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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The First-Runner-Up of the Columbus Day Contest

Second place goes to Jess Burnquist of Gilbert, AZ. We're nearing the finishing line! Stay tuned for the first place winner, announced tomorrow.

It all started with the worst batch of Columbus Day peach preserve you can imagine and the first cigarette I ever tasted, though regrettably not the last. Of course, I couldn’t pull off the movie-mystique-smoking-thing like Aunt Laney or my best friend, Tanya, but she sure as shit couldn’t cook. I happen to know that men like sex and food about equally. I have that on authority from Aunt Laney and being that she’s left three husbands because they’ve ‘gone fat’ on her makes me know this to be true. My looks aren’t head turning, and I suppose that’s okay because it means I’m not ugly enough for a second glance either. “You just need to accessorize. Find your style, Missy,” that’s Tanya’s advice and it runs round my mind like an annoying commercial.
Now, Tanya, she’s been blessed with beauty and cosmetic know-how. These gifts just sort of blossomed in her around the time we turned fourteen. She began looking back at the boys around then too leaving me jealous and bored. Aunt Laney was visiting then, waiting for her divorce to be final and she persuaded me to spend more time in the kitchen than in front of a mirror. “Wouldn’t you rather watch water boil, Missy, than wait for your chest to grow a pair?” She knew how to make points my body couldn’t.

It was her idea to make Columbus Day a family picnic. Of course we knew Daddy was right when he grumbled that the only reason we were going into town was to oblige his baby sister’s desire to take a closer look-see at Dwight Sumner, of Sumner Resale. We spent all Sunday cooking picnic fare. I was most proud of my potato salad because it was a far cry from my mama’s mayonnaise-happy mush. Mama tried to hide her disappointment when no one complimented her peach preserves, but my god! They were salty and thick like paste. My dinner rolls were something though. Aunt Laney taught me how to baste the crusts with a bit of egg white, butter, and sugar right before they were finished baking.

I was enjoying watching Aunt Laney turn on the charm with Dwight. The way he kept wiping at his forehead with his red kerchief made me think of old movies. Aunt Laney’s nails fluttered with every flick of her cigarette. I suppose I don’t really know what caused me to want to be a woman right then and there; or why I figured a cigarette would grant that wish. Maybe it was the way Tanya strutted over with Chad Green, their hands locked and legs matching in length and stride. In any case, I fished through Aunt Laney’s purse, grabbed one of her shiny plastic lighters and hid behind the trunk of the old Elm at the end of the riverbank where the rapids begin. At first, I just held the cigarette, bringing it to my lips, fake inhaling, and tossing my head back as though laughing at something funny a boy who didn’t exist said. Then I lit it, filling my cheeks with smoke, not knowing how to really drag on it.

“Do you feel grown up now, Missy?” Mama was looking at me with a sad curiosity. “You put that out, girl. It’s against your nature.” And I can still hear that river rushing onward with each exhale I make.

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