Winner of the Writing Lab Prose Contest: Charlotte Houston

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This photo inspired Houston’s story.

Charlotte Houston, Staff Writer

The winners of the Miramonte Writing Lab Writing Contest have been selected for publication in the Mirador. Here is the winning prose entry:

Age 5

Their giggles floated on the spring air, lost to them in the swoosh of wind in their ears.

With sprawled legs they pushed themselves up. When both of them would happen to be synchronized in their back and forth revolutions, they called themselves “married.” They’d bicker like an old couple, imaginations stretching out over the horizon.

“Push me!” her demanding shriek to her best friend added to the cacophony.

Her chimerical grin spurred him into action. New blades of grass poked through the spongy dirt that squeezed through his toes as he hopped off his swing. The dignified chuckles of their parents’ party below were distant as he raised her up to the sky, through the bright beams of light. She felt weightless, like the sun was lifting her up even higher than his small-bodied pushes.

Age 13

The creaky, rusty sound of the chains shifting back and forth on their aging hinges disturbed the stillness of the inky blue darkness. The swing set moaned next to her and she didn’t look over.

“Just like old times?”

Now she jumped. “I thought I was alone,” she whispered, avoiding eye contact. Her gaze was back up at the stars as soon as she saw his reflecting back at her, asking questions she didn’t want to answer.

The milky moonlight illuminated her cheeks, rosy with the chill of the night air. It was different than the tired, lackluster shine that her skin gave off under the fluorescent lights that he was used to; she was glowing under the celestial sky. They rocked on the swings together in silence and over the creaks of disuse she swore she heard her heart in sync with his.

“It’s been awhile,” she ventured. When she finally looked over, his eyes were downcast again. “Since we talked, I mean.”

“Yeah,” he kicked his dangling legs, smiling at some private joke, “what happened to the girl who’d come racing into my house every time she was bored?”

“Grew up, I guess.”

“No.”

“What?”

Growing up. We aren’t there yet.”

Age 17

She threw her head back and laughed at something he shouted into the wind. Her hair whipped around her face and they pumped their legs, seemingly unaware of or unfettered by the worry of the shrieks from the old metal. They dared it to snap in half, to let them fly out into the vibrant colors of the sunset stretched across the sky.

The flannel that he lent her was falling off the curve of her shoulder; in the warm summer evening air it was hardly even necessary. But it smelled of barbecue smoke and home, and she liked it. The fading light shined purple and orange on them, that particular luminescence that’s unique to every sunset. It threw beams on their faces in a way that made it look like you could see their euphoria leaking out of them. When synchronized in air they grasped hands, interlocking fingers until their uneven pushes forced them apart again.

Age 35

On her only free day of the annual holiday visit to her childhood home, and the newly dubbed “grandparents,” she took her daughter to the swing set. The snow muffled their footsteps, even the little girl’s excited giggles. That is probably why she didn’t hear him behind her, until he had already lost his nerve, turned around and was walking away. She took a long look at his retreating back, trying to commit everything to memory. Already thinning hair, olive-colored wool sweater, bare left ring finger. The quiescent falling of snow was starting to pick up, covering his footprints. He turned back when he was almost out of sight and their eyes met for a pained, hopeful second, until his familiar ones turned downcast, and he disappeared into the white landscape.

Age 60

The small knoll that the swings rested on was now more of a climb than she remembered.

She clutched the wilting lily tighter than she’d ever held his hand. The view that used to augment her dreams was obscured now by wispy tendrils of fog. As mist caressed her face, it blended with salt water unwittingly shed. The susurrus of the decades old swing set groaned as a ragged wind swept through, the familiar sound settling into her like the ache in her bones. She didn’t go and sit in her usual spot. Instead, she moved to his customary seat: banana yellow and belt-like but now faded and cracked with age. Worse, it hung down from just one side, broken. Gently, she sat underneath as a stronger gust of air came through, throwing the chain links against the poles that supported them in a metallic crash.

She didn’t know how much time had passed when she stopped being able to feel most of her extremities. She heard, faintly, someone calling her name. The shouts jerked her out of her nostalgia; the glow of her fading memories replaced the familiar feeling of regret.

About the Author:

Sophomore Charlotte Houston is 16, and aside from writing, enjoys reading, baking, and running. She has been writing for as long as she can remember but says “looking back at old stories makes me want to tear my fingers off.” Her love of writing stems from wanting to read something that no one has written, so she writes it herself. According to Houston, she chose her picture because she felt there was a story “hidden underneath the surface.” If she could send one message to her adoring fans, she would say, “Please mom, get out of my room.”

Other participants include: Logan Canada-Johnson, Ellen Persson, Audrey Nathanson, Makenna Millham, Sasha Gordon, Sofia Ruiz, Jessykah Frank, and Jack Niehaus.