2017 COMPETITIONS
ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED
Results by 1st December
Awards Ceremony 13th December
 
GOOD LUCK
to everyone who entered
 
2017 COMPETITIONS
ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED
Results by 1st December
Awards Ceremony 13th December
 
GOOD LUCK
to everyone who entered
 

RESULTS

WINNERS

Staying Home – Phil Jones

The Levels – Jeff Taylor

Staying Home – Catherine Roth

The winners will be published in the 2020 Short Story anthology Survival, coming February 2021.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

AND THEN

GEORGE RILEY

UNITED KINGDOM

HIGHLY COMMENDED

A mother untapes her daughter’s rainbow drawing from their upstairs window. She places it into a box in the loft, among old birthday cards and school paintings. She hopes her daughter might discover it years later and, even if she has no memory of making it, feel touched that it had been kept for so long.

      A florist opens the doors of her shop to the day’s customers. She passes through her flowers, yearning to unwrap her face scarf and inhale the aromas. She knows she must resist, but their closeness is so cruel.

      On a nightshift, a supermarket worker unpeels arrows from the aisle floors, grateful he will no longer have to wipe down the trolleys with antiseptic wash or work behind a mask.

      A breakfast television presenter sits beside her co-host on the studio sofa. She’d forgotten what he smells like, and misses having her own space.

      The town of Barnard Castle experiences a short-lived surge in visitor numbers.

      NHS workers hold a demonstration outside Downing Street, calling for an end to their pay freeze. The proposition is put before parliament, and voted down.

      A man walking along the beach bumps into an old friend he hasn’t seen since their schooldays. He asks after the man’s health, his work, and suggests going for a drink to catch up properly. They depart with a hug and the man continues his stroll beside the sea.

      Graduate scheme applicants are asked to describe any skills they developed during lockdown that could set them apart from the competition.

      Families from across the globe gather for the wedding of a couple who met on a Zoom call.

      A woman goes to a nightclub. Pressed in among bodies that feel so much younger than she does, she has a single drink and goes home.

      An actor is exposed for his collection of rare and exotic pets. Demand for such creatures has boomed, despite the global ban on wildlife trade, for those who can afford the prices.

      Stars and bands of the twenties reunite for a festival to raise money for developing nations still suffering the aftereffects of that era.

      Reports of a novel flu emerging in Hong Kong spark headlines, but it’s soon forgotten with the announcement of a new royal baby.

      Researchers conclude their study on the cohort conceived in 2020. The findings are inconclusive.

      A young boy and his mother pass elderly gentlemen shaking hands. ‘Why are they doing that?’ he asks.

      A curator assembles an art exhibition reflecting on the pandemic. Works include a recreation of a studio apartment in lockdown, Damien Hirst’s butterfly rainbow, a ventilator running twenty-four hours a day, and a wall of medical facemasks. Visitors are instructed to keep two metres apart while exploring the gallery, which they regard as a novelty.

      Friends in a nursing home reminisce about the spring they could hear the birds, when they noticed the bloom and wane of daffodils, primrose, tulips and daisies, saw the trees blossom and new leaves begin to shoot.

Find out more about George's writing at: https://www.gtriley.com

 

SQUATTING IN LOCKDOWN

RICHARD LAYTON

HIGHLY COMMENDED

One has to be thankful for permission to leave the house to buy food, I thought to myself as I trudged wearily up the road back to my house. Ideally I wouldn’t have had to do it myself, but living alone with no online slots available and no relatives or friendly neighbours to assist, I had no choice but brave the world outside if I didn’t want to starve.

      With the benefit of hindsight it was lucky that the shop was fresh out of eggs since what confronted me as I crossed my threshold had me dropping my shopping all over the floor.

      “Oi!” the scruffy man said. “Get out, you can’t come in here – it’s not allowed!”

      It’s not every day I’m lost for words but it took me a moment to register what he said.

      “What do you mean? This is my house. You get out!”

      “No way,” he spluttered indignantly, “I saw it first. It was empty. Squatters’ Rights are mine.”

