Writing Prompt: Misfiled Paperwork

Here are the results of the writing prompt:  After a long battle, your main character is victorious. They have [INSERT YOUR VICTORY HERE]. The problem? They mis-filed the paperwork. As a result, that victory is null and void. Thank you to everyone who sent something in!

Taking a Chowder

By Anne Reynolds

“Ohhhhh, Alecia.”

Tommy Monahan emerged from the patrons milling around the bar at Captain Baxter’s Chowder House, and it took a moment to capture Alecia’s attention. She was distracted by the crowd, which felt like it was closing in around her, and the uncomfortably full feeling that she couldn’t ignore. 

With effort, she pulled her attention to the proprietor of the Chowder House. His face was a picture of sadness and disappointment, and even in her discomfort, the thought crossed her mind that his demeanor was wholly inappropriate for the moment. After all, the 23rd Annual Captain Baxter’s Clam Chowder Chomping contest had just concluded, and Alecia Riordan, the newly-crowned champion, was trying to revel in her victory. 

“Tommy, what’s up?” she asked, smiling for the photographer from the Cape Cod Times. He was capturing history: Alecia was the first woman to have ever been crowned Captain Baxter’s Chowder Champion.

“Well, sweetheart (sweet-haht), it looks like there’s a little problem.” Tommy’s accent was sharper than Alicia’s parents’ faded Boston inflections. He sounded more like her aunts and uncles, good people who had never left Cape Cod for longer than a vacation. His twang was part of the soundtrack of Alecia’s every summer. Tommy had been a fixture at Captain Baxter’s for as long as she could remember, first as a waiter, then as a manager, and for the past few years as its owner. Alecia couldn’t remember a summer when their family’s annual Cape Cod trip hadn’t included many stops at the Captain’s. Twenty-two summers in all, plus this special trip in September to finally compete in the Chowder Championship. She couldn’t wait to have her picture join those of the past champions on the wall.

She had sacrificed for the Chowder Crown, too. She trained for it: bowl upon creamy bowl of the potato-and-clam concoction, all summer long. She had studied the rules (no slurping! A rule, incidentally, that had been made necessary by Alecia’s cousin, Little Mike, who one year simply picked up his succession of bowls and drank the stuff down, swigging his way to one of his many championships). She had taken time from work to make the journey especially for the contest. And now she desperately wished for an antacid.

“What’s the problem?” she asked, her stomach gurgling. The crowd had quieted as Tommy had approached, and Alecia hoped that they hadn’t heard the noise. Twenty bowls of chowder didn’t sit lightly. 

Tommy looked as uncomfortable as she felt. “Well, dear, you’re from out of state.”

“Tommy, you know where we live,” she said. “But you yourself have said that we’re practically Cape Codders!” 

“An out-of-stater,” mumbled one of the onlookers. There were nods in the crowd. 

“I read the rules, and nowhere does it say that the Chowder Crown is just for people from Massachusetts!” Alecia protested. “And you guys had no problem taking my entry fee,” she added.

“Well, see, it’s like this,” Tommy continued. “We intentionally hold the contest a couple of weeks after Labor Day.”

“When all of the tourists have gone home,” added a bar patron in a helpful tone. More nods.

“Gotta have something for the locals,” added another voice. Tommy waved them down.

“No, no, it’s not that,” he said. “Everyone – of course! – is welcome to compete in the contest. But for an out-of-stater – even one who is almost unofficially a Cape Codder, like yourself – we  need to have them sign a special waiver before the contest starts. We know you so well, honey, that we forget that you’re from Virginia.”

Virginia!” gasped another voice in the crowd.

“That’s easy,” said Alecia, relieved. “I’m happy to sign a waiver!” 

Tommy shook his head. “No, honey, I’m afraid the time for that is past. We’re going to have to award your crown to the runner-up.”

Alecia’s cousin Mike, beaming, stepped up to lift the crown from her head. Standing at over six feet tall, he had plenty of room for the nineteen bowls of chowder he had just consumed, and was still able to move more nimbly than Alecia. “No question about where I’m from!” he announced to scattered applause. Little Mike was a fixture at the Captain’s. “It’s just not the same thing,” he shrugged to Alecia.

“Don’t be disappointed, honey,” said Tommy. “You did great and well, this is just a technicality.”

But she had heard the message perfectly clearly. Tommy Monahan was kind, but he was, bottom line, a businessman. There were locals and there were tourists. And she had just found the line between the two.

It was time to give Manhattan clam chowder a try.

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