1st Place Winner – Flash 405, August 2021: “House Party”
We ate way too many Fritos and rubbed our stomachs reverently. My mother asleep in the other room, Jessie and I kneeled on the bed among empty chip bags, watching Dennis’s house down the street for signs of life. Jessie’s fingers left longing smudges on the window glass. It was late, and I was tired, but Jessie made me promise to keep watch with her for just a little while longer. The lights were still burning in Dennis’s den where his handsome uncle slept. “Come on,” I said, breaking the solemnity of our uncle-vigil by turning on the TV set. The networks were about to sign off for the night, and I wanted us to go back to our old sleepover party routine, to holding our hands to our hearts as the National Anthem played and watching together until the picture faded to gray. Until there was nothing left but sleep. Unseasonable snow fell in dizzy non-patterns on the screen. I got under the blankets. “Hey,” Jessie’s voice dropped as she burrowed in beside me. She reached under the mattress for her tattered copy of Judy Blume’s Forever… She had studied it so much that summer that it naturally fell open to the dirty parts. Outside, an engine coughed softly. Headlights cut across the room, illuminating Jessie’s face as she poured over her book. I watched through a crack in the curtains as a pick-up truck pulled in front of Dennis’s, and when its headlights clicked off, the uncle’s dark profile slipped from the house. “Oh god,” Jessie said, licking her finger, turning a smutty page. She was so absorbed in the words that she missed the object of her devotion when he finally appeared, but something inside me moved me not to speak of it. I tugged the curtains shut. I shifted my body closer to hers. I could feel a heat radiating off her skin. Cheeks flushed pink, she pointed to a paragraph halfway down the page. “Read this part. Isn’t it gross?” She looked up at me, eyes lit with something I couldn’t yet recognize, but even as tired as I was, I could tell that she didn’t really believe it was gross at all.
I wasn’t looking for a sleepover story but this is the one that remained with me through all my reading. The author captured that sense of childhood slipping away and wanting to hold onto it as everyone around us is moving on and growing up.
Alyson Mosquera Dutemple’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Passages North, DIAGRAM, Wigleaf, and Pithead Chapel, among others, and recently received an Honorable Mention for Cincinnati Review‘s 2021 Robert and Adele Schiff Awards. She works as an editorial consultant and creative writing instructor in New Jersey and holds an MFA in fiction from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Find her on Twitter @swellspoken and at www.alysondutemple.com.
Photo Credit: Joshua Rawson-Harris