Whether it’s on a community or a global scale, the boundaries we draw for ourselves are every bit as powerful as the lines that define us by someone else’s pen. As border clashes and bottom lines weighed heavy on our minds, SFR invited writers near and far to explore what happens when one crosses over. Below, read the best short works of fiction that include this year’s traditional required vocabulary (six-pack, city limits and binge), followed by the nonfiction winners, beginning on page 20. (Julie Ann Grimm)

Fiction

1st

Category: Fiction
Author: Jared Baca

A Night in County

Carlos wasn’t sure what finally wrenched him from the uneasy stupor that always followed a night of heavy drinking. It could have been the piercing pain in his left shoulder, the dull ache in his temples, or the putrid odor of sweat and urine that hung in the air around him. They all hit him at once, and his stomach lurched as his intoxicated brain struggled to regain consciousness. He opened his eyes slowly, squinting in the fluorescent light that bore down on him from somewhere above his head. He was vaguely aware of the fact that he was lying on a concrete floor with his face pressed up against a set of grimy metal bars. His bones ached, which he supposed was to be expected after a night spent on cold cement, though he had no idea how long he had been there. The light pierced his vision in a series of jagged streaks, and the cell around him gradually began to come into focus. He almost wished it wouldn’t.

As the memory of where he was sluggishly returned to him, Carlos hoisted himself into a slouched sitting position with his back against the cinderblock wall. It was a clumsy and painful task, and he was silently thankful that no one was around to witness it. His relief dissolved the moment he looked up and saw that he was not, in fact, alone. An old man was seated on a bench bolted to the far wall. He sat unnaturally still, and Carlos had the eerie impression that the man was watching him, though he could not see his eyes. He had a weathered hand rested on each knee as if in meditation, and he wore rings of silver and turquoise on several of his fingers. Carlos hazily examined the man’s clothing; dirty cowboy boots, a denim jacket, and a narrow bolo tie around his neck. His hair, ash gray with a few remaining streaks of black, hung over his shoulder in a long braid. He was Native American, or at least looked the part, and as Carlos dimly wondered why the police had not confiscated his rings and bolo tie, the man spoke.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” he said in a low voice. He spoke slowly, as if weighing each word. “Not many people walk away from an accident like that.”

Carlos instinctively rotated his shoulder in its socket. It was stiff. The flesh on his arm screamed out where it had grazed the street. He remembered the ugly gash in his shoulder, which the paramedics had hastily bandaged before handing him over to the state troopers.

Anson Stevens-Bollen

“I know you got yourself a scrape or two, but you should still consider yourself fortunate,” the old man said.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” Carlos said hoarsely.

“Wish I could say the same for the kid,” the man continued.

Carlos hesitated. He did not like the idea of getting into a conversation with a crazy old drunk in a jail cell, but he couldn’t stop himself.

“What kid?” he asked.

“You don’t remember?” the man asked. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You couldn’t even stand up straight when they tossed you in here. After you lost control of your bike and went skidding over the median, the kid coming in the other direction had to swerve to avoid crushing you like a prairie dog. His car went off the road and he got banged up pretty bad. He’s in intensive care right now. They’re not sure he’s going to make it.”

The knot in Carlos’s stomach tightened.

“How do you know all this?” he asked.

“I know,” the old man said quietly.

“Nobody likes an eavesdropper,” Carlos said dismissively.

“Twenty years old,” the man went on, paying him no mind. “Your sons are around that age, aren’t they, Carlos?”

At the man’s words, Carlos felt as if the air was being slowly let out of his lungs. The only sound he managed was a sickly croak from somewhere at the back of his throat. How does he know that? he thought, his mind still foggy.

“There’s a good chance he’ll die tonight,” the old man said, “but that depends on you.”

“You can’t put this on me,” Carlos almost shouted, ignoring the twinge at the corners of his eyes. “This kind of stuff happens every day. It’s not my fault.”

