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A Short Story

By Mackenzie DavisPublished 4 months ago 11 min read
Top Story - June 2023
Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

On a patch of grass in the middle of the desert is a woman. By day, she tends to her garden of wildflowers, shoveling the shallow dirt through to the moist sand. She gets the seeds imported from every kind of climate and delivered by camel and sometimes, she can’t even believe that’s possible. And maybe it isn’t. Maybe she wanders her property—demarcated by four corners of cactuses—and finds small pebbles to plant in her patch of grass, tending them until they grow ornate rock formations. Or, maybe she sits in the middle of a blank, scorching desert, burning in even hotter sand dunes, watching her arms roast and bubble and char until they too become sand that drifts into the ever intensifying winds.

Who’s to say? Certainly not the woman.

When evening comes, she lies in her shack, insulated from dust storms and the cold. Most likely, she’s coated the shack in a protective seal of some kind, but it’s also possible that there isn’t a shack at all but rather a dug-out cave. This she has smoothed with water from the aquifer that rests just at the bottom of a grand staircase she’s constructed from the cave. It’s more like an underground pool, and this is where she bathes, by the ethereal bluish glow of a thousand bioluminescent creatures.

Or, maybe she sleeps in a crudely constructed grave, complete with a headstone and pulley system for when she’s ready to bring a heavy pile of sand down upon herself.

The sun has just set.

As she takes the time to decide whether she’s ready to die, her memories begin to fracture. One, in particular, is at the mercy of her declining mind, old hopes rising to rewrite the truth.


Her husband bought a boat when they’d gotten the news. They lived near a dreary old bay where the waters weren’t right for fishing and he was always alone out on the water.

He’d christened it, The Judy, and she knew from the start that he loved that thing more than he loved her. He would spend hours circling the water, too afraid to venture out into the open sea and when he came home, his eyes took on a melancholy only a sick heart could produce.

The dinner she made would grow cold as he stared at it and not her. When he finally picked up his fork, she had washed her own dishes and made her way to the living room. After, he’d plop on the empty couch and ask her unanswerable questions.

“Do you ever just want to dump our life and start over somewhere new?”

“Like where?”

“Somewhere warmer. A place with people who smile sometimes.”

“Where would that be?”

“I don’t know.”

They watched the bright screen until they couldn’t escape the happy little jingles for anti-depressant meds.

In the bedroom, he grabbed a photo album called Judy and Me from his bedside table and flipped through the sleeves he’d filled over the years. A few times, he broke the silence of her blank stare, chuckling with a backstory:

“See, that was the year when we got hardly any rain and ran ashore on this sandbar. I took it just before Judy found her way back to the water, when all hope was lost.”

Or sighing at a forgotten memory:

“Ah. That was the weekend we thought we saw dolphins. I forgot about that. See, it couldn’t have been dolphins because the waters aren’t right. I took these before I realized I was seeing old tire scraps in the early morning fog.”

She didn’t turn to look. He took no notice.

When she turned the lamp off and darkness filled the space between them, she let her tears soak into the mattress. She imagined that they pooled around her, transforming her into a boat more beautiful than Judy, lifting her off the unmoving earth and out of her immovable life. Sometime during the night, his arm would pull her to him and she’d finally be able to sleep. It was like five years ago, before the boat, before the confirmation of her inability to have children, back when they had plans and hope and smiles.

Often, she imagined what would have happened if she’d answered his questions differently, honestly. She’d spent hours wondering where they might go to start over. Where could they go where the doctors would lie, tell them to keep trying, and they would? Their joint realization would be the tonic they took together. And the blow wouldn’t have been like a bombshell on the bedrock of their marriage.

To sail without direction—that was her wish. To land on a new shoreline, a new city designed solely for them. It wouldn’t have a name. Just a vision frozen in a kaleidoscope, the kind of picture she wanted preserved in an album inscribed with her name.


If she sleeps in the shack, the desert spreads out around her. The slats of wood begin to split, letting in the light of the stars and maybe that of the moon. There is no power she possesses that can overcome the space around her, wont to collapse with gravity and reach out endlessly.

The desert never asks if it’s ready to be stopped. She asks herself if she is. Her hand is connected to a rope with a great weight behind it and all she has to do is pull. But the desert is too open.


Theirs was the only unnamed boat in the harbor. They figured it was how they could be clever among Pier Pressure, Just Swell, Seas the Day and the like. Just a simple, classy white sailboat without a name. Together, they ventured past the coastal confines into the open sea where they fished, swam, and fled storms.

At home, they talked incessantly and often at the same time. This was before they got the news.

