2023 Short Story Competition

My Mother’s Shadow

Drip drip. My eyes jolt open as I am greeted by the tranquil pitter patter of rain outside
my fogged window. It hasn’t rained all summer in New York since I moved here. My mom and I
found this three story apartment to sublet for summer. I guess the girl before didn’t think to
mention the leak in the ceiling.
“Bing – Did you see the rain sweetie? Can’t wait to catch up after my show tonight. XX mom”
I hate that she signs her texts like I dont have her name in my phone. Like the whole world
doesn’t know who she is. I stumble into the kitchen about 10 feet from my bed in my studio, to
find a pot that’s not covered in yesterday’s ramen to put under the leak.
“Bing – Did you see this?” Laura, my older sister, always scours the internet for articles on our
moms Broadway shows. “Margaret – the forever 20 something” there’s a film photo next to the
article of a young Margaret smoking a cigarette outside a club in manhattan. She’s oozing
elegance and sex appeal. My mother is the sweetest, yet most selfish woman you will ever meet.
Her ex boyfriend used to say she looks like a combination of Jennifer Aniston and Marilyn
Monroe. As much as I hated him…He was right. I never knew if people loved her or were afraid
of her, I don’t really know where I land on that either. Laura definitely loves her. They get along
like 2 peas in a pod. Laura just moved to Paris to be a dancer with the Moulin rouge. Anytime we
facetime, they go off like twin flames about show biz. After a few OMG’s and gasps I start falling
asleep to their voices. I still don’t know if they notice.
“ I didn’t but nice” I replied. There’s so many articles out there like this. But this picture of her
looks a little like me. But she’s much prettier.
“Fuck is it 7 already”. I pull on a different version of the same outfit like a zombie, grab my
purse and run to the elevator.
“ What floor are you going to ?” a shy voice from behind me says. I turn my frazzled self to see a
tall, lanky boy.
“Uhh the bottom floor… main floor..uhh Lobby..”
Oh god is that what I look like? It always trips me out seeing 1000 of me with the 360 degree
mirrors in here.
God why is he so handsome? He must be new. He politely pushes the button without
acknowledging my clumsy chatter. The elevator smells like sweet cigarettes.

“ Do you live in the building?” I ask, trying to hide my giddiness. Obviously he lives here… why
else would he be in the elevator Phoebe.
“ Yeah I live in 3b, you?”
“ Nahh, I’m just a squatter.” I joke back
“ Ahh got a little criminal in the building, do we?”
“ Yeah that’s me, the criminal in 3C”
“ Oi were neighbors? How come I never see you on the balcony ?”
“ The balcony?” I question back, I do not have a balcony.
“ Yeah, outside your window there’s a little fire escape. I have a smoke out there every night”.
His voice was so low, he looked away, like I might judge him for smoking.
“ Ohhh yeah my mom told me not to open the window. She’s a little paranoid, you know?
‘Stranger danger’”.I say mockingly.
“ Ahh well I’m Elijah” he reaches out his hand.
“ Phoebe. Nice to meet you” I shake his hand and little sparks go up my arm.
“ Well, maybe open your window more, now that I am not a stranger, Phoebe” the elevator
opens and he walks out not turning around to say goodbye.

I could feel blood starting to trickle down my legs.
“Margaret!” My stage manager called. “Are you ready? Curtains up in 15 minutes.” I wasn’t
showing enough yet under my costume, and Broadway wanted to keep me as the face of the
show as long as possible. Fuck I have to tell Mike before I tell my stage manager.
“ Sweetie!” A thick New York accent exclaimed “ You are far too pretty to be sad, you’re going to
cry off your makeup.” Dolly said, my onstage antagonist by my real life best friend. Was I crying?
“I’m gonna do the show,” I said coldly. Dolly was the only one who knew I was pregnant.
“ Margaret, babes you don’t have to.” She said sympathetically but I could tell she also wanted
me to do it . I wasn’t gonna give the spotlight to my understudy, what if they liked her more. It
was my first broadway gig and I wasn’t going to let it slip away from me. We put two pads in and
my costume over top. I strut onto the stage with a sense of duty. Somehow this was for my
daughter, even though I’ll never meet her. She can hear me sing and do what I love as she goes.
Tears streamed down my face the entire performance, but the audience was too far away to fully
see it. My doctor had said that cramping at the end of my first trimester wasn’t abnormal but if it

persisted I should go get it checked out. But I knew. I knew I had lost her. It felt the same as last
The blinding lights shut off as I did my last bow. My first Standing ovation. . I don’t
really remember what happened next. I remember lying in my bed for what felt like years. I
remember telling my daughter Laura her baby sister wasn’t quite ready so she went back up
through the window to heaven and is going to come back soon.
“But mommy, can I go through the window to heaven?” My daughter asked, looking up at me
with her head in my bosom. I didn’t know what to say.
“ Only angels can see the window into heaven, and your little sister was an angel. But don’t
worry she’s gonna come back to us soon.” I barely croaked out.
I’m not sure how but I was only out for a month. Broadway gave me my job back but I had to
understudy my understudy as she was now getting standing ovations every night. It killed my
ego. My first night as the lead, the crowd went crazy. Press was everywhere, cameras and
flashing lights couldn’t get enough of me. Headlines like “ The best voice since Kiristen
Chenowith”… I was addicted to their praise.
Mike and 2 year old Laura wait for me outside Sherry’s pub in Brooklyn. I am still in a
1920s hairstyle and slip dress. I indulge the paparazzi in a photo. The smoke drifts up and stings
my eyes as the flash blinds me, drawing water from my eyes. I want to let the tears roll out and
cut through the cloud but I resist, I feel nothing. Nothing but the intoxication of attention and it
terrifies me.