“Oh but it is,” the man said. “You were drunk, still are in fact. That’s no one’s fault but your own. I know how it goes, too. You pick up a six-pack, maybe a few nips of whiskey to calm you down, then you hop on your bike and head out past the city limits and you’re free. You’re not the only man to disappear on a binge when things get tough.”

Carlos began to protest but the old man talked over him.

“But I’m not talking about what happened. I’m talking about what is going to happen. This is going to play out in one of two ways, and the outcome will affect you just as much as that kid lying in St. Vincent’s.”

“What are you talking about?” Carlos asked, unable to mask the unease in his voice.

“If that kid dies then your DUI gets bumped up to vehicular manslaughter. You’ll likely do time, and you might even end up like those two over there if you’re not careful.” He nodded to the two men in the opposite cell, who scowled at him as they passed a tiny plastic bag between them. “And let’s be honest, Carlos,” the man went on, “we both know that careful isn’t your style.”

“You don’t know me, amigo,” Carlos said bitterly. “Even if you think you do.”

“I know plenty,” the man said, his tone still determinedly light. “But let’s say the kid lives, you’ll get out of here with a slap on the wrist and some community service. The kid gets to enjoy the rest of his life, and so do you.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Carlos asked. He still didn’t believe the man. Was he trying to scare him? To assert his authority as the alpha dog in this piss-stained county lockup? Or was he just a preachy old drunk trying to pawn his own demons off on someone else?

“Because you get to decide what happens next,” he said quietly. “Now I don’t normally do this, but I thought you could use a break, Carlos. You’ve seen enough death lately. Your dad’s only been gone a few weeks, and I know you’re not handling it very well.”

This time the wave of nausea that swept over Carlos would have sent him sliding back to the ground, were it not for the steel bars propping him up. There was no way the cops who brought him in had known about his father. There was a chance he had mumbled something about it on his way in, even he had to admit he had been pretty drunk, but it still seemed impossible.

“How do you…?” Carlos began weakly.

“I told you, I know plenty,” the man answered.

I must be drunker than I thought, Carlos thought to himself. Either that or I walked away with some serious head trauma. There’s a good chance that this guy’s not even real. I could be talking to an empty cell right now.

“Who are you?” Carlos whispered.

The old man simply watched him, a gentle smile on his lips.

“Someone who’s giving you a chance you wouldn’t ordinarily get,” he said. “So what’ll it be?”

“If I did have a choice in all this,” Carlos said cautiously, “what would that choice be, exactly?”

“You convince me that you’ll stop all this. I need to know that if this kid lives and you don’t get locked up, that you won’t go out and just do something worse tomorrow. I need you to stop running, Carlos. Can you do that?”

“Are you…some kind of guardian angel?” Carlos asked without a hint of sarcasm. He had his flaws, but he was a good Catholic. He tried to be, anyway. Aside from the old man being a hallucination, it seemed like the only plausible explanation.

“You call me whatever you need to,” the old man said. “Just say the word, and the kid lives. It’s not too late. Not yet.”

“All right, fine,” Carlos said. “I’ll change.”

“Come over here,” the man said.

Carlos stood, his legs weak and his body aching, and shuffled across the cell toward the old man. He sat down next to him on the cold metal bench and gazed into his face. His skin was lined and rough, making him look even older than he had from across the cell. The man’s eyes held a strange sense of clarity and timelessness. Even at the age of 50 Carlos knew that his own bitterness was etched into his face, with every wrinkle and every bulging vein, and yet the old man seemed strangely unburdened by his age. Carlos felt a chill run down his spine, and again he had the irrational thought, somewhere in the back of his mind, that there was something spiritual about him. He held Carlos in his weary gaze for a moment as if he were looking straight through him, appraising everything about him, and Carlos suddenly felt ashamed. He was afraid that there was not much to see.

“Okay,” the old man said softly. “I believe you.”

With a sudden metallic scrape that made Carlos’s head throb, a door opened outside the cell and a police officer appeared as if out of nowhere, walking briskly toward them.

