1st place: A Break From the Sky

Chip Houser

Sylvia held her fourth empty martini glass up to the sunlight flooding through the airport’s enormous viewing wall. Her smudged reflection reminded her of rainy days at her parents’ cabin when she was a girl, staring out the window at the lake as she waited for the clouds to break. How she had longed to race down to the dock through the sudden golden warmth and dive into the lake. Even now, thirty years later, she still craved that cleansing sensation of slicing through the water, of floating weightless in the water’s cool embrace, of watching the magical flickering of sunlight on the lake’s surface.

“Get you another?” Her neighbor at the bar’s voice was a muffled drone, as if he were underwater. He’d been offering since her first martini. Through her glass he looked like a bloated goldfish, eyes distorted and bulging, the strands of his combover draped across his head like a tired dorsal fin.

Another drink did sound good, but Sylvia shook her head. She was trying to get the bartender’s attention when she heard her name broadcast in the terminal:

…Sylvia Marie Revealer, your flight is fully boarded and awaiting departure at Gate D34…

“It’s Réveillère,” she said. Laurent had insisted she take his name.

Her neighbor said, “You know her?”

It was a good question—lately she had no fucking idea who she was. The bartender apparently didn’t either; he pointedly ignored her. Her neighbor raised his glass, double tapped the rim of his tumbler, and the bartender came right over. “Another Seven and Seven? Great. And you, ma’am?”

“Just the check.” What Sylvia needed wasn’t another drink, she needed a break. From her job, from airports and presentations, from working dinners and entertaining clients, from her cold husband. A long weekend at the cabin would be perfect, except she’d sold it five years ago to buy Laurent his dream house. He’d been charming at first, so charming she’d missed all the rest that came with him, the obsessive grooming, the costly tailoring and dinners and drinks, his insufferably Patrician observations on all things American, his refusal to remain faithful. Now all she had was a dark, three-story Victorian and that selfish little man in the smoke-filled garret.

Whenever she made it home—tonight or tomorrow or a week from tomorrow—she’d find Laurent sitting up there, Gauloise between raised fingers, reading one of his treasured philosophers. Their conversation would inevitably find its way to her traveling too much, as if it was an inconvenience to him rather than a necessity to support his lifestyle. Always her, never him. Not his failed professorship, not his sense of entitlement, not his complete lack of interest in her. Eventually, she’d give up and go downstairs to make another drink.

…This is the final boarding call for Sylvia Marie Revealer. Please proceed immediately to Gate D34…

The wheels of Sylvia’s bag kept catching on chair legs as she wove through the restaurant. She stopped abruptly at the edge of the tile.

Sunlight reflected sharply off the polished concrete floor, like clouds breaking over the lake. Passengers bustled across this lake, shoes clacking, bags rumbling, oblivious that they were walking on water. A parade of miracles. A lanky man swung wide, frowning at her. Sylvia realized she was giggling. She didn’t care—about him, or her flight, or Laurent. She felt mischievous, like a little girl again.

She touched the concrete with the tip of her pump. The surface dipped. She lifted her toe and the floor snapped back, glossy ripples radiating outward.

Sylvia pulled her heels off and hooked them over her bag’s handle. She dipped a foot into the glowing floor. It was cool, not cold, just like she remembered.

People rushed past in every direction, dodging each other out of instinct, dull eyes focused elsewhere. The man at the bar was chatting up his new neighbor. Just like Laurent, he’d lost interest, moved on to the next one.

She curled her toes over the metal strip between the carpet and the concrete, like she had on the edge of the wooden dock. Bending at the knees, she leaned forward, extending her arms straight out behind her. She threw her arms forward as she jumped out over the water. Arms above her head, biceps against ears, palms together, toes pointing to the sky, she struck the surface.

Her form was still good; she hardly made a splash. She angled through the water, curling around to look up at the surface. A stream of soles and bags stuttered and skipped past each other in a frenetic dance across the lake’s surface. That pointless nightmare finally muting. She wouldn’t miss it, any of it, not the travel or the booze or the loneliness, not even Laurent. He never liked the lake anyway. She felt peaceful, whole, her worries fading like the glittering sunlight as she sank, arms and legs waving gently, cocooned in cool silence.


Chip Houser is a writer from the midwestern U.S., currently living in Colorado. His work appears in Bourbon Penn, PodCastle, Every Day Fiction, and others. His chapbook Dark Morsels collects some of his flash and micro fiction (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2022.) Find him on Twitter @chazzlepants or chiphouser.com.