Palo Alto Weekly 28th Annual Short Story Contest
First Place Teen


By Rachel Roberts

About Rachel Roberts

I am 14 years old and currently a freshman at Menlo-Atherton High School. I began writing in the summer of sixth grade and discovered that literature is beautiful and that I loved to study it. Along with writing, I enjoy reading and analyzing literature and exploring historical writing. In addition, I enjoy conceptual photography. and I consider writing and photography to be my largest interests in life. I am now in the ninth grade and enjoying my classes, especially my English course. I am lucky to be surrounded by amazing teachers within my high school but also in external programs at Stanford University and other workshops. These teachers and many of my friends encourage me to pursue writing and give me support along the way.

This year, I watched a documentary on life at minimum wage; the scenes of dark city streets and run-down apartments inspired me to write my short story "Shoes." I found the information on the Palo Alto Weekly╩╝s writing competition and decided to start writing that day. Usually, I try to base my writing within the type of life I know most about which tends to be middle-class. I may not ever fully understand living in poverty, but when I started writing, I decided that branching out could produce better pieces than staying within personal restrictions.

I am honored and excited to have won this contest and this has inspired me to continue developing my writing style.


From the judges...

The details of this dark story are so well-chosen that they provide a complete picture of the protagonist and her entire world in very few words. "Shoes" is written with real flare and is a truly chilling tale.

Bella held the little pink shoes in her hand, balancing each one in either palm. She examined the soft lining and the dainty bow in the top. She slipped each of her fingers into them and played with them. Little shoes for little feet.

Bella Leanne Shortridge frequented yard sales. With her small salary and sizable rent, she sought after used items. She would always remind herself that every used article she bought would bring a little home with it.

In one hand she gingerly held the little sandals, in the other she ran her thumb over the crumpled bills and icy coins. She counted the nickels and quarters that were tossed on the table at the local coffee shop. Every evening when she was departed her job she would just listen to the sound of the coins and bills that rustled in her apron pocket as she walked to the bus stop. She spent a few quarters at the bus stop, and she placed the rest in a simple aluminum tin that rested above the cabinet in her apartment. Most days she would pore out the contents and count them, even if it remained the same for days. On weekends, if she had enough, she would dump the coins into her pocket and walk around the neighborhood. She mostly saw eviction notices on doors and lying on the pavement, but every so often she would come across a yard sale sign.

Bella proudly put the coins on the little fold-up table and pushed them towards the tired woman holding the little pink shoes. She looked up at Bella's beaming face and counted the coins spread on the splintered surface. Bella remembered every face of every person who sold her something at a yard sale. There was the eager young boy who sold her the rattle, the dark elderly man that she bought the children's book from. The corners were tearing and chewed a little bit, but she held the book close to her body. So many faces and so many things, full of stories longer and happier than hers.

As she walked away from the yard sale she counted the steps back to her home.

Eighty-seven steps and she passed a broken chain fence. Four hundred-forty three and she strolled by the familiar bus stop. After eight hundred-sixty-five she climbed the icy steps and fumbled for the key to open her door. The keys were new but the lock was so old she could open it with a bobby pin that held her hair. The apartment was almost as chilled as the air outside, but to Bella it was a haven. The warmth of being wrapped in the familiar smell of her kitchen and home is enough to keep her skin warm.

She moved the uneven stool and pulled down the rattling tin from her cabinet and put the remaining coins and bills into it, letting each coin fall separately and hit the metal. She set the little pink shoes on the small corner table and grabbed her ancient disposable camera from a basket on the counter. Her thumb rolled the camera and took a picture of the little shoes, put the camera back, and slipped the shoes back into her jacket pocket.

The door moaned as she closed and locked it behind her as she wrapped her old scarf a little tighter around her neck. The icy wind swept stands of her short hair into her face and itched her soft skin. She began to count the steps again.

Nearing the bus stop, she checked her pocket for the few coins she kept for the fare and to make sure the little pink shoes were still in her pocket. She blindly ran her thumb over the soft, thin ribbon and the smooth leather. And elderly woman, a tired looking woman with grey streaks, and a tall man shuffled onto the bus alongside Bella.

She kept her head low and slid the coins into the slot and plodded to an open seat beside the elderly women. During the ride, she passed the local thrift shop, a broken street light, and all the landmarks that Bella saw every Saturday morning. The bus braked and she lurched into the seat in front of her. Her stop, the corner of 12th Street and San Andreas. She stepped off the bus and tightened her scarf again to greet the cold city air. She walked a couple hundred more steps and stepped inside the familiar wrought iron gates.

She walked by the frosty flowers, pictures, and flags. The thick stones reflected the late morning sunlight that dripped through the clouds. She walked along the gravel path, then into the wet green grass. She took in a sharp breath of chilly air and knelt next to a familiar stone. Bella carefully brushed some dirt of the top of the stone, as if caressing a child's cheek. She reached into her warm pocket and pulled out the little pink shoes. She slowly set them down next to the book and the rattle, the blanket she had laid down a few Saturdays ago was covered in a layer of ice and dirt. Above the shoes, read "Anna Bridget Shortridge—Age 2."

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