“Ortiz,” the officer called out. Carlos raised his head slowly. “Bail’s been posted, let’s go.”

He hesitated for a moment, looking from the officer to the old man beside him.

“You coming or what?” the officer asked impatiently.

“Yeah, yeah I’m coming,” Carlos said, rising slowly from the bench. When he reached the door to the cell he glanced back at the old man, who appeared not to have moved a muscle throughout their conversation. He nodded his head once, sagely.

As the police officer led Carlos out into the precinct to collect his belongings, Carlos turned to him.

“The kid in the accident, how’s he doing?” he asked.

The officer looked at him with a mixture of pity and distaste.

“He’s out of surgery, last I heard. They think he’s going to pull through,” he said. “Damn miracle if you ask me.”

“Yeah,” Carlos said quietly. “Something like that.”

He peered over his shoulder, trying to catch one last glimpse of his cellmate, but the cellblock vanished as the guard bolted the door behind him, and the old man vanished with it.

2nd

Category: Fiction
Author: Madeleine Sardina

Skyscraper

Annalise stretched her fingers to the sky, reaching until her shoulder ached. She wished for gravity to switch, to pull her down into the night. Or maybe a plane would come by and the wing would sever her arm at the socket, sending it into space where it belonged. She kept stretching high until her fingers began to tingle and lose feeling. Her hand finally swung back to earth, knuckles scraping against the brick roof. This skyscraper was a liar. She was nowhere near the sky.

The crisp hiss of air that came from the freshly opened beer can gave the illusion of expanse, but she knew it would still taste like piss. She twisted the tab until it broke off and then flicked it off the roof. She leaned over so her flat chest was pressed against her knees and she watched the tab fall until the distance crushed it into nothing. She shouldn’t have been throwing things from the roofs of skyscrapers, but she didn’t care. There’s nobody out this far, anyway; that’s why she chose this place.

The city stretched behind her for miles, buildings growing taller and taller until they reached their peak in the center of downtown. Here at the city limits, the buildings barely reached more than a few stories high. Except this one. It sprouted up early on when the city was first starting to come together and urban sprawl was barely a theory. People were amazed a building could grow so tall and they were convinced that all of the buildings around it would soon reach its height. But the developer decided to move to another part of town to build the rest of his skyscrapers, leaving this one lonely building out at the edge. The locals called it The Stray Hair.

Annalise sat back up too quickly, nearly toppling backwards and onto the gravely roof. Her calves flexed on the ledge as she caught her body but let her head spin. The stars swirled above and she didn’t take her eyes off them as she tipped the beer back down her throat. It barely touched her tongue, but the cheap taste of burned urine still clung to her breath. She dropped the can down with the rest and tore the last one from the plastic rings of the six-pack. Her limbs felt loose and buzzed with energy they didn’t have and she knew if she moved too quickly she would fall from the roof. But if she moved just quickly enough, she would fly off and never have to sit on this roof again just to touch the sky.

Her watch beeped. It was 2:57 but she checked anyway just to make sure. They would be around in the next few minutes. The calculations were always a little bit early. She stared up at the sky, hazy eyes trying to focus on one of the white dots. The cool gravel dug harsh red pockmarks into her thighs, the tiny rocks holding her to the roof like velcro. She shifted back and forth, lifting each leg in turn to break the seal. The rocks still sunk into her soft flesh. She kicked one leg, trying to get rid of the sharp points while tipping her head back for the last drips of beer.

Her stomach tipped backwards and she snatched a hand out to grab the ledge and stop her fall. The metal of the can crumpled in her sweaty palm and her pinky stung as she fell back onto the roof. Her skull cracked against the stone, her neck bent awkwardly beneath her weight. The alcohol dulled the pain. She stayed there, shoulders aching and warm, beer-thinned, liquid running down her hand and wrist and no doubt staining the end of her sleeve. Her watch beeped again. 3:00­—the latest the space station would fly overhead. She’d missed it. The rejection letter sitting on her desk at home sang of failure and here she was proving it right.