      “You can’t do that,” I countered, “this house is occupied.” 

      “No, no I found it empty.” Clearly he wasn’t going to back down. “And I didn’t force entry; there was a key under the mat.”

      Damn! I’d tried so hard to break that habit but when it’s something you’ve always done...

      “So there,” he concluded. “Law’s on my side. And I can’t share in the middle of a pandemic, so leave now.”

      I could feel my blood starting to boil and I tried to keep my temper. “Look, I have nowhere else to go.”

     “Snap.” He proceeded to regale me with his life story, telling me every last detail, although I don’t recall him ever saying his name, although in fairness I never asked him what it was. I just tried not to glaze over as he droned on about how he’d been let go from his new job after one too many bust ups with fellow workers, how he’d been thrown out by the missus after one too many drunken episodes and one too many slaps. “It was only once.”

      I managed to stop myself from provoking him by pointing out that even once was one too many. 

      “And so how do I obey an edict to stay home when I’m homeless? What else can I do?” He looked me in the eye in the belief that he’d played an unbeatable trump card.

      “Look,” I said, “I feel for you, but you can’t go breaking into other people’s houses, even if you did find a key under the mat.” I walked towards the phone. “I’m calling the police.”

      “No!” Suddenly there was real menace in him “Give me that phone! Any 999 dialling to be done I’ll do it.”

      He stepped towards me, his very being oozing with malice as he reached out his hand for the phone. This was when I realised that it wasn’t indignation that was making my blood boil. His eyes widened in terror as I coughed uncontrollably over the receiver. 

 

CALL ME MARIKA

LINDA KERR

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Looking at you now, all snug in my arms, your little nose crinkling up… I never thought I’d ever find a snore beautiful, but your tiny baby snuffles are the best sound in the world.  Oh if it wasn’t for that midwife we wouldn’t be stuck here in the back of beyond, we’d be in our lovely house and you would be out in your buggy in the warm, shady garden, breathing in fresh air instead of this Travel-Tavern air-conditioning. 

      That midwife… ‘Call me Marika’ she simpered, she started all this on the exact day I first set eyes on you. My belly was sticky with gel, I held my breath… and then, there you were. I could see and hear you. A few minutes later that midwife sent your dad out for a glass of water but it seems it was only an excuse to get him out of the room. 

      She said, ’What are these bruises on your ribcage?’

      After that, I went to the appointments on my own. Sometimes I peaked at her notes; 

      Wk 13, it said, NAD (which, I realised, meant you were fine, despite everything) but bruising to upper right ribs, of varying age of injury, some within the last week or so. 

      or, later,

      Wk 20 NAD. Foetal heart beat heard and regular. Evidence of fingertip bruising on mother’s neckline, consistent with strangling attempt? Discuss referral. 

      I knew I should never have taken that scarf off.

      Yes, if that Marika hadn’t interfered we’d now have a whole house and a beautiful, fragrant garden to roam about in. Here we’ve only got one room and a window looking out over the car park, but at least we’ve got it to ourselves.

       The last weeks before you came were full of coronavirus and self isolation. Once the pubs shut, he was at home all the time. I couldn’t keep out of his way. I tried, honest. I did my best to look after you. 

       And then, at last it happened; the pains, the waters, phoning the midwife, the rush to hospital with my carefully packed bag. 

       He barged his way through the swing doors and got the shock of his life when Security told him, because of The Crisis, he couldn’t come in with me.  Only birth partners allowed, apparently. And that wasn’t him. 

       You could hear the shouting and banging all the way to the delivery room. 

       I switched my mobile off so I could ignore the dozens of missed calls. I actually don’t know if your dad has rung since then because I had to get rid of that phone. The police said it had a tracker on it. 

      And here we are, about to go out for the first time ever to register your birth.  That midwife is driving us in to make sure we're safe. She asked me what I’ve decided to call you. 

      I think Marika’s a good name, and it suits you so well.  

