold marble floor, walking on shaky legs. Opening the bedside drawer, she quickly grabbed the cigarette box that lay on a pristine copy of the Holy Bible and slammed the drawer shut. She opened the box with greedy hands and shoved a cigarette in her mouth, the box falling to the ground, spilling the contents.
The lighter clicked and clicked and clicked but would not give a flame. She cursed loudly, throwing the cigarette out of her mouth and stepped on it with her bare feet. She stomped the box into a crumpled mess and the remaining cigarettes until they were twisted and black and ash and mush.
“Jesus Christ!” She yelled.
Mary sat down on the bed, a heaping mess. “Sorry,” she said, glancing at the bedside table and then back down at her feet.
Her mother would kill her if she heard her say that. God no, she’d kill her for sport if she heard that conversation she had with Seth.
You said no, she would say.
You said no.
Mary’s mom would’ve wanted her to get a ring. A nice one at that. Different but traditional, with a shine. And maybe emerald was the way to go but not a diamond. Diamond was nice but it wasn’t emerald. Oh, how Mary’s mother loved emerald. She loved the sheen and shine to it. She remembered when her husband bought a chunk of it for her strung on a dainty chain and it would glimmer on her neck; she could feel the weight sinking into the crevice of her clavicle with each step she took.
She would always joke that her husband, Jacob, was touched by the hand of God. Sometimes, when the sun would set, they would go out, a glass of lemonade with ice in hand, and sit and stare in their wicker furniture. It would get to this point, right before the sky turned a true blue, that the sun would shine on his face in such a distinct way, she didn’t know if she was joking all those times or not.
She would stare at Jacob and watch as his eyes followed their little girl’s shadow fading into the ever-reaching blue light. A little sprite, stuck in her own imagination. With rocks in her shoes and cuts on her hands, she gathered up the little wooden sticks her mind turned to planks, and Mary set up her home. It was a cottage of sorts, home to the gnomes and the fairies and the bog men who set up camp in the woods.
Mary’s mother went over to her as the warmth left Jacob’s face. She knelt down in the mud patch her child made and looked at the twigs.
“What’s this?” she asked.
With a nod of her stringy brown hair, Mary turned around and smiled. “A home.”
Back in her room, Mary cursed, trying to pick up the cigarettes she squashed under her heel.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered, waving dust and crumbs and hair into her hand with a grimace.
Her mother would’ve wanted her to stop smoking. To stop playing in the dirt. To stop her silly little job and settle down. She would want her to settle down. Why couldn’t Mary just settle down?
She knew she and her mom could bond over this. This was a once and a lifetime opportunity. Mary and her mother back again, arm and arm, picking out a dress together. Mary would pick a long white dress with a lace bodice and her mother would give her one of those smiles and switch it out before her eyes with a cream-colored one. She and her mom would laugh as Mary tried on dress after dress after dress and then the dress would arrive. Mary would stand in front of the mirror, looking at her body, as the dress touched her hips, and brushed her neck, and she would tear up gracefully. She’d stare as her mother’s reflection showed up behind her and laid her cold hands on her shoulders.
And Mary’s mother would slither back and lay her hand on her necklace, admiring Mary. Her little girl, all grown up.
Mary wished she could give her that but not now. Not with Seth. And definitely not the way her mother wanted her to do it. She’d want the priest from when Mary was a child and still went to church. She’d want her father sitting in the pews with a smile on his face and no longer looking at Mary but at his loving wife.
Mary knew that her mother would do all it took to get her father out of the psychiatric hospital. She knew this because she’d done it before.
It started when Mary was five. Subtle taps, a smile that lingered, his hand left on her knee too long. It got worse when she turned ten. She said a prayer every night, begging God to make him stop but with each creak of the door and every plead to her mother for her to believe her, she lost hope.
She called the police on her twelfth birthday. When she told the operator her age and what her dad had been doing, they weren’t fazed. Mary didn’t remember much else about their conversation but her constant thought of what am I doing?
Mom’s going to hate me.