She screamed, throwing the broken can at the evidence of her late-night binge and sending them all scattering. She’d missed it. Seven years of sitting on this roof, reaching for the clouds and the stars, trying to climb ropes of rain and moonlight and she’d missed it. She kicked her legs and felt the ledge carve red lines into her. Annalise stayed on that skyscraper and let her blood dry, let her head stop swimming and her breath even from the wet rattling it had started. When the dawn light began and her neck had stopped tingling, she finally sat up. She reached back up to the sky with her caked-brown hand. The pitch indigo of the night had faded to a lilac.

Her lips tasted like dirty ocean water.

3rd

Category: Fiction
Author: Roy Bowen

4th Tuesday Women

“I think the reason we all like to get together, drink, and tell stories is because we’re old and lost,” spoke out Laurie to her gathered friends at The Meadows Retirement Village. “Not me,” Maria replied quickly. “I am on that van every time it leaves the parking lot…I don’t miss an event, show, or party. There is no lost in me.”

The women of The Meadows gather in Kate’s room on the 4th Tuesday of each month. Each bring their own drink. For Laurie cool white wine, Rose Ann sipped her water bottle, Maria preferred the bourbon and Coke of college days, Kate and Millie each carried a six pack, and Melissa the quiet feel of vodka.

The Meadows had been built three years ago, just outside the city limits, to take advantage of lower construction costs. There were 56 senior units, most occupied by those from cold weather states.

“Look, Donald died two years ago, on a golf course for God’s sake,” Jessica telling her journey to condo 42A at The Meadows. “He knew about money. I could not live here without Donald’s investments.”

“Well,” Maria said, adding her own story to the room of stories, “I don’t have a Donald. I worked hard and long for every pension dollar I get.”

The women each told their story in turn, really just wanting to find some comfort in someone listening and paying attention. When Kate’s cell chirped she slipped outside to assure her never visiting daughter she was still alive and yes, she missed seeing her grandkids. There was a soft knock on Kate’s door, barely heard by others but clearly expected by Millie. While others refilled glasses or uncapped a second beer, Millie led Tom of condo 15B to set beside her.

“Ladies,” began a clearly nervous Millie, “Tom will be around here more often...I mean, Tom and I have decided to move in together, mostly my place but sometimes his. The kids don’t know. We don’t plan to tell them.”

Sometimes the unexpected can bring forth an unexpected response. Jessica was first. “I truly miss my Donald. I would love to fix breakfast for a man again.”

“Jessica, fixing breakfast is not why Tom and Millie are violating condo regulations, and a few of God’s as well,” Laurie said, tilting her wine glass toward Jessica to make her determined point.

“Could I say something?” a timid Tom asked.

“No,” was the loud and immediate reply, even Millie.

Then quiet. “Another bourbon please,” asked Maria, now tilting toward Jessica’s shoulder rather than risk the walk to pour her own.

“Well, that was quite a little announcement Millie,” said Katie, the understood leader of these monthly gatherings. “If I can interrupt your binge drinking, Rose Ann and I have something important to tell you.”

After bringing Maria her bourbon, Rose Ann had moved to the sofa arm beside Kate. “This is all new for us. I didn’t know I would be saying all this except for Millie and Tom’s little surprise. Well, here it is. Rose Ann and I have been lovers for the past year.” Kate paused to let her words settle the room.

Kate continued, “We didn’t plan for this to happen. We both had husbands with kids and grandkids. We are telling you, our trusted friends, we don’t know about all this. Rose Ann and I just know being together makes sense for us both.”

Tom, now feeling more courage with Kate’s announcement, couldn’t wait to add, “Everyone deserves to find happiness, while we are still young,” his humor bringing smiles around the room. “You both are in good health and want to enjoy your days just like Millie and I. We are glad for you both.”

Marie, now in full tilt toward the cushions, rose on an elbow to say, “I don’t have any announcements.”