OUT OF THE BOX

GAIL ALDWIN

UNITED KINGDOM

SHORTLISTED

Inside the canteen of cutlery, Knife stood with the regiment, Fork pronged alongside the others while Spoon, spooned. There were dinner duties most Friday nights and lazy Sunday roasts but none had happened since the start of lockdown.

      ‘Tell us again about the last outing,’ implored Fork.

      Spoon spoke for her bigger cousin, Server. ‘She said it wasn’t any fun without the rest of us. And the way Juliet messed Server about. I think we’re an unwanted wedding gift from Juliet’s in-laws. She would have preferred stainless steel.’

      ‘Shush!’ Fork sucked breath. ‘Don’t ever say that.’

      ‘You’re talking rubbish,’ said Knife. ‘I do believe she and Paul have the greatest respect. They never mix us with the kitchen set in the cutlery tray.’

      ‘Ooh the dishwasher,’ said Spoon. ‘How long is it since we had a rinsing?’

      ‘And don’t forget a buff up. We forks are made for handling. We’re designed with balance and weight in mind.’

      ‘We’ve heard about your versatility and form one hundred times before,’ said Knife. ‘Let Spoon get on with the story.’

      Spoon took the cue and shimmied to get everyone’s attention. She liked to be centre stage although in the past it had been because of her elegance. The way she lingered on the lips when she was smothered in cream. But such experiences were simply a memory. ‘As I understand it, Juliet grabbed Server on her way outside. It wasn’t the treatment Server’s been used to but clearly Slotted Spoon from the hanging rail wasn’t up to the job. Silicone head, you see. But Server is known for doing her duty and the clap for carers has become a regular thing. Poor Server. She’s not been the same since she’s been banged by a saucepan and she now dreads every Thursday.’

      ‘I’d call it an honour,’ said Fork. ‘If only Juliet had chosen me. I could have whipped up a storm.’

      ‘Stop quarrelling you two. We’ve all been forgotten and we know it.’

      In the silence that followed, Spoon remembered how glasses clinked every evening, excited at their release from the cabinet. Juliet and Paul were not stinting on wine when it was only the two of them. But silver-plated cutlery was reserved for occasions of entertainment with friends and no one knew when that would happen again.

      ‘My prongs are getting tarnished from lack of use,’ sighed Fork.

      ‘Do stop moaning,’ said Knife.

      ‘Hold on a minute,’ said Spoon. ‘I think I can hear something.’

      There was a slice of light then complete brightness as the canteen opened. Spoon squinted, Fork stiffened and Knife stood to attention. Whose turn was it going to be this time?

      ‘Hello chaps.’ It was Silver-Dip speaking. ‘Now Juliet’s on furlough you’re on the top of her list for spring cleaning.’

      ‘Thank goodness,’ said Spoon. ‘She does love us after all.’

About Gail:

Gail Aldwin’s publications include a debut novel The String Games (Victorina Press, 2019), a poetry pamphlet adversaries/comrades (Wordsmith_HQ, 2019) and a flash fiction collection Paisley Shirt (Chapeltown Books, 2018). Prior to repatriation due to Covid19, Gail volunteered at Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda.

 

