I don’t frequently place guest posts on my site, but when I was asked to read the story below after it had been translated from Dutch to English, I offered to post it here. I have read the Dutch version of this on Mahotsukai’s blog first and I had tears in my eyes when I finished. Even though I knew the story already, the English version moved me to tears too. I hope you like this story as much as I do!
~ Marie Rebelle
The Writing Contest
Her words were weak and came in a whisper.
“Carry me in your heart, but live on. Live, you hear? Whenever you’re sad or scared, write. Promise me!”
I nodded, and tears rolled down my face as I kissed her slender hand. Then the morphine took her away. Two hours later, I had lost her, forever.
In the first days following Manu’s death, friends wrapped my frozen body in a warm blanket of affection. “The Great Croupier has dealt her the worst possible card,” one of them said. I promised myself to remember that metaphor and use it in a subsequent story: God as a cold, divine dealer. When Manu’s cremation and all the accompanying obligations had finished and everyone continued with their normal lives, I was left behind, alone. I fell, and the pit was deep and bottomless. A piece of my heart had been ripped off, my soul was torn to pieces. The house was cold without her, and the bed felt as a dungeon with me as the prisoner, sentenced to emptiness and pain. I could only sleep on either alcohol or sleeping tablets, and fooled myself into thinking that as long as I interchanged them daily, I’d be okay. Once in a while, when I remembered her final months, in which she had not only embraced her disease but had kissed it right on its ugly mouth, I cried myself to sleep. Brave Manu, my courageous Manu. I missed her terribly and the sadness drained my soul.
I hit the bottom of the pit with the shrieking sound of brakes. After another night drenched in the mist of alcohol and still numb from the tablets, I drove to work that morning. I should never have driven in that state. As the vehicle abruptly came to a halt, she was so close to the hood that she could have touched it. My heart pounded in my throat. A little girl, still a toddler, stood statue-like on the pedestrian crossing and cast me a piercing glance. Had I noticed her only a split second later, she would not have lived. In panic, I shut down the engine and got out of the car. In doing so, I had only taken my eyes off of her for a mere blink of the eye; and now she was gone. The pedestrian crossing was empty. Drivers behind me sounded their horns.
“Oh come on! Drive on, will you? Do you always brake that suddenly for no reason?”
My hands trembling, I drove back home and got into bed. When I woke up hours later, bathed in sweat, I decided this could not go on any longer. I had become a danger, not only to myself but to people around me as well. I tossed the sleeping tablets into the bin and emptied five bottles of wine in the sink.
“Whenever you’re sad or scared, write.”
She had known how much I loved writing, and how relaxing it was for me to do so. I subscribed to an online writing contest, in which the participants had to gather as much points as they could in ten writing stages. The points were given based on votes cast by readers. Every stage, the theme for the stories to be submitted would be different, varying from crime to science fiction, from thriller to erotica. This provided me with a welcome distraction. When I did not write, I put on my running shoes and ran as long and as fast as I could in order for the pain in my lungs to drown out the pain in my heart. Although I often relapsed into bleakness and anxiety, some regularity and structure re-entered my life.
After three stages into the contest, my position was somewhere in the middle of the ranking. The pain had been too recent to be able to write a resounding story in the category ‘Humor, 300 words’ and ‘Romance, 400 words’. I took some time to read the stuff my competitors in the contest had written, something that I had not done up to that moment. It scared me. Not because the submissions were badly written; quite the contrary. There was one writer who especially touched me. She was in second place, writing under the pseudonym of Nefertiti. Her stories were written with pizzazz, her style was immaculate, with a touch of melancholy. But it was the familiarity of her stories that stood out and drew my attention, as if her choice of words and story lines had come out of a trunk on a shared attic. In the ‘Romance’ stage, she wrote about a night spent with her lover at Lake Correntoso. A shiver rolled down my spine. In Correntoso, I had slept with Manu for the first time while watching the stars.
