I'm pleased to announce the finalists in the "If Today was Your Last Day" writing contest. Each contestant had to write their entry based on the theme of the song (If Today was Your Last Day) written by Nickelback.
I've listed the finalists below. Please read them. Then go to my writers forum and vote for your favorite. That will choose our winner. The polls will stay open for 14 days.
Thank you to everyone who entered. It was a close contest and I had a difficult time choosing the finalists.
ENTRY NUMBER 1
Sandra rushed from the bus to the sidewalk, head down, arms wrapped possessively around the brown bakery package. Tonight, she would curl up with the latest Toni Morrison novel accompanied by a plate of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Her steps quickened at the thought. Food was her one indulgence. She didn’t window shop for trendy clothes or the latest home fashion. Her hair was cut in a short, practical style. Her clothes were sensible; her furnishings functional. Adornment was for people who were blessed with good looks and an active social life. She even gave up trying to watch her weight, once she entered middle age. What was the point?
One more block and she would be at her aged brick apartment building. The black iron posts of Oak Lawn Cemetery striped passersby in deep afternoon shadow. As Sandra neared the cemetery gate, a large funeral party poured out on the sidewalk. She noted the black limousine ahead of a long line of cars parked on the street. She sighed impatiently and waited for the gathering to move on. The crowd huddled protectively around a young woman so ashen faced and hollow eyed, that Sandra couldn’t bear to look at her. Her gaze dropped instead to the top of a girl’s blond head. The child chose that moment to look up; her blue eyes flooded with unrestrained tears. Grief and despair emanated from the crowd in a palpable wave that forced Sandra to step back from the black coated figures.
She hugged the bakery package, longing to find warmth there, but the sugary treasure had cooled. Despair niggled at the edges of her mind. No, she would not let it in. She would reheat the rolls in the oven. She stamped her feet to fight off the cold. The last of the mourners finally exited the gate and the crowd slowly inched its way forward. Sandra trudged behind and tried to revive the image of the cozy evening she had planned. It escaped her. She railed at her timing. If only she had been one minute earlier, she would have passed the cemetery gate before the funeral exited. If the person ahead of her in the bakery line hadn’t changed her order; she wouldn’t have missed the 5:00 bus.
At last, the path in front of her cleared. The mourners were opening car doors; leaving the dead behind. She would heat up these rolls. The yeasty dough would loose some of its delicate softness, but the cinnamon sugar thrill would still be there. She reached the crosswalk to her apartment and waited for the long line of traffic to pass. She glanced down. There at her feet was a pamphlet. She had no idea why she picked it up. She had to shuffle the package to one arm and reach down with the other. It was a funeral announcement. It must have fallen from a mourner’s hand and been blown her way by the brisk winter wind. She opened it and was struck solemn by the picture inside. A cherubic boy’s face beamed at her. Under the photo was the inscription: Joshua Burns, January 14, 2007 – January 12, 2008.
She stood frozen. The traffic cleared and pedestrians rushed by her to cross the street. She turned back to the bench on the sidewalk where the thin, homeless man slept at night. She sank down on the seat; her eyes riveted to the child’s face. Not even a year he lived. Three hundred and sixty three days. Just long enough to capture the hearts of his family. To weave his life with theirs in a way that would make his departure immensely painful. She pictured the face of the young mother and the little girl by her side. Joshua’s sister, perhaps?
Today was Joshua’s birthday. What would he have been like? Her niece’s child was about a year old. On Sondra’s last visit, the child babbled senselessly and pulled himself upright, then walked towards her; his hands grasping a tabletop. Before he reached her, he fell backwards on his rump and exploded into peals of laughter. She’d felt awkward and incompetent around such exuberance.
Three hundred and sixty three days. She studied Joshua’s face. She had lived 48 years. What had she done with those years? Nothing nearly as important as learning to walk or capturing hearts. She thought of her small life: the dull office job, her cloistered apartment, and the mean minutes she spent alone. All ruled by fear and insecurity. She looked down at her body. It was a perfectly functional body. Her hands clasped and felt. Her feet carried her where she wanted to go. Her eyes saw; her ears heard; her nose smelled and her tongue tasted. Soft snowflakes began to fall. She rose and made her way slowly across the street to her apartment. She clutched the funeral pamphlet as if it were a talisman; sensing its profound importance to the rest of her days.
Behind on the bench, a brown package is covered by snow. An hour later, a thin homeless man will brush the snow off the bench and delight in his discovery of the frozen sweet rolls.