Find Gail @gailaldwin and https://gailaldwin.com

DATA COLLECTION

VERONIQUE BEQUIN

CANADA

SHORTLISTED

One has the first name of a long-lost high school friend. They skipped chemistry together to smoke behind the gym. That was several lifetimes ago. Another entry may have been named after a 1940’s Hollywood star, a man’s man, a hero who vanquished bad guys in suits with wide jacket lapels, and wide-leg trousers in a black and white world, and later, repelled Roman centurions in Technicolor. The date of birth gives the clue to a post-World War II baby boom. Then, there is the sudden appearance of a former colleague’s name, and the recollection of unresolved conflicts that are trivial now. The next record is a child’s, a week short of her fourth birthday. Will she ask for a drive-by birthday parade or at least a slow walk-by with her friends from the shuttered daycare strolling past her front door, dutifully two metres apart, no alligator rope to keep them together, hollering greetings, with balloons aloft in their preschoolers’ pudgy fists?  Of course, there are entire hockey teams losing all hope of future rink time. Whole quilting bees are missing Wednesday afternoons at Mary-Jane’s house, bringing together decades of stitched-together stories, no loose threads left dangling. Now they are longing for grandchildren who wave below the windows of the long-term care home. They may well have imagined the care would be for the long term. They worked. They saved. They made it through a war or two or more. They sold their suburban homes and their farms when the work grew too burdensome, the snow clearance too weighty. They joined in the chair-fitness class and the computer 1-0-1 workshop with bright young women who flick blond ponytails cheerily and speak with a vocal fry. They didn’t know they would die alone, their inflamed, fluid-filled lungs beyond goodbyes. The date of birth, the rawness of the nasopharyngeal swab, the repeated phone calls to ask too quickly, never soon enough, Have I got it? Have I? I need to know. I can’t go back to work without the all-clear. I’ve lost my job. I’m scared to go to work. Can’t you tell me yet? Why can’t you tell me now? No. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Am I going to die? Don’t tell me. The COVID-19 data collector continues her work, every day, week after week. The lives and deaths of tens of thousands are turned into facts and statistics collected for reference and analysis. The names and imagined lives haven’t blurred together yet.

About Veronique:

I was born and raised in France where I started writing in French until I moved to the UK in my teens. That is where I started to write in English. I lived in Scotland and London until immigrating to Canada where I still write poetry and fiction (mainly short stories), and the occasional personal essay. I am also developing a memoir. I work full time and make the most of any free time to write. I won the 2019 Alice Munro Short Story Award, and have had a short story shortlisted for the 2019 Bridport Prize in the UK. I have had poetry and short stories published in Canada and in the USA.

COVID-19

HILARY DAVIES

SHORTLISTED

He’s kicking on the door.

      And I search frantic, through the rooms of my fast imploding mind, for answers. I find a window where I can view - it looks like some quaint past - this morning.

      The dreamy chorus of birds, as I awoke, - like paradise. And we were touching. Every part of our bodies were touching, it felt like. And I thought: this is happiness! A love nest for our children to grow in, warm, safe and plump.

      Through the wall, I could hear the children in their bedroom, rummaging happily through the lego box. Lina eleven; Aphra eight today. And I smiled and stayed in bed, flicking through my phone.

      COVID 19 had smitten 900 since yesterday in Italy; 879 in Spain. It was tearing through refugee camps in Syria and in Calais; loping back to Wuhan, for a second wave. But today was Aphra’s birthday. And outside, the birds warbled in the new Alpine, London air.

      All morning, after Aphra’s birthday breakfast, the girls were lost in each other. They played lego, they watched mermaid dramas; they painted their nails; they played more lego.

      Next door’s baby was crying; Mrs Harris hovering on the other side.

      I wrapped Aphra’s presents.

      500, 000 had volunteered to help the NHS, I heard as I bit lengths of sellotape. A man was arrested for stealing PPE equipment to flog online.  Children were calling child-line; sky-rocketing domestic abuse. What a world, what a world!

But thank God! We have a love nest.

      Mark went out to the shop: you couldn’t  get a grocery delivery these days. I made the girls baked beans on toast for lunch.

      “No eggs,” he sighed when he came back.

      “Luckily, there’s just enough for Aphra’s birthday cake,” I said.

      We still had three.

      Mid-afternoon, I took the girls out to the park. Blossom everywhere! Hot blue skies!  The whole world in the park: two metres apart. We watched an empty bus pass by.

      Back home, we found Mark frying himself up lunch in the kitchen.

      Broken eggshells.

      “You didn’t use the eggs did you?”

      “Is that a problem?” Mark’s voice suddenly quivering taut. 

      “There’s no eggs left for Aphra’s cake!”

      Already, the bomb was ticking. The girls knew it, backing out.

      They got behind me.

      It was me sharing a glance with Lina behind me, that lit his fuse.

      “So can’t you make an eggless cake?”

      “She wanted a brownie cake!”

      Head in his hands.

      “Well, why didn’t you fucking tell me?”

      “I did tell you!”