“Jessica, do you understand anything that has happened in the last fifteen minutes?” asked an even more lost than before Laurie.

Jessica leveled her eyes at each of the women before replying. “Yes. I am going home to a cat and an empty condo. So…yes, I understand perfectly.”

The drinking had slowed. Everyone leaning back into cushions, staring into cups for their own reflective answers. Rose Ann spoke first. “It’s still early. Let’s go to Nan’s and get our toes done. That is what we need to do girls. ”

So, all nodding their agreement, they rose as one and followed Rose Ann to her SUV and then on to Nan’s…Tom too.

Nonfiction

1st

Category: Nonfiction
Author: Caron Caraway

Over January Skies

It’s a dark and stormy night. (Really, it is.) Early January in Madrid, Spain. Thunderstorms up top, crews waiting for clearance. Me and Mother and Father are waiting in the space-available line at Torrejón Air Force Base for a flight on a transport plane for me to go back to the States, waiting, for the third day now. They call my name; it’s the last seat available.

I am 18. I am crying. I am scared. I have $100 pinned into my boot that I won off my father on a bet. He let me win so he didn’t actually have to give me travel money.

My mother is crying. My father is smiling; he wants me gone. I am recovering from a spontaneous miscarriage that my mother does not want my father to know about. I am being sent home to relatives in West Virginia. I am grateful to get away from my father.

I’m being sent away from my family in Madrid to go back to the continental United States. I’m an Air Force brat heading home, alone, crossing the Atlantic to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, USA. From there I have to find my way to a commercial airport and buy a ticket. I wonder if I have enough money. I go to college in June in West Virginia. It is January. Both my parents want me to fly away. They are sending me to the farm where her sister lives, to recover just like they did to my sister. Go away, come back when this thing is over. I realize it is over; I can never go back to home, family. The line is crossed.

I am sitting in a jacked-in chair, facing backwards. A corpsman is handing out earplugs that look like bubblegum. I pop one into my mouth. He laughs, “Not gum, little sister, ear plugs,” and hands me another one. I cry my shame.

Anson Stevens-Bollen

I see smiles and tears through the window. Door bangs shut.The line has been crossed.

We taxi, we take off. I am alone. I am utterly alone.

Twenty minutes later, we’ve leveled off and I feel a presence. Don’t hit on me, I pray.

It’s the Air Force pilot of the plane. “Hey, I saw all that.” He looks to be about 20. “Want to come up front and have a look around?” I know about flyboys. He’s crossing a line. “OK,” I say.

He introduces me to the crew. The plane is a C-130, huge with four engines, props not jets, with an obversation bubble. “Tonight we have a double crew…navigation systems are down. We’ll be reading the stars every 10 minutes. Sit here…”

He puts me in the pilot’s seat. And he sits down in the co-pilot’s seat.

“We’re at 40,000 feet. Your job is to yell when you see a red/green flashing light. Might be a helicopter on a collision course with us. We need you to yell it out…”

I’m in the pilot’s seat of a C-130 transport Air Force plane…with the pilot as my co-pilot. OMG…

I see the red and green flashing light. “OMG there it is!!!”

Says my co-pilot, “Put your hands on the wheel. Look down...underneath us is a massive thunderstorm.” (The lightning is flashing UP.) “When I tell you, turn left.”

“What about the helicopter?”

“Ha ha, that’s a navigational star. Left, left, left!”

I turn the wheel in front of me. Co-pilot says, “Too slow, go go go!!!”

So I crank that wheel and the plane banks hard left and everybody grabs something and yells. I hear noises behind me. I look at my co-pilot. He makes a level-it-out gesture. I start breathing again, he points to the dial with the level-it-out-to-horizontal bars…so I do that.

“We just took a left to Dover. Well done.”

Everyone up front settles down, and starts breathing again, too. It takes me some time to realize the kindness of this Air Force pilot’s awareness of my misery. He crossed a line letting me fly that plane.

Why?