ENTRY NUMBER 2
The curtain of night rain obscured her view of the garden where she had planted fledging impatiens the day before. She wondered how they were handling the deluge, those delicate paper-thin petals and tender leaves. If she could be any flower in the universe, she would be a bright fuchsia impatiens. Yep, that’s what she would be, but it seems powers beyond her own had decided that she should be a human being who planted and cared for the pretty sun-shy impatiens.
“Come back to bed.” His deep voice bounced on her bare back and then slid over her shoulders to quiver near her heart. She turned and smiled in the darkness.
“I love you,” she said. She felt the silence in the room slide over her like swaddling clothes, binding her to those three fateful words never spoken before, at least to the one who now lay in her rumpled bed. The rain pounded on the window as if to say, you idiot, why did you say that.
“I know” is all he said.
She sat at her workstation staring at the computer screen, hands poised on the keyboard as if ready for immediate takeoff but needing the go-ahead from the control tower. She couldn’t manage the meanderings of her usually disciplined mind. She couldn’t concentrate on inputting the data needed for the next project. She couldn’t eat or sleep either. Why had she said that? Why? Why? Why?
“Hey, Dana, you lost in lalaland or something? Bossman is asking for the specifications.” Shakira leaned against the cubicle wall, grinning like a border collie after it had successfully herded its charges into the sheep pen. Against her own paleness, Shakira’s dark skin shone like fine chocolate and her flamboyant clothing made Dana’s attire look like Auntie Em’s farmhouse drab.
“I’m doing it right now.”
“Well, bossman needs it yesterday. Now, ain’t that a surprise. I’ll stall him for an hour or so, but then you’re on your own. Ciao, chick.”
She watched Shakira’s tallness diminish down the long hall and then looked back at the computer screen. There were days when all she wanted to do was scream, and this was one of them. But, like a dutiful child, she squelched the screech clawing up her throat and recommenced the adult thing called work. She watched her practiced fingers fly across the keyboard as she half-scrutinized the paperwork on her desk. If only she had a window, she could watch the leaves of the trees tremble in the breeze, glimpse a bird or two as it journeyed to wherever, see a jet leaving a white trail of smoke in the cloudless azure blue sky. Instead, her only view was grey cloth cubicle walls and the photo of him taken in Curaçao last summer. Tall, muscular, tanned, sun-bleached hair, dark beard stubble, Ray-Bans covering his amazing hazel eyes, he looked straight at her with that smile, with those full lips that kissed her every night, every morning, and now seemed so cold because they hadn’t whispered those three words back to her. She had no idea what to do now. Here she was, a summa cum laude college graduate, and she was clueless about this he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not state of affairs. Ain’t that a gas, as Shakira would say.
He called her. “Hey, lover, you want to go to dinner? There’s a new place everyone’s talking about in the Village.”
Lover? Yes, she was that. How about just plain old love? Was she loved? She was going to ask him. Yep, she sure was…if her thundering heart would stop strangling her voice.
“Do you love me?” she asked quietly, almost hoping he couldn’t hear her.
Again, the silence. She listened to his soft breathing over the distant sound of a siren. Someone’s in trouble. She’s in trouble too. Do they send ambulances for broken hearts?
“Not the way you want me to” is what he said.
“I see” is all she said.
Dana stood on the crest of the hill, watching the waves bellow and bash their crowns on the ragged rocks below. She could feel the strength, the fierceness, the incompatibility of ocean and granite coming together, forever linked in a lover’s dance of love and hate, neither one winning. She breathed in the fresh salty air and relished the semi-wild outdoors.
Summer in Oregon. So different than summer in Curaçao. He wasn’t here. She heard from a friend of hers that he had moved in with a red-headed architect from Dallas and seemed to be very happy. There was a small crying part of her that wanted to slash the expensive tires on his new white BMW (another tidbit from her friend) and pull every red hair out of his new girlfriend’s scalp, but that wouldn’t heal the pain of their breakup. That would just land her in jail. And, really, what did it matter anyway? You can’t coerce someone into loving you. Either they do or they don’t. Simple as that. She was only 32 years old; there would be other men in her life and through them she might find the love she wanted. But right now, this very second, her body and spirit tingled with the roar of the waves, the lonesome cry of a hawk overhead, the breeze whistling through the trees, the twitter of squirrels hiding in foliage, the hard earth under her hiking boots. Looking down, she saw a red flower a couple of feet away that had broken off its parent bush. She picked it up and gently pushed it behind her ear.
“Hey, Dana, come on. We’re hungry and there’s still a mile to go.” Dana glanced one more time at the confluence of rock and water in the cove below, and then turned to her friends and smiled.
“I’m ready now” is what she said.
