Today, we are pleased to bring you the third place winner of our Short Story Award for New Writers: “The First Location” by Molly Reid. This story depicts the interior life of a woman, Shannon, as she reacts to the disappearance of a girl in her town, and struggles with her role as a mother at the same time as she tries to find footing for herself. This story stunned us with its immediacy and wit on the sentence level. Read on and be amazed.
“Her sister had always held her at a distance, like a goldfish in a bowl. She would peer into the glass from time to time to make sure Shannon was still alive and to congratulate herself on not being a goldfish.”
The girl had been in Shannon’s English class, indistinguishable before she went missing from the others. The ones chiseled from marble, spun from silk. They walked around campus like gods holding their power in check, gracious with omniscience. They sat beside her in lecture halls, in classrooms with tidy rows of desks, and mostly acted like she didn’t exist. She was an uncomfortable reminder, a specter, the Ghost of Female Future. Yes, her presence said—one day, and it will happen before you know it, these lines around your eyes, this splintering of beauty. Your hair will lose its gloss. The bagger at the grocery store calls you ma’am. The construction workers let you pass by in peace. You walk down the street trying not to think about your own body, your twenty-year-old self living inside you like another beating heart.
On the small TV above the bar, they showed the same picture they always showed: The missing girl against a tree in a park, straight white teeth, long blond hair pulled off a pretty neck. Looking as if she’d just received an award, or fallen in love.
The story still ran periodically, though it had been almost three months now and no new information had been found. How tragedy struck a small Midwestern college town last March when a young girl disappeared walking home alone, never to be seen or heard from again. Over images of street corners and dry empty fields, the newscaster recited details in a blunt unmusical tone. The missing girl’s cell phone found in the grass by the Walmart just outside town, the only fingerprints her own, no outgoing calls or texts past the time she went missing. Friends say she’d left the bar early, that it was not yet dark, that she didn’t have far to go. A walk they’d all done before, down streets considered safe enough. The story continued to offer up the missing girl’s bland credentials—on the volleyball team, a straight-A student, reliable teammate and friend, kind daughter and sister, a delightful student!—intended as clues or warnings, breadcrumbs for the rest of them to follow. But where, Shannon wondered. Out of danger, or into it?