The Grand Prize Winner in our First Literary Contest—-Unveiled
Our first literary contest has taken some time to get up, but we believe that the pieces we were able to declare the winners were definitely worth the wait. If you’ve missed previous installments, you should check out the third place winner, No Name by Selaine Henriksen as well as our second place story, Mona by Clara Heathcock. Both are excellent but the story below, “From Her Tears Came the Sky” stood out for both our board and our judges. Also posted today is a full interview with its amazing author, Michelle Denham, and details about our next round for this contest that will start in January of 2015 so all writers be on the look out for your next chance!
So without further adieu, we present the first ever grand prize winner of the Legendary Women, Inc. first annual Literary Contest!
She had been a monster, once. Now she was a monster trapped in the body of a woman. Remarkably, she found very little difference between the two.
She had long, black hair, amber eyes, and once, centuries ago, she’d conquered the kingdoms of men. Now she made sandwiches at a local deli and didn’t know how to leave her husband.
Sabbath Moore could honestly say she never really loved Frank, so the absence of love for him now was not a problem. But his emotions oppressed her, his habits depressed her, and she really missed the days when she ate men instead of cooked for them.
On Wednesdays she went to a Monster Support Group. It was the Sphynx’s idea to have the meetings; the Sphynx was a petite Chinese woman now and a very successful psychiatrist so she was by far the most qualified to run such a group. Everyone gathered by word of mouth — Sabbath learned about it from her friend the Harpy, who once worked at the same deli but was now a maid at a DoubleTree hotel.
“No one else understands,” the Harpy had said, plaintively trying to coax Sabbath to come. “Some understand what it means to be a monster and others understand what it means to be a woman, but we’re the only ones who understand what it means to be both. Won’t you come?”
Sabbath had wrinkled her nose and sipped her coffee. “I’ll come if I have nothing better to do.”
She’d come every Wednesday since.
Centuries ago, Sabbath had a poet for a lover. She’d had so many lovers over so many years that she couldn’t remember them all. Names, faces, even entire people just faded into oblivion. She didn’t miss any of them when they died (or when she discarded them, or when she killed them) but oddly enough she mourned for them now that she was forgetting them. She mourned their deaths from her memory.
The poet — she couldn’t remember his name or his face, but she remembered his hands because they were so large and gentle — the poet once composed an entire epic about her. She was very flattered at the time and she kept the epic far longer than she kept the man.
Except now she’d forgotten almost all of it (the text itself long since lost to the annals of history). She hated the fact that she couldn’t remember the epic; it made her want to destroy something every time she remembered that she had forgotten.
From the entire epic she could only remember two lines:
When the slaughter was over she bowed her head
And from her tears came the sky.
She didn’t know what the lines meant. She wasn’t sure she had ever known what the lines meant. But sometimes, when she was vacuuming, or doing the laundry, or making sandwiches, the lines ran through her mind over and over again like the lyrics to a song.
They had all been very different kinds of monsters and now they were all very different kinds of women.
The Sphynx was one of the most successful, but by no means the most successful. The Vampire had that honor, as a rising starlet in Hollywood. When Sabbath first came to the group she recognized her from the summer blockbuster she’d watched with Frank but refused to acknowledge that she liked the film in the Vampire’s presence. The Harpy was a maid, Echidna a housewife, Medusa a cosmetic girl at Macy’s and the Lamia was perpetually in between jobs (and boyfriends).
Sabbath was overeducated and made sandwiches. Sometimes she painted but she did not tell the others this fact.
At the meetings, everyone referred to one another by their Monster names. “Lamia,” “Harpy,” “Medusa.” They had other names — “Jane Delacroix,” “Consuela Martinez,” “Marie Nguyen” — but at the meetings they were monsters first and women second, so as such it was only fitting to refer to everyone by their former title.
Except for Sabbath. Sabbath was always Sabbath.
Everyday she came home from work at 5:15 PM. She would take a nap, do yoga for an hour, watch NCIS on DVD, then cook dinner for Frank.
She hated cooking for Frank. He was too bland. He never wanted variety, always needed meat with every meal, loathed too many spices, and never said thank you after eating.
Everyday Frank would come home at 8:20 PM, eat his dinner, and complain about his day as if it was interesting.
