Plotto: The Master Contest of All Plots – Student Edition Winner – Ilana Masad!

The Open Bar

The Student PLOTTO Contest was a hard-fought battle, with all four previous winners submitting terrific stories. 

Congratulations to Ilana Masad’s, whose sweet and satisfying story, Invaluable, takes home the top Plotto prize.

As a reminder, the final prompt was: {A} and {B} keep themselves poor by buying rich furnishings for the mansion they are some day going to build; but the furnishings, inadequately housed, fall into ruin before {A} and {B} are able to build their air castle.




It started with a vase. Narrow, pewter, with a dent near the bottom, it had been lying on its side in the shop for some time.

“Look. It’s like your dimple. Just on one side like that. We have to get it.”

“We never have any flowers, though. And it’s a bud vase, you know. So it’s only for one or two at a time. Nothing more will fit.”

“That’s perfect. Nobody will care if we take a couple flowers from their gardens. Just once in a while. Come on. How often do you get to buy something from an antique shop?”

On the way home, they looked everywhere for flowers to steal. But in the big city, there were no fences to hop, no gardens to break into. The flowers they picked from bushes along the sidewalks fell apart in their hands before they got back to their small, one-bedroom apartment. They ended up buying a single red rose for four dollars, what they usually spent on a bottle of cheap, grocery-store wine for the evening.

Sitting on the couch, picking the foam out of the holes in the fabric, they watched a bad movie on television. The rose in its pewter vase perched on top of the small set. They laughed at the dramatic parts and kissed whenever there was a boring shoot-out scene. Going to bed, they held each other tightly, promising each other planets and poems and impossibilities.

“I want to live in a big house one day.”

“Yeah. This is getting old.”

“Let’s save up.”

“You think we can?”

“Can we save? Of course.”

“No – can we last long enough?”

“I think so. I mean, in my opinion, yes. Always. Right?”

“I love you. I love you so much.”

They went shopping instead of going to therapy. Their next purchase was bigger – a footstool from the 1920s. The needlepoint upholstery was faded, worn down to thin shreds where a few generations of feet had rested.

“It’s so pretty. Like you.”

“But it’s old. I’m not old yet.”

“Not yet. But you will be.”

“I knew it. You do think I look old. You were lying when you said you didn’t see the wrinkles.”

“What? No. No – I meant you’ll still be beautiful when you’re old.”

“If you stick around till then. If I stick around.”

“Let’s get the stool. Then we’ll both want to stay. The stool will be joint property, right? Such a hassle, moving it back and forth between us, you know?”

“It doesn’t go anywhere in our apartment. It’ll look dumb. It’s for the house. Our big house. Right?”

They kissed. They laughed. They imagined what it would be like, having to go to court over a footstool. They pretended they were judge and jury and demanded joint custody of themselves, just to see what it was like. All along, they pictured a face and a mop of hair on that footstool, wondering if any of this was a good idea.

They found an oak table at a market. A luxurious carpet online. They began going antiquing – a verb that had slid into their vocabulary without either of them realizing it – every week, like clockwork. They accumulated clocks too, ones that worked and ones that didn’t.

“Where should we put this?”

“Does this look good here?”

“Watch it!”


“This place is getting out of hand.”

These phrases became frequent, sliding from pleasant familiarity into inevitable impatience and, finally, into weary routine.

They saved money, or tried to. But when they fought, one of them would sleep on the green velvet sofa that had replaced the squishy, comfortable, falling-apart one. The velvet was scratchy and the wood beams that kept the cushions up squeaked at every shift of position, like ghostly mice crawling around inside the lining. After a night there, the offending party would make it up, unwilling to spend another sleepless, punishing hour on the thing. So they would go out and buy a lamp, a set of silver knives, a teapot made of ivory that had been used – the label said – by four Rajas and a princess.

Friends no longer visited. There wasn’t room. The apartment became a maze of carefully placed furniture, as precariously balanced as the moments they made up for. Here was the birdcage for the time when they’d lost power and couldn’t agree on who had forgotten to pay the bill. There was the copper pot hanging on the wall for the screaming match in the park when a long-forgotten ex had come back to town.

When the hurricane warnings came, they didn’t take them seriously at first. Last time hadn’t been that bad, they reasoned, and they’d brave this one out too. All their friends were gone, evacuated, and still they stayed. The power cut out, and they lit candles in the silver candlesticks that looked black, because they never polished them, and sat in the dark. They breathed together and listened to the rain. When the water began to seep under the door, they got up, a simultaneous act, and decided to climb up the stairwell, as high as it would go.



“This. All this.”

“I know. It’s going to get ruined.”

“It’s already ruined.”

“Then what?”

“Let’s take something. Just in case.”


They looked for something meaningful. Each searched alone, back to back, hiding from one another the objects they were discarding as too painful to save. They couldn’t find the pewter vase – it had been thrown into some big trunk, years ago, along with other things that had needed storing, out of sight. The clocks ticked, out of rhythm, marking the time they didn’t have. Their shoes were getting wet.

“Listen, leave it. We have to go.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Come on.”

In the end, they climbed the stairs with the blackened candlesticks, not sure why they’d gotten them, not sure they were even real silver.

 Ilana Masad, a 22-year old American-Israeli who wishes she could live in a house made of book-shelves. She is an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence College, currently enrolled at Oxford University for her year-abroad.