3rd Place: Linnea Dayton
Solana Beach, California
Linnea Dayton has authored or edited numerous articles and books, many of them how-to books for graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators who use the computer in their work. Having retired from this 20-plus-year endeavor in 2010, she has now loosened the reins on her imagination and is writing other kinds of nonfiction and several kinds of fiction. Her short story “3BR, 2BA House on Ridgeview” was a finalist in a Glimmer Train Family Matters competition. Projects in the works include other short fiction, a novella, four children’s picture books/e-books, and a natural history book with a twist. She lives in the perfect place, a small coastal city somewhere in Southern California.
The scream arrived on the balcony of the house on the corner after.
After three-year-old William Logan, his arms rubbery from trying, gave up struggling for the surface and breathed in water for the first time—that part was nearly silent, no one heard.
After the drowning had completed itself. After the grandparents, missing William suddenly, found him lifeless in their backyard pool. After the grandfather, hardly comprehending in his panic, had pulled Will’s toddler body from the water, sealed his own trembling lips around the chill and cyanotic mouth and nose, and breathed, forcing puffs of air. After the grandmother, frantic, phoned the fire department, less than half a mile away, and carried the unspeakable news, the heaviest burden of her life, next door to William’s father, her own son.
After the paramedics had tried and failed to bring William back. After the captain had finally looked William’s father in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry . . .” as he gently wrapped a blanket round the boy.
And just after William’s mother pulled her car into the driveway of the corner house, home from grocery shopping, saw the ambulance and ran, with growing dread, to see why people gathered at one corner of the pool at her in-laws’ house next door.
Before it became sound, the scream manifested itself as frenzy, as fight and desperate flight together, the mother wrenching free of her husband’s arms and fleeing up the wooden outdoor staircase of her own house and onto the balcony. And at the top of the stairs the scream, finally, emerged—a roaring, rending, three-second monotonic wail, followed by a one-second pause. Three seconds on, one second off, over and over and over. It sounded like—it sounded exactly like—a mother whose tiny boy had been ripped forever from her life, a woman whose life had never interrupted her to say, “Prepare yourself for this,” so she was unprepared.
Her pain was bottomless and raw, the scream continued, the neighbors heard it but she didn’t, she was somewhere else.
When the awful sound subsided, when the sedative took hold, the scream did what screams do under such circumstances—it went inside her and waited quietly, in a dark corner. Later, exhausted, begging God, she relived it, this time with harmonics—why wasn’t I here? How could they have let this happen? How can this be? How will I live?
She did live. She lived right through the service and the burial. She survived her own guilt and somehow made peace with the guilt of the others.
The scream inside subsided, divided, bits of it taking up residence in the hearts and minds of neighbors who had heard it, who were more than willing to carry parts of it, if that would help, as they had carried casseroles and flowers.
The pool was filled with concrete. William’s parents and their new child moved away in time, and so did William’s grandparents, of course. Now, years later, the scream has mostly left the neighborhood, coalesced again no doubt and moved on, somewhere else.