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This Surely Is a Dream

Suburbia, 1998

By CJ MillerPublished 2 months ago Updated about 2 hours ago 4 min read
First Place in Just a Minute Challenge


The scent of rain hangs heavy in the air. Catlike, shivering, you slip through the door wearing your shyness as makeup, rosy blotches blooming atop damp skin.

Newly seventeen, you are but a fragment of who you will become and, in tandem, more whole than you will be hereafter.

You don't know this yet.

You don't know him yet.


There she was, in platform double suede

A popular song plays in the background, its refrain of candied sex creeping about your neck like ivy, dissonant chords cinching tight. There's a hint of perversion to it, a vague disquiet, and you think of how your mother, ever offended, would object. But then, Mom is not here.


There she was, like disco lemonade

The house is cozy, if generic, a complement to the Anywhere USA street on which it sits. He's leaning against a nearby wall, ubiquitous party cup in hand, ball cap yanked down over eyes of, as you'll discover, hazel-gold. You find yourself staring, and before you can look away, he takes notice.

With practiced motion, he tilts his brim upward, completing the visual circuit.


A crowd lingers, their faces rendered featureless as he shifts into artful, lucid relief. Your blush, already aflame, only deepens when he grins at you, warmth spreading with the ease of honey on a summer morning.

His attention is steady, alchemical, the intensity bold and kind in equal measure; a target men twice his age cannot hit, let alone with such precision.


Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat

The downpour lashes at every windowpane, its metallic rhythm keeping time with your pulse. When the stranger steps forward, self-assured in a manner owing to youth, you recognize why nothing, perhaps no one, has been enough before this sodden April night. Oblivious to the clichés—and they abound—the moment strikes you as bespoke; threads woven across centuries and planes, fate culminating in this very meet-cute.

You've been discovered, made Real as velveteen once banished to a dusty corner. It feels intoxicating.

It feels like having found your way home in the dark.


"Hi," you mumble, spellbound. He asks your name, and you rush to reply, flustered to learn of his low, calming voice, far removed from your daily experience.

His tone is all but reverent when he repeats your answer, this given title that has come to define you; so close is he that you can taste the liquor's sting on his breath.

This word, your word, takes the shape of a full-bodied plea in his mouth: See me, too. Reciprocate.

A crack in his armor, and you like him the better for it.

Then, aloud, "That's pretty. I'm James."


Concern clouds his expression. "You must be freezing. Want me to get a towel?"

"I'm good," you say, embarrassed that he clocked the slight tremble. As you ponder what comes next, his fingers reach out and brush a skein of hair, heat producing a charge as they skim your collarbone.

Your gaze once more seeks his and, upon higher recognition, space-time collapses. With a blink, you are twenty-three and cocooned in white, the gown's sash helping to anchor your lightness.

He awaits you in finery, smile unchanged from that inaugural spring when the violets came early.

You know joy.


Though he misses the birth—pressing work issues–the rest is smooth sailing. She is hours old to your twenty-six years and, for the second occasion in this existence, your defenses have failed you.

The infant peers from beneath upturned lids, irises bright and shining, her yawn a crooked, precious O. Where you expect only innocence to reside, there is a font of native wisdom.

You are mine, and I am yours, she telegraphs, tiny fist swallowed by your palm. Humbled, you realize no love could be as pure—as absolute—and something needful within goes silent.

You know peace.


Spilt whiskey coats the rug, bits of glass forever enmeshed in the ruined fibers. Your saving grace is that she is gone, visiting relatives, thus spared the pain of bearing witness.

At thirty-four, concealer will no longer suffice, and the stripes covering your throat betray themselves in daylight, inky stains frayed yellow at the edges. He promises, again, that this will be the last of it, but the war in your gut rages on.

You know torment.


Wax and vanilla permeate the room. Sighing, you blow out the lone candle on a makeshift cake, its contents leaden and well past expiry.

"Happy fiftieth to me," you whisper, glancing around as if the apartment might take pity and respond. For the ninth consecutive year, it would seem he's forgotten, or maybe the bar just holds that much appeal.

You know you must leave.


You are sixty-eight, and though you stayed, he has flown. The car's back seat is cavernous, slick, its onyx interior like being consumed alongside Jonah. The tissue in your grasp has reverted to a watery pulp, and mascara bleeds into lines freshly unearthed.