We talked. “I lost my little sister. She was sent away and left us, I saw what all that was. Now let’s get to safe.”

I think I’m in love. He smiles, he knows. He loves flying, and he has just infected me.

We land in Dover and I buy a ticket to West Virginia. I haven’t eaten in a day. It’s a harsh January day at Chuck Yeager Field in Beckley, West Virginia. Remember that pilot? That’s landing on a cliff in a snowstorm. They tried to wave us off; too dangerous to land. Pilot did it anyway. So of course I land in a snowstorm and then ride over icy roads to the farm an hour away. My uncle was swearing and scared. After that Atlantic flight, no icy road can scare me. I get to the West Virginia farm before my mother’s letter had arrived to my aunt. She is confused as to my presence. They were snowed in in January. Nobody drives on a whim. No wonder at the reactions. They are brave but so afraid of so many things. I finally eat and sleep after 48 hours of too much excitement and confusion.

The next day I find I have the pilot’s phone number in my pocket. I call from the farm. He says, “Bless you for arriving home safely.”

I say, “You gave me such a gift. Why did you cross the line?”

He says, “Oh, we all have to sometime.”

I breathe my thanks through the phone. My uncle is yelling at me for spending his money. I had entered their household uninvited…he felt taken advantage of. But I was calling collect. And I still thought I was in love. “Hey, will I ever see you again?”

“No.” Pause. “But you gotta pass it on.”

So, I cross that line every chance I get.

2nd

Category: Nonfiction
Author: Ray Lopez

Crossing the Line

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” the woman told the group. “Woke up at 2:30 and started worrying about a test I have to give the kids today.” The large room contained the heavy aroma of coffee, cigarettes and donuts. Folding metal chairs screeched on the concrete floor as people adjusted their view of the speaker. Her thin hands shook slightly as she stroked them on the smooth fabric of her jeans. Shoulder length, faded blonde hair was gathered at the nape of her neck. A gray sweater and brilliant white sneakers completed the wardrobe. Attractive in a simple way, with a certain bearing. She looked tired.

“I lay awake until I decided to ‘do something’ but I didn’t know what that should be.” Her hands smoothed her hair, then tugged at her sleeves. “At five in the morning it came to me: I needed to come to this meeting.”

She scanned the room looking directly into everyone’s eyes. “I had to put myself together before coming here. It was stupid. I asked myself: ‘What should I wear?’ But it’s part of the ritual. Something I use to get me out the door every morning.”

One of the men handed her a bottle of water. Her smile of thanks hung by a thread. She unscrewed the cap, took a sip, closed her eyes and took another sip.

“I can see the symptoms,” she said. “These kids are either drinking or they are coming to school from families that drink. I can see it now. It’s what woke me up this morning.

“On Mondays they come to school after a hellish weekend at home. On Friday they dread school won’t be here for them because they have to be at home.”

In about an hour she’ll be standing in front of the school watching car after car pull up, most of them driven by women, and kids clamor out and run into the building. They come to a place where there are rules, structure, discipline and all of them have friends, she explains.

In her frank manner she looks at the crowd again, and asks, “What have I learned? What can I teach them?”

She draws from the water bottle again, but it’s empty. Confused she stares at it, shakes it, recaps it and places it at her feet.

“My sister has cancer. The bill to fix my car was $2,400. Next year I don’t know if the school district will lay me off.”

Irony clouds her face and her smile is tight. “I was a binge drinker on weekends. Started with a six-pack, then drove to the liquor store for the stronger stuff.

“We come here to tell our sad stories. I come here to rant, rave and bitch about how unfair it all is and you sit there and listen. This morning, it’s all I’ve got.”

She shivers and runs her hands along her sleeves. “I looked it up: in the past 14 years there have been more than 500 DWI arrests annually within the Santa Fe city limits.”

Hooking her thumb towards the front of the room she says, “Earlier, someone said: ‘Show up, pay attention, tell the truth and be oblivious to the outcome.’

