What jumped out to us immediately in William Hawkins’s “You’re Not the Only One,” selected as the third place finalist in our 2020-2021 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, was suffocation. The every day patterns and routines that Elise falls into raising her two boys while Benjamin completes his doctorate become like a tomb. There’s a very visceral sense of her life closing in on her, where any one thing might be too much. The prose, dense and rhythmic, the clauses sometimes competing for focus as they spill over line after line only adds to the effect. You don’t want to miss this.
This is Monday. There’s laundry in one of the laundromats, in one of the low brick buildings scattered throughout the complex. They take credit cards, the machines inside, only credit cards. Sometimes you swipe, but the card doesn’t read. Sometimes you swipe, and the machine denies the card. She’s learned you must keep swiping until the machine relents, she’s learned, and she swiped until the machine relented and there’s a load—she hates the word but what else is there?—there’s a load in the laundry, two, three loads, she takes up three washing machines with their filthy clothes, their jeans and sweats and underwear and shirts and socks and underwear, God, how much underwear? It takes three washing machines, three runs of credit card swiping, and all for thirty minutes. It’s been thirty minutes. But Wyatt is napping on her and she knows, she knows by the way he breathes by—there, right there—the way he moves his hand, twitches, if she moves he’ll wake up.
She’d hoped home would be as easy as the knickknacks and hand-me-downs, her great-aunt’s sofa and stepfather’s bookcase and the faded Persian rug she’d bought at a garage sale in Temecula, even if this new floor already has carpet—what does it matter when the carpet here is so cheap, thin, scratchy, a blue material she doesn’t want to inspect too closely. It can be home—it can—as long as the brass umbrella stand is next to the door, as long as the false jade Buddha sits on the toilet tank. All her cheap treasures. The ugly rooster painting hanging in the kitchen, the poorly painted credenza, the cedar chest. The cedar chest especially. Once it was at the foot of their bed, she felt better or, if not better—she didn’t feel better—clear-sighted, then. Understanding where she is and why. What keeps her and her ugly furniture together.
The boys love it. Of course. For Barclay, it’s an adventure. Barclay has a fantasy of being a superhero, the new apartment complex the city he’s sworn to protect. Sworn. She wants to ask him what he swore. What do six-year-olds believe in? And Wyatt, so young, to Wyatt—and she cannot get past the strangeness of this—the world is secure. Steadfast. Wyatt, existence parading for him, a performance for his narrow blue eyes to take in, he safe in the center, with his mother, his father, his older brother revolving around him, satellites, she is his satellite, that’s all she is, his satellite. Don’t think it. Satellites are caught. She isn’t caught. She isn’t a satellite. She won’t think it.