When I first glimpsed my friend on the beach, I noticed her eyes. They were movie star glamorous. They were like the eyes my mom and I had seen when we watched “The Big Sleep.” Mahogany brown irises, impossibly arched brows, the dramatic plunge at the corners, both set alight against her surf white skin and thick brown hair that cascaded from the top of her head. It was like the physical manifestation of some new idea forming in her mind—whether for a game, art project, excursion, dance or soccer drill—that at any moment would be articulated as she half turned with a flounce of that thick hair. A strand of seaweed pulled up from the ocean smudged her body and she unwrapped herself from it like a mermaid momentarily caught before slipping back into the sea. But as she laughed and posed as if for the camera, what was really happening was that she was looking at me—noticing everything about me. Seeing into me.

Juliet Cushing

Juliet Cushing’s work has been recognized by Glimmer Train in their March/April 2018 Very Short Fiction Honorable Mention category, and published in Chautauqua and the Berlin-based magazine The Wild Word. She was nominated for the 2019 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Juliet has won seven Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

Patrick Ryan on “Cicatriz”

When I was in high school, a friend of mine named James suddenly passed away. I remember feeling torn, angry, bewildered. And as I processed my grief, I began looking back in a way I never had before. It was more than just not having any future moments with James to look forward to; it was the (very new to me, then) phenomenon of having death illuminate life in a way that only death can. For the first time, I became aware of the value—the treasure trove—of the past. I looked back with purpose, one could almost say with a mission: my memories of James—memories that stretched back to junior high and went up to the day before he died—were James. Wrapping my head around that was a big (and uninvited) nudge toward adulthood.

Our new issue of One Teen Story wanders into similar territory. It’s called “Cicatriz” and is written by a wonderful emerging writer named Juliet Cushing. I won’t go into detail about it because I think it speaks beautifully for itself, but I will say that it takes a painful situation and illuminates it in a way that radiates off the page. The writing turns tragedy into art.

“Cicatriz” is one of the winners of this year’s Teen Writing Contest. We’re proud to be presenting it to you.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
JC: I wrote a piece on an application for a summer internship, something like a fifty-word opportunity to express why I wanted a particular science-related experience. I didn’t get the internship, and I was really disappointed. I left this small bit of writing alone for a while, but continued to write about my experiences in journals. The story continued from my journals.
PR: No character in the story has a name. The effect I find is interesting—it makes the story feel both somewhat formal and extremely intimate. Was that what you were going for?
JC: I wrote it to be extremely intimate and personal.
PR: Was there anything that occurred in the writing process that surprised you?
JC: I told this story in first person retrospective, and tried to make clear that the narrator was older and looking back at this story. There are advantages to telling the story this way because first person narration seemed too immediate. First person retrospective offered a nice balance of more intimacy than third person, but gave the story a certain distance. I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read that have used this technique, including The Great Gatsby, Moby-Dick, and The Round House.
PR: How different is “Cicatriz” from the story you originally set out to write?
JC: It’s a lot different. The characters are totally different from what I imagined they might be. They are both much more mature and, at times, less mature. Also, I wrote two different endings. I feel this one was better because it was more fitting to friendship and childhood.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
JC: Friendship.
PR: What are you working on now?
JC: Right now, I’m just journaling. I’m trying to write not just events but details of the five senses. I figure those unique things can be placed in a story regardless of subject, so even if I don’t have a particular story in mind, maybe the work I’m doing now will spark some idea later when I go back and read my journals.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
JC: I have two “best” pieces of advice I’ve received. The first is: everyone writes the terrible first draft. You just have to get it out. The writing always gets better with revisions and additions. The second came from Richard Bausch, one of the panelists at an AWP conference I attended in Los Angeles. I won’t be able to quote him exactly, but he said fiction writing is essentially like the word “artifice.” The central part of the word is art, just like fiction writing is an art. But just as artifice is about illusions, fiction is filled with various tactics that create a sense of reality, even though it’s not real. It’s an invention, but true just the same.