Our decision in the adult category of our short short story contest was a difficult one. It seemed as if all the submissions contained at least one incident or turn of phrase that caught our attention, and many of them were in contention until the end. Before we get to the winning entry, honorable mentions must be made of the following authors:
- Dee Goto
- Jason Jerome
- Piper Sangstrom
Parenting, and memories of parents, were recurring motifs among the submissions. Our winning story featured that theme, and presented it using a combination of descriptive detail and narrative energy that made it our favorite entry. Congratulations to the winner of a $50 Island Books gift certificate, and please enjoy:
Hazel Lassoes the Hoover
by Steve Workman
What I remember is that sometime around nine years old, it became plain to me that my family was boring. Weekly visits to the piano teacher provided the kids with theory, lessons, and practice, but there was never any music going in our house. My father would buy a new one-year-old Dodge Dart four-door from Hertz every third year, then give his old one to Mom. An aeronautical engineer, he came home every afternoon and read magazines like Aviation Week, always on the same end of the couch. As a family we were constantly in training to expect the expected. An efficiency expert would leave with a yawning shrug after spending time with this group.
While Dad read Space Digest, Mom would work her way through the family's favorite recipes, most clipped from Sunset Magazine. On Wednesday, porcupine meatballs served with mandarin slice orange Jell-O rolled and wiggled on the table. Saturday saw the three kids puzzling over the not quite understood smell of Texas Hash. Sunday was Mom's day off, with guest Chef Boyardee making an appearance on the box of instant pizza. The rotated meals never fell on the same day of the week, unless the first day of the month was the same two months in a row.
While the 1960s American automaton family was playing to my father's left-brain strength, I began to see indicators that my mother, Hazel, was not playing all her cards. I first caught her doing the soft shoe in the kitchen to the hiss of the pressure cooker while making Swiss steak. How had she kept this from me for nine years?
Other discoveries cropped up. Hazel took up skiing with her girlfriends and bought a ski outfit rivaling anything Jackie O. might have worn at St. Moritz. Charcoal drawings of "life models" were found tucked into the Idaho Gazetteer. Aunt Winne visited and asked if Hazel might play the solo from the Jimmy Dorsey hit "Besame Mucho" for us on the sax. On the sax? said our six eyes as they shot over to Mom. While Dad was starting a 48-year relationship with the cedar gutter repairs Mom had Bill Evans hidden in a Perry Como sleeve. The evidence was piling up. Hazel's predictability and colorless tedium was beginning to look like a front. A week earlier she'd shouted "SHIT!" when I mentioned that I had forgotten my sheet music as we were pulling up to the piano teacher's house. A very weird Tourettal outburst.
But it was my discovery of Hazel's relationship with the vacuum that tied the clues into a knot. Oblivious to me lying on top of the furnace register reading the comics in the living room, she plugged her partner into the outlet. They started swiveling in and out of a two-step kinda thing, dancing to some honky-tonk tune only she and the Hoover could hear. Where a legged partner might have led her into a twirl, Hazel was the one leading these four tiny wheels with a flourish that left a paisley pattern on the wall-to-wall.
How those damn Chinese ribbon dancers ever got into the Olympics I'll never know, but they had nothing on Mom and the vacuum cord. She threw the rubber line up into a sine wave-like serpent, arching up, and back, and while it was in the air, with the slightest twist of her wrist she'd tame the reptile just before it tried to slither out of the socket. Wielded like a fly line lariat, in complete disregard of the U.L. rating, this was art. Finished, they hovered together near the closet, Mom panting, the vacuum with its overstretched belt smoking, sharing their moment.
My father died this year. We knew he was a hoarder, but unlike most, every distributor wire, cotter pin, and bent drapery rod was labeled as to its history and connection to the whole of life. As we closed down the family house, my sisters, Hazel, and I were joking about who was going to get what. I told Mom the only thing I wanted was the cord to the Hoover.