H.O.W. Contest Winners, Fiction edition: first place

HOW is proud to present the winners of our 2011 fiction contest. All winners’ work will appear in Issue #9 of HOW.

The fiction contest was judged by award winning author Mary Gaitskill.  For our first place prize, she chose the story “The Repository Emporium” by Gloria Beth Amodeo.

THE REPOSITORY EMPORIUM


PROPS

The Repository Emporium sold cedar blocks, too. They were available individually on an end-cap in the closet section, with lavender sachets and little balls that absorbed moisture. After her training was complete, Daisy often turned the cameras on them. People liked to slip them in their pockets.

“Every item matters!” Ivan insisted during training, when Daisy was a newbie and going through the month long “Principles Program”. It took her that first month to retain one-fourth of the information, watching Ivan’s eyes tear up behind his glasses as he spoke of the “register pod area” and the “suction cup attachment guide”. He taught her about the grippy glass jars in Kitchen and the expandable file folders in Office and the bamboo clothes folding carts in Laundry, all the things that held things, but weren’t the actual things. Daisy noticed the display items. A red dress, hanging in a display window garment bag. A mountain bike, resting on the claws of a bike hanger across from the eco-friendly trash cans.

“Do people ever steal those?” she joked.

Ivan’s head twitched towards her, his eyes drying as he looked from her face to her feet, then back to her face. “You’ve been hired to catch the most powerful thief in retail history,” he said. “Keep this in mind: There’s nothing funny about stealing the props.”

CARLA

Daisy followed me to the one-dollar pizza stand on our first day of training. Ivan told us to take an hour break and she watched me with this white face. Her eyes shook, like water when something’s swimming in it. I felt like I should give her a bottle or else she would cry. She was so skinny. She had no ass, like maybe when she sat down her bones scraped against the chair. I tore my nametag off and stuffed it in my pocket. The bank never gave me a nametag that fancy. The retail job I took because I was out of work was acting better than the real job that fired me. Daisy’s face was in the corner of my eye. You know when you’re being watched. I left with a dollar in my hand.

She came to my bench with a piece of pepperoni and sat down, like the sidewalk was kindergarten and teachers told us where to sit. “Sucks being here for eight hours,” she said. “This place is intense.”

I took a bite of pizza. “Why, you got something better to do?” I said, my mouth full of hotness.

“No. I guess.”

“You never got something better to do than work, girl. City‘s expensive. Everyone wants to live here. Complainers never prosper.”

“I’ve only been here a month,” she said. “I don’t really know what’s going on yet.”

“Well, wake up. You’re gonna be behind the cameras, right? You’ve got some big thief on your hands?”

Ivan spent an hour at training on the guy. He had been stealing from the store for two years, and his theft alone was the reason for 40% of our shrink. He wore the same thing every time. This faded pair of jeans and a giant orange t-shirt, no shoes, bare feet even in the winter. Still, no one caught him. The cameras had hours of videos. Ivan had the police sitting downstairs in Daisy’s soon-to-be chair for six months, but nothing worked.

“You gotta step up,” I said. She was so sad looking, and she had such big responsibility.

“Just know that you can’t complain here.”

“Okay. I know.”

She sat next to me that whole hour and ate. When she wasn’t eating, she didn’t say anything. Maybe she was waiting for the cars to stop moving. Maybe she was waiting for the pigeons to talk.

*

I was a salesperson and scanned things at the register, but because Daisy was the new big bad thief catcher, Ivan got her good. I saw her walking around with him for a couple of weeks. She listened, and then she brought a notepad. He made her stay longer than anyone, and he gave her homework.

It was nasty, working anyone to the bone like that. I tried to ask this chick Gina about it. She was at the returns desk, wearing a jean skirt with a polo and Crocs. Banging away at this drawer unit thing with a rubber mallet. Like an elf.

“All employees must be as dedicated to the business as possible!” she said, banging and looking at me. “And if you work your way up in the company, you’ll be just as lucky to receive such thorough training!”

