“‘Straight To My Heart’ strikes like a fleet of live arrows. Its pulse is jagged and it leaves an unerringly lucid imprint; not a word is out of place. From the first sentence to the last, the narrative voice combines subtle craft and raw sensation in proportions that shimmer and pierce.” – 2021 Guest Judge Helen Oyeyemi. What other introduction does this need? Read our 2020-2021 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers grand prize winning story from Dean Jamieson below.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes. Ask anybody, and they’ll tell you that I’m the most modest person they’ve ever met. Yes, I did drugs. I could shoot half a point, straight to the vein, and ride it. But I started getting careless. I started bringing drugs around the house, and my brother, he was a saint, god rest his soul, but he was a follower.
My brother’s turning blue and they just leave him there, in the back of the Dunkin Donuts. They take his shoes, his brand-new Jordan XIs, right off his feet. They don’t even call 911. An hour later, the place is closing down, they’re putting up the chairs and wiping down the floors, and a worker finds him back there, cold.
The only ID he has is a fake ID. By the time they get a hold of us he’s already in a drawer. It’s the middle of the night. The receptionist is drinking coffee from a paper cup and eating pastry off a napkin. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life: she’s got acrylic nails, she’s holding the pastry on the insides of her fingers, to protect the acrylics. The doctor double-checks his clipboard and says, I am very sorry. His eyes are bloodshot and his jawline is flexed. His face does not say sorry.
My mother’s gotta heart like a fist and a face carved out the cliffs of Moher, but she’s never been stoic. She doesn’t even wait until we’re out in the parking lot. She just starts crying right there. She starts tearing at my chest and arms. It’s your fault, she says. It’s your fault he’s dead. I just put out my arms and hold her, until she stops screaming and starts breathing and the tears soak, through my Springsteen shirt and three inches of chest, straight to my heart.
Why is it my fault? Because of the person I was? Because of the track scars down my arm? They read like braille. Touch them and you’ll know where I’ve been.