18 & over, Native English Speaker – Winner 2014


by Maria Clevy

He lifted the little shrimp and pressed it between her lips. “Here, have a bite.”

She blushed and delicately bit into the shrimp, nodding approval. “Ah, good,” he said. “Now, you should try it with some sauce.”

She tentatively dipped the shrimp into the cocktail sauce, and he shook his head and laughed. He took it from her and plunged it into the sauce himself. He lifted the shrimp, perilously laden with bright red sauce, and a drop splashed onto her dress. She ate the shrimp and smiled.

He lifted his glass of champagne. “A toast to you, my darling Angel. Happy anniversary.” He clinked his glass against hers, settling back into his chair with a grimace.

Suddenly self-conscious, she looked down and noticed the stain. “I have to see about this stain—red, you know? I’ll be right back.”

“Oh, I’ll buy you another.”

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “Still, I’ll be right back.”

He nodded reluctantly. “All right, if you must.” He shifted in his seat, annoyed, and she hurried off to the ladies’ room, gold heels clicking. Her dress shimmered in the candlelight as she wove between the tables.

She reached for a white wash cloth and turned on the cold water. The ease of turning that knob mesmerized her momentarily, such a seemingly small thing. Turn the knob forward, water comes out; turn it further, more water comes out. Turn it back, and the water stops. But there’s more to it than that, things she can’t see—a whole network of pipes and pressure and plumbing. If one small thing goes wrong, there’s no telling what could happen.

She shook herself and dipped the cloth in the running water. Cold water, lightly daubed on a red stain, would work, she knew. She knew that for sure. First, though, she blotted the stain with a dry bit of the cloth to remove the excess sauce, pressing out as much as she could. Then, the water. She pressed down again and again, and the pure white cloth stained rosy, then red. Pressing harder, she willed the red sauce out of the beautiful fabric.

Her efforts had removed the stain but produced a large spot of water. Horrified, she picked up a dry cloth and tried to blot it. She needed to be at her best, especially in such a nice place with all of these people. What would he think? Perhaps she could just slip off the dress and dry the spot quickly under the hand dryer. Yes, that was what she’d do.

She unzipped the dress and, wincing, stepped out of the shimmering folds. How long had it been? Not longer than a couple of minutes. She still had time, surely. She couldn’t possibly have been away for too long.

The air from the hand dryer was really too hot to dry a just-stained dress. The stain would set now for sure, but it was so faint that no one could see it. If only the water would dry more quickly—

“Oh my God, are you okay?”

Two women had walked in, and she hadn’t even noticed. She snatched the dress from beneath the dryer, clutching it to herself. “Oh, yes, I’m fine! It’s silly, really; I just spilled some cocktail sauce on myself, and…and I had to get it out, and then the water spread, and—well, I couldn’t wear a wet dress, now, could I? So silly, really, please excuse me—”

“No, not the dress—you! What happened to you?” asked the same woman.

She stood stiffly, at attention, a smile pasted on her face, “I’m sorry?”

“Those marks—purple and green—did someone hit you? What happened?”

“An accident. I was in a car accident. I’m fine, really. Ladies, if you’ll excuse me.” She turned and walked into a stall, locking the door behind herself. She felt her ears growing warm, eyes pricking as she leaned her head against the cool wall. No, not here, please, I can’t have red eyes. She took a deep breath, then silently exhaled. She stepped delicately into the crumpled dress. “Excuse me, but do you need some help? Zipping your dress, I mean?” This woman’s voice was quiet, calm.

She paused. Then, emerging from the stall, she said, “Yes, thank you, that would be very helpful.”

The woman zipped up the dress and whispered, “You’re not alone. Please, get some help. If you ever need someone, please, just call me, or call this number.” She handed her two cards.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She smiled brightly and handed back the cards, saying, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my husband has been waiting for me. I’m sure that he’s wondering where I’ve gone.” She opened the door and stepped out, smiling.

As she sat down again, she said, “I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting, darling.”

“Yes, well, it couldn’t be helped, I suppose.” He looked pointedly at the damp spot of water.

“Yes, well,” she murmured as she picked up her new Hermès scarf, a gift for their anniversary, “I feel a bit chilly; I’ll just put on my scarf.”