Toronto Creative Writing Contests

Good News Toronto First True Story Contest Winner

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.”

First Prize:

• $100

• 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:

Hospital Cafeteria

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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