THE AJ HAYES MEMORIAL WRITING CONTEST
Holly West, Eric Beetner, and I put out the call and read through many, many submissions.
The winners were announced at the recent Noir at the Bar in LA. Read more (with pics!) here.
We had, as I mentioned, dozens and dozens of submissions, thanks in large part to the love and admiration folks had for AJ Hayes and for the generous donations people made for the prize money.
Today and tomorrow, we're running the three winners of the contest so that you can enjoy their fantastic prose.
Thanks again to all who donated, submitted, and otherwise supported this nod to AJ Hayes.
1st place $100, 2nd place $50, 3rd place $25.
1st Place: Angel Luis Colon SHOTGUN WEDDING
2nd Place: Ray Nessly THE BALLAD OF BILLY HAYES
3rd Place: Jen Conley THE REPAIRMAN
by Jen Conley
On a November afternoon, when Erin Lewis was on maternity leave, a repairman arrived on her doorstep holding a large gray tool bag. She was expecting him because her husband had arranged for the dishwasher to be fixed. His dirty white truck sat in her driveway under a heavy gray sky.
“I’m a little late,” the repairman explained and although the voice was perfectly normal, something about it nagged at her.
“It’s fine,” she said and stood back to let him in.
“Just in there?” he asked, nodding towards the kitchen down the hall. When he passed by, his scent made Erin shudder. She couldn’t place it, but somewhere deep inside a dark bell went off.
In the kitchen, the repairman placed his bag on the floor next to the dishwasher. She asked if her husband had described the trouble.
“Yep.” He swung around and underneath the roughened skin, the graying beard and balding head, underneath the girth of his large body, she suddenly saw who he really was: Bill Vinson. She was thirty-eight years old, lucky to have gone through therapy and lucky to have pulled her wrecked mind together and lucky to have met Kevin on a train to New York and set up this life: a nice marriage, a decent colonial house to live in, and a healthy two-month-old daughter. I was worried about you but you did good, her mother said often.
Now this man, Bill Vinson, stood in her kitchen with his tool bag and his repairman’s clothes, smelling slightly of stale alcohol. He must drink at night before bed, Erin thought.
“Cooking dinner?” he asked, eyeing the raw chicken next to the cutting board. An onion and two carrots lay next to it.
“Yes,” she said.
“Well don’t let me get in your way. Just tell me to move. I’m easy as a summer breeze.”
He turned and bent down in front of the dishwasher. She had a sudden urge to kick him.
But then, from the sound of the baby monitor, Erin heard her sleeping daughter move.
“Let’s see…” he said.
Erin walked to the far counter and withdrew the long knife from the holder. The knives were new and sharp. She returned to the cutting board and began to chop the carrots which had been peeled earlier. She went down hard, making little dents in the wooden board. Her daughter moved again but Erin continued cutting.
“This is an easy fix,” the man muttered.
Erin picked up the onion, hacked off the sides, and ripped off the outer layer. Within seconds, she was chopping it to pieces.
“Now don’t cry,” she heard him say.
She stopped cutting. He was standing behind her.
“Onions,” he said.
Her bones rattled.
“I gotta get something in the truck.”
Erin said nothing.
When he was gone, she looked up and stared through the kitchen window. The backyard trees rocked in a gentle wind. The memory returned: she was fourteen, locked in a room with Bill Vinson, a twenty-year-old, still hanging out at high school parties. She’d told her mother that she had gone to her friend Jamie’s house and Jamie had told her parents they were going to the movies. There was liquor and Bill was cute and he was talking to her about the band Molly Hatchet and soon they were in a room, her shirt undone. Then it went bad. She was too small to fight it off. She cried and asked him to stop but her head was spinning from the booze. To make things even more horrid, when he was done, someone popped out of the closet and snapped pictures of her on the bed. She never did figure out who took the photos for the room was dark and the flash popped three times, brightening the walls for each wretched moment, Bill and the mystery guy snickering. They left her there in tears. She managed to get out and get home, her mother finding out days later when Erin confessed she was worried about pregnancy. It turned out she was lucky.
Now Bill was whistling. Erin lifted the plate with the raw chicken and slid it onto the wooden board. She began slashing through the meat, piece after piece. Her daughter moved again and let out a brief whimper. Erin looked at Bill, crouched like a gopher, fiddling with the dishwasher. She returned her focus to the chicken and began to hack at the meat. Years of pain. Embarrassment. Kids had found out, had seen the photos, and she’d been teased and labeled a whore. “It’s nothing new,” her mother had said sadly when Erin cried to her. “It has always happened to young women.” Life had been thrown off, as if she were kicked off the paved road, thrown to the side. She suffered.
Now she could slice his throat. Stand behind him and take her knife and cut straight through. Blood would spurt against the open dishwasher, gush to the tiled floor. His body would droop, slip down, die.
How she had been shamed and had lived with it. He deserved this death, she thought, standing behind him, the knife in her hand. He deserved it.
Bill scratched the back of his head. Muttered to himself.
She stepped closer. How she had wished for this moment. How she had sat with her tears, her fury, all those years ago. I want him dead. Dead.
She moved closer. The hair thin on his skull.
Her daughter moved.
Erin licked her lips, gripped the knife’s handle.
There was a little murmur from the monitor, a little cry.
Then Bill Vinson slowly turned his head and saw Erin holding the knife. His big body fell back against the counter and he sat cornered, his hands up. “Whoa, whatever I did…”
His eyes flickered and she knew he recognized her.
And that was good enough.
She put the knife down.
Her daughter’s wail bellowed through the monitor.
Jen Conley's stories have appeared in Thuglit, Needle, Beat to a Pulp, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Grand Central Noir, Big Pulp, Literary Orphans, All Due Respect, Protectors, Plots With Guns, Yellow Mama, All Due Respect and others. An editor at Shotgun Honey, she’s been nominated for a Best of the Web Spinetingler Award and shortlisted for Best American Mystery Stories 2012. She lives with her son in Brick, New Jersey. Follow her on twitter @jenconley45