In the fourth stage (‘Sadness, 500 words’), I really dedicated myself to the task at hand, energized by the excellent competition and fed by my own recent experiences. It was as though a valve had opened and all my pain flowed out of my pen in one single opaque yet cleansing wave. When I was finished, 2000 words covered the paper. 2000 words about Manu and me. When I reread them, I cried like a baby. It was quite an effort to reduce the text to the mandatory number of words but when I finally succeeded, I felt an enormous relief. A weight had been taken off my shoulders, and I submitted the story.
In the following week, strange things happened. When I was running the misty city streets, I thought I saw her again, the little girl from the pedestrian crossing. For a moment she seemed to be gazing at me, then turned around the corner, and when I arrived there, gasping for breath, there was no trace of her. “Too much endorphins,” I said to myself. Next, I received a nice email from a lady who praised me for my writings in the contest, and who called herself ‘an admirer’. She had shed a tear or two reading my ‘sadness’ story. I replied with a short message to thank her for her words. Yet the most disturbing feat was Nefertiti’s submission to this stage of the contest. With ample feeling and subtlety, she had pictured the pain of forced childlessness. I could not help to remember Manu’s tears years ago, when we consoled each other as the doctor told us our desire to have children was to remain an illusion.
My ‘Sadness’ story scored the maximum number of points, and for the first time in ages I took pride in myself. My admirer suggested to celebrate the occasion by meeting up and having a drink, and much to my own surprise I agreed. We were to meet in a pub in the city, and to make sure I was completely sharp I ran a couple of miles along the river. Suddenly, there she was again, in a corner of my eye: the little girl, this time on board an approaching barge, at the railing. As the ship passed, she appeared to be waving at me with a smile on her face. I froze. Was it her? She waved one more time, then turned around and disappeared into the cabin.
My thoughts about this strange event quickly disappeared when I met Ilana, my admirer, some hours later. A handsome woman donning a bright smile, intelligent words, and subtle humor. When, after two wonderful hours, she asked me whether I’d care to see some of her creations and I carefully read the pieces of paper she handed me, it only took me a couple of seconds to reach a conclusion. This surpassed everything I had ever written or would ever write.
“I’ve neglected writing for too long, and I have neglected myself,” she said.
“I hope you can close that phase, because this is wonderful,” I replied.
“What’s the theme for the next stage, by the way?” she asked with a smile.
“You got a story line already?” Her soft eyes sparkled.
Something that I hadn’t felt for a long while, stirred in my body.
The next morning, Ilana was sitting opposite of me, smiling and holding a cup of coffee, wearing my bath robe and watching me writing my story. My memories of the night were still vivid. I described how the hesitation of a first touch had quickly turned into uncontrollable lust, lust to watch, feel, and taste each other. I described the desire in her glance, her impetuosity, my impatience, her shameless lack of restraint, and yearning submissiveness. I described her face, her mouth, her lips, her tongue. De softness of her legs and her hard nipples, I described how we had watched each other’s face when I pushed into her, en how she had encouraged me: “Take me!” I described the release, at the very moment when all resistance and hesitation had flowed from my mind, and I had forgot all anxiety and hesitation in an overwhelming orgasm. The words just came, it was flow, I wrote and felt alive.
During the following days, I regularly checked the stories of my competitors, especially curious for Nefertiti’s submission. But the deadline passed without her posting a story. I mailed the organizers of the contest, asking whether Nefertiti had somehow withdrawn from the contest. The answer I received made me shiver.
There is no Nefertiti in the contest and nobody with that name has competed.
For a moment I thought I was hallucinating, and I looked for her contributions to the previous stages. To my absolute surprise, I couldn’t find any of her stories, not a single digital trace. It was as though she had never existed. Then I noticed there was a new reply to my erotica story. I clicked the little icon and my breath was taken away.
Whenever you’re scared or sad, write. Carry me in your heart, but live!
It was the last thing from Nefertiti I ever read. Manu I carry with me, for always. The little girl disappeared, Ilana stayed. And me? I live.