“Truth be told, the first thing I thought this morning was, I could use a drink.”

3rd

Category: Nonfiction
Author: Andee Baker

“Below the Belt”

As a former academic, I was a conservative dresser, still am, if you accept a propensity for donning a hat, not uncommon in Santa Fe. One exception is like many hard-core fans of a rock band, on occasion I wear items with a logo or symbol, in this case, that of the Rolling Stones. Like other fans, once in a while I may choose to preserve a special t-shirt in the collection, saving it instead of wearing it. If not many were made, or the design is old or “classic,” a fan will store it in a drawer or closet, in pristine condition. Such shirts are untouched by sweat, trickling down from the excited fan’s armpits during a concert. Neither does the residue of Right Guard or Secret ever seep into the cotton, fleece, or polyester fabric, however washable. No stains permitted, no odors, no marks for the true collector, please! More rarely, a fan will frame the garment, placing it strategically in an arrangement with other Stones graphics such as posters announcing local shows, or paintings and photos of band members.

Certain types of Stones-wear are accessories rather than clothing, such as caps, bags, and belts. Picture this, a regular-sized leather strip, an inch and a half wide, dulled black, with a metal buckle on it. The silver, sculpted buckle is in the shape of a tongue, more particularly, the open lips, tongue, and teeth of the Stones logo, reportedly modeled after Mick Jagger’s mouth. When I bought it, I thought, isn’t that nice, a Stones tongue on a belt. What I did not consider was first, gender appropriateness: Is the belt at all feminine, or is it butchy, more masculine? I mean both sexes have tongues, right? Both men and women like the tongue symbol of the Stones. What I really did not take into account was the placement of the tongue on the body when slipping on the belt. Depending on the rise of your jeans, this tongue would hang relatively close to your crotch region, indeed, pointing directly to it, with the tongue part of the lips and tongue dropping a good three quarters of an inch below the leather. Does the shape of the buckle send a salacious message about the wearer, suggesting a special interest in the arts of the mouth and tongue? Does its positioning signal that you want someone to perform these acts on you, as soon as possible, or conversely, that you consider yourself expert enough to advertise your oral skills to the general populace?

I keep considering, musing on where and when I would wear it. The leather shop guy asked me how I liked it after he gave me the belt he crafted to fit the buckle, and I murmured back sheepishly, “It’s good.” I tried it on more than once, but my full-length image in the mirror jiggled nervously, telling me that wearing it would generate reactions well out of my comfort zone, that it would provoke a kind of attention that would confound me, that would complicate my everyday life. I asked a friend if he would wear it, and even after he assured me he would, I didn’t want to give it away. It is in virgin condition, no scrapes on the leather, no bends in it, no enlarged holes from the prong that secures the strap in place on the wearer, and no tarnish on the buckle. But what am I supposed to do, mount it on a nail or shape it into a coil and frame it? “Belt, with Lips and Tongue.”

Meet The Judge

Miriam Sagan

brought all the right chops to her volunteer job as a guest judge for the 2015 SFR Writing Contest, reading every submission and helping our staff narrow down the winners. As an acclaimed author and poet who’s working on a new novel, the head of the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College says aspiring writers, no matter what stage of life, should try to push their craft further.

Don't work a terrible, disconnected, soul-killing job during the day and expect to churn out inspiring words at night, or vice versa, Sagan says. Find a way to sustain yourself with some kind of skill, and stay in touch with your community.

"Peace and quiet and connection are essential in order to develop as a writer," she tells SFR. "Get that however you can."

The Prizes

SFR uses the entry fees for the writing contest as prizes. First-place authors won $100. Second-place winners got $50 to spend at Santa Fe Bite. Third-place entries received $20 to splurge at Chocolate Maven.

The Next Big Thing: Poetry

This spring, we plan to publish a poetry edition that includes reader-submitted works. Win cash and prizes, and see your epic opus or hilarious haiku in print. The contest will run from March 20 to April 16, 2016.

Sign up for an email reminder here.