The Submission

Saturday, August 18, 2012 2:22 PM By crosswaysnet , In

She refused to open her eyes, hitting the snooze for the third time. Her plan to not move was trumped by her bladder. With a groan, she swung her feet to touch the cool oak boards, still slick from her 7th waxing this week.

Before a panic attack could begin, her cellphone erupted with the bridge to ‘Imagine’. She glimpsed the caller id through bleary eyes and reached for the disconnect. Her numb middle finger hit the ‘speakerphone’ button instead.

Without waiting a beat the voice blared out at her – “Have you seen yet?? Have you heard?? I can’t login for another hour!! Finalists ONLY until 8am. WHAT’s HAPPENING???”

She gathered a breath to push her raw vocal chords. So sore. When had she stopped cleaning and started crying? When had she stopped crying and pushed her dry sobs into her pillow? An hour ago, maybe?…

“Uh… no. I haven’t looked.”

“WHY THE HECK NOT?? This is it, Sylvie! THE BIG TIME!! Get to it PRONTO, girl! And call me first, of course!!”

“Shower first, Sis.”

“Well make it short! I wanna know whatchergonna do if you WIN!”

“Yeah,” Sylvie answered flatly; vacantly. She carefully pressed the ‘end’ key. She thought for a moment, then removed the battery and laid the pieces neatly next to each other, perpendicular to the edge of the nightstand, of course. She proceeded with the bedmaking and four-corner inspection. The tape measure was still in the kitchen where she didn’t dare go… yet. She found a bookmark to compare the length of the gap from quilt to floor. She headed for the bedroom door.

A sudden jolt stopped her before she crossed the threshold. Did I mop the hallway yesterday or not? She did a thorough mental inventory of her actions the last 24 hours. Kitchen? All surfaces, four times. Living room? Check. Bathroom? Only twice – vermin risk. But the hallway floor?

Sylvie ran the inventory three more times – not a single instance of proper cleaning came to mind. Was I that distracted? Dread overtook the panic. Do I even have safe shoes in this room? She scrambled around the bedroom looking for the ‘good’ slippers, smooth soles, easily disinfected. Nowhere. Where are they? She did the inventory one more time. The tears welled up as she recalled cleaning them in a metal tray before the kitchen mastered her will. They were still sitting in the pan on the floor of the pantry – on the cleaners side, opposite any packaged food they might contaminate. The first teardrop fell from her quivering lip, hitting the floor. Now THIS room needs decontamination!

In desperation, she skidded along on the rug by her changing table and shuffled down the hallway toward the bathroom. She passed her office nook, looming in dimness to the right. The disinfecting spray and one-use cloths sat next to the keyboard, just as she’d placed them at the end of her kitchen frenzy. The screen saver of mountain springs dissolved to another picture of high-elevation glacier runoff. Her sister had thought it would settle her nerves before her writing sessions began. All it ever did was remind Sylvie to double-filter the bottled water before placing it in the sealed container and on the disinfectant wipe in the fridge.

As was the rule, she could not approach the computing machine until she was thoroughly and ritually clean. Every body surface times two scrubs, then disinfecting wipes then soaps and shampoos. Sylvie left the shower more raw than usual as she lifted the second towel down in the stack to dry herself. Then the one – and only – look into the mirror. She refused to look closely at the eyes.

She dressed in her morning whites, slowly placing her second set of slippers on her feet. Rising from the bathtub edge she faced the hallway again. No morning light from the skylight to brighten the path. Darker grays mottled the way as thunder clouds plodded across the sky.

Dead man walking. Just make it to the kitchen and brew the tea…

Sylvie’s robe brushed the office chair as she passed her computer, touching the mouse cord. The screen saver dropped and her inbox flashed to her left. Contest Winners Announcement! stared back from the top line. Sylvie froze. A strange, uncontrollable mix of dread and anger seized her. If Susan hadn’t sent the manuscript without her permission this never would have happened. All the years of ‘you’re the best writer I’ve ever read’ and ‘you NEED to let someone read this!’ and ‘if you don’t let me take this to an agent you’re going to drive ME crazy’… it all came crashing down on Sylvie’s brain. She grabbed the disinfectant and sprayed the mouse. She clicked the link firmly enough to break the button.

‘Dear Miss Anton,

‘I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to review your work. Out of the thousands of first-time author submissions, yours rose to the top. And now our editorial board and guest judges have had the unenviable task of selecting the winner of this year’s Breakout Novelist Award. All six of our finalists will undoubtedly attract much attention from agents and publishers the world over.

‘But in your case, let me be the first to say what others are sure to repeat – your work Coming Out stands apart. Compelling, haunting and deeply moving, it is our choice for Grand Prize. Documents will arrive this morning by courier to explain the next steps in the awards process. Pack your bags, Sylvie! You’re about to see the world as a renowned and high-awarded PUBLISHED author!!

‘With sincerest congratulations,

‘Mildred Van Self
Oceans Publishing Group
London – Johannesburg – New York – Sydney’

Sylvie drew a breath. The first since clicking the mouse to death. She expected she might burst into tears. But she was calm. She continued to the kitchen and surveyed the scene - The electric kettle and her grandmother's china cup with the teabag arranged just so on the counter. All was in order. She watched the electric kettle till it reached a disinfecting boil and used the fresh towel to pour. She counted in a whisper to 90 for a proper steep and 90 more for a proper cool. Raising the 190-degree liquid to her parched lips, the perfect sip of Lady Grey passed - slowly; deliberately; painfully. Once was enough. Sylvie calmly placed the teacup back on the saucer at right angles, as her grandmother had taught her. From the drawer she removed the letter addressed to her sister and placed it on top of the cup.

Sylvie turned to face the room again and looked up at last night's addition to the stout ceiling fan. "Heads will spin when they hear about THIS!" said the writer voice in dark pun to the dark space within her. Title of the great unwritten sequel? IRONY. She mounted the barstool, fixed the knot to the back of her neck and kicked out the leg.


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