The Local Writers committee is pleased to announce Celeste Seay has won Johnson County Library’s #IHeartU short story contest with her entry A Good Fit. Seay’s story was chosen for its response to the theme of love and the quality of description. Of her writing she says:
I grew up among five siblings in a military family. Always the new kid, I retreated into books to find a way to belong. I learned to read when I was four, and the stories I read in books sparked stories in my head, so telling myself stories became the way I was comforted in the world. Writing down my perceptions is still the way I figure out what my thoughts are and how I belong.
We hope you agree that A Good Fit is a good fit for our contest winner. Enjoy!
A Good Fit
There were things about love which no one could understand. Least of all Liesl. She was determined that this time, she would not succumb.
But we all knew what that meant.
They hadn’t met in the usual way, not the way she met people, anyway. Liesl met people at parties. And she didn’t go to many parties. Uncomfortable, she felt like a tall unkempt weed in a perfectly groomed flowerbed.
So she hadn’t met Marcus at a party. It was at a park.
She went to the park late one night when she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop the freight train of her thoughts. This night that other man—whom she had met at a party—had drunk-dialed her, rambling about a woman he met, shoving her out of his life.
She sat on a swing, kicking angrily at the mulch under her feet. We didn’t know she did this. But there were a lot of things about Liesl we didn’t know.
We didn’t know about this particular night, when she sank into that swing, the weight of her aimless life squeezing her into the flexible plastic. Love-scorned, fingers pinched by the tension in the chains that held the swing.
We didn’t know about Marcus. But she didn’t, either.
She sat there for a long time, kicking. And twisting, so that her fingers would be pinched more. So that she would feel something she could put a name to. And shook her head, violently, her dark braid flung back and forth and caught in the chain, too, and it pulled her hair. She cried out.
And then she stopped swinging and kicking, and sat there sobbing, at her life, at her braid, at her fingers, at the night. Then another sound, unexpected. She froze. She froze because a voice called softly from the gloom, “Are you all right?”
She peered at the shadowy contours but couldn’t see a person. Slide, jungle gym, the vertical climbers, but no person. Her eyes narrowed, squinting at the looming shapes.
“I didn’t mean to pry.” Five words. And then, nothing. After a while, Liesl began to swing again. She didn’t scuff her feet exactly, but walked her toes up and down the furrow under the swing, quiet.
The next night she went again to the swings, and waited. “Are you there?” she said into the murk.
“Yeah, here,” he said. And they eased into silence.
The next night, there was a flower on her swing, a late season dandelion. She twirled it in her fingers before she sat. That night they didn’t speak at all.
The next night it rained hard, so Liesl didn’t go to the park. She sat on the orange-flowered chintz cushion of her windowseat and stared out at the grey drops that splattered onto the glass. When it was too late to even fix supper, she left a cheek-shaped smudge on the pane and went to lie on top of her bedspread. Eleven words, total. That was all she knew of him.
It rained the next night, too. She prowled her apartment like an agitated animal. Two nights. Two was not good. We knew how she felt about numbers.
She told us often. Numbers each had a color, she said, and some had more than one, simultaneously. And some number-color pairs were not good. Two: sometimes blue, sometimes red, never purple, was not good. Whenever we lunched alone with her, she had the waitress set a third place so we would have a good number-color.
The third night, it still rained, but the clouds, having already belched up the bulk of their fury, only wept a soft-falling rain. She made a thermos of tea and lifted her good mug from its hook and slipped both under her slicker, cradling them with one arm. At the park, she balanced the mug on the see-saw and filled it, and went to her swing. She had just poured tea into the cup-lid and set down the thermos when he spoke.
She almost laughed. “No,” she said, and she raised her cup. She could see steam wafting up into the thick mist. And then she saw her mug raised, her favorite one, and the white hand that gripped the handle, and the steam circling up.
Later, when she told him that it was seeing his hand holding her mug, and the steam rising like a spirit that mingled somewhere with her own steam, when she told Marcus it was right then that she knew, he said he had already known. He would not say when. She didn’t press. How, though, she asked. How?
“Fit,” Marcus said. She thought: Three letters. Three was good. Yellow. Yellow only, like a brilliant sunflower. Like a lemon, rind fragrant, its juice biting her mouth.
He explained. Fit was how they melded together. It was enough; she understood. It was the way she always stood on the side of his bad leg, so he didn’t have to worry about losing his balance. Fit was the way he made her tea when she sat on the windowseat, lost, and stared out. Fit was how they became easy in themselves around each other and got so used to it they were easy around us, too. We went to their place to eat, and the table now set for only the number of diners.
One night they were in the kitchen, getting dessert. She’d made pavlovas, pale and round and light as air, and he made the raspberry sauce, tart and sweet, a brilliant magenta. We could see them, their backs to us, and then their profiles. We were embarrassed, but there it was.
“I fit you,” Liesl said to Marcus, making a heart with her thumbs and forefingers, and placing it on his head like a crown.
“I fit you,” Marcus said to Liesl, making the same gesture, and placing his heart at her throat.
Our eyes stung and we looked away.