For whom these tears fall, exactly, has been lost to mist and fog. Your girl, long since grown and saddled with her own regrets, claims she couldn't make it. She sent wildflowers in her stead, their petals garish against a Victorian-grey afternoon.

Eyes shut, you picture him in the hat he wore that first evening, the journey from strong and green to eternal black a sea of confusion.

You know nothing.


Sliding your key in the lock, you curse each mistake that has delivered you here, assuming more agency than is realistic. A caution, you muse, should be standard in every woman's epitaph: Never set loose your daughters unseen.

At this, you wonder how your headstone will read.

Wife-to-James. Mother-of-Treasured-Child. Here She Lies, Unidentified.

You know defeat.


Mama, this surely is a dream

"Wanna take a walk? Since you're already drenched . . . hard to hear over the music."

His offer commands your focus, and the future dissolves with haste, abandoning you to the present.

"Sure," you agree, undaunted by weather and premonition in turn.

He twists the knob, inviting an unseasonable chill. The scent of rain hangs heavy in the air. Catlike, shivering, you are both dead and alive, still able to run, but it's of no use.

At seventeen, you know everything.


About the Creator

CJ Miller

Author • Dog mom • Castaway

"Think of this: that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other."

- A.S. Byatt

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Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  4. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (33)

  • Dominic Casey-Lee7 days ago

    That was f*cking excellent. Well deserved first prize, congrats!

  • RV10 days ago

    Congratulations 👏🏻🎉👏🏻🎉👏🏻🎉

  • Such a journey, of heart and love, and of losses stacked atop losses. And of potential. Stunning storytelling. <3

  • Renessa Norton22 days ago

    Superbly written! And really encapsulates what it feels to be young and the dangers that lurk with one wrong choice. Well deserved first place!

  • Hey back to say congrats on your first place victory.

  • Shaun Walters27 days ago

    Congratulations on the win and choice of song!

  • Mackenzie Davis29 days ago

    This made me read slow. That's rare for me. Perfect choice for a winning entry! Congratulations!!

  • PK Colleran 29 days ago

    What a journey this one minute takes us on as readers. Compelling story. Excellent writing. Congratulations on a well-deserved win. 🌅

  • Lori Melton30 days ago

    Wow! This might be the best short story I’ve ever read! I literally have chills, sorrow, and a bazillion undefined emotions buzzing through me - speechless- so wonderful- congratulations!!! 👏🏻👏🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻

  • Wow! Great story and well deserved win… What a pity that at ‘ At seventeen, you know everything.’🥺… the places little choices take us step by step 😳.

  • Anna 30 days ago

    Back to say congrats on your win!<3

  • Gabriel Huizengaabout a month ago

    This is unbelievably brilliant - unquestionably a first place-worthy piece!! Congratulations, and thank you for sharing your artistry. This piece is heavy- the way anxious premonitions paint the inevitable, each vision so beautifully and movingly described - really amazing work, CJ!

  • Shirley Belkabout a month ago

    Intriguing, insightful, sad, and brilliant! Well-deserved first place! Congratulations

  • Bradley Ramseyabout a month ago

    Congratulations on the first place win! This story was incredible. I loved the unique structure and the vivid imagery throughout. Each slice of time stood on its own, but together they formed a cohesive whole. I can definitely see why this one took first place. Bravo!

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Wooohooooo congratulations on your win! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Z.a.i.n.t.zabout a month ago

    wow, perfect👌👌👌

  • Scott Christensonabout a month ago

    Such a well written story. Reminds me that so much in life is predestined and we're all walking well trodden paths.

  • Annieabout a month ago

    Lovely read and journey through the subject's eyes and thoughts. Congrats on your win!

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    Congrats on the win. Incredible story.

  • JBazabout a month ago

    Well done and congratulations on a well written piece that hits home

  • Sonia Heidi Unruhabout a month ago

    Phenomenal writing! This took me on a quite unexpected journey, with an ending as wide open as the beginning.

  • Anna 2 months ago

    Congrats on your Top Story!

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!!🥰🥰🥰

  • Andrea Corwin 2 months ago

    This is wonderful: This word, your word, takes the shape of a full-bodied plea in his mouth: See me, too. Reciprocate. A crack in his armor, and you like him the better for it. Great job! Congratulations on TS.👏🎉

  • Cynthia Fields2 months ago

    This is absolutely beautiful! A painting of words! Elegant and more. Congratulations on Top Story!

CJ MillerWritten by CJ Miller

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