Palo Alto Weekly 25th Annual Short Story
First Place Young Adult
|About Caitlin Colvin
Castilleja student Caitlin Colvin built her story "Monday" from a writing prompt that her Sophomore English teacher, Rebecca Sherouse, assigned.
"The assignment was to write about running water," Colvin said. "I picked tears because they can have so many different meanings."
"In the first vignette, I wrote about the little boy's tears, and I built on that to write the rest of the pieces."
This year's Palo Alto Short Story Contest winner in the Young Adult category, Colvin, now a junior, was convinced to submit her story by her parents.
She only made one change in editing the story for the contest but it was a large one: The original story connected each character to the others.
"I thought it would be more powerful if they didn't have meaningful connections to one another," she said.
Colvin focused on writing telling details about her characters. A motif running through her work is contrast, both between characters and inside the experience of each individual person.
"In general, each story contradicts the others, and so I thought it would be interesting to have the characters be contradicting themselves."
She added that some of the characters simultaneously experience two emotions.
"For this story, I wanted to create a diverse spectrum of characters to show that on any certain Monday, even in one community, people are having such completely different experiences based on their circumstances," Colvin said.
"Behind closed doors, you can never really know what's going on."
In addition to writing, Colvin is on the Palo Alto Youth Council and the JSA (a student debate organization), does relays and high jumping for the school's track team, and has played soccer competitively since the fourth grade.
She said she's looking forward to an upcoming school trip to China, as well as the solace of winter vacation.
"With winter break coming up I can read what I want, and it won't be required reading that I have to annotate," Colvin said.
by Caitlin Colvin
Monday. The young child hoisted himself over the chipped, wooden bars of his crib and maneuvered his soft, sturdy legs onto the cold linoleum floor. From his seat on the kitchen floor, he inspected his surroundings with big, curious eyes.
He saw a man, his father, passed out on the worn-down, uncomfortable sofa with an open bottle of beer in one hand and a remote control in the other. The young child was comfortable and familiar in these surroundings, much to the dismay of the aggressive and worried social workers. Mystified by his freedom and driven by his curiosity, the young boy grabbed hold of the nearest counter ledge and hoisted himself to his feet. He slowly moved over to the small, multi-colored, ridged footstool, where he attempted to jump onto the unstable landing. The young boy immediately lost his balance and plummeted to a painful fall on the hard surface. Uncontrollable shrieks of pain and tears of fear were released from the young, helpless boy. All at once, a social worker knocked on the door of the small apartment, and the angry father arose from his comatose-like sleep to discipline his disobedient, troublesome young child. On Monday, tears of fear streamed down a young child's cheek, and hit a cold, linoleum kitchen floor, making a harsh sound like nails on chalkboard. And this was only the beginning of the week.
Monday. She considered herself privileged, creative, different, spontaneous, lucky, knowledgeable, well-traveled, friendly, organized. Her life was easy and the same, but today there was the potential for change. She causally woke up on her own and dressed for school. Her hair was naturally straight, so there was no need for her to spend an extensive amount of time on it. At school, her classes were too easy for her and too hard for all others. Her morning routine, her school routine, her field hockey practice routine were familiar and comfortable, but each day she counted on her drive home to be different and, perhaps, uncomfortable. Everyday after field hockey, she met her neighbor in the back parking lot of the school, so they could carpool home together. Her neighbor, a senior at her high school, was able to make her feel uneasy and extremely relaxed at the same time. She slid into the passenger seat of the car and carefully shut the door. As they drove down, the same familiar tree-lined streets, they shared stories about their days, their thoughts, and their feelings. The girl sighed as they pulled onto their street and her neighbor parked the car between their houses. She quickly thanked him and attempted to open the car door. All at once, he leaned over and lightly kissed her on the cheek, while she fumbled to find the unlock button and keep the tears of happiness from spilling onto her cheeks. The car doors unlocked, and she bounded out of the car and into her house without saying a word. On Monday, tears of happiness streamed down a girl's face and hit the polished, wooden floor in the entryway of her house, as she stood in astonishment. And this was only the beginning of the week.
