Palo Alto Weekly 35th Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Young Adult

by Skyler Hedblom

Author Bio

Skyler Krop Hedblom is a recent graduate from Gunn High School, class of 2021. Born in Burlingame, he moved to Palo Alto just in time for the last few weeks of 2nd grade in 2011. He has been writing short stories since he was three. Today, in addition to the occasional hobby of writing, Skyler is an avid musician, playing both percussion and piano, as well as composing music. In the fall, he starts at the University of Puget Sound in Washington. Special thanks to his mom and dad, all family and friends, and of course, Kanga.


Sweaty Hands was inspired by much of my own experience. As a percussionist who also plays piano, I know the feeling all too well of being nervous before an audition. What got me to write it down in words was a short story assignment for Mr. Paul Dunlap’s Creative Writing class at Gunn. Since most of my writing experience is in the field of memoirs, I decided to design a character with a bit of me in him. I want to give a big thank you to Mr. Dunlap for pushing me to submit one of my stories for publication!

Judge Comments

This brief, affecting story will resonate with anyone who has put themselves out there to audition or perform. Zac is a pianist so dripping with anxiety that his sweaty hands threaten to undermine his talent and training when once more he presents himself at a competitive audition. He cannot even wipe away the sweat! Help arrives unexpectedly from Zac himself, inspiring his confidence and leaving the reader satisfied that this young man may get the job after all.

— Debbie Duncan

As a pianist, the worst place to sweat is on the hands. When hands sweat, there aren’t any droplets to wipe off or dry away with a quick swipe of a rag. Instead, they simply become sticky. The water tension seems to bind the fingers together into a conglomerate mess as if they had just been dunked into a jar of grape jelly. Oh sure the fingers can still move, but dare they brush up against each other, they're stuck worse than Highway 101 through downtown LA.

Zac would know, having just gotten off 101 for his audition. As a pianist, of course he knew all about that hand sweat. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop his palms from becoming his body’s sewer for nerves when an audition came up. The instant he got out of his car, the tap was turned on. The nimble fingers from an hour earlier were drowned in a muddy coating of slimy sweat.

Sitting in the reception room of the studio, he tried everything he could. He rubbed his pants until they became so warm his thighs nearly started to sweat. He danced a towel over his palms until the fine bristles of the towel became swamp moss. A paper napkin threw the towel in the rink, metaphorically, even quicker than the towel did when it shredded from waterlogging. He shook his hands in a futile attempt at air-drying until he had to stop to prevent a dislocation. The headline danced before his tired eyes: "Failing LA Pianist Dislocates Hands 5 Minutes Before The Audition Of His Lifetime! Cause Of Injury: Sweat"

Another man walked in a moment later and turned his papers over to the receptionist. Zac, having taken the first seat next to the desk, happened to spot a glimpse of his resumé -- they attended the same conservatory. It had been a few years since Zac himself had graduated. The man turned from the desk and gave a confident smile to Zac. "First time?"

Surprised, Zac gave no verbal response, but forced a polite smile and nudged his head sideways from left to right. He remembered his first auditions. Going straight from the classroom to the top jobs in LA, proudly setting his relatively barren resumé on the counters. The confidence straight from years of practice at a conservatory. The certainty that is only born from a diploma. Being best in school gives one a boldness that pushes them forward into whatever comes next. For surely, real life could never be worse than four years of grueling work in an enclosed ecosystem with mentors?

Then the rejections start coming in. Zac quickly learned that being the best in school only has weight when you’re at the school. There are hundreds of conservatories across the country, and thousands in the world. Each one has a best, second best, and entire graduating class who were most likely best in their high school. And every job only has room for one.

Zac fiddled with his phone, checking his calendar. Nothing upcoming besides this audition. He turned instead to his email, hoping for good news. He went back to his calendar.

The sound of Zac’s alarm went off. The sounds of a piano concerto resonated throughout the small reception hall. Zac’s attention, already turned inwards on himself, was joined by the other fifteen or so other budding pianists startled out of their thoughts. Face flushing, Zac fished his phone out of pocket, trying not to let it slip through his damp fingers. They kept sliding all over the smooth surface of the phone case, dragging out the concerto until Zac was sure it was stuck in everyone’s head. Eventually, his fingers found the "silent" switch.

Funny-- the normally soothing piano concerto he had set as his alarm didn’t quite have the same calming effect when in a piano audition room. It served instead as a reminder of his inadequacy. Somewhere out there, there was a pianist who played that concerto so beautifully, that someone else recorded it. Why was that pianist successful and Zac wasn’t?

Someone auditioned to play that concerto for that recording. Maybe this person saw an ad and took a chance. Maybe they sat in a room just like this one, with the fake plants next to the water cooler.

Maybe their hands were sweaty. Maybe they fumbled taking their phone out of their pocket. Perhaps, quite like Zac, this pianist became more and more nervous as each potentially superior pianist walked through the door. Each new competitor lowering the odds of success. Yet this one managed to get the job. This pianist, who potentially had sweaty hands and drowned in anxiety, ended up on the recording. This pianist, possibly so much like Zac, got the job.

"Zac Pearson?"

Zac was yanked out of his thoughts by his name. A woman dressed in a casual suit stood in an empty doorway looking around. He stood up and walked toward the door.

He stole one last glance down at his phone with the recording of the concerto. That pianist got the job that day.

Maybe this one will today.