Inspiration for the Big 5-0, a short story

Out of context, anything can be misconstrued or undervalued. Last year the Bethesda Magazine, once again had their annual short story contest for both fiction and non fiction. I’ve said I wanted to enter something through the years and it was a week to the deadline. O.K., I told myself, this is the year you are going to do this. Each year the contest is held and you can write on any theme but cannot exceed 4000 words. One of the major suggestions was to try and not make the story trite. You are saying, “duh”, right about now. Easier said than done.

Sometimes there’s a story dying to get out of me and down on paper. Other times an incident, a random event, or a prompt, helps me get started. After participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for several years and following up with a course at The Writer’s Center, I’ve tried to continue writing by practicing it in many forms. The short story was never a favorite. Setting limitations-was an invitation to break the rules. If I didn’t want to be disqualified, I push myself to do both.

Aging brings all sorts events and really changes your view of life. For some reason my upcoming colonoscopy loomed on the horizon. A friend had been diagnosed with colon cancer, so this event had more punch. I took the two ideas and looked at what life was like for a 50 year old divorced woman, and The Big 5-0 was born. Originally, the story was called, “A Colonoscopy Story” (recognize the take off on A Christmas Story?) My friend who suggested it and I, thought it was funny, but the editors didn’t get my humor.

I didn’t win that contest for the story that came in barely under 4000 words. My good friend Ronna was kind enough to edit (really well) that first version. Later after the contest results were out and my name didn’t make the short list, I shared the story with my editor. They liked it, but wanted th tale expanded. The version in front of you is the expanded story. It’s not earth shaking. It won’t change your world. It’s just a sweet little story with a bit of humor. I hope you enjoy reading it, because I enjoyed writing it.



“C” is for Coconut

(A Writer’s Digest #49 Prompt, Stranded on island with three items, coconut, mask and dictionary. How would you escape?)

I washed up on shore, the only thing that remained of my underwater gear was my face mask. The air tank had been separated from my back during the storm. I noticed a bulge in my pocket. I hoped it was something useful, but when I unzipped my wetsuit, I found only my bilingual waterproof dictionary. Then, I reached towards my thigh for my knife, but it was gone as well. I felt naked without it. “Ok, Navy Seal, let’s see how good the survival training is in practice.” I often talk to myself when stressed.
One minute, the government had me exploring an old sunken ship for undetonated explosives. The next moment, a freak storm ripped me from the depths and spit me up on the shore of this seemingly uninhabited island. Inside my head I heard the Navy speak survival list, “Check visual surroundings”. The sun beat down hard on me, but palm trees enticed me with their shade. My breath evened out and my heart slowed to a normal pace. Still prone on the sand, I examined the rest of my body, flexed my feet, and moved my wrists. Everything appeared to be in working order.
The ground moved a little, after being in the water so long, so I sat up slowly. I paused, breathed in and out, then decided removing my mask might help. I untangled my long hair from the straps of the mask, my one vanity. Out of habit, I attached my mask to my waist carabiner. I tried to get to my feet; being on solid ground felt odd. At my feet I noticed, a coconut, this was a good sign. Coconuts could nourish me. My mind continued down the survival list, and cataloged the natural resources, shade, shelter, nutrients. I needed a plan.
Finally, shuffling slowly, I reached the trees, and I then collapsed on the ground. Exhausted, thirsty, and hungry, I stared at the coconuts scattered around. How would I split one open without my knife? There were no rocks in sight, just shards of splintered coconuts. I needed to sharpen something to get to the milk and meat. If I could create a sharp point from the husks, this could help me open the coconuts and make fire, two integral pieces to my survival. I spent the rest of the afternoon honing two shards of shell to create my weapon of choice. I finally cracked one of the coconuts open. I lost much of the milk, but slurped up the remainder and, famished, bit into the meat. After some practice, I opened several other coconuts. Satiated, I fell into a fatigued sleep.
The early sun woke me with rays playing on my eye lids. I worked on the tough skins of the coconuts to make my morning meal. Think, damn it, do something so the search team can find you. The glass on the mask might refract light, but what to burn? If I collected old dried husks, I could build a bonfire. The smoke could be seen from a distance. I spent the day collecting shards and piling them on a high point of the shoreline. I still wasn’t sure where I was, but I knew my buddies wouldn’t stop looking for me. Next I worked on making fire. For a laugh, I used my dictionary. It defined fire, but not how to start one. My basic training was more useful. First, I worked with the glass on the mask leveraging the sunshine. As the sun went down, I twirled two shards to try to get a spark. My hands were raw, but I kept at it. Exhausted, without any success to show for my efforts, I fell asleep.
On day three, after eating, I focused on fire. It was close to dusk when I got a spark. The husks burned fast and lit the night sky. The larger the fire, the greater chance I had of being found. Tired from the effort of building and feeding the fire, I started to doze. Before I lost consciousness, something caught my attention. A mechanized sound, distant, but coming closer. I stood up and waved my arms, never thinking that they couldn’t see me. Hope filled my heart. Would they be able to see the fire? YES! A helicopter flew past, hovered over me, and then moved further down the beach to start its descent. I sank into a heap. My ordeal was over.