“A deeply flawed and funny character, I thought of Hollis long after reading, wondering what happened to her,” guest judge Chelsea Bieker says of “Leap Year” by Chloe Alberta, the second place finalist in our 2022 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers. “At times relatable, raw, and equal measures wise and naive, this voice felt impulsive and unpredictable and yet somehow fully grounded in the well-drawn and yearning world of the Trunk House. Where else will Hollis’s misguided searching lead? I’d like to know. I’d follow the voice anywhere.” Follow along below.
Neil was ugly in an interesting way. His eyes puffed out and his chin was tiny. But he had a great head of swoopy silver hair. Hollis liked his belly, which pushed his flannel shirt away from the rest of his spindly body like he’d tucked a small melon inside. His nose hairs poked out of their caverns and wiggled around when he talked.
Hollis was bored, so bored, so gruesomely bored she’d resorted to tracing the tip of a butcher’s knife along the inside curve of her hip bone. Bored on a cosmic level so she withdrew her last eighty-seven dollars and fucked off to a cabin up north to do a new kind of nothing in a place where she didn’t have to buy her own toilet paper.
She paid for the cabin using one of her clients’ credit card numbers, and with her own money she got three bottles of gas station wine and a tank of gas station gas, a jumbo bag of cheese puffs and some cans of salmon. She had a psychic vision of her toothpaste on the bathroom counter and had to drive back home to get it. She flipped her apartment the bird on her way out.
Martha from the website told her on the phone that she wouldn’t be there when Hollis arrived, but she should take a left after the greenish house and drive up a little hill and the Trunk House—that’s what her cabin was called, because of all the trunks—would be just past a tree that looked like an old man with his mouth open. Her husband’s phone number was on the table by the key. He’d be around, just in case. Martha said she should turn the light on right away or she might trip over a trunk. So far Martha was not a liar. The Wi-Fi password was TrunkHouse69 and Hollis wondered if Martha was funny or if that was the year she was born.
The cabin smelled like chlorine and peanut butter. The peanut butter was from the mousetraps lining the walls. Hollis didn’t know what the chlorine was from. When she was younger she used to mix up chlorine and chloroform. She once made a comment that sparked a full investigation of her YMCA swim instructor.
The Trunk House was one big room up a set of stairs just inside the door, with a queen-sized bed against one wall and a clawfoot tub against another, vaulted wood ceilings with square skylights that illuminated a truly formidable collection of trunks—green, brown, leather straps, gold latches, huge at the end of the bed, stacked like a pyramid in the corner. An inky guest book tattooed wood paneled walls. Rhonda Wuz Here. Last April, Casey and Colleen were honeymooning, xoxo, their affections encased in a heart of faded sharpie. Hollis ran a hand across the quilt on the bed where Casey and Colleen consummated their marriage. She wondered if Rhonda wuz here before or after the coffee machine stopped working.
She would only be there a few days but Hollis unpacked her bag. Hollis couldn’t stand living out of a bag. She unrolled her sweaters and folded them like a department store display. She lined her boots up with the edge of the top stair. She propped her toothbrush up against the box of tissues on the shelf above the toilet and, in case it fell, closed the toilet seat.
She’d brought one book with her. She stacked it in line with Martha’s collection, which included The Brothers Karamazov, Lolita, and Snooki’s autobiography. Hollis read the acknowledgements page of that one. “So many people helped make this book possible—fist pumps, bitches!” Hollis’s book wasn’t even a novel, it was the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire, which she kept with her always. Graham had given it to her. She found it on the kitchen table one morning, with an index card bookmark that said he was leaving her to focus on building his laundromat empire.
He texted her later on, Did you get my present ha ha. He texted like that, with a space between the has. She texted him back, Ho hum, enjoy your detergent, and threw her phone gently across the room.