Two Rappahannock County students received awards at the University of Virginia Fralin Museum of Art’s Writer’s Eye 2018 competition. The awards were presented Sunday in Charlottesville.
Roxie Beebe-Center of Woodville won a third place award in the middle school (grades 6-8) prose category for “By the Motel Pool.” She attends Grymes Memorial School in Orange.
Lilie Halko, who attends Belle Meade Montessori School, received an honorable mention in the high school (grades 9-12) for “Untitled.”
This year, The Fralin welcomed more than 4,400 Writer’s Eye participants from Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and ten surrounding counties and cities.
This week, we are delighted to feature Roxie’s winning writing, and we’ll run Lilie’s award winner next week.
Fiction: By the Motel Pool
By Roxie Beebe-Center
I set a rose in the water. My grandmother wouldn’t have liked it. She would have wanted a real burial with a funeral procession and a headstone. Yet there were no black dresses for her, no flowers laid to rest at her feet. All that she had was a watery grave where the egrets soar and the still water is laced with long reeds. Where the sunset leaks the bloody color of its essence into the waves, and her body goes out to sea like a small boat making its last voyage.
My mother argues with the clerk. She speaks in broken English, pointing to the red neon sign that says “No Vacancy.” My mom bangs her fist on the desk and turns around. This is the seventh motel we’ve been to. The bell jingles its merry tune as we step into the muggy air. The night is alive with bugs, and the cars dart past in a steady drum.
“We’re spending the night in the car.” My mother growls. We tilt our seats back, trying to get comfortable, to trick our minds into sleeping. Sand and dirt glitters in the corners of our ancient Nissan. The pine air freshener twists around and around. I watch cigarette smoke waft through the breeze, see the TVs flicker in the rooms.
The radio turns on with a click. Through the static, muffled voices announce the rising death toll, the nearest evacuation centers. They recite accounts of small children and elderly people dying alone, trapped and afraid in their crumbling houses. Baton Rouge and New Orleans suffering serious damage. Over 500 fatalities. Tens of towns wiped off the map. I can’t take it anymore. I get up and charge outside, slamming the door behind.
My breath clings to my face in dewey sweetness. My face is sticky with dry tears. Bright lights gleam from behind the motel, illuminating the sides of the building. I walk around. It’s a pool. The chipping plastic gate creaks as I open it. Cheap plastic tables and lounge chairs border the edge like lace. A squirrel scrambles across the concrete. An old hot tub and an empty kiddie pool sit together like old friends. As I walk towards a chair, I crush cigarette stubs beneath my Adidas sneakers. The plastic of the seat, stretched with wear, digs into my body. Picking up an empty beer can, I roll it between my hands. I stare at the water, as if the chlorinated, pee filled, unnatural blue substance somehow connects to the wide open marshes behind my house. Or, I should say, what was my house.
The wind rattles through the plastic.
“DAMN IT!!” I leap to my feet, spinning around. My heart beats. Thrum, thrum, thrum. “You scared me.”
“Oh. Sorry,” says a tall guy, about my age. I try to ignore the fact that he’s cute and muscular. I don’t care about stuff like that. Sure, he has skin the color of instant coffee that fisherman drink, and eyes as blue as the briny water, but why does that matter?
“Sorry to bother you. My parents argue a lot. I come out here when they do.” I hear screaming from suite nine. “I’m an evacuee from Baton Rouge, where are you from?”
“A small town in Louisiana, you wouldn’t know it.” I say, remembering my grandmother’s house, which always smelled like Ponds cold cream. The doilies on her couch collected dust like spiderwebs collect flies. The radio would crackle in the corner, the TV chorusing in with the evening news. She would sing as she kneaded dough, her calloused hands pushing her worries into the bread.
“Did your whole family come?” he inquires, snapping me out of my nostalgia. “I couldn’t get my best friend to come with us. He said he had to stay. I just heard that our area got demolished, and he won’t pick up the phone.”
“My grandma stayed. I begged her to come. She wouldn’t.”
A silence you could swallow ensues, bitter and sad like glass shards on my tongue.
“I saw a kid crushed under a roof.” He says. “And . . .”
“STOP!” I say. I imagine my grandmother, clutching the urn with her husband’s ashes, her body splayed at strange angles, sticks in her hair, her shirt torn, her lips chapped. . . .
“I’m sorry.” He whispers. Sitting across from me, I take his hands. My sorrow sheds off me, snakeskin, curling like a dog at my feet. We look into each other’s eyes with heartfelt understanding. I look into his blue eyes and see the water where the egrets soar, and the fish swim in muddy waves, a place where the horizon blurs with the water, and you can’t see where the bayou ends and the sky begins. I look into his blue eyes and see my grandmother, staring at me from across the marsh.