The clicking of camera’s was like listening to crickets as you fall asleep. In one aspect I
barely notice them but if they were gone I would know. A thought synapses across my brain like
the flash of their cameras. My period was late again, could it possibly be? Guilt hung over me as
it was unlikely Mikes if I was. I pushed the thought aside as nonsense and went in.


The pot is almost overflowing from the leak in the ceiling when I come home. At least the
rain has stopped for now. The smell of cigarettes wafts in from outside. Carrying the pot full of
rain drops, I try to push the old white window up and dump the water out .

“ ahhh” someone shouts from below me. Oh shit was someone out there? There’s literally only a
garbage 3 stories down who would be there. I hesitantly stick my head out the window and look
down to see an older guy covered in my rain water. Thankfully he doesn’t seem to be looking up.
“ Now that’s something you can’t watch on TV…” a familiar voice says. I turn to see Elijah from
the elevator, sitting with his legs hanging over the fire escape. Baggy T- shirt casually hanging off
his body, revealing the slightest bit of his collar bone. His cigarette placed effortlessly in his left
hand. I’m still in my scrubs and hair slicked back in french braids. Fuck.
“ What can I say…I try my best to give the people what they want…”
“ I don’t think Mr. Brooks wanted that…” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. “But fuck
that made my day, maybe he’ll think twice before giving me another lecture on cigarettes” I can
see his eyes register my scrubs. “ Oh sorry it’s probably so annoying for you to watch me ruin
my lungs rn…” again I can’t tell if he is being a dick or not.
“Nah I’m just in training, not the real deal yet”… I say pointing to my scrubs. “Mr. Brooks is
right though we really shouldn’t” I say whilst stepping one foot back through my window
“Oi, phoebe right? Did you just say we? Stay for a smoke…” his voice was softer now. I hesitated
straddling the window.
“Sorry no pressure, I’m out here every night, plenty of other smokes to be had.” he said looking
straight ahead. His profile was so elegant, his smooth sun kissed skin barely holding in his
jawline. Do not have a crush on the neighbour Phoebe. You don’t even smoke.
“ No I’d love to, just gonna grab a sweater.” what the fuck did I just say?
“ Sweet,” he says as smoke leaves his mouth. Where’s my Casually sexy sweater? Sht ShitShit.
Tearing open my top dresser; I see it on my chair of not dirty/ not clean clothes. Smack my
cheeks to have some colour and climb back out. The air is still warm.The orange sky hangs like a
brick framed photo between the 4 walls of the courtyard.
“Such a nice night.” I try to speak softly. The weather phoebe? That was your best opener.
“ Yeah you want a light?” he said, turning to face me for the first time.
“Yeah thanks.” I say taking the cigarette from his hand. Our fingers briefly touching in the
exchange. He holds out the lighter for me to grab.
“ Eh you can like this one” I say, sticking the cigarette between my lips and leaning forward for
him to light.
“ As you wish” what is this overconfidence Phoebe? I let out a massive cough. I think back to the
tabloid of my mother smoking a cigarette in her 20s outside that Brooklyn bar. I wonder if she
felt as sexy as she looked. Or if it was really just disgusting for her like it was for me.
“ Oi cough it out, better out than in I always say” he says smiling at me.

“”Oh fuck thats my mom… her and my sister call every night” I say breaking the silence that felt
like a life time.
“ Oh so that’s all the chatter I hear every night” he teases back with a playful smile. I feel my
cheeks flush.
“ Well I gotta go, but I hope to find you out here again.” I say so quietly I wonder if he can even
hear me.
“ You should be worried if I’m not here.” his voice says sarcastically. I don’t know if that
statement gives me the ick or makes him more sexy?
With that I climb back inside.

Inside the crowded pub I see Mike playing peekaboo with our little girl. He has his
construction headphones on her so she isn’t distressed from the noise. I could hear her little
laugh from miles away. I want to just stay here where they can’t see me and watch them like a fly
on the wall. How did I get this? I’m staring at a picture perfect family, but it’s stained with
sadness, there should be 4 of us. Every moment of joy only lasts moments before I remember
there should be 4 of us.
Not untilI I start to taste the salt greet the corners of my mouth do I realize I’m crying.
Mike catches my tearing eyes.
“ Look sweetie, mama’s here, go get her” I see him mouthing our little blonde ball of curls. She
looks my way with the biggest smile and Shrieks in excitement. She definitely has my lungs.

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