Jacob was taken to jail. A trial ensued. He was forced into a mental hospital in order to qualify for probation. He was locked up. It wasn’t a prison but he was locked up.
It wasn’t enough and Mary knew that when she heard the verdict.
He came back on her thirteenth birthday. Mary’s mother made phone calls all day, blathering and crying to let him come home a week early. And she got him. She got him.
He came in the front door with a white balloon and Mary’s mother around his arm. He looked like he hadn’t aged a day. Mary’s mother was in bliss, she had already made dinner for her husband and she quickly set the table for him, leaving Jacob at the head, herself by his side, and Mary at the other head. To Mary’s mom, it was good to have her husband home.
After that day, he was sent to Sodom psychiatric hospital; after Mary came to her mother in tears and she turned away for the second and final time with the words I need to stick by my husband.
She was sent to live with her grandparents after he left which was fine except her room was now the size of a closet and her grandpa smelled like spoiled beer and mothballs and her grandma made nasty comments now and then. But she could handle that. What she couldn’t handle was the loss of a home. No matter how much she hated that house, she missed the comfort of coming home after a long day of school and running straight up the stairs to her room and jumping right on her bed. She missed the smell of her carpet and the way the sun warmed her bedsheets. She missed the feeling of accidentally taking a nap and rolling over to find a rock by her side, having to get up and put it back on her shelf. Mary missed having something to call her own. But she’d been controlling that.
What she couldn’t control was Seth. She hated him for today. For making everything come over her at once. She hated him for that. She hated him. She hated not being able to hold back her grief. She hated that she wanted to call him. But most of all, she hated that she wanted to talk to her mom.
Maybe she didn’t want to talk to her mom but she wanted to talk to a mother. Mary wanted a mother to hold her and kiss her salty cheeks and tell her everything was going to be okay. That she didn’t have to do anything. That it was okay to wail and cry and plead and want to go home. To a home.
No, to her home. It was okay to want to go back to her home. Wasn’t it?
To go back to her old blue and green room with fake leaves glued to the walls. She wanted desperately to sink her feet into the untouched carpet and spread out her toes. She would touch each and every rock she had collected over the years and the odd bird feathers that lay on her bookshelf.
She’d stay in her room and she’d slowly turn the lock on the door, something she hadn’t done before, or else her father would get upset. But her father wasn’t there. So she would turn her back and sit up on her bed, cross-legged, and stare out the window. The big sycamore tree in the distance with a long rope tied around a sturdy branch would wave at her in the wind, the rope’s tire long gone and the ends of it frayed. Mary wondered if she could find the tire again.
Comfort was felt in the long-buried hope.
Mary shook her head out of the daydream, her hotel room coming back in focus. She looked down at her crossed legs and untangled them, reaching over to get her phone.
She put in the number she wanted and pressed call.
“I’m coming home. To my room. Tomorrow.”
“Mom?” she repeated in the same shocked tone. She didn’t care if she sounded rude; she needed to say this.
“Why on earth would you want to come home?”
Mary got up gracefully on her toes, shuffling around to the other side of the bed, phone tucked between her shoulder and chin, bouncing lightly.
“Because I want to go back to my room.”
“But you can’t just—”
“You owe me this.”
She stopped bouncing and got off the bed. In the time it took her mother to respond, Mary made her bed. She lifted the sheets up and tight, made them even, brushed the crumbs off of her duvet, and set the lone pillow back up in the middle. She climbed on top of the bed and sat, her back against the pillow.
“You can come over at five. I can have it ready for you by then.”
“I’m coming over at one and you don’t touch my room. Got it?”
She whispered a prayer over the phone and just as her mother stopped and took a breath to continue, finally ready to get back to their conversation, Mary hung up with a click.
A light smile spread across her face. She reached across and opened up the bedside table. Taking out the Bible, she flipped some pages inward to a page that was already dog-eared.
She mouthed along to the prayer and set the book in her lap. It was the same one her mother had said seconds prior, and it was the same one Mary loved as a little girl.