“And then I tell Bob to put the Peterson Account on my desk, I tell him a dozen times, ‘Bob, put the Peterson Account on my desk,’ but does he do it? No, of course not, that dumbshit can barely remember his own name, I swear to God…”
Frank, I’m leaving you, Sabbath thought about saying. It wouldn’t be hard. Frank, I’m leaving you. She practiced saying it in her head sometimes while she was making sandwiches. But then she never said it.
A long time ago, she used to go running at night. Back when she was a monster.
And she remembered very clearly what it felt like to go running at night. It was like her soul was on fire and every inch of her knew what it meant to be alive. She was awake in a way that made everything else seem like an endless, muddled dream. She missed feeling that awake.
She thought about running at night but she was too worried it wouldn’t feel the same.
“I love my children. I swear I love my children. There’s just — so many of them,” Echidna said, her voice took on a slightly manic tone. “And I’m pregnant again! I love James, but he’s never around! I’m left all day with the kids and they just go crazy. They never listen to me, they only listen to James, and I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do with another one!”
“You could stop having kids,” Sabbath said. The Sphynx shot her a look that said, “You are not being helpful.”
“Oh, no, dear, I’m Catholic.”
Sabbath wasn’t sure why that should matter, so she didn’t respond. Frank had started talking about kids recently, but Sabbath had told him when they got married that she didn’t want any. If he thought that had changed he was going to be sorely disappointed.
“And — and sometimes I dream about them. My old children.” Echidna’s eyes welled with tears. Echidna, Mother of Monsters. “I think about how so many of them were brutally m-murdered and how much they loved me. They all l-loved me so much and they were all so b-b-beautiful.” She was sobbing now. Sabbath didn’t know what to do with her wailing. The Harpy stood up and walked to Echidna, embracing her.
“But I love my children now! I swear I do! I love them!”
Too many of these meetings ended in tears, Sabbath thought.
It made no sense, but Sabbath actually liked making sandwiches. Frank made enough to support both of them, so he thought of her deli job as a way to get extra spending money. Sabbath had few pleasures in life and no expensive ones; she did not need extra spending money. She put everything she earned in a separate bank account, for the day when she finally left Frank.
That day would come, she told herself. Soon. She had enough saved now, she could leave him any time. She would leave him. Soon.
But until then, making sandwiches had a similar monotonous routine as slaughtering armies, and it wasn’t as messy. There were many things Sabbath would rather be doing — painting, for one — but there were definitely worse ways to make a living.
It didn’t take many meetings for Sabbath to recognize the pattern. The Lamia was always complaining about her search for love, Echidna was always complaining about her children and trying not to, and Medusa was always complaining about her sisters.
Unlike Echidna, Medusa was very upfront about the inferiority of her mortal sisters as compared to the monster sisters she’d had once upon a time.
“The little bitch is always stealing from me,” Medusa swore. “Does she think I don’t notice? Because I’ve started keeping inventory and let me tell you, I know when something’s gone missing. Slut always flirts with my boyfriend too.”
“Have you tried talking to her?” the Sphynx asked.
Sabbath admired her never-ending patience.
“Of course I have! All the time! I tell her, ‘Bitch, stop stealing my shit!’ But she always denies it! And Chrissie’s just as bad! Little Miss Perfect can do no wrong in the eyes of our parents. God. I wish someone would cut off their heads. That would solve so many of my problems.”
“I know a guy who could take care of that for you,” the Vampire piped up. The Sphynx shot her the “not helping” look and Sabbath was absurdly pleased she wasn’t the one in trouble this time.
Sabbath didn’t have any siblings (no human ones, at any rate) but she did have a tense relationship with her parents. She blamed herself (mostly) because she understood that it was probably hard to raise a daughter, even harder when there was a monster in that girl-child.
She tried to call home at least once a month but she usually regretted it.
“Dear, have you thought about applying for an office job?” her mother asked, like she always did.
“No, Mom, I actually like making sandwiches,” Sabbath said, like she always did.
“No one likes making sandwiches,” her father said, like he always did. “We paid enough for your college education, the least you could do is use it. Don’t you have any ambition?”
“My ambition is to make more sandwiches,” Sabbath growled into the phone. She’d had a lot of ambition, once. For a brief period in history she had ruled the known world. She wondered if maybe her parents would love the monster more than the woman. They would probably be more proud of her.