Scary crap, this girl was. But the more I tried talking to people, those were the answers I kept getting.

“Oh, what a pleasure! To spend so much time with Ivan as a new hire!”

“She must be a real treasure for Ivan to have so much faith in her!”

“Isn’t it precious, seeing someone so passionate about our products? Passionate enough to make sure they’re always paid for!”

Every person made me feel like I just walked into another world, some place where people smile all the time and maybe kill you if you don’t smile with them. I got scared, wondered if all the elves were telling each other through their Repository elf grapevine that I was trying to talk smack. I thought about what else I could do if I got fired from this, too. Nothing that wanted a forty-year old woman with no college degree, that I knew forever.

But when I walked out that day, Daisy popped in my head.

“Why are you even here?” I had asked, when she was getting in my space.

Her answer: “To start my life, I guess.”

And maybe it was because I wanted to feed her a bottle at first, I don’t know, but I saw where her life was starting, and I got scared for her. Just as scared for her as I was for me.

IVAN

Daisy was perfect for this position, for the following three reasons:

(1)   She didn’t talk much during her interview. Tad says that people who talk a lot never catch thieves, because thieves are quiet, and to catch a thief, you must be on his wave length of sound. You must be sensitive to his movement, aware of his nuances, you’ve got to feel it in your gut when he picks up a product. Daisy was all of these things. She flinched when I picked up my pen.

(2)   She used to work at a nursing home. Tad says that some of the most unassuming elderly people are thieves. I can’t tell you how many times I go through camera footage at the end of the day and see old women putting pill bottles in their plastic grocery shopping bags, or old men hiding stain removal pens in their fifty-four pocket carry-on suitcases.

(3)   She’s got freckles. I like that. They’re brown, like the wicker hampers in laundry. If she ever needs to put on brown makeup and camouflage herself inside one, it will be easier than if I hired a person without any freckles.

I offered twenty an hour and a guaranteed forty hours-a-week, and she said that she only wanted part-time. She needed the remaining time to ponder her future.

“With all do respect, I just don’t think I have what it takes to really catch this guy,” she said. “And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life watching people steal boxes and bins.”

“People steal the label makers too,” I said. “And the shredding scissors.”

“I’m sure they do. I just don’t know if I’m interested enough in this type of thing to work at it full-time.”

To be honest, I would have normally revoked my generous offer on the spot, with Daisy’s obvious lack of passion towards the business. But there was something about Daisy, a gas leak inside of her that just needed a flame brought to it. And I had needs to fulfill, if the business was going to survive. Needs that Daisy could satiate with her lack of direct experience. The directionless. I needed someone who didn’t know where to go.

“Do you know how many Repository Emporiums there are in this city?”

“I think I’ve seen about six…”

“Seven,” I said, standing. “There are seven in this city. And do you know which store makes the most money?”

“No.”

“This one. This store makes the most money.”

I made my way to the picture frames, stopping to observe their sweet faces. The husband and wife team who had built the corporation from the dust of the earth, both of whom I had met many times at various Repository Gatherings. How I had bathed in their insight.

“Do you know who these people are?” I asked.

“No.”

“This is Father Repository, Mr. Tad Winston. And his wife, Mother Repository, Mrs. Winnie Winston.” Tad’s hair, grey and parted slick down the middle, framed his face with nobility, and the pearls around Winnie’s neck matched the white of her teeth, her bouffant reminiscent of Jackie O.

“They work at the Mother Ship, in Oregon.”

“The what?”

“The Mother Ship. That’s what we call headquarters, where all the corporation leaders go for training and other necessities. Fifteen years ago, I met Tad across the street at a coffee shop. He approached me, saying that he could feel my goodness burning from across the room, and he spoke of building a store in this space. And I did it, Daisy. I worked with Tad at the Mother Ship for a year and learned everything from him that a person could possibly learn, and I built this place, toiling over every nook and cranny with the blood of my veins and the sweat of my brow. To work at The Repository Emporium, to even be considered for a job here, is an honor. An honor, Daisy.”

