About the Writing Contest: This year, exactly 213 pieces of poetry and 65 pieces of fiction were submitted to our annual writing contest. All authors' names were removed before the entries were delivered to the judges. Each judge named his favorites, printed here, and two runners-up.
Seth left his drink on the table. He stepped outside to have a smoke and watch the sun set on his apartment across the street. Evening upon evening, his poor building was what diners contemplated while they idled or ate, drifting off during boring conversation, perhaps seeking refuge during a romantic argument. He remembered.
He heard his name called. Libby was cycling hard up the block, hunched over her handlebars, the lump of a messenger bag on her back. She was still panting as she cabled the bike to a No Parking sign. "How you been, Seth?" She smiled her skeptical smile.
She guffawed when he told her he was out of work for the fall semester. The laugh made him bitter, like he often felt toward her mother when she had done it, a bitterness that only made him upset with himself. Still, Libby went up on her toes and quickly kissed his cheek, her ease in it the best feeling he'd had in days, maybe the best in years. He was glad to be seeing her again. "It will be OK, Daddy. This is where we're eating?"
"Would you prefer someplace else?"
Couples were milling at the hostess's podium. Along the back wall, the wait staff twitched with their officious towels and trays, the menus in their waistbands.
She leaned toward the menu taped on the glass. "Maybe. But not until after we eat."
Three weeks in town and she had taken up with bike messengers, idlers who perched on the Rittenhouse gates, who burnt whole afternoons in the booths at McGlinchey's awaiting summons. Already she had made more acquaintances in the city than he had in 15 years. Aging youngsters hard-living above Fairmount, diving in South Philly, squatting four to a room in Fishtown. She talked about them as if they were old friends he should know already. She didn't talk about her mother. And she hadn't talked about the funeral, had she?
They went through the oysters quickly. Pasta. More seafood. She was back on the sidewalk before he had settled the tab.
"I didn't think you ate animals," he said.
"Just sea animals." She paused to stick her foot in the drain at the corner curb, measuring it. White hash marks were painted along her boot's outsole. "See, around here they're all too narrow. But there's so much access downtown it's sick."
"Train tunnels," he said.
"Sure. Even the concourses can get you in, if you find an unlocked door here and there."
He didn't ask.
He had forgotten, but he now remembered she had told him about it the other night, visiting on his couch, pulling her wet socks off and pitching them into his basket when he offered to do her laundry. Small hearts on the tops of her feet, blue dolphins on the arches. Rachel was gone, and here was their child running amok. Halfway through the bottle of bourbon, he asked about her new beau, Judge, and in a few minutes, she was showing him photos on these sites for urban explorers, so-called. They sat shoulder to shoulder looking at the laptop. Bedtime stories he had missed. But now, here, this whole community of infiltrators of sewers and train tunnels and condemned buildings. Daredevils, they posted pictures of their conquests. She was telling him again, now.
"Center City's kind of played out," she said, walking her bike. "A few of the big empty properties on Market maybe. None of us are that interested in them anymore."
"They changed." She shook her head and laughed. She tested him with a look. "We're going up to Port Richmond tonight. There's an abandoned powerhouse."
"Me and three guys. You want to go?"
"Judge?" he said. "OK. What three guys?"
"All right," he said. "What have I got to lose, right?"
She let loose with the laugh again. "How often have you said that?" She lit a cigarette and passed it to him for a drag. "When was the last time you had anything, anyway?"