“Dear, let’s not fight,” her mother said, sounding sad. “How’s Frank doing?”
“Frank’s fine,” Sabbath said.
“That’s good. Have you had any thoughts about kids?”
“You’re not getting any younger.”
Sabbath usually tried to tune out the meetings when it was the Lamia’s turn to talk. She usually recited her poem over and over against so she didn’t have to listen to the Lamia whine. When the slaughter was over she bowed her head and from her tears came the sky. When the slaughter was over she bowed her head and from her tears came the sky.
“And then he cheated on me! Is there something wrong with me? Why do I always attract the wrong kind of man?” The Lamia sniffled into her tissue.
“Of course not, mija, it has nothing to do with you,” the Harpy said. “You’re so lovely; you just haven’t found the right man.”
“And you date losers,” the Vampire said.
“That is not a helpful comment,” the Sphynx warned. Sabbath felt triumphant.
“She does date losers!” the Vampire insisted.
“I do date losers!” the Lamia said. “Why do I always date losers?”
“Because you don’t think you deserve anything better.”
Everyone looked at Sabbath. It took her awhile to realize that was because she had spoken that overly trite psychological insight. No wonder everyone stared. Sabbath rarely talked at these meetings, and never when the Lamia did.
“Sabbath, do you have something you want to share with the group?” the Sphnyx asked.
Sabbath stared flatly back at the psychiatrist. “No.”
She and the Harpy walked out of the meeting together. The Harpy usually took the bus everywhere so Sabbath tried to give her a ride whenever she could.
“You never talk about yourself,” the Harpy said, once they were in the car.
Sabbath shrugged. “I don’t really have much to say.”
The Harpy remained silent. She knew about Frank, but she didn’t press the issue.
When they reached the Harpy’s house she didn’t get out of the car right away. Instead, she turned to look at Sabbath. “I’m taking classes at the community college.”
“Really?” Sabbath said. “That’s great!”
“I want to get my AA, and then hopefully transfer to a university.”
“Wow,” Sabbath said. “What does Martin think?”
“He’s supporting me. He agreed to rearrange his shifts at work so he can take care of the kids while I’m at school. I want to be a teacher, Sabbath.”
“Really?” Sabbath said again. She felt stupid with her one word answers. She had no idea that Harpy had all these plans.
The Harpy nodded. “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to teach. It seemed so very different from anything I was ever allowed to do back when — well, you know. I want to teach elementary school. Maybe Kindergarten.” She sounded almost shy when she said that last part, like she expected Sabbath to make fun of her.
Sabbath felt guilty. Her education came so easily. She’d give it to the Harpy if she could.
She thought about her paintings. She loved painting so much but she never told anyone. Certainly never tried to sell anything. She was afraid. There. She thought it. She, Sabbath the monster, was afraid to show anyone her art.
“I think you’ll make an excellent Kindergarten teacher,” Sabbath said.
The Harpy smiled. “Thanks, Sabbath. You have a good night.”
“You too,” Sabbath said as the Harpy got out of the car.
No. Not the Harpy. Consuela. That had been Consuela talking.
Sabbath went home and took out all her paintings. She examined every one of them with an objective eye.
Some were terrible. Not worth showing anyone. But some where breathtaking and she marveled at the thought that she had produced them. She almost couldn’t recognize herself in the paintings.
Then, one by one, she put the paintings away. Afterwards, she made dinner for Frank.
“Sabbath, do you have something to share with the group?” the Sphynx asked her.
Sabbath took a deep breath. “Yes.”
She closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see anyone looking at her.
“Sometimes I’m scared I don’t exist. I’m scared that I don’t know how to be alive anymore. Sometimes I remember what it was like to be a monster so clearly I’m sure I must have made the whole thing up. Sometimes I’m scared there never was a monster. But even more I’m increasingly afraid that there never was a woman. I hate that I’m scared all the time. I paint. I love to paint. And I really do like to make sandwiches. I’m good at it. Sometimes when I sleep I have dreams that are more real than being here. I hate pastrami. And I’m going to leave my husband.”
She let out her breath and opened her eyes. She saw the faces of her support group, they were open and loving. She did not see monsters or women.
She came home late that night. Frank met her at the door. “Sabbath? Do you know what time it is?”
“Frank,” she said. “I’m leaving you.”