ENTRY NUMBER 3
LIFE DOESN'T HAVE A REWIND BUTTON
“Ms. Myers, thank you for coming in,” the doctor says.
The plush leather seat should feel comforting with its supple, body-enveloping leather, yet it feels as hostile as the paper-sheet covered exam tables I’d lain on so many times in recent months.
My temple throbs. My stomach wants to re-gift me with my half-digested meal. Why had I even bothered to eat? The news isn’t going to be good. Why had I come? Why couldn’t they just tell me over the phone? Do I really need to hear the words?
“I have the results of the biopsy,” she says.
I nod. My mouth is too dry to swallow.
She gathers a cool and clammy hand between her warm, full-of-life hands. I gag at the contrast.
“Claire, we talked about the possibilities.”
I open my mouth to speak, but a loud sob bursts out, and once I start to cry, I can’t stop.
She holds the box of tissues and sits patiently while rubbing my arm, my back. Her touch soothes.
I finally settle a little and say the only thought I can grasp. “But, I don’t feel sick.”
She speaks and I only catch phrases. “…quite advanced…inoperable…sudden.”
Something clicks inside me and I stand. I take a deep breath and let it out. “I guess I should get busy dying, then, now that it’s official.”
Anger floods me until the elevator doors slide shut, then emptiness washes over me and I barely have the strength to hold myself up. Only a few days to live. What can I possibly do in a few days that I haven’t done in over forty years?
An icy wind freezes the moisture on my face as I step outside. I wince, but then smile. Pain. I can still feel. I’m suddenly aware of every precious breath.
I raise my face to bask in the warmth of the sun as it peeks out.
No more forcing myself to go to a job I don’t enjoy, sitting in traffic, inhaling secondhand smoke, or cleaning the toilet.
I attract attention, but who cares? I half-jog to my favorite café. I smile at everyone I encounter and am amazed at how many won’t make eye contact. That was me, until I got the news. Now I feel free, alive. How ironic.
At the café I order a large slice of the triple layer, chocolate-dipped raspberry cake and savor every morsel as it touches my tongue.
Oh, how I should have indulged sooner.
There are so many things I put off for someday, for retirement. Well, now, here I am with only a couple of ‘some’ days left. I choke back a sob. Why did I wait? Why didn’t I follow my dreams?
I scoop up decadent chocolate remnants with my finger, close my eyes, and stick the finger in my mouth. Heavenly.
I’m going to savor all my final moments like this. No more time to waste or take for granted. I call the office and say I won’t be back. The attorney expresses his condolences at my situation and helps me sort out the final details of my life. My steps feel lighter as I leave his office. There is truly nothing holding me to this life now.
I take in all the colors, the people, the textures of the buildings. I inhale deeply and give thanks to whatever being may exist, for allowing me the ability to smell, see, touch, taste, and hear. How precious these gifts are. How sad it is that I didn’t feel blessed and notice these things until now.
I toy with spending hours being pampered at a spa, but realize I want to be outside as much as possible. I walk the deserted winter beach. I splurge on my last meals. I think about my one true love, lost in the shuffle of life. I hope he’s found the love he couldn’t find with me.
I don’t pay attention and my feet slip. I manage to do crazy gyrations with my arms and stay upright. I may be hysterical, but oh, it feels so great to laugh. Don’t they say laughter is the best medicine? Maybe if I laugh a lot I’ll get a few more hours, or days. Do I want more time?
I sober. I love these precious final moments. But, what if? After all, I don’t feel sick. In fact, I’ve never felt better. No. The doctor is sure. Nothing is tying me to this earthly life any more except a few more breaths. I need to enjoy everything I can in these last brief moments of my life. There’s no time to follow my dreams.
I eventually get home. The light on my answering machine is blinking. I ignore it and turn the ringer off. No disruptions.
I indulge myself with a hot tub overflowing with bubbles. I grab an entire bottle of chardonnay, set out cheese and crackers and grapes. I decide to read the half-finished novel beside my bed. I wonder if I’ll remember anything when I pass from this life to the next. I sleep soundly and wake up feeling refreshed.
I continue to indulge and savor the fleeting minutes. I don’t know which will be my last. I write letters to old friends and loved ones. I sit and give thanks for the life I was given. Time. I regret squandering it, and not having enough now to pursue my interest in the saxophone, salsa dancing, and traveling the world. I want more time.
Days pass. I let messages, dishes, and dirty laundry pile up. I want my last breath to come while I’m cherishing something I used to take for granted, not doing chores.
I wake up to yet another beautiful sunrise. My cash has run out. I still feel fine.
I call the doctor.
“Ms. Myers, we’ve been trying to get in touch with you. There was a mistake….”
ENTRY NUMBER 4
JUST ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
As a company of United States Marines hunkers in on a no name piece of sand in the Iraqi desert. One young Marine looked out at the sand for the umpteenth time and wondered.
When they coming? Man, the old guys like Sarge and Maxie, they seemed to be taking it easy, but most of the guys are like me, scared shitless, even if they won't admit it. It won't be long before dark. I thought I heard the chow trucks pull in, maybe some hot food for a change.
Getting a hot meal was at the top of every Marines wish list.
Great, Sarge just gave the all clear sign. Maybe I can get some of that warm chow. If I hurry, I can get a spot under one of the trucks and catch some Z's. Man wouldn't a shower be nice. Actually getting my hair clean, washing it with shampoo, not just a rinse with cold water. But as Grandma use to say, if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
“Blaine, Maxwell?” the Sergeant called.
This can't be good.
“Yeah Sarge?” I replied.
“Blaine, Maxwell, here on the east, stay alert and call me if you see anything. And I mean any damn thing, got it? The rest of you, clear your weapons and hit the chow line,” he said.
“Yeah, got it Sarge,” I said to his back as he hurried off to the next bunker.
Shit, I have to stand guard. All the hot chow will be gone again. Man it seems like I can never catch a break.
Behind the sand bag revetments, somebody turned on a boom box and they heard 'If today was your last day,' blast away.
Ain't that some something, Nickelback, I sure hope that's not an omen. Grandma believed in omens, not that I do, but she was scary right sometimes. The stuff she would come up with, like dropping a fork meant you were getting company or a ladybug was good luck. Man, what wouldn't I give for a boatload of ladybugs right now?
As dusk drifts to dark, Marines watch a silent desert that seems to change with every glance.
It's awfully quiet out there. I know the mooks are out there, we saw some dust clouds earlier. They ain't all that bright and they’re cowards to boot. Come on out and do a one on one with us man. We are ready to kick ass and take names, don't you know. Seems like a waste to put Marines out here in this dump when the candy ass Army could do something this chicken shit. But, we be Gyrenes, the few, the proud and the horny. We go where we are told, from the halls of Montezuma to infinity and beyond, hee, hee, hee.
“Something funny?” Maxie asked.
“No, just thinking about something Maxie,” I replied.
“Well think with your eyes open Marine,” he said.
“Yeah sure,” I said as I looked back out on the sand.
I know what I would do if today was my last day. First, I sure as hell wouldn't spend it here, no way. I would be home with Mama. I would get up early, really early like around four or so and take a long hot bubble bath. I would soak for an hour and drink some hot tea. Then I would put on my best dress and flats. Jesus, I sure as hell wouldn't want to spend my last damn day in heels. I would dress to the nines and then some. I would take Mama and we would spend my last day doing…
Holy shit! Was that something moving out there?
“Maxie! Eleven o'clock, see anything?” I asked.
“Jesus Diana! You scared the hell out of me. No, just sand and shadows is all. Christ all mighty, take it easy, will you?” Maxie replied.
“Yeah sorry, just a bit jumpy I guess,” I said looking out at the darkening sand.
I wish they would have never played that friggen song. Now it will be stuck in my head forever. I don't hear the boom box anymore. Somebody must have told them to knock it off. I'd bet it was Jamal, he has a sick ass sense of humor. I could see him playing that last day shit and laughing about it, yeah, probably Jamal.
She watched the desert shadows ebb and flow and as time crept by unhurried, her thoughts caught up with her.
I would spend the day with Mama and we would go do all the things we said we would do when I come home. We would go down to the Emporium and try on every pair of shoes they had. Then we would eat until we burst and shop some more. Then just before midnight, I would find me some big strapping hunk with a hairy chest and get laid, right and proper. I would go out with a big smile on my face, you can bet your ass on that. Then I would go home to my bed, lay down, and wait for sweet Jesus to…
“Blaine?” Corporal Papas said, breaking my thoughts.
“Yeah Corporal?” I replied.
“Waitsfield is going to spell you so you can get some hot chow,” he said as Billy Waitsfield jumped down in the hole besides me.
“Nothing happing Billy, it's as quite as a church out there,” I told him as I cleared my piece. Corporal Papas held his hand out to help me out of the hole. As he pulled me up he said, “Get that money maker moving girl. You got thirty minutes and I want your ass back here, got it?”
“You bet Corporal,” I replied as I beat feet to the mess line.
Hot damn, hot chow. God does love me.
Please remember to go to my writers forum and vote for your favorite! Voting closes in 14 days.