My Entry to NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction Contest

Below you’ll find my entry to round 8 of NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest. I do that, from time to time, you know — write fiction. The world thinks I’m a blogger, and I am. But I’m also a writer who aspires to (oneday) write quality fiction.

Per NPR’s rules, each story had to begin with the exact same sentence (right down to the unnecessary comma). I think the sentence totally sucks, but, again, I had to begin my story with it, so when you read it, just know that it wasn’t mine.

Anyway, my story’s only 597 words, so it won’t take you very long to read. In fact, it should only take you (get this) 3 minutes. I had been calling it Each Other, but a close friend came up with another title I kinda like: The Hand You Were Dealt. So I don’t know what I’m calling it. If you think of something that you feel is better than either one of those, I’m all “ears,” so just leave a comment.

Here it is.

* * *

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. But not before glancing back to make sure she’d marked her place. The black thread peeking through the gold confirmed she had. Luke’s story of forgiveness would wait for her return.

“You’re late,” the manager said from his seat beside the curtain.

“Sandra ran over. I could tell from the music.”

“You were reading again, weren’t you?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Just kind of a weird place to do it.”

“Not to me.”

Onstage, she hoisted herself as high as she could go, then leaned all the way back, her legs in a figure four, the chill of stainless steel at odds with the dark mustiness. She surveyed the upside-down audience to find it wasn’t very crowded, especially for a Saturday. Mostly regulars, including the man in the fedora.

He’d been coming for weeks, paying the other dancers no attention. He seemed to have eyes for her alone, though he never stared too long before casting them downward and hiding behind the brim of his hat. She was certain he’d eventually approach, but she was wrong. All he ever did was watch from afar, that night from a table near a group of rowdy college kids.

During her last number, two of the frat boys came to the stage, youthful faces she first saw through her legs, while flat on her back, when thigh-high leather fell to either side like old-fashioned windshield wipers. Their greedy eyes scanned every part of her body as if taking inventory. And thus, a marketplace emerged.

Soon they’d decide how much she was worth.

She used to be ashamed of that moment, until her skin grew thick with the knowledge that survival knows no shame. Sorrow, yes. Regret, too. But shame? Never. Besides, this place had always been her destiny. Every last road from her miserable childhood led here.

The market yielded four dollars, singles she stuck in the garter above her boot while the man regarded her from beneath his hat. He took it off and placed it over his heart, then smiled as he put it back on.

“That your girlfriend, mister?” one of the frat boys asked. The man didn’t answer.

“Because she’s a whore,” he said to the amusement of his friends.

The man stood and without hesitation or ceremony slammed his fist on their table, the impact toppling their drinks and silencing their laughter. He pointed at the boy with the smart mouth with the only finger that graced his left hand.

“Who made you judge?”

Before last call, she sat down beside the man in the fedora and thanked him for defending her honor, joking that there wasn’t very much to defend.

“That’s not true.”

“It doesn’t really matter.”

“Yes it does,” he said. “And so do you.”

They sat for a moment.

“What happened to your hand?”

“Nothing. I was born like this.”

She nodded, then took a long drag off her cigarette. “Yeah,” she said. “Me, too.”

It was him she thought of in her dressing room when she opened the book to the black thread and read the rice-paper pages that were soon pocked with tears.

Hours later, a congregation sat before a pastor who stood with uncommon grace. “Why do we lead with judgment instead of compassion?” he said. “It reminds me of a passage from the book of Luke.”

He opened his Bible and began reading at chapter 7, verse 36, tracing the words with the only finger that graced his left hand.

* * *

So there you go. Hope you liked it. There were 6,000+ entries this time, and my story, unfortunately, wasn’t one of the 20 or so they featured. But I’ve got a built in excuse — NPR had to be mindful of their sponsors, and they decided that a story of this sort might not go over well with them what with the word “whore” and the concept of preachers going to strip clubs and all. Plus, they knew there was no “win” here. They’d get attacked from all sides. Some would consider the author a misogynist, while others would believe he was a heathen hell bent to take down the church. Neither, of course, is true. I’m just stuck in the middle with you.

So, yeah. That’s why it didn’t make the cut.

That, OR it just wasn’t good enough! Here’s a link to the winner, and from there you can check out some of the other stories that NPR highlighted. I thought the winning story was compelling, but it wasn’t my favorite of the finalists. I particularly liked Heavy and Exit was great, too.

Did you enter? Because if so, I’d love to read yours. Hit me up with a link.

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About john cave osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as DisneyBaby, Babble, YahooShine, TLC and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their five children and spastic dog in Knoxville, TN. Nothing annoys him more than joke-heavy bios written in the third person, with the possible exception of Corey Feldman.

  • http://fathermuskrat.com/ muskrat

    I liked your story, but I like your friend’s version of its title better.  You still working on the one set in north Alabama?

    • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

      thanks, and, yes, i like his title better, too. re: the story about Cal — i got 15,000 (ish) words down on it — four complete chapters and i was 50-50 on it. i gave it to an editor friend of mine and she was 50-50 (at best) as well. she pointed out problems that i kinda knew but was trying to write through. anyway, she was right, so, i made some drastic changes to it — first, i moved it up to east TN and next, i made the characters a little more worldly. i had a head of steam on it for quite a while, but haven’t touched it in a while, though it is one of two that i hope to finish. thanks for asking, bro.