“Can you imagine! A houseboat, moored off any coast we wish. We can travel the world with our house at our fingertips. Airports and train stations wouldn’t factor into the equation, not to mention the packing, shipping, and constant house-hunting—”

“—I mean I’m not even ready yet and can you imagine me pregnant? I’m already a nightmare! And don’t even get me started on how much my body would change. Besides, one of us could be infertile, I mean it’s been years and not even a miscarriage—”

Her husband cut in. “Whoa, whoa, repeat that last part.”

“It’s been years and—”

“—No! The part about infertility!”

“Well, one of us could be…” she said.

“But you’ve been pregnant before.” His brow furrowed, fingers splayed in their own question.

“That was different.”

“What d’you mean it was different?”

“I was just extremely late.”

After that, they’d gone to see the doctor and discovered their doctor had no bedside manner and that she was the problem; he was fine. They spent that night locked into a fiery debate about what happened next. The dinner she prepared grew cold and lumpy as they attacked each other’s moral integrity, the fabric of their trust shredded in a single volley across the kitchen table:

“But we can get through this, can’t we? We can get through anything,” she pleaded.

He stared at his bowl of stone-cold soup. He picked up the spoon. But by the time she picked up her own, he’d washed the contents of his bowl down the sink. By morning, he’d packed up their unnamed boat and left the harbor.

She replayed her last question with a level of uncertainty that scared her. What had she really asked him? Get through this. He must have thought she meant something different, something big like talk-therapy or fertility treatment. He always said there was nothing they couldn’t conquer, that he would fail at life if they weren’t together.

She realized they hadn’t defined their terms.

If they’d named the boat together, it would have been the thing to stop him.


If she spends her days planting seeds, she thinks she must see more growth beneath her garden than she does now. She runs her hands along the dark walls of the cave, dense with sand and dirt and clay, not even sure if she’s in a desert. And maybe she isn't, not really. No root systems clump together, no hairy plant material tickles her palms.

She has forgotten now what she was thinking. Something about flowers? As she stares up at the top of her dug-out cave—for there never was a shack—the lights from the glowing creatures flicker slowly until there are no more reflections in the water. She slowly sinks. It is the perfect temperature. She can’t feel the black water as it blots out her face.


The boat had remained a viable topic of conversation once it became clear that no children would be on the way. For years, they tossed the idea around until it became so real that the actual purchase seemed redundant. So, no boat.

And no kids.

He’d taken their news just fine, and though she wept daily, she had what she wanted.

“It’s my fault just as much as yours,” he said. His words refused to shrink from the truth of the matter, which was, simply, that their bodies were faulty. No biological drive could rewrite that fact. Nor could a mental drive. Or an emotional one.

“We should go somewhere new, try to make a new plan in a new town,” she said.

“Nah. All our plans are here.”

“But what about all the, you know, reminders?”

“Listen. It’ll be just like the boat. The kids are practically born already and we can see them grow if we stay. If we abandon the place of their conception, it’ll be like we killed them.”

When she made dinner, it was meant to be eaten cold. Sandwiches.

“From the homemaker who doesn’t have a home to make,” she said, smiling through tears.

“Home for two.”

“You don’t think we’ll want to adopt at some point?” she asked as the food sat there, perfectly content.

“If we do, that’s when we’ll move. But right now, I want to sit with our babies.”

And when they went to the bedroom, he showed her the scene of the births, the babies falling, bloodied and screaming, onto the mattress. Because they’d talked about this and a hospital birth was out of the question. The cradle was over by the dresser.

When the children got their own rooms, she’d insist on keeping the doors cracked in case they fell out of bed or got sick. And if they fought, he’d make them sit on their bed until they fell asleep next to each other, that way, the sun would never set on their anger.

He held her fast that night and together they wept in darkness. Their tears pooled around them like the bay, buoying them out into the sea of their plans.

Years after their children would have grown up, he told her he had finally grieved their loss. But it wasn’t a loss, she said. We had it. Still, he said. They’re gone and I’m okay.


She runs her hands over the five walls of her lidless hole, acknowledging pebbles and sand grains and boulders beginning to swell out from the sides. Did there used to be a pool here? She can’t remember.

Her hand is tied to a rope with a large weight behind it. It is a weight too heavy for a single person to pull from down below, but that’s why she has a pulley-system.

Is she ready? Ready for what?


The sky above her grave reveals a quickly developing dust storm, swallowing the stars in a far-reaching, yellowed gulp. She doesn’t bother to cover her eyes. The increasing winds pile more on top of her and still she grasps the rope. It is only a thin blanket of dust but it is how she imagined her death throes would feel. She knows the rope is there and that she can pull it when she is ready.

Didn’t she pull it hours ago, when the winds came in?

The sun rises overhead. As the hours pass, her skin begins to burn, but she is unsure if she feels it. It reaches bubbling and the boils burst and pressurize in a cyclical pattern. That is probably the most uncomfortable stage. And she knows she could pull the sand. The trouble is, she can’t feel the rope.

