There was an unusually high number of entries to the Boise Weekly Fiction 101 Contest this year—180 in all. Among them, the mainstay themes of love, forgiveness, remembrance and nature jockeyed with others ejected from the collective unconscious like blaming mothers, spurned lovers and dead dogs.
The contest has always been a windsock of the social mood, and fortunately we scored five talented judges to pick the winners. This year, they numbered Rediscovered Books Co-owner Laura DeLaney, Idaho Commission on the Arts Literature Director Jocelyn Robertson, local author Christian Winn, Boise Public Library librarian RE Zickau and The Cabin Executive Director Kurt Zwolfer.
They gathered at BW headquarters on a cold night in early December 2017 to make their selections, which are printed below. For the full Fiction 101 experience, however, don't miss the reading party graciously hosted at Rediscovered Books on Thursday, Jan. 4, where readings of the winning stories will take place while the audience snacks on goodies from the Basque Market. A grand time will be had by all—we hope to see you there.
"Roe" —Sharon Hanson, Boise
With her teeny-tiny rake Merilee scratches the driveway, scarlet fish-shaped leaves slipping through tines like salmon negotiating fish ladders. Kneeling, then prostrate, the teeny-tiny girl tunnels inside the streamlined leaf pile, propels the current. Overhead, the careless breeze ripples clouds like whitecaps.
When her father's pickup rolled over the driveway, he heard the unnatural—more fish bones than linden leaves.
To begin again, he migrates inland, hires on at Oxbow Hatchery; releases fingerlings into the current; prays Sockeye and Chinook, red like sumac leaves, side-skim gillnets and outsmart anglers to reach upstream spawning. Blessing each, he still fears tiny bones within.
"Boundaries" —Gabrielle Nelson, Sandia Park, New Mexico
She fondles an orange, slowly undressing it against the sand. In the ground she feels the faraway hum of movement. It stirs in her something rich and dusty, an instinct, a memory triggered by the summer dung haze: she and her mother fanning themselves, listening to the desperate crackling of their own skin.
"We move forever. Our feet rotate the earth," her mother said.
She can taste the thrum of her ancestor's march. Laziness evaporates. She breaks through the fence. Monkeys applaud, zebras bray and buck. On the news they report the strange phenomenon of an elephant strolling down the freeway.
"Dachshund" —Phillip Bode, Fargo, North Dakota
You're wearing designer boxer-briefs the poet sent you, holding another woman's dachshund amidst spandex, leggings, and boas in her closet, searching for her golf clubs
Her ex wails "you ruined me!" His voice bathed in tequila.
His footsteps charge and kick her bedroom door open. No gun or knife, just a grungy YMCA outfit: Those weights, push-ups, hours watching Ali fights on YouTube won't do you any good now.
Armed with little else, you ask: "What the hell are you doing?"
He screams, marches out towards sirens. You feel and smell the dog's urine down your leg—relieved it's not yours.HONORABLE MENTIONS
"Back in Minnesota" —Mark McAllister, Boise
I was stunned for a second until I heard her laugh. The shock of the snowball hitting my face made me inhale an unintelligible profanity, trip backwards, and fall on my ass. It was a wet one, packed way up in my nose, and I had to farmer-snort a couple of times to blow the snow out, wondering if there was any blood in it. A sucker punch. We'd driven across four states on that marathon day, the last one in the dark, to her parents' place. I thought, if she didn't love me she would have just gone straight inside.
"Good Housekeeping" —Rosanne Johnson, Boise
A foul odor hit her as Mercedes unlocked the door into this week's bachelor filth. There he was, sitting at his computer, naked, bloated and blue. "Ayii! Está muerto!" Police asked, "Who was here?" No one—Señor had no friends. They wouldn't let her clean the moldy dishes, the crusty used tissues at his feet. He weighed how much? Heart attack, obviously, and who noticed the tiniest speck of blood just under the breastbone? Mercedes dressed carefully for the service, shoes polished, good dress pressed, and her best black hat, held firmly in place by her grandmother's fine Spanish steel hatpin.JUDGES' PICKS
"I Still Remember" —Peter Silva, Boise, picked by Laura DeLaney
He wondered often about Jenny, his first, truest love. She symbolized everything he'd lost or forgotten over the years. She loved life passionately, without fear. She laughed freely, her life force shining always through kind eyes and soulful smiles. Her sweetness buoyed her exuberant humor. She dreamt aloud and waxed yearningly about life's possibilities. She knew, instinctively, the magic of youth and closeness to source was fleeting, so she soaked up everything and laid herself open to the world. She gave her love away. We parted long ago, she to eternal grace, I to dark despair. I miss us both, everyday.
"Starlet" —JSP Jacobs, Huntington Beach, California, picked by RE Zickau
She was so famous, girls dressed like her for Halloween. Then she got older, hungrier. Her body wouldn't hold. Directors poked her belly. She left Hollywood and graduated with a Ph.D. in geology.
Now, she crawls, bare-faced and wide-bottomed, inside craters, her hands full of ancient dirt.
A colleague asks her to autograph an old poster of herself.
"This used to be taped over my bed," he smiles.
"I used to eat nothing but Chapstick," she says.
He stares at the poster, tongue-lolled, like she isn't even there, like she isn't the same as every mineral—hard enough to scratch itself.
"Cats" —Allison Maier, Boise, picked by Jocelyn Robertson
I've been dreaming of forgotten cats. Golden-eyed assemblies crying from hidden corners, haunting empty cupboards, scratching at my sleeping soul. They are starving and wild, and I don't remember where they came from or if I ever knew. I crash through the house in post-slumber delirium, inspecting rooms and calling to ghosts.
The dog is waiting when I return to bed. As we face each other in darkness, I wonder if we're trading subconscious anguish—if unrequited loves and unmet expectations now enter her nightmares. If it's the reason I wake each morning to find her curled so close against me.
"Bury My Heart at 16th & Main" —Greg Heinzman, Boise, picked by Christian Winn
Maybe it was raining. Weasel and I ducked inside for shots and a pitcher. We were wrecked and chasing your ghost. The lead singer for Wooden Indian Burial Ground was wearing an electric green balaclava and screaming like God was closing in with a pitchfork.
The sound dislodged my lungs, my heart, my spleen. They were crocodiles loose inside my skin and struggling for places to rest.
"To Wooden Indians!" I raised my whisky to Weasel who replied, "Bury them."
The dance floor was a battle ground. I forgot who and where I was and that I'd never see you again.
"Just Like Mother" —Amber Saylor, Boise, picked by Kurt Zwolfer
Vivian flicked a grocery clerk's nose after he'd given her the wrong change. Public outbursts were fueled by high expectations. Her therapist warned her that her son would imitate her behavior.
While Vivian was pregnant she'd spilled bleach on her abdomen and claimed David would have a white spot in his hair. Indeed, he had a quarter-sized colorless patch next to his left temple.
As an adult David rubbed bleach in small circles on his wife's growing belly while she slept. He didn't believe this equated to his mother's level of madness, it was merely a loving attempt to validate her.