“Sit, it’s not that I’m not honored…”

“No, Daisy. Before accepting a position here, you must understand what this store is about. It’s about passion.”

“Yes.”

“Passion, not only for the selling of boxes and bins. Passion for the future. If this business does well, you will do well. At the end of the day, this company would be doing you a service.”

I pulled my papers together and walked towards the door. “Oh, and by the way,” I said, stopping at the handle. “BA’s in English these days are practically useless. Trust me. I went for one myself.”

I left and took a seat in the break room, and she didn’t walk out my office door for another fifteen minutes.

PASTA

Daisy arrived before opening one morning and took her place behind the cameras. She turned the three rows of three screens on, pressing arrows on a keyboard. The screen in the center, like a nucleus in a cube, adjusted towards the front of the store.

She had been there for three months and hadn’t caught one thief. She wondered when Ivan was going to realize that she had zero intuition and fire her, but he just kept walking into the Loss Prevention Office and giving her “tips” to “help her along”, such as, “Watch out for tin foil. People might try to trip up the metal detectors with it.” And, “When young men with hats walk in with middle-aged women in wind suits, they’re usually drug addicts, and they probably want to steal our half-inch boxes in Gift Packaging.”

The bare-footed thief was showing up in spasms, stealing keychains and hooks before Daisy could see him on the screens, before she realized that a man without shoes had walked into the store. She favored the front door screen from her first day on the cameras, her gaze wavering for seconds at a time, but she never saw him enter. It appeared to her, after rewinding an entire day’s footage, that all he ever did was walk out.

She couldn’t forget the poster of faces next to Ivan’s office, The Repository Emporium Family Tree. Ivan went through each person during her training, to give her a sense of who she’d be disappointing if the job wasn’t done right. Tad and Winnie Winston smiled in separate portraits at the top (“Like Adam and Eve,” Ivan had commented), and from the fruit of their professional loins, the rest of the corporation leaders followed. It was a chain of command, a list of credits. But at the very bottom, Daisy saw a name without a picture.

“Billy Winston, Department of Use,” she read aloud, pointing to a silhouette. “Where’s his picture?”

“Oh, that’s just Tad and Winnie’s son,” Ivan said. “He’s never really liked cameras.”

*

At 1:33PM, Daisy’s stomach yelled. She reached into the bag next to her chair and pulled out a plastic fork and a tupperware bowl of pasta. There was a microwave in the adjacent room. She looked to the upper left corner camera, saw Ivan in the Office Section and stood up to run.

When she returned, Ivan was sitting in her chair. She stopped short and fumbled, almost dropping her pasta.

“We need to rewind the cameras,” he said, fingers clasped over his belt buckle, sitting back and swinging the chair to and fro. “The bike has been stolen off the bike rack.”

CARLA

I was on the sales floor when the bike was stolen, getting all these questions about shoe boxes and filing cabinets. I walked into the hook section because no customers were by the hooks and I just wanted everyone to go away. I saw the bike. It had a bunch of red tape on the front wheel, and it made a shape that looked like this:

I had to pull the ten sides off one at a time, they weren’t sticking together. It looked like red tape from the registers. I figured some of the other workers were being stupid and making their gang symbol or something, so I took it off and walked away.

When I walked over again, maybe only fifteen minutes later, the bike was gone.

I told Ivan, and then I kept my mouth shut. I just wanted to live in peace. So I listened to customers’ stupid questions and told them where to go for stuff until Ivan called me on the radio.

“Please meet Daisy and I downstairs in the Loss Prevention Office. You are excused from the floor.”

I went down and Ivan was in Daisy’s chair. His hands were on his stomach like he had just eaten dinner or something, all fat and happy. Daisy stood behind him, the white parts of her fingernails in her mouth.

