Cecil College alumni wins literary award
NORTH EAST, Md. – The world is about to end due to an imminent asteroid strike, what do you do? For Matthew Riley’s unnamed character in the short story “And All Through the House,” that is the dilemma as the narrative unfolds in snippets that provide glimpses of what is to come.
That was the storyline for Riley’s short story that was presented First Place for “Best Short Stories: Eastern Region” at the 2018 Literary Magazine Competition.
“I had no clue I was up for this award until I heard the certificate was being sent to me,” said Riley, whose short story was published in the 2018 Seahawk Review. “I’m not much for the spotlight as I write for myself and friends.”
The narrative starts with the main character conveying the backdrop of the environment in which they are situated: news of an asteroid strike occurring within a week, the character’s reaction to the news, and the community reacting by fleeing their homes in fear. On some level, the storyline follows the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, guilt, anger, depression, reconstruction, and acceptance.
“The meteor and the end of the world scenarios are the oldest stories in existence. I wanted to spend time with someone sitting there at the end of the world, the way someone who missed the 7:26 a.m. bus sits and waits for the one at 7:53. No meetings. No one is waiting for you. There is no one you need to text. ‘Oh well!’,” said Riley.
That is the stance our protagonist takes when the neighbor, Deborah, comes over to encourage the main character to join her family on their attempt to flee the inevitable. After she leaves, at the urging of her husband, the house is fortified with heavy dressers in front of the doors, windows blocked up with other furniture, and their living environment shrunk to the kitchen and living room. It’s during the fourth segment our protagonist attempts to bring back some normalcy by making coffee and listening to an old album by a band from California.
“The bit in the kitchen, when he’s lying on the floor listening to music and thinking about people who create something together, is where we realize he IS genuinely lonely, wistful. The record he’s listening to is called Glitter Jazz, and the band he’s talking about is Refrigerator,” said Riley.
As the final week of civilization draws near, our protagonist falls into a state of depression, consuming a half bottle of cheap whiskey and curling up in blankets on the kitchen floor for an entire day. As calm overcomes him and reconstruction begins, our hero recalls a time when an intimate male friend came to visit to escape a bad breakup. “It would be an understatement to say I loved him; then, and three years before, and in a way even now.”
“I wonder if a lot of people thought that the character was a woman. If so, is it because the protagonist was in love with a man? I wrote this character with a gay man in mind. Gay literature thrives in loneliness, you know. It’s a whole thing. The other man’s mother doesn’t invite him to the funeral when the man dies. He tells himself it’s because he’s just unimportant; we don’t always like to think about the doors closed to us for reasons outside of our control,” says Riley, a native of Wilmington who now lives in North Carolina, where he is using his associate degree in horticultural science.
The protagonist comes to an acceptance of their situation while walking down to sit on a dock. During the walk, our hero meets up with a fellow traveler who shares an earbud to listen to a final song as the end arrives.
“I credit Lisa Lutwyche, my first English professor at Cecil College, who encouraged me to write. I wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. Even now, I know I can put something subtle in a story, and she’ll catch it,” said Riley.