      “Sure you did!” Sarcastic.

      “She did!” Lina piped up.

      That solidarity fired him sky-high. He threw his plate across the room.

      “So what do you want me to fucking do?”

      He grabbed me.

      “With you there’s always something fucking wrong! There’s always something fucking wrong!”

      And now we are cowering behind the locked bathroom door.

      What I don’t get, is that every single time, it’s new. Like it’s never happened before…  

THE APPOINTMENT 

KAREN HILL

UNITED KINGDOM

SHORTLISTED

Julia was in the queue for the supermarket when she got the call.  The line circled the car park, writhing and twisting like a snake. People looked nervous; some wore masks and gloves, giving them a sinister appearance. Nobody was talking.

      Her ringtone broke the silence. “Hello?” she said.

      “Julia?” the voice on the line said. “This is Angela, from Mental Health.” Julia flinched – she hated the term Mental Health. “Can you speak?”

      “I suppose so,” Julia said. “I'm waiting to go into the supermarket. I have to pick up a few things for my mother.”  She felt as if she should apologise for being outdoors.

      “Oh, right,” the voice said.  “Well, I'm letting you know that we've had to cancel your appointment with the therapist this week. The situation, you know.”

      “I see,” Julia said. She paused. “So when can I see her again, then?”

      “I'm not sure. It depends how long this goes on for, I suppose. We'll be in touch.”

      “Thanks,” Julia said. She put her basket down and walked away. She made her way back to the flat, through streets that would usually be crowded at this time of day but were now eerily quiet. She let herself in, sat down and called her mother's number.

      “Julia?” she heard her mother say.

      “I'm sorry, I couldn't get your things,” Julia said. “I went to the supermarket, but then Angela rang.”

      “Angela?” said her mother. “Who's Angela?”

      “From the hospital. Where I... you know. They've had to cancel my appointment.”

      “Probably a good thing,” her mother said. “Load of bloody nonsense. You don't need all that, Julia. You just need to pull yourself together.”

      “I find it quite helpful,” Julia said.

      “You would.  You've always been weak-willed, Julia. Always expecting other people to sort your problems out for you.”

      “I don't,” Julia whispered.

      “Yes, you do,” her mother said. “And you're selfish. Everything is always about you. You couldn't even get me a few things from the bloody shops.” The line went dead. 

      Julia went out onto the balcony. An empty crisp packet was blowing down the street. It looked like a bit of tumbleweed from one of those old westerns her mother used to watch. 

      She closed her eyes and gripped the balcony rail tightly.  The cold metal seared her skin.  It felt like the only thing between her and the edge of the world.

 

*

 

Angela was preparing to call another patient. She hated telling them that their appointment had been cancelled. Some of them got really upset, and a few were downright rude, as if she was personally responsible for the pandemic. One woman she'd spoken to had been especially weird – going on about her mother, when Angela knew for a fact she'd died years ago.

      Angela shrugged. It wasn't fair but then, in her experience, life never was. She picked up the telephone and dialled another number.

 
 
 
 
 

THE STANDOFF

EVELYN JEFFS

AUSTRALIA

SHORTLISTED

The Quick and the Dead. A young, cocky DiCaprio eyes down the wizened Hackman. Hands at the ready, the tension mounts. But I am barely watching. The dramatic showdown of father and son playing out before us is only an atmospheric backdrop to the real standoff.

      There he sits, husband of 3 years, watching the TV, pretending he has no idea of what’s really going on. Between us sits a bowl, seemingly unimportant at first glance, but a vital plot point in the drama. Last night’s dinner crusts around the edges, cement would clean off easier.

      The air between us thickens and buzzes with intensity as I stare from the bowl, to my husband and back to bowl. The symbol of our relationship turmoil, the pasta hardening in step with my heart Flecks of dried spinach discarded, just as my dreams of a husband who puts his own shit in the dishwasher. I stretch my fingers before tightening my grip around the phone at my hip pocket. Mum would understand my rage, maybe I should call her.

      Six weeks into to lockdown. Six weeks of my new pardner and every little thing starts to grate.

      “What’s for dinner tonight?” He asks, eyes still on the screen. Hackman shoots and DiCaprio falls.

      “I don’t know.” I reply.

      “I picked last night, it’s on you.”

      Silence falls, DiCaprio cries out, he doesn’t wanna die. I don’t wanna move that bowl.

      Husband pauses the film and holsters the remote, “I’m just gonna get a drink.” He says as he saunters past and into the saloon. The bowl remains.

      The clip-clop of slippers on tile, giving beat to growing frustration. We’ve never spent this much time together. Took a pandemic to realise we don’t really know each other.

      The saloon door creaks open, the arrogant sheriff of our house returns.

      “Rustled up some grub.” His wink not quite the gentlemanly tip of the hat.

      Bang! Down goes the block of chocolate on the table. Pop! He opens a bottle of wine.

      “Solid food is overrated.” He says, swiftly pulling the remote from its holster and aiming at the TV. I release the firm grip of my phone. Hand on heart I fall back into the sofa cushions, maybe he knows me after all.

      Husband pushes the bowl to the side, we freeze, eyes locked. With a nod we call truce until the next standoff.

 

TAKING LOCKDOWN ONE CAKE AT A TIME

IEVA LAKUTE

UNITED KINGDOM

SHORTLISTED

It had just gone 8pm on Good Friday. My first attempt at baking in over a decade was finally in the oven. Anxiously peering through the dark oven glass, I cursed myself. Why had I wasted four hours of my life on something as trivial as carrot cake?

      In the cake’s defence, I did spend two of them queuing outside Sainsbury’s. That’s when I should have done the sensible thing and bought a ready-made cake. Who needs baking when you can buy everything in the shops? (Under normal circumstances, anyway.) I could have spent the remaining two hours doing something important. Like finishing the novel I’d been writing for the best part of the same decade.

      And yet, something magical had happened behind that oven glass. Cinnamon and nutmeg fumes lingered in the air, and the house filled with memories. I saw my grandmother in Latvia baking rhubarb tarts, cranberry torts and cottage cheese pies; the smell of her baking making me feel safe and nourished.

      My grandmother is too old to make cakes now, her hands ridden with arthritis. And although her recipes were unique to Latvia, the term ‘grandma’s pie’ is known everywhere. It evokes the same feelings of safety and warmth; even in a bustling city like New York. Just before the world went into lockdown, I was fortunate to celebrate my 30th birthday there. My two British friends and I would spend hours in a different diner every day, ordering ‘grandma’s pie’ off the menu to finish our meals. Apple, blueberry, raspberry. It didn’t matter what flavour it was. We all knew exactly what it meant, despite coming from such different backgrounds.

      But real, authentic 'grandma's pies' may be on the brink of extinction. Because they require grandmothers to bake them. Although I’m not even a mother yet, one day I too will be a grandmother. And yet, having reached my thirties, I’ve only ever made a handful of cakes. I’ve been too busy balancing my day job with my dream of becoming a published author. And with less worthy pursuits, like socialising, watching silly Instagram stories and binging on Netflix. I’ve had absolutely no time for baking cakes.

      Some feminists might praise me for this, saying that baking is demeaning, demoralising, a remnant of our past as a sub-gender. And even though my carrot cake ultimately failed (after 40 minutes in the oven, it still came out raw in the middle), I’m determined to try again. Because I don’t want my grandchildren to experience the meaning of ‘grandma’s pie’ as an abstract term — something they’d read on the menu of a foreign diner. One day, I want them to associate that same warmth and safety of home-made cake with me. But it won’t happen unless I make time to bake. Unless we all make the time to bake.

      Yesterday baking seemed trivial. Today, it is a matter of great importance. So, let’s take lockdown one cake at a time.

For more of Ieva's work:

www.ieva-lakute.com

Facebook: www.fb.me/latvianwriter

COVID BUBBLES 

DERYN PITTAR

NEW ZEALAND

SHORTLISTED

The message, in capital letters, shouted silently at Walter as the words scrolled across his television screen.

      LOCKDOWN STARTS 11.59 p.m. SUNDAY:  CREATE YOUR BUBBLE: STAY IN YOUR BUBBLE: ONLY ONE PERSON PER BUBBLE WILL BE ALLOWED OUT TO SHOP FOR NECESSITIES: LOCKDOWN COULD LAST 4-6 WEEKS.

      Then:  ALL OVER-SIXTIES ARE FORBIDDEN TO LEAVE THEIR BUBBLES

      Europe was succumbing. The news ribbon listed the countries with closed borders. Hospitals were overflowing and the tally of people dying was horrific.

      He had forty-eight hours to create a bubble and he’d been officially classified as old. Diagrams flashed onto the screen, demonstrating bubbles, their make-up and how the lockdown would work. Not reassuring to someone who lived alone.

      Later in the day he looked across the library and smiled at Marjorie Potts, browsing in the romance section. She looked lovely in her twinset and pearls with a fresh blue rinse in her silver hair. Pity her house was stacked tight with newspapers and junk. A secret hoarder and you’d never guess. No. He couldn’t face her piling newspapers around his house. It would drive him crazy. You learned all sorts of things as a taxi driver. If you wanted to keep your job you kept your mouth shut and went the extra mile, like helping to carrying in groceries.

      Along the table from him Sally Ridges sniffed and licked her finger before she turned the page of a magazine. He wouldn’t be getting that magazine out. She had a cocaine habit, but ‘only a small habit’ she’d told him once when he took her to a particular street corner to meet a certain person, then drove her home again.

      Who was he to judge? He had a passion for wine gums, ate them by the handful. Now he had dentures it didn’t matter but Kathy always reckoned his sweet tooth had rotted his teeth. His cooking skills were only marginally better than before Kathy died. He seemed to be losing weight. Nothing he cooked tasted right and spiced food gave him gas. Even if Sally could cook, he didn’t want a druggie in the house.

      Across the room his gaze lingered on Arthur, an old crony from his bowling days. What was he up to now? Then he remembered. His wife had died and Arthur, it was rumoured, had taken to the bottle for company. With a small shake of his head he discarded that notion; he didn’t want a drinker either.

      He’d make a bubble of one.

      Tomorrow he’d bring his shopping trolley and fill it with books. At home he had a freezer full of meat, frozen vegetables, bottled fruit and a pantry his late wife always kept overstocked – ‘just in case’. Tomorrow morning he’d make his weekly trip to talk to Kathy, at the cemetery, and tell her she’d been right. You never knew when disaster might strike.

      He could imagine her comment to the angels – ‘I always said that. I did. And I was right - again.’

For more of Deryn's work:

Newsletter: https://iwriteuread.substack.com

Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/derynpittar

Facebook: www.facebook.com/derynpittar

Twitter: twitter.com/@derynpittar

 
 

STAYING HOME 

ANNEMARIE RAWSON

UNITED KINGDOM

SHORTLISTED

It is spring and 5.30am. Daylight filters in through the eyelet curtains. It insinuates its way under my eyelids but I roll over and try to hide from it for a little while longer.

      Steve’s alarm trills at 6.15am. I pretend I haven’t heard it but the elbow prod from the other side of the bed is hard to ignore. There’s a mumbling but I can’t hear what he said until I remove my ear plugs. I don’t open my eyes but the question is repeated. “Are you walking with me?” he asks, rolling out of bed. I take a moment to think about that.

      It’s early, I know but the roads, parks and paths will be far less busy now than later in the day. And the mornings are so stunning.  I haul myself out, get dressed and push my feet into my worn walking shoes. A bathroom stop, a drink of water and we are out the door.

      Today the lock footbridge is empty so I dart across. It is impossible to adhere to the two metre rule should someone come from the other way. It is too narrow.

      Surprisingly, I’m not very talkative. Neither of us needs words or music as we have a live orchestra overhead -  in surround sound. The birdsong is intense at this hour and the woodpecker doesn’t miss a beat as he taps out his drumroll. 

      Weaving our way through the ghostly walkways and streets we arrive at Ham Common. A swan is nesting on the tiny island in the middle of the pond. She is still fast asleep with her head deeply buried under her snowy-white wing. Lucky girl. On we walk to Ham Gate and through into Richmond Park.

      No cyclists are allowed in the Park right now so it is just us, a few other walkers, several dogs, deer, rabbits, squirrels and a duck nesting on the pond here too. Utter bliss to be surrounded by nature. Cutting through the back roads to Petersham Nurseries we come alongside a field where Belted Galloway cows are grazing. They are a monochrome picture in a lush, green setting - a pastoral and bucolic scene.

      Back on the Thames Path, this walk beside the river will complete our journey.  Being spring there is an abundance of waterfowl. The swans are graceful ballerinas, gliding with the current. My ears ring with the cacophony of geese honking, ducks quacking and yet more birdsong. The geese fast-paddle, pounding their powerful wings hard against the water, to gain momentum and lift off.   

      Foot traffic is heavier now. Crossing back over the lock bridge I cover my mouth and nose with a tissue.  People are coming towards me. It’s scary. Arriving home, I feel safe.  Back in my cocoon.  With such stunning mornings and wonderful nature all around us it’s hard to believe we are living in such a sick world.  What a privilege to be alive and to live in such a beautiful place.

 

THANK YOU, COLIN 

RICHARD SINGLETON

UNITED KINGDOM​

SHORTLISTED

I would like to thank you Colin for helping me retain my sanity during the pandemic. 

      We have never met and regrettably there is no chance we ever will. I know little about you other than you are probably a similar age to me, so maybe mid-sixties. 

      You clearly took great care of your childhood possessions leaving little doubt with your friends as to which were yours. This is possibly why you neatly wrote your name on the lid of this red and green box. 

      Maybe it was just that you were extremely proud of the set or perhaps you had to take it into class one day for “show and tell” and just wanted to make sure one of the rough boys in the class did not make off with your pride and joy. 

      Your fifty-five-year-old set has recently come my way and has now taken up residence on my desk. I have enjoyed several protracted sessions over the last four weeks all lasting a whole morning or afternoon, all of which have resulted in me regressing to my childhood. The parts feel reassuringly familiar in these uncertain times, taking me away from talk of ventilators and facemasks back to a time when the only equipment shortages I had to worry about were my missing green trunnion brackets 

      The box has a comforting patina with tape reinforcing its corners, inside it smells like a well-read paperback. The parts inside are in pristine condition, the red and green metal pieces still smelling of fresh lead paint and, as I finish putting together each construction, so do my hands and fingers. Most of the strips are straight and the panels have no sign of ever having been used. This made me ponder how little you must have played with it and how maybe your dad, possibly an engineer, was disappointed when he saw your disinterest. Maybe you preferred your other sets, Monopoly, Chemistry, or the painting set all of which would have led to a good career choice. I wonder what you went into, finance, medicine, or the arts? 

      As I pack away the parts into their allocated slots, I contemplate what happened to your set in the intervening years. I imagine it being relegated to the top of your old bedroom wardrobe crushed by the weight of suitcases and electric blankets. Meanwhile the pieces inside the fading box lay patiently unstirred until you reluctantly returned to your parents’ home to clear everything out following their deaths. 

      My daughters bought it on eBay and gave it to me last Christmas. It is, quite simply, the best present I have ever had. Little did I know that less than three months later it would make such a huge contribution to my mental wellbeing. Thank you, Colin, for looking after your Meccano Set and I hope, you too, have found something comforting to help while away the long days of the pandemic. 

About Richard:

Richard is something of a late starter to the world of writing. His partner, Michelle, recognised something of a flair several years ago, when he suggested that they write their own obituaries, for discussion over dinner on their second date. 

She subsequently encouraged him to join the creative writing group in the village of Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, where they meet in the steamed up library to discuss their works over tea and custard creams. 

Richard has written approximately 25 short stories, none of which have been published, and this is the first entry into a competition. 

Suitably encouraged, he is now planning something more ambitious.

 

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