“Miraculously, we have a video image of the event,” Ivan said. “The first where we can see his face.”

*

Ivan called all the workers who weren’t working from his office phone. I sat at the table on my break and heard him talking. Sometimes whispering.

He was calling everyone in for a meeting. 6AM the next day. Mandatory.

Waking up that early the next morning made me want to throw up. I was there at 5:55. Everyone got there before me. The break room downstairs was empty. Music pumped against the ceiling, fast drum and flute noises.

I went up. Everyone stood in front of their chair, looking at Ivan. He was behind a huge podium, two speakers on the sides of him. His head was down, like he was praying or something. Daisy sat in a chair next to one of the speakers. She had a computer on her lap that was hooked up with all these wires.

The music stopped and Ivan looked up. “You may be seated,” he said. I hadn’t found a chair yet so I looked like an idiot, standing there when everyone else sat down at the same time. I turned around in a circle all crazy and then saw a chair folded by the tupperware, so I ran to that and put it behind everyone. Ivan didn’t start talking until I was sitting down.

“At last!” he said. “We know the face of our enemy!” People side-hugged each other. They kept their eyes on Ivan but some were shaking hands. A lady in from of me cried, I could hear her nose sniffling.

The screen in back of Ivan lit up with past videos. Sometimes, the thief hid his face with boxes, carried different ones on both shoulders. Other times, he used his hands. But most times, his face was blurry in the camera, like someone had messed with the video. Protecting him.

A map from the store popped up on the screen. Daisy was typing fast at the computer. Ivan pointed out every department that the thief had stolen from. A dot showed after he pointed to the place. And then, all these lines started connecting the dots.

“He’s made a shape,” Ivan said. And there it was, all the lines, looking like a gang symbol, something with wings.

I remembered seeing it on the bike. I kept my mouth shut.

And then, they showed the video.

The thief wanted to be seen, he kept staring at the camera. He stacked boxes into stairs and walked up to the bike. Once he got to the top, he smiled. He wheeled the bike right out of the store.

Ivan closed in on his face and told us to study. Everyone took pens and notepads out of their pockets but of course I hadn’t thought to bring anything.

These were the facts I still remember. He was kind of handsome. Skin tone: olive. Eye color: brown. Eye shape: almond. Eye brows: thick and connected in the middle. Hair color: dark brown. Hair style: shoulder length and straight. Silky, shiny. I wanted his hair.

I walked up to Daisy afterwards. She was by a box of donuts on the table in the break room, just looking at them. I hadn’t talked to her much since that first day on the curb.

“You gonna take one?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Go ahead, your pick.”

We were quiet, because I didn’t know what to say. She talked before I could figure it out.

“I’m useless,” she said. “Like a lamp that doesn’t work. BA’s in English these days, they’re useless.”

And I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t know about BA’s, didn’t know what made them work.

“This is practical,” she said. “All of this is practical.”

She laughed, and her eyes got all wide, like she had just breathed in some sort of drug. My eyes shut for a second, and when they opened again, I thought I saw Ivan.

IVAN

 A day after the bike was stolen, Daisy walked into my office.

“We need to finger print the bike rack,” she said. “I want to know everything there is to know about this guy.”

I explained that the authorities had used all the latest technology to catch him, but she thought I was withholding information from her. I wanted to take one of her hands in mine. I wanted the stroking of hands to be appropriate in the workplace. I resisted.

She stood up, walked behind my desk and took my right hand, clasping it between her palms as if she were awaiting communion. “I need you to trust me now,” she said, her eyes green like a potion she had just sipped from. “I need you to know that I’m going to catch this guy.”

I realized that a flame had been brought to that gas leak. Daisy was ignited. Emitting light, her only use.

*

When Tad began managing The Repository Emporium, he discovered that the mere sound of his voice implanted a wordless wisdom into his dedicated employees, as if he could impart both everything that he knew and didn’t know by saying, “Hello”.

