Third Place: "Surfacing" 

The kid was wearing a leash. The kind parents hold tightly to in order to prevent their kid from slipping or escaping, or staring too long at the candy aisle. "Can I have this? Can you buy me this?"

The leash was connected to a stuffed animal backpack, the kind meant to simulate freedom and adventure, when in reality they're traps – animal traps – strapped onto a kid by the parent who overuses hand sanitizer, organics and word-spelling. "Looks like somebody needs an N-A-P? Don't you think so, Dad? I sure do, Mom – and someone else could use a B-J."

The kid had his hands on the large glass window, his greasy palms slipping across it, his breath creating a thin fog as he looked out, occasionally yelling back to his Master about wings and planes and pilots.

We were all in LaGuardia, waiting for our plane to board, me with a hat tugged around my head, blocking out as many sounds as possible; everyone else texting, feigning supreme importance.

I sat staring at the leash connecting the kid to his mother, held taut and unrelenting by her. She refusing to slacken the tension, he refusing to fall back toward her womb.

I had been in the city close to a month, sitting at Beth Israel, watching Mom as she lay dying; her body deteriorating, ripping itself from her spirit to dive back into the dust of the earth.

To pass time, I would read her the news each day:

The Observer – Man goes on spiritual retreat in Guyana, takes salvia, SEES GOD, vows life of piety!" If he were as close to death as me, his faith would falter and he'd wonder what the hell he'd wasted his time worrying about."

The Yorkie Tribune – Hospitals continue to over-charge the uninsured, many battle bankruptcy. Health reform talks stall. "Same people being bankrupted by the system are those fighting reform and calling it socialism."

Southern Herald – Family ruled to give reparations refuses, claims fortune was obtained legally, morally. "Without 300 years of free labor, that family wouldn't be able to afford their team of lawyers."

She had always had strong opinions, fighting alongside the underbelly. Her intensity was overwhelming, a consequence of growing up on Staten Island in a household of angry parents who ignored her – she had to yell loud to be heard and sculpt her opinions to become impenetrable.

She had called the day she found out she was sick. "It's nothing to worry about, but the doctor found something," she had said.

I had lost a friend a few months before to bone cancer, he was 24. The day of his funeral his father turned to the crowd and yelled, "You're all here now, but where were you when he still had hope? You could've been a match!"

"Fuck cancer."

"Don't be rude – it's not cancer, they're just basil cells. I'll be fine," Mom had said. It turned out to be cancer – hiding in the epidermis of her forearms, writhing and morphing, and eventually throwing a stick into the spokes of our very existence. It traveled fast and unrelenting, she started slipping away with such ferocious speed, it became tender.

"Stop touching the glass!" The woman was yanking her son back by his leash, his face twisted and red, preparing to explode at any second. "Come over here and sit by me so we can get ready to get on the plane."

He was writhing in her grasp, trying to slip his way out of his fuzzy backpack to return to the window and gaze out at opportunity and speed and desertion.

He looked over to where I sat and stopped twisting when he saw me staring back. His face fell, insecure that someone had witnessed his tantrum. I shifted my gaze out the window toward the planes lining up on the runway, ready to make their escape.

"I'm going to marry him," I had told Mom on the phone one afternoon after I'd started an erratic, irresponsible love affair.

"Oh, for God's sake."

I had given her the whole story – we'd met while I was visiting a friend Out West, a group of us had been hanging out on a rooftop watching as lightening slashed the night's sky. He and I hadn't even spoken by the time he moved behind me and grabbed my hand.

"I have an overwhelming urge to make proclamations to you," he had whispered to the back of my neck.

We lived far apart and would travel to see each other. "How do you feel about the Smithsonian? They say Vancouver is beautiful. I've always wanted to see Santa Fe."

We thrived on the lightness of adventure and freedom of maintained individuality, but eventually found the distance insurmountable. I had started obsessing over things he'd say:

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