She died fifteen years ago. It happened during childbirth. Sadly, she died in pain. I wish they could have done something to numb the pain, even if my beautiful girl came out of it.
Roxana is my pride and joy, my entire life aside from my job at the auto-shop. She always has been. Roxana has always been my stubborn, reckless, optimistic pride and joy.
Speaking of Roxana, I should probably wake her up for school soon. What time is it?
Six a.m. Yeah, it’s probably time to wake Roxana.
I set the leather wallet in my hand on the comforter, the flap closing over the image of a beautiful young woman, the woman I love.
Across the hall is Roxana’s room. As usual, when I step inside, the floor is covered in various things- clothing, shoes, papers, books, and sports equipment…. Somehow I manage to maneuver my way through to the bed pressed into the corner. I shake her awake gently, as I do everyday. She’s always been a light sleeper, which is kind of problematic, due to my insomnia.
Roxana is instantly awake. She sits up, ready for action, which makes me smile a little when her chocolate eyes land on my own blue.
“Time for school, Roxy,” I state, ruffling her hair even though she hates when I do that. Her short dark hair- and I mean short, like a boy’s cut- sticks up in various places.
“Do I have to go?” she whines, dropping to lay down again.
I smile, making my way over my daughter’s mess of a floor. “Yes, now get up. And you need to clean this room.”
Roxana groans in the way adolescents always do, lobbing her pillow at my head as she does every morning.
Every morning, the same thing happens. I wake her easily, tell her to clean her room so that she throws her pillow at me, then she gets up, showers, dresses, and gathers her school materials. I make our breakfast and eat while she showers. She eats while I get dressed for work in my stained clothing, and then I drive her to school in my old Grand Am.
In the line to drop her off, I play her favorite radio station in the car. She sings along, tapping her fingers, with the voice of an angel. When I reach to change the station, she slaps my hand out of the way. I laugh. We reach the front of the school and I watch her gather her things and climb out of the car. She leans over and kisses my cheek- just like every morning- and I ruffle her hair. She huffs at me and punches my ribs jokingly.
“Love you, Roxy. Have a good day.”
“Whatever,” she quips, ruffling my hair in response before opening the door and leaving the car.
“Make some friends!” I shout after her.
Just like every other morning, the crossing guard and the teachers on duty that day watch me warily as I drive away. I simply smile and nod at them.
<span 1.6em;"="">Every morning holds a routine.
Every afternoon is different.
I always pick her up from school, but everything afterward is different.
I don’t like it.
For some reason, the day was bad. I rarely have a bad day at work, but today I messed up some family’s car and screwed up a paint job.
When I pick up Roxana, she immediately states that she has a question.
“What is it?” I ask, a little scared of what she has to say.
“What was Mom like?”
And there it is- the dreaded question. I sigh, hands tightening around the steering wheel. Silence hangs between us like a moon for a moment before I start to speak.
I tell Roxana about her mother. I tell her about how beautiful her mother was, with her short brown hair, wide brown eyes, slim form, and tomboyish attitude and clothing style. I tell her about how she’s almost exactly like her mother, in many ways, such as her looks, her sportiness, and more. Roxana continued to ask questions, too. “What was she like? How did you meet? How did you two react when you found out that you were going to have me?” I respond to her every question with a truthful answer, and the questions stop rolling out when we reach our house. I even tell her about how she’s named after her mother.
Neither of us gets out of the car, though. We sit in the vehicle, staring down at our laps or out at the garage door.
“I want to see her,” Roxana whispers, breaking the silence. “I want to see her.”
“I want to. You’ve been shielding me from it this whole time and I don’t know why. I just want to know why. I want to see her.” Roxana’s voice is quiet, but holds more emotion than I’ve ever heard in it. That’s what seals the deal.
With another sigh, I flip the engine and leave the driveway.
In ten minutes, we’re across town at the cemetery. We both walk slowly, Roxana’s hand light as a feather on my arm. Her touch is so light that I can barely feel it. As we walk, we let the silence stick between us. It’s not necessarily a comfortable silence, but it’s something we don’t know how to fix. I don’t know what to say, and I have a feeling that Roxana doesn’t either.
Seconds later, we’re standing in front of a headstone. It’s one that I’ve seen thousands of times and one that always makes me start to cry. Tears well up in my eyes as I read the words engraved into the slab of stone.
Roxana Miller, 1971-2000.
Roxana, my Roxana, the one that’s alive, squeezes my hand before stepping forward. She does again, and I try to tug her back. If she takes another step she’ll trip over the headstone.
Her hand goes straight through mine.
I freeze. What just happened? I don’t understand. That shouldn’t have happened. Roxana’s hand shouldn’t have done that. She was real.
“No, I’m not.” Roxana says the words as she turns toward me. She’s standing right in front of the headstone. “I’m not real.”
“What?” I ask, eyes moving up her form. “You’re real. You’re standing right in front of me.”
“Sure. Yeah, I’m standing in front of you, James, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’m not real. I’m in your imagination.”
“But you’re enrolled in school! You’ve got friends. I- I drop you off at school every day. I don’t-“
“I’m not real, James. You know this.”
“Roxana, stop this-“
“You need to move on. It’s been fifteen years. Over fifteen years. You’ve forced me to grow up, when I’m really beneath your feet right now. I’m in my mother’s arms, James, and I want to be there. I don’t want to be in this town.”
“Roxana, stop interrupting me.”
“Move on, Dad.”
“No. You’re real. You’re my last connection to her.”
“Think about it, James. I’m not real. I’ve been raised too perfectly. I’m exactly like her. I’m named after her.”
“No.” I can’t believe her. If I believe her, I’ve lost everything. I don’t want to lose everything.
“Remember all of those odd looks you got from people around us? Remember how I’m always conveniently gone when your parents come over? How can I be real, James? No one aside from you has ever seen me. I don’t bring home report cards. I don’t have friends over. I am not real.
“I died when she died.” Roxana gestures to the headstone beside her. “I’ve been dead since the moment I didn’t take my first breath.”
Tears were spilling over now. They trail down my cheeks, warm and somehow painful.
“James, you need to move on.”
A sob breaks out of my mouth and resonates in my chest. “I can’t. I can’t lose everything again. Don’t take it away from me.”
My vision is blurry, but I can see that she’s only a faint outline of a person now. Something primal rips out of my throat. I scream at her, trying to bring her back to me. She’s mine! She’s my pride and joy. She’s my Roxana! She’s mine! They’re both mine! They’re both mine and…
Now they’re both gone.
They both died fifteen years ago during childbirth.
Now the headstone reads: Roxana Miller and daughter, 1971-2000, 2000-2000.
Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1
Attention to mechanics
- You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
- Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
- Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
- Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
- Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
- Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
- Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
- The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
- The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
- The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
- I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice. Impressive.
Atmosphere and description
- Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
- The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
- Your great opening was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!