Because he couldn’t clone himself and be a presence at every store as the corporation grew, he decided to bottle his voice in an automated voice telephone line.

It took him three months to complete the project, reading long lists of words from three different dictionaries. All I have to do is dial 428.968.7823 (or “I AM YOUR TAD”) from my office telephone to access his life changing vocal intonations.

I looked at Daisy through the glass window of the Loss Prevention office, passionately watching the screens. My gut writhed. I needed to make a personal call.

“Tad.”

“Hello, employee 5282. Or Ivan Romanovich.”

“Tad, I’ve never done this before. I’ve never strayed from the needs of the business. I hope you will forgive me.”

“Business is bad? Business is good? Business could be better? Say ‘bad’, ‘good’, or ‘better’.”

“Oh, falling for the food! You’re never supposed to fall for the food!”

“Do you need catering for an event? Listen to the following local options.”

“She could be my Winnie, Tad. I could have found my Winnie! Could I just promote her and find someone else? Is it too late? I only have ten days!”

“I do not follow.”

“It’s incredible, Tad. Over night, she grew from awkward new employee puberty into a real repository woman! I could make a life with her. We could run the business together!”

“I heard ‘overnight’. Are you interested in overnight shipping?”

“But he already has his eyes on her, he already wants her for himself. Can’t I have anything, just this once, Tad? Why do you give everything to him!”

“Arrival dates of new products…”

“I did what I always do! She had some skills, I thought she could catch a couple thieves before she fulfilled her real purpose, but I underestimated how beautiful she would become. She’s so amazing, Tad, I couldn’t bare losing this one!”

And then, my radio screamed.

“Carla to Ivan.”

Oh, Carla. One of the new employees who hadn’t experienced full immersion, demonstrating the passion required to have the secrets of the business revealed to her. She was a pedestrian, useless. If only I could make her trade places with Daisy, if only it wasn’t too late!

“Ivan to Carla.”

“Yeah, the thief just did his thing again. Dress from the garment bag.”

I had to make her think I cared. “Drat!” I said. “How did he do it this time?”

“Most obvious way possible. Put it on in the bathroom and walked out of the store wearing it.”

SONGS

Daisy sat in front of the camera screens for five days. She fell asleep occasionally and drooled on the melamine desk top. At approximately 11:52PM, moments before the official morning hit on the fifth night, she spotted the thief next to the drawer organizers. Staring at the camera as if he were staring at her.

Just like him, she thought, too tired for surprise. Just like him to be stealing after hours.

But he wasn’t stealing anything, she realized, the longer he stared at the camera. She pushed her chair towards the desk and pressed a button, magnifying his face. His lips were moving, slow and rhythmic, pushing out sounds she couldn’t hear.

She left her chair and went upstairs to see if she could find him, to hear the sounds firsthand, to meet his face. But when she reached the drawer organizers, he was nowhere to be found. He’s evaporated again, she thought. He’s uncatchable. I will never be able to catch him.

And then, static enveloped the PA system, shrill and consistent like white noise. Daisy put her hands over her ears, but the sound died within seconds, replaced by a singing whisper. It grew louder, as if someone was turning the volume up. Daisy could finally hear the words.

Your life had stood a loaded gun

In corners ‘till today

Your owner’s passed, identified

and carried you away!

Dickinson, she remembered, from her BA. This sounds like Emily Dickinson.

And then she realized that her feet weren’t touching the ground.

CARLA

I got used to seeing Daisy behind that window, staring at the screens like her eyes were tied with rope. But one day, she wasn’t there anymore.

The office had nothing in it, no pictures or colors other than white. It was just sad looking, like no one worked there, even though I knew someone had been there for about a week straight. The only thing that was on the wall was a calendar. I stepped closer to see if she wrote anything on it, like she was out for a meeting, but before I could get close enough to read, Daisy came walking through the wall.

Yeah, it was weird, seeing someone do that. Definitely thought I would have freaked out more. The wall opened up for her in pieces, at every part of her body. Like a thousand little doors.

