Toronto Creative Writing Contests
Congratulations to Florence McCambridge, whose submission “Hospital Cafeteria” was the winner of Good News Toronto’s first True Story Contest! It was to be a creative non-fiction personal essay about “An Encounter that Changed Your Life.”
• A two-hour writing tutorial with book consultant Bill Belfontaine (retail value $300)
• A one-year subscription to Good News Toronto
• Publication in Good News Toronto’s October print and online issue
We present to you Florence McCambridge’s work:
I don’t think about her as much as I used to. There are times I try to forget that the whole thing happened.
She was short, thin, and pale. Her shoulder-length black hair was parted down the middle. Always.
I saw her for the first time when I went to see my mother in the Intensive Care Unit. I spent a lot of time in that ICU so I saw that woman with the black hair every day for several months.
Every time I walked by she was sitting beside her husband’s bed. I assumed it was her husband. I never asked because I never spoke to her. I just walked by and looked in to see her sitting there, talking to him even though his eyes were closed.
I shouldn’t have been peering into her room. When people walked by my mother’s room and looked in at her I wanted to shout at them, “This isn’t what she normally looks like, you know.”
We never said a word to each other, not even when I saw her in the hospital cafeteria. She sat alone at a table eating soup from a thermos and some carrot sticks from a re-sealable plastic bag. I pictured her standing in her kitchen making that soup knowing that she’d be drinking it out of a thermos in the world’s most depressing cafeteria. I wanted to talk to her. I knew she would understand how I felt more than anyone else could: exhausted from the daily hospital visits, burdened by my mother’s illness, guilty for feeling that burden, and guilty for doing anything normal that my mother could no longer do. But I couldn’t talk to her because she had been doing the same thing as me for even longer, and if there was any chance that she would break down and show weakness, I would have just curled up right there on the linoleum floor. I needed her strength, even if it was only from a distance.
I didn’t fall apart during those months because of that woman. Not because I am strong or because I got strength from friends and family, but because a small, quiet woman in the room next door kept holding her husband’s hand every day. That’s how I got through it. And I just hope that her husband eventually woke up and told her how amazing she was, because I never did.
Florence McCambridge is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto with a passion for all things literary. She has been writing her own blog for over a year, and has just launched another that will bring in another passion of hers: travel
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