Monday. Her dirty fingernails gripped the steering wheel of the used, rickety, brown van as she sped through the neighborhood to her son's school. When she pulled up, two hours late for pickup, she strained her eyes to see the silhouette of her son sitting on the playground swing, slowly pumping his legs back and forth, against the hot, setting sun. Her heart broke at the sight of her lonely, neglected child as she made her way across the school lawn, littered with balls and ropes and other remnants of the liveliness of school-aged children. "Benjamin" she called out in a shaky, tired voice. "I'm sorry. They really needed me at the hospital today. There was an emergency." In response, her son casually and meaningfully shrugged his bony shoulders and tilted his head to the right, which he knew would reassure his mother that everything was alright, and that even at his young age, he understood. As Benjamin and his mother pulled into the driveway of their quaint, well kept, single-story adobe-clay home, her cell phone rang, interrupting the peaceful quiet. Looking at the caller id, she sighed, and warned Benjamin to go inside and start his homework. She watched as he picked up the pile of mail on the front step and carefully maneuvered the opening of the creaky, wooden front door. Finally, she answered the ringing cell phone. "Hello?" she seemed to question. After a couple "I understand" and several dozen sighs, she clicked her cell phone shut and went inside. Benjamin was sitting at the kitchen table, with his back towards his mother, when he asked, "Mom, what does E-V-I-C-T-I-O-N mean?" She slowly walked over to the kitchen table and held the pristine, white envelope stamped with "Notice of Eviction" on the bottom corner. On Monday, a woman stood with a white envelope in one hand, not knowing what to do or what to say. And this was only the beginning of the week.
Monday. Albert's finger slid gracefully over the sticky keys of the grand piano in the auditorium of the high school that he was desperately trying to escape. He focused on hitting every note of Beethoven's First Movement with precision and comfort. The notes, swirling from his brain to his fingers and from his fingers to his brain, were familiar and wonderful to Albert. Upon conclusion of his performance, Albert stood and bowed; his classmates stopped chatting with their friends for a few seconds to applaud. These classmates were part of the reason that he wanted to escape. More specifically, he wanted to escape to college. Albert yearned for the freedom from his strict, oppressive parents and the freedom to choose his courses and professors. After his performance, no classmates personally praised him, but that was expected and accepted. They all continued walking the halls between class discussing irrelevant gossip, and Albert's performance became an unmentioned irrelevancy. Albert sighed a breath of relief at the harmonious sound of the sharp, high-pitched bells, signaling the end of the day, and began walking home. Albert walked along the familiar, tree-lined streets, while simultaneously reading piano sheet music. He repeated the notes to himself, over and over, until he was home. He stopped at the end of the driveway to check the mailbox. He saw three large, white envelopes addressed to him from his top three college choices. His heart started beating at an uncontrollable, random rhythm as he started tearing open the envelopes on the sidewalk in front of his house. He read each letter over and over. Albert then said aloud, "Accepted. Accepted. Accepted." On Monday, a smart, talented boy stood with three white envelopes in his hand, knowing that his escape was possible. And this was only the beginning of the week.
Monday. The fluorescent lights of the hospital room illuminated her father's wan face. Other than the lights' soft, gentle creaking as it swung from side to side and the inconsistent beat of her father's EKG machine, the room was silent. Despite her father and her interlocking fingers and deep gaze into each other's similar, tired, watery blue eyes, she felt 100 miles away from him. As she stared into his eyes, she remembered when he would wait in his great grandmother's rocking chair for her to come home every time she left. She remembered how his eyes looked then, worried and large, but never upset when she was late for curfew or came home reeking of teenage rebellion. However, with each slowing beat of his EKG machine and each recalled memory, she felt closer to him, until she was as close as possible to him. No longer 100 miles away, or even 100 centimeters away. On Monday, after six months of being side-by-side, a daughter and her estranged father reunited as the EKG machine went blank. And this was only the beginning of the week.
Monday. Like every Monday, Alice drove her younger sister to swim practice at the local fitness center. She memorized the shortcuts and which stoplights to avoid for the quickest route to the fitness center. Each turn was made with comfort, perhaps too much, and success, except for a sharp left turn near the end of the drive. Alice over swung her parents' station wagon into the opposite lane of traffic and collided with a large, white SUV. Alice's heart beat loud in her hollow chest and her breath quickened as she forced herself to open her eyes and look to the passenger seat where her sister had been sitting. She saw her sister, motionless and unresponsive, to her fearful, blood curdling screams. The next hour was a blur of red and blue siren lights, insurance papers, phone calls, all set to the steady soundtrack of the rhythm of her sister's heartbeat on the EKG machine. Alice, guilt-ridden and anxious, shook in her chair, placed beside her sister's hospital bed with each rise and fall of the lines on the EKG machine. Just as she was imagining her sister's rising and falling arms swimming back and forth at swim practice, her sister blinked her eyes open and stared directly at Alice in a calming, hopeful, and forgiving way. Alice's parents, standing around the hospital bed, rushed to find doctors, but Alice's gaze never left her young, vibrant sister. On Monday, an EKG machine reiterated to a guilty older sister the survival of a younger sister. And this was only the beginning of the week.
On Monday, everyone holds their breath and waits for Tuesday.
"In a series of sketches that glow with originality and perception, the author gives insight into a single day’s victories and disappointments for a cast of a dozen characters. In just a few pages the author manages to deal in a subtle and intelligent fashion with themes that range from healing and guilt to loving and escaping. Bravo."