When she begins to char, her arms, nose, knees becoming like paper lifting into the intensifying winds, she feels a maternal instinct rush toward the sand grains that surround her. The pulley-system she’d so meticulously crafted to grant her a choice suddenly jerks at the mercy of a wind, swinging chaotically over the grave, back to the lawn, and then back again. Her eyes are angled up at it, partially buried, welcoming the sand as it plummets where it was designed to fall.


She will sink and rise in the open desert, as the winds activate its ebbs and flows. But just as the ocean is not bottomless, neither are the sands. Perhaps it will take a lifetime for her to reach the bedrock and maybe she won’t pass The Judy on the way.

If she does, she’ll remember that her husband blamed her even before they got the news, that he was never scared of venturing off to sea, that his boat was simply one of many named vessels in the harbor. She will learn that when they talked—often and at the same time—there were only sore throats and salty lips. And the food was always cold.

Short StoryLove

About the Creator

Mackenzie Davis

“When you are describing a shape, or sound, or tint, don’t state the matter plainly, but put it in a hint. And learn to look at all things with a sort of mental squint.” Lewis Carroll

All work is owned by Mackenzie Davis.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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Comments (17)

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  • Zohaib Iqbal3 months ago

    Hi, please readout my stories for sporting me I will be very thankful to you

  • Donna Fox3 months ago

    Here I go being a double commenter… But this was so good I gave it a second read and wanted to say congratulations on Top Story!!! 🎊

  • Dana Crandell3 months ago

    I was locked into this entire experience. This is a masterpiece that deserves Top Story and so much more!

  • Sonia Heidi Unruh3 months ago

    Thrilled to see this work of art as top story. The irony is this is a story of sinking low, seeking the bottom and finding only falling. The depth of so many layers. Well done!!

  • Naomi Gold3 months ago

    What a pleasant surprise to see this older story of yours get recognized. Congrats on Top Story! 🥂

  • Catherine Dorian3 months ago

    “Years after their children would have grown up, he told her he had finally grieved their loss. But it wasn’t a loss, she said. We had it. Still, he said. They’re gone and I’m okay.” What desperation you capture here in the main character’s want for her husband, intermingled with her want for a family. Hypnotic storytelling, Mackenzie.

  • Em Starr3 months ago

    Oh wowwww, Mackenzie. This was just captivating. Masterful storytelling! I absolutely loved it!

  • Ashley Lima3 months ago

    This was phenomenal. Congrats on TS!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Captured the relationship poetically and creatively!!! Congratulations on Top Story !!!♥️♥️💕

  • Judey Kalchik 3 months ago

    I loved this when first read- glad it was properly made a top Story!

  • Donna Fox4 months ago

    Mackenzie, I fell in love with the poetic feel of your opening paragraph, it really set the tone for the rest of the story! Through out he story you painted such vivid and metaphoric imagery, I found it incredibly captivating and engaging! I was able to draw parallels in the beginning story and the story about Judy and her husband. I felt like when you talked about her planting seeds that really could be pebbles was symbolic of her infertility. I also felt that when you spoke of her wandering the dessert and lying alone in her cave, was imagery for what was happening in Judy’s mind and her feelings towards what felt like a love-less marriage. She felt isolated and alone in a situation that they should have been facing together. I love that you were able to turn this story around and have them come together to paint a picture that eased the suffering they felt by their loss. Overall this was such a tension-filled, imagery-filled and metephoric story! I feel like I am still unpacking so much of the images and metaphors you inserted! This felt like one of those very classical excerpts our teachers in school would have us study to talk about all the literary devices within it. Then we’d discuss the meanings and messages behind everything! Such a great piece of writing by you Mackenzie, probably my favourite from you to this date!

  • Kim Loostrom4 months ago

    This was gripping! You descriptions are so vivid and the interactions between the couple are too real! Truly incredible work!!

  • Judey Kalchik 4 months ago

    I read this through, twice, so that I could at first know the story and then savor the words. This is a beyond-incredible work.

  • I'll tell you what you told me: This belongs in a lit mag. Or an anthology. Tell me when your short story collection comes out.

  • This was intense. I loved the contrasting story lines. So vivid and rich breathtaking in scope. You really portrayed a helplessness while still clinging to the rope for control those were my favorite parts

  • Heather Hubler4 months ago

    You painted that pain so perfectly, watching miscommunication, lies and blame wreak havoc on a relationship. What a sad tragedy to witness. Beautifully penned :)

  • Andrei Z.4 months ago

    Mackenzie, you know what? I'm officially in love with your prose! It's a perfect tale of despair you wrote here! Something that I wouldn't wish to happen in real life to anybody, but on paper, it's damn mesmerizing! I think I should read it one more time to catch the devil hidden in the details!

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