The Read Local committee is very pleased to announce that Charlotte Henderson has won our The Many in One short story contest for her entry "Diversity Club." "Diversity Club" meticulously captures the complex and ever-evolving nature of identity. Musician, mother, friend, sinner--no aspect is as simple as it seems, and Henderson's story gives a powerful glimpse into the multifaceted self in only a few short pages. Caught between all of the lives she's lived and all of the lives she isn't living, Henderson's protagonist Maggie poses questions about alienation and loneliness that might make even the most dispassionate of us engage in a little self-reflection.
Charlotte Henderson grew up in Southeast Idaho on a cattle ranch, attended Brigham Young University, where she met her husband, and has spent the last 16 years rearing their delightful and exhausting children while moving from California to Utah to Michigan to Massachusetts to Utah to Michigan and finally to Kansas where they hope to stay forever and ever. People might find more of her work next year when her youngest will be in preschool, leaving her more time to write. She blogs at charlottesfamilychronicles.blogspot.com, but Charlotte thinks it might only be of interest to the Grandparents.
Maggie was never alone, and yet she had never been so lonely.
The loneliness pressed on her as she laid her sleeping baby in his crib, then kissed her kindergartner good-night for the third time, and went downstairs to see what her older three children were doing, sighing over the long hours her husband worked at this new job.
On the way she passed the little room she had turned into a music conservatory, careful not to look at her flute, neglected on its stand. She had promised herself earlier in the day she would start practicing again tonight ("Tonight, for sure!"), but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Nor could she bring herself to tackle the piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded on the dining room table. What was the point? No one would be stopping by tonight, or tomorrow, or the day after.
Just seven months ago, when they were leaving what Maggie now referred to as her previous life, there had been crowds of people in their home, hugging, crying, bidding them farewell as they left for their new venture. What a difference in this house! For the most part, anyway. There were crowds for the kids' birthday parties, and that comforted her mother-heart, but children's birthday parties couldn't fill the emptiness Maggie had expected to have filled by now.
It wasn't that she hadn't tried. When they first moved in she volunteered tirelessly at the children's schools, knowing she wouldn't have time to after the baby arrived. She invited fellow room parents over for coffee and neighbors over for dinner, done her very best to be charming, but to no avail. No one reciprocated. Not even the lesbian couple (how her Amish grandparents must be rolling in their graves, knowing she pined to be friends with lesbians!); this area had been progressive too long, perhaps. They all politely smiled and waved at school and on the street, but kept themselves aloof.
Karma, she thought to herself. For in her previous life, something she'd examined a lot lately, she hadn't welcomed newcomers, either, with anything besides that horrible polite smile and wave. There hadn't been room for them, and she hadn't made any. And now here she was, convicted and punished. Her only comfort: her sins weren't being visited on the heads of her children.
In the family room her oldest child, a girl in middle school, was bent over her homework, alternately studying World War II and responding to text messages on her phone. Her second, a son, played games on the computer. Her middle child, Ivy, had her nose stuck in a book.
"Luke, I think you've had enough screen time," Maggie said, "Why don't we play double solitaire?"
Luke didn't take his eyes from the computer screen. "Just let me finish this."
"Ivy, do you want to play?"
"Nuh-uh. I'm at a good part."
Maggie sighed, sat down, and picked up the newspaper. The front page was about the Black Lives Matter movement going on across the country. In her previous life, Maggie would have considered the protesters misguided malcontents and wouldn't have read beyond the headline. Now she wasn't so sure and read the entire article.
Cate, the middle schooler, tossed her golden hair and looked up from her homework. "They're starting a Diversity Club at school," she said with a wry smile.
"Oh?" Maggie looked up from her paper, delighted to have someone to talk to. "Are you going to join?"
Still smiling, Cate said, "I haven't been invited."
"Jasmine and Ebony."
"So only minorities are invited?"
"You should join," Maggie said, a fire kindling. "You're a minority, too. You're probably the only descendant of the Amish in the whole grade--as ethnically minor as they come."
"Mom, I look like Hitler's ideal."
Maggie was speechless for a moment, casting about for the monster who had planted such an ugly idea in her beloved daughter's mind. The school? The community? Society at large? "You are absolutely not Hitler's ideal! Would you ever kill a Jew, or anyone? No, you wouldn't!" Maggie threw down the newspaper and paced the room.
Luke turned away from the computer, and Ivy laid down her book, both exchanging grins with Cate: show time.
"I hate, hate, how schools these days teach kids to look at the outside of a person and that's it, as if the outside even matters." And she thought of all the disapproving glances she'd gotten here with her pregnant belly and four children in tow. Yes, I'm a mother, she'd wanted to shout at them, And proud of it. But I was also a flutist for the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. And I'm fun and a great friend, if you'd just give me a chance! "Diversity Club. What a shallow, ridiculous--which teacher is in charge? I ought to call her up and tell her what a stupid idea that club is."
"But you just said Cate should join," Luke said.
"Well, I can change my mind, can't I? I wish I could be a fly on the wall at their first meeting. Cate, you'll have to ask Jasmine and Ebony what goes on."
Cate snorted. "They're not joining."
Maggie stopped pacing and stared. "Why not?"
"They don't want to. Who would?"
Her face flushed, Maggie sat back down, began shuffling cards on the coffee table. She would have been happy to join. More than happy. She brushed a tear away before the kids could see. "Luke, are you ready to play yet?"