“What are you doing here?” she said.

“Uh, I just came to check on you?”

“Why?”

“Because you’ve been at your desk five days straight like you died with your eyes open or something.”

“Why do you care? Why are you always trying to talk to me?”

“Why did you just walk through a wall?” I asked. It had just hit me.

She got quiet and pushed past me and pulled the black swivel chair out in front of the cameras. “You don’t know anything about me,” she said, sitting down.

“Why did you just walk through a wall?” I asked again, a little crazier. She got out of her chair and closed the door.

“Please, please be quiet about this,” she said. “I’m not supposed to let anyone know. That was stupid of me, I wasn’t thinking. I’ll tell you anything, just don’t talk about it outside of this office.”

I sat down in her chair. She knelt and started talking weird stuff. She wasn’t even looking at my face. Just my knees.

He lived in the PA system, she said. The PA system and the pipes and the walls and inside the cameras. He was fully collapsible. He could live in every Repository box and bin, on sale or already sold. He could do anything he wanted, go anywhere he pleased, he was the thief and he was letting her into his world. They were going to be married. She would stay with him forever.

“He’s going to find a use for me,” she said. “He has a plan. He’s had one all along.”

“Get out of this place, Daisy,” I said, knowing that she wasn’t hearing me, knowing that I still needed to try. “You’re so young, don’t you know?”

She didn’t know, like maybe I didn’t know when I was her age, in a very different way. But it all came down to the same thing. What we wanted to be used for, I realized.

IVAN

I made phone calls, using the code sentence I had used for years to give him women I never loved.

“The affected will become the object,” I said once they answered their phones. I usually made the calls with glee, knowing that once it was done, a wedding feast would take place in the night. A product would be created, that product would earn me a bonus, and a series of feasts would follow. A joyful sacrifice, I had once thought. But loving Daisy made me realize that I had never sacrificed anything before.

I did my duty. I made the phone calls. And then I stepped into her office.

There she was, the bride to be, sitting in front of the cameras with smiling lips. I knew what she was seeing. He did the same thing with all of them. She watched him walk out of the store with merchandise over and over again. He told her to think of each item as a piece of her heart.

I leaned against the door. I knew she didn’t see me. “You have been tricked,” I said.

She turned her head away from the cameras and towards my face. The first time she had looked me in the eyes for so long. I could have held that stare forever.

I didn’t close the door, didn’t need to. No more formalities to deceive her, all I wanted was honesty. “I hired you to be eaten,” I said. “The man you’ve fallen in love with is the son of Tad and Winnie Winston, Billy Winston, from the Department of Use. He was conceived at a time when they were both possessed with so much passion for boxes and bins that the passion exploded and created a person with supernatural powers. From a young age, they harnessed his powers to be used for the business, and once he reached his eighteenth year of life, they let him loose into the Repository world. He lives in the infrastructure of all the buildings simultaneously, and he chooses to lure loss-prevention investigators into his world.”

“I don’t believe you,” Daisy said.

“He’s going to eat you and then shit you out as a piece of plastic, Daisy. He’ll use his insides to mold you into whatever he’s planning to market as the next best-selling product, and then you’ll come out the other end.”

“This isn’t logical,” Daisy said.

“This has all been a hoax. We’ve done it so many times.”

“This doesn’t make any sense.”

“He’s attracted to women who aren’t working quite right, who have a switch turned off somewhere.”

“No, no.”

“He doesn’t have what you’re looking for.”

I put my hand on her knee. I knew it could be the last time I ever touched her. “Run away with me,” I said. “I can do better than him.”

She turned her chair towards my body, slow and welcoming, her head tilted in a sort of pity, maybe even acceptance. But I was so enamored by her face that I didn’t feel her knee jerk. Her shin quickly hit the parts between my legs.

*

 I knew it was only a matter of time before he found me, so I hid underneath my desk and made one last phone call.

