All Write

The Moya Green Collection


1st ALL WRITE SHORT STORY COMPETITION

 
Anne Goodwin
 
After Icarus
 
 
 

 

 

ALL WRITE SHORT STORY COMPETITION 2009

 

RESULTS

 

Winner

Gail Hackston           Me for my Father

Runners-up:

Mark Wagstaff          Footnotes and Footlights

Fiona Macleod         Chris Anderson

 

Shortlisted entries:

Arasu, Anuadha                              Lonely Boys
Campbell-Kearney, Andrew          Unmusical Bumps
Condon, Joan                                 The Case of the Missing Unmentionables
Dearsley, Karla                               Healthy Eating
Murray, Anthony:                             Opened
Marin-Piza, Paulina                        In the City of Elizabeth
Philippou, Paul                               Tears for Fears
Ramsey, Pauline                            The Ghost Dance
Stutt, Sarah                                      Reunion


 

 

Gail Hackston


Gail has always been obsessed with beautiful, blank notepads and fancy, expensive pens. This year - post redundancy - she decided to pick up both and have a bash at writing fiction. This is her first short story. She lives in London with her partner.

 

 

Me for my Father

by

Gail Hackston

 

The fork lift cut my father in two at the Steel works the summer before I knew my first funeral. He was alive. Of sorts. Not much use from the waist down the doctor said. Or from the head up, my mother would add. Poor old bugger lay in my bed for nearly 12 months. Me, having been granted the dubious honour of being head of the family, was now designated the floor in the living room.  To be honest, it was more comfortable than the bed. 

 My maternal Grandfather died in the January – still estranged from us all on account of his philandering.  It has been a bleak and slow death in Glasgow, away from his roots in the Highlands and worse still, away from the family in New Stevenson. There were secrets everywhere you looked in my family.  The forklift, the rift with Grandfather and then of course, there was the man who pulled number five.

Kirk O Shotts stands proud on a barren hill, the brutal North East wind trying daily to blow it down.  Resolute it stands, as if by spite. That January, it took 3 days and 2 broken shovels to dig my Grandfather’s grave. The ground was frozen solid, as was I in the only jacket I owned, my school blazer. At that time death and funerals were a man’s business.  At aged twelve and with my father taken my place in my bed, I was taking his place and his slip of paper from the undertaker.

 He pressed it into my hand and nodded solemnly. His notation, his look, suggested I should know what to do. With Uncle Dave’s hand on the back of my neck I was guided forward to the carriage carrying the coffin. The wind blew down, bringing rain and sleet almost horizontal into my face. I braced myself, stumbling forward in the wind to do my duty. Myself for my father, who in turn would have been representing my mother, Uncle Dave, Uncle Bert, Uncle Tom, Aunt Doreen’s husband Charlie and another man, a stranger I’d not seen before. 

There were small nods between the men, respectful but cold. The chill between them blended in with the surrounding nip of the isolated church. