Third place

Illustration By GB Tran


She had been worrying for three days about how she could earn a halo. Sister Rita handed out holy cards, usually when you had helped her run the mimeograph machine, with glorious pictures of girls with lambs or lilies at their feet. These girl-saints always had a halo perched two to three inches above their hair. It just floated, like the really fake flying saucers that hovered above the terrified families in those horror movies her older brother watched on Saturday mornings.

She knew she might have to change to get one, since a halo would not be something that appeared overnight, like a pimple. She wasn’t keen on making a huge sacrifice, especially if it hurt, like the holy-cards girls had done. Losing an eye, or having your tongue cut out, sounded gross. Burning at the stake, like St. Joan of Arc, was even worse, since she was afraid of fire and even had to quit Girl Scouts rather than have to endure another campfire-building lesson at Lake Three Trees.

Maybe she could impress God, and Sister Rita, if she quit daydreaming during arithmetic. At home, maybe if she stopped making the gagging noises when she had to swallow cold lima beans at dinnertime, God would see she was trying. She needed a halo fast, so whoever kept writing her name on the bathroom wall and writing that she loved the short boy with red hair would leave her alone.

—Jeanne Sapunor, Sacramento

Jeanne Sapunor, an employee of the Sacramento Convention Center, started writing in high school. Her third-place entry, “Insurance,” is her first published story. A Sacramentan since her first birthday, Sapunor’s first fiction was a mock-up front page of a newspaper based on Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. She’s been mentally composing the mix tape for her funeral music since college, and she warns her friends to expect both Ethel Merman and Johnny Mathis, though she’s yet to decide which version of “Danny Boy” she prefers.

Photo By Larry Dalton

This well-crafted interior monologue accurately captures a child’s reasoning process. The absurdity of the contrast between the holy-card saints’ suffering and the sanctity of a halo on the one hand and the banality of the narrator’s reason for needing the halo on the other is a juxtaposition that has to make you smile in recognition of the deals we are all wont to make in pursuit of self-improvement—we want the result but aren’t very “keen on making a huge sacrifice” to get there.