“Carla,” I said. “Be here at 11PM tonight. Daisy is in trouble.”

“Who is this?” she asked.

“Ivan. It’s Ivan, your boss.”

“What do you mean Daisy’s in trouble?”

“Just be here tonight. A sacrificial ceremony is taking place. You’re the only one with a keycard who will do this, you must do this.”

“What the hell is going on?”

But I had to put the phone down, because his bare feet and faded jeans came through the wall and into my view. He walked through my desk. And then I felt teeth grazing my hair.

BURNT PLASTIC

Daisy’s wedding night smelled like plastic burned in an electrical fire. When she walked out of the wall and on to the sales floor with her fiance, she was surprised to see the employees of The Repository Emporium in attendance. She watched as rows of people stood in front of a line of bunsen burners, one by one holding pieces of a bike with tongs over an open flame. A woman held the display window dress, and forming a line behind her, each person held another item that the thief had stolen within Daisy’s time at the store.

When she looked to the right, she saw Ivan on the floor, trapped in a plastic cube. He hugged his knees. Fresh wounds sliced his face.

“What’s happening?” Daisy asked. “Why are all these people here?”

The thief didn’t have to look at her to speak the truth into her mind. He didn’t want to keep their love a secret anymore. A public profession.

She turned towards him and the wedding ceremony began for her, forehead on his cheek, ready to commit herself to a life of use. The music started. She didn’t know if it was coming from the PA system or somewhere in her own mind, inspired by him, created by him, since he knew how to get there. He turned towards her and put his hand on her waist, drawing her close, and he sang into her ear.

O God! can she not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can she not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Poe, from a time she couldn’t remember. When she was searching in all the wrong places.

He kissed her with lips wide enough to wrap themselves around a can of soup. They grew wider as she found her nose in his mouth, then her eyes, then her head. And in a hybrid of ecstasy and confusion, Daisy realized that her body was in the thief’s mouth.

*

If she could have seen her reflection in the display window, Daisy would have seen that she had ten sides. If she could have thought about it, she would have known that she was shaped like the figure the thief had stamped all over the store, the stamp he used to reel her in. If she could have asked him, he would have said that he was experimenting with the shape when he knew her, and from her attraction to it, he knew that others would follow.

If she could have tasted anything, it would have been dust, as she was just the display, used only for aesthetics. An adjustable drawer organizer, with slits in her side so owners could reshape her however they wanted. Her shape wasn’t meant to be permanent, but in her case, it would be. The Repository Emporium never sold props.

If she could have smelled anything, it would have been the residue of herself, plastic burned into a shape. If she could have heard anything, it would have been voices spoken and sung. A voice that had only ever sung was singing to her again.

You’ll see in you the estuary that enlarges and spreads itself grandly as it pours in the great

Sea.

Words she wouldn’t have the chance to remember.

But what she hadn’t lost was a bit of feeling, and one day, she felt that she wasn’t on the ground anymore. If she could have looked up, she would have found herself in the hands of the one who arrived at the ceremony too late. Carla walked out of the store with unpaid merchandise.

Gloria Beth Amodeo is a retail retiree who received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her work has appeared in NY ______ and is forthcoming in Carrier Pigeon. She lives in Brooklyn, rides a triangular folding bike and contributes time and love to The Literary Review.

    2 thoughts on “H.O.W. Contest Winners, Fiction edition: first place”

    1. Wow. What an imaginative story. Fresh and challenging. Made me stop to think about what was real about life and retail vs. what is totally contrived. Thanks for posting this.

    2. I was on my way to the store when I saw this story and I couldn’t stop reading it and forgot why I was going to the store in the first place! It brought back memories of my shoplifting days and the time I jammed a large ceramic turtle under my shirt and walked out without notice only to discover in the reflection of the store front window that the turtle head was sticking out from my collar. Great job Gloria Beth! Just the right combination of intrigue, comedy and surprise. Congratulations!

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