2019 Undergraduate Contest Winner

Shelley had far too little time to decide if Thanksgiving had an individual breed of carols. It was late morning, now bright enough to see the speckled places on the countertop she’d forgotten to clean last night. Jazz hummed from the speaker on the kitchen table. Shelley turned the volume dial up, but not loud enough to wake Rick—he often napped while she cooked—and then popped open a bottle of merlot. She had several other bottles for her guests, so this one would not be missed. The wine seared a warm path down Shelley’s throat. She rolled her shoulders, knotted the tie of her apron, and faced the cookbook. The clock on the far wall watched her like a wide eye. Diane and the kids were often early.

Turkey, cleaned, giblet-free, and stuffed with buttered apples, lemons, and a homemade aioli was slid into the oven. Shelley wondered when her family from Maine would arrive as she sipped more wine and began to cook green beans. Little Margaret liked them salted and browned. Jake preferred them plain and green. Shelley attempted both. As those simmered, she whisked the creamy contents of the sweet potato casserole, dashes of cinnamon tickling her nose. The next gulp of wine was accompanied by a small white pill to make Shelley’s headache vanish. She had not slept the night prior; there were too many centerpieces to be arranged, place cards to make, food to prep. Rick liked to eat right at five o’clock. Next, more vegetables were diced, seasoned, tossed in avocado oil—Rick was on a diet—and thrown in a skillet. Some missed and fell on the stovetop, drooling oil that would need to be wiped before anyone saw. Another long sip of wine. Some merlot spilled down her chin into the pan and let out an angry hiss. Shelley jumped. She had heard that hiss before. To regain balance in her new high heels Shelley gripped what she thought was the countertop. Her splayed fingers landed over the red rings of the burner. A cheer came from the other room. Rick was awake and watching football. With no time to fuss, Shelley bit down on her lip and stuck her hand in the freezer. She would fix her lipstick before guests arrived. Another white pill went down the hatch.

Shelley’s underarms were damp, which clashed with the floral perfume her mother had gifted her for her last birthday. The big Four-Oh. The hour hand on the clock was closer to five than Shelley would like. Tick-tock, it said. The loud din of the football game blared over Shelley’s jazz like it was a brass section playing in a different key. She should have begun earlier in the morning, but it took time and an artist’s precision to hide her dark circles, wrinkles, and clumsy bruises with makeup. The roasting turkey filled Shelley’s nose and made her stomach growl. She couldn’t touch the food. There needed to be enough, more than enough, room for leftovers. Lights flashed by the front window at increments, each passing car causing Shelley to have a hot flash and look at the clock. Don’t be early, don’t be early. Shelley checked on the pie fillings, which sat heavy in the fridge. Her head whirled from the exertion of shutting the door. Another glass of wine was poured as Shelley nibbled on a stub of celery from last night’s salad. She grabbed the gluten-free flour from the pantry — Dan was now allergic to wheat. Shelley looked at her hands and sighed. Her fingers were an angry red. It wasn’t sanitary. Shelley stumbled upstairs to find bandages. The thought of appetizers still in need of preparation nipped at her heels. Tick-tock. At the end of the hallway, the mirror showed a scarecrow, exhausted and dressed to the nines. Shelley averted her eyes and found the bandages in the bathroom cabinet, next to her pills.

Back behind the kitchen counter, the helm of her ship, Shelley gathered the pie crust ingredients next to a metal bowl. The cookbook was covered in flour; Shelley blew on it like an ancient relic and squinted at the measurements. They were hieroglyphics to her blurred vision. She reached for another pill but knocked the bottle over. She couldn’t seem to find the pie tins. Shelley’s pearl necklace was too tight, so she unhooked it and let it fall. The tiled floor looked soft as a carpet, so Shelley followed suit and slid to the ground. For a moment she worried about staining the satin skirt Rick had bought her. His angry eyes flashed in her mind before she let her eyelids droop. She would rest for just a moment. The doorbell rang.

“The door!” Rick called from the couch.


Maddy Mazzotta is a senior at Binghamton University, pursuing a BA in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. She is also working towards a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. When Maddy isn’t writing, she is singing in Binghamton University’s Opera Ensemble, the Harpur Jazz Ensemble, and in a funk band called Casual Friday. She loves to write short stories, and hopes to publish a collection one day!