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Women's SHORT STORY Competition 2012
- 1st Prize: Tamsin Cottis | 2nd Prize: Jane Archer | 3rd Prize: Jenny Holden
- Runners Up: Alex Fisher, Helen Geoghegan, Mithu Banerji
What goes around
by TAMSIN COTTIS
What goes around? I’ll tell you – a blanket goes round my baby. Tight round like an extra skin, but this blanket’s not soft. It’s scratching grey, with red sewing at the edge. White stuck-on label says Hospital Property.
My baby’s mine, come out of me. I can’t see her face but her hair! There’s so much of it, sticks up like a hedgehog. I see nurse give it a stroke. Feels lovely I bet. They never let me touch her.
What goes around? The little boy next door on his bike. His dad’s put a path. Pavement stones set out in an oblong, like a kiddies’ racetrack. Standing at the edge of my bedroom window, so boy don’t know I’m here, I see him. Lean over a bit – try to get a better look. His small legs work hard. These days I don’t trust mine to keep me up. Hold onto the back of this chair with one hand. Make me steady. He’s fast, tips on the corners, near skidding.
Clock says 10:07 but I’m not ready for breakfast yet. New nightie’s cosy snug. Staff’ll have a go at me, I know. Not dressed, hair like a rat’s nest, but staff can stuff it. I want to watch the boy. At least I’ve got the window open haven’t I? They’re always on at me, ‘Let the air in, Pauline G, smells like last week’s socks in here, Pauline G.’
Wind’s blowing in light and I hear the boy’s bike wheels go fizz on the stones. In the middle of the path there’s grass, and an orange sandpit with a lid to keep the cats out, toys spilled around like they don’t matter. Boy’s by himself today, but that’s normal enough. Dad’s at work, heard the door slam early. Mum’s busy I expect. Mrs In-and-Out I call her. Always bringing something out, taking something in, near running. Boy’s calling her now.
Women's SHORT STORY Competition 2011
- 1st Prize: Cate Bailey | 2nd Prize: Melanie Amri | 3rd Prize: Peggy Riley
- Runners Up: Carol McGuigan, Antoinette Mitchell, Claire Palmier
by CATE BAILEY
You put the money in the drawer. You know this. You remember doing it.
You can still feel her hand in the small of your back. You had been dancing in the kitchen. She had carefully undone your apron and was leading you to bed. It was then that she asked you to put the money somewhere safe.
You had stopped asking questions before this day. You had stopped asking questions of her long before the others. You allowed her more concessions. You didn’t want to know everything. You loved how it was. How it was different. You had fallen hard. Lip-biting, fist-clenching, gut-wrenchingly hard. Nothing like the boys before. So you didn’t ask. You knew better than to question a good thing.
When you woke the next morning, hazy-eyed in the already searing morning sun, you flung your arm over to her side and found an empty bed. You panicked for a second before remembering what she said. She would have left before the dawn. She would have tried to get 100 kilometres under her belt before the heat would turn the road ahead to a simmering pan. It started to come back to you slowly as you stared at the ceiling fan paring the broiling air.
You remembered the money and went to the drawer. You pulled out all the mismatched socks and the panties with their daggy daisy prints and their flaccid elastic. You burrowed until you reached the chipping ply of the back. It wasn’t there. Next you searched the biscuit jar, the freezer, the cistern, the urn containing her grandfather’s ashes. Gone. Not a hint. Not a crumb. You had lost it.
You weren’t sure how long you searched, but by the time you had turned the house upside down it was beyond hot. A stinker, she would have said. The fetid humidity made you retch. You stripped slowly, peeling the slack wet nightgown from your gleaming skin. You longed for a cold shower but the water coming from the pipes in the roof was tepid. It was already too late for cool.
You took the peas from the freezer, slapped them on the back of your neck and tried to make a plan. You had other money. You would go into town and simply withdraw the cash. Or get a loan. People did that.
You waited for the bus, the exact change like stones swimming in your sweaty palms. Once on board you were immediately and reluctantly suctioned to the vinyl seats. The bus was sluggish and the stops agonisingly long. You yearned for the ute. For her in the driver’s seat, hand glued to your knee, removing it only to shift gears.
You walked into the bank. You tried to be confident, purposeful. But you didn’t know what to do, which forms to fill in. She normally gave you cash for the groceries. You didn’t have a card. You hadn’t wanted one. You hadn’t a need.
You showed them the passbook you had carried around since your childhood. The teller smirked. She explained that the account was closed. She was sorry but there was nothing left. She apologised in a way that made you feel it was your fault. You wondered how she had been able to do that....
Women's SHORT STORY Competition 2010
- 1st Prize: Sarah Klenbort | 2nd Prize: Anne Bentley | 3rd Prize: Karen Jones
- Runners Up: Maria Hoey, Ilona Jesnick, Jennifer Moore
Love: A Painting
by SARAH KLENBORT
When Minnie Murphy’s dad bought her mom a Jaguar XKR convertible for their 15th wedding anniversary, my mother said people only ever celebrate anniversaries in a big way if they don’t have much else to celebrate.
Mom and Dad don’t celebrate anniversaries. They argue. The same worn-out arguments with Mom throwing pepper grinders and Dad ducking out for a drink. When Mom gets mad, she breaks things: a wine glass, a pot of geraniums, a plastic spatula. Last month, when the internet was cut off, she threw the toaster off the balcony. She did check first to make sure no one was on the sidewalk; we live on the twelfth floor. Mom said she was trying to get a rise out of Dad, who forgot to pay the bill, but he just shook his head and went to a bar on 123rd Street. Mom and I watched him from the balcony; he was careful to cross the road, and not walk under our apartment.
Mom’s Welsh, and she says if we were in Wales I’d call her Mam, but here in America that doesn’t sound right. Dad’s from Perth, the end of the earth, Mom calls it, but she’s never been, and Dad says when you’re there, it’s not the end of the world, it’s the center. I’d like to go. The air is clean, and the ocean is blue, not shit-brown like the Long Island Sound. Sometimes I imagine I’m in Western Australia walking down a clean white beach that goes on for blocks and blocks. Or I imagine I’m swimming in that blue Indian Ocean with a family of dolphins, who don’t bump into you, but even if they do, it’s OK, because they’re dolphins. In New York we go to the big round pool in Central Park that’s so full of kids you can smell the pee, and you’re always swimming into a leg or an arm or a head.
After the toaster incident I decided to do something special for Mom and Dad’s anniversary. I couldn’t think what, so I went to Skippy’s. Skippy is Dad’s friend. He lives in an apartment that doubles as a studio, and to get to his place you take the train to 157th Street, ring the bell, walk up four flights of dirty concrete steps littered with Burger King wrappers, cigarette butts, and empty cans of beer, and knock. Six locks click, Skippy opens the big metal door, smiles through his beard, and suddenly you’re in a different place. It’s a happy place. The walls are filled with green and blue: unfinished paintings of great big waves crashing into black rocks. That’s amazing ’cause water’s the hardest thing to paint. He tells me it takes practice, and then he downs his beer and crushes his can with just one hand, which also takes practice—I know because I tried and cut my pinkie.
‘You could make them a painting?’ he suggested. ‘For their anniversary?’
‘No way—I could never paint. I mean, I draw on the computer, but that’s different. I’ve never worked with oils.’
Skip smiled and said he’d give me lessons in exchange for beer, Natural Light, (that Dad would have to buy because I’m only twelve). Then he looked at a blank canvas and shook his head. ‘I have to go back. Have another look at the surf,’ he said...
Women's SHORT STORY Competition 2009
- 1st Prize: Beda Higgins | 2nd Prize: Angela Carr | 3rd Prize: Fadhila Mazanderani
- Runners Up: Joanne Reed, Jo Verity, Hilary Wilce
by BEDA HIGGINS
I get the bus to school so does my thick brother, we disown each other once we step out of the house, I go upstairs, he goes down, we keep it that way. Sharon gets on at Blackpool tower, my Dad says she’s a bad influence, but she’s a good laugh, and I don’t get much of that at home. Mum tried to split us up at the beginning of term by asking the teachers to separate us, but we drifted back together on the wrong side of bad, no one seemed to notice. We sit at the back of class being bored. If you’re at the very back of class the teachers lay off. They only consider bothering about you if you’re second row from the back. The back is damnation to NVQs, almost special needs. Their eyes glaze over, they can’t be arse.
I have to change my shoes on the bus upstairs. I’ve bought some four inch platforms out of my own money, Mum refused to buy them but I don’t care if they wreck my back, I look a babe. The first day I wore them Mister Mason yelled ‘Do not wear them to school again.’ So I have the pleasure of my platforms for the bus journey, but then have to do a flamingo impression jiggling on one leg while I change into plimsolls at the school gate. I keep them in my bag because the poxy prefects get their kicks dobbing me in.
‘Double History and double Maths’ I moan to Sharon as we walk up to class. ‘I think I’m losing the will to live.’
Sharon grabs my arm ‘Oh my God, look at Maureen, oh God it is Maureen isn’t it?’
Maureen’s a mouse girl who sits in the corner, you’d never notice her if it wasn’t that Sharon treats her like a dog she kicks every time she sees her, let’s just say she has issues with her.
‘Oh my God, I mean Oh my God’ Sharon squeezes my arm tighter. ‘Look, she’s got a wig on.’
It’s a terrible wig, a stiff helmet bob, like a Lego man.
‘Why?’ I say quietly. ‘Why the hell would she wear a wig?’ I try to remember what Mouse looked like before the wig. It’s a pale, hazy image maybe her hair is slightly ginger. Sharon giggles hysterically, I can see other girls giggling too. Mouse scuttles by, her head down.
Sharon’s electric, the wig has plugged her in, she lights up in History and even grins through double Maths. She keeps nudging me with doodles of Mouse, and flicks little balls of paper across the room to hit her so she’ll turn round, and we can have a good gawp at the helmet. When Mouse puts her head down to write you can see where the wig ends and real hair tufts stick out. Sharon snorts and pretends it’s a sneeze, she gets me going, we nearly pop trying to keep all the giggles gagged. When the bell for goes for lunch Sharon jumps up ‘Oh I’ve got to see this close up.’
Maureen’s already beetled out of class, and nowhere to be seen...