In honor of our recent crazy weather, we set a theme of "Snowpocalypse," and invited a submissions related to snow, cold, or winter. Our judge was David Ciminello, award-winning author, poet and screenwriter, and an adjunct fellow at The Attic Institute (...also an actor, but that's another story!). From the stack of entries, David selected a first and second place award winners. And they are...
First Place: "A Prayer for Winter" by Alene Bikle
Second Place: "The Bright White Light, The Clean Chill Air" by Stevan Allred
Congratulations to Alene and Stevan! Their pieces appear below. Enjoy reading them, and thanks also, to all who submitted to the contest.
CLICK READ MORE TO READ THE WINNING PIECES
Alene Bikle is a native Oregonian and avid traveler (‘anywhere, anytime, but given my choice, not in summer…’) who has lived in both warm (Los Angeles and Sacramento, California) and cold climates (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Vienna, Austria). She has written and published both prose and poetry. Her travels often inform her writing.
A Prayer for Winter
Snow grays the halo on Saint John’s statue, and ice is on the Moldau. It’s January in Prague, and the swan boats are beached. The live swans, too, are tucked away, their long necks folded under their wings. A cold wind lifts a feather or two, then moves on along the riverbed. It’s January in Prague and Charles Bridge is empty and slick. You might find the tourists warming themselves behind English menus, eating the traditional roast pork---or hot goulash soup in bread bowls, because nothing is ever updated here, no fad ever disappears---but the pickpockets and peddlers and others who follow the tourists are somewhere else, the most successful a sunny beach in northern Africa, or a spa in the Canaries. “Winter feels like home to me,” said a man years ago to a roomful of his fans, and I wanted to pack him in my carry-on, declare him at customs, the best souvenir I’ve ever found. I wanted him with me through all seasons, my talisman against those who extol the happiness of the summer sun, the schadenfreude of a fall evening, when all I can think of is that I want to be blanketed in my soft sweaters and thick socks, my wool-lined gloves defending my fingers against the cold and damp, against the clouds that touch the ground, against the unseen and unknown. There is something about tucking into oneself, taking a deep breath while hidden behind a shawl, before running---running---to the grocery, something about listening to the ice nest on tree branches: a comfort to the predictability of sad gray January. The swans know it. The swan boat operators know it. The waiters in Prague who serve goulash soup in bread bowls and roast pork still blood-red in the middle---‘oh, yes, ma’am, rare is how we have always cooked it here,’ ---know it. I bow my head against the wind. Let it snow.
Stevan Allred lives in southeast Portland, halfway between Portlandia and The Attic. He is the author of A Simplified Map of the Real World and the forthcoming The Alehouse at the End of the World, both from Forest Avenue Press. At The Pinewood Table he and Joanna Rose coach writers in weekly writers groups. Of this piece he says, “To be a writer is to bear witness to the moments that change us, whether they be something so simple as falling snow, or so complex as the death of one’s father.”
The Bright White Light, The Clean Chill Air
The night my father died the snow was six inches thick when I went to bed, and when I awoke, long before sunrise, still ignorant of my father’s passing, there was so much reflected light coming in through the windows from all that white snow that I could walk through the house without turning on the lights. I got up and wrote, as is my habit. At 8 a.m. I went out for a walk. It was a Wednesday. The streets were silent. The snow was now a foot deep. A few cars were out, but the normal noise of the business day starting, of commuters going to work, of kids going to school, all of that was silenced.
The phone call from a caregiver came in at 9:37. By then I’d gone back to bed, and I was snuggled up with my lover, convinced that we were going to stay home. My phone was silenced, and the call went to voicemail, unnoticed. A second phone call, from my brother, David, came in five minutes later. I was in a delicious, post-coital stupor. Another five minutes went by before I responded to an urgent text from my brother. When I called him back, he was sobbing. I got the news through his sobs.
This is what I saw when I got to my father’s house. My father was lying in the middle of the bathroom floor. His face and body were covered by a blanket, but his ankles and feet were sticking out, nestled together. The skin there was a pale, bloodless, ivory color. He was on his back, but not flat on his back. His back was curved with rigor mortis, because as he was dying, he fell to his side. It was a sheriff’s deputy who moved him, and covered him up. There was a small puddle of yellow stomach fluid on the floor where his mouth had been, with a streak of blood in it. When I pulled the blanket back from his face and body I saw that his arms were both bent at the elbows. His hands were reaching for his throat at the moment of death.
His head was blotchy and red from his cheeks upward. Dad was mostly bald, and the blotches on his scalp covered more skin than not. His left eye was closed, as usual, for he had lost sight in that eye almost ten years before. His right eye was just barely open. The inside of his mouth was coated with dried blood.
He was wearing a white cotton t-shirt and a pair of Depends. The Depends were tugged down on his hips, as if he had been pulling them down when death found him.
It falls to me to bear witness to his frail body lying there on the bathroom floor, and so have I done.
My father had just turned 91. He had a good life, and his death was swift and merciful. His four children, my brothers and my sister and I, were all engaged in seeing to it that he could live at home. He suffered from dementia, but he knew who we were, and he could carry on a conversation, though on a bad day he might ask the same question three times in ten minutes. He was the kindest, gentlest man I have ever known, unfailingly patient with his children as he was with everyone, and he seldom uttered a harsh word.
All that goodness, and all the care we gave him, could not save him from death. He got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and he never made it back to bed.
Because of the snow, because I do not own an SUV, nor chains for my tires, on the morning of my father’s death I had no way to get to his house. It was noon by the time my younger brother, Mark, who does own an SUV and tire chains, came to pick me up.
While I waited for Mark to arrive I shoveled snow. I wanted to be outside, to enjoy the quiet, the bright white light, the clean chill air. I wanted something to do with my hands, my body. I wanted to feel normal on the morning of my father’s death.
On the drive to my father’s house the roads were strewn with cars abandoned by drivers caught in the snow storm. Even a city bus was abandoned.
After we got there, Mark shoveled all the snow on the walkway. He shoveled all the snow on the driveway. It was one last good thing he could do for my father.
The death of my father opened a crack inside me. On one side my father was still alive, and he could take my hand in his two hands and thank me for helping out. I could say Dad, it’s nothing, I’m happy to do it. The snow, on that side of the crack, was deep and clean and flawlessly white.
On the other side there was no Dad.
The one good thing I could do on that side of the crack, the thing that would keep that crack from widening into a crevasse, was to give him a good funeral. So we did that. We gave him a great funeral, and we gave him the military honor guard he wanted, with the rifle salute, the flag draped casket, the bugle playing taps, the sincere appreciation of the military for his years of service. They gave the folded flag from his casket to my older brother.
By then the snow had melted. All that was left were piles of dirty, forlorn snow on the edge of the cemetery parking lot. I reached down, and I dug my hand into one of those dirty piles, and I tossed a handful of snow aside, and then I could see the clean white snowfall underneath.
Thank you to our judge for this contest, David Ciminello!
David Ciminello's fiction has appeared in the Lambda Literary Award winning anthology Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City, The Frozen Moment: Contemporary Writers on the Choices That Change Our Lives, the literary journal Lumina, the online anthology Underwater New York and on Broadcastr. His poetry has appeared in Poetry Northwest. He is a 2011 Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and a proud recipient of a 2013 annual Table 4 Writers Foundation grant. His original screenplay Bruno appears on DVD as The Dress Code. As an actor he has guest starred on Seinfeld, Murder She Wrote, Matlock, and Kojak. As a screenwriter he has written for HBO, 20th Century Fox, and Aaron Spelling Productions. David holds a BFA Degree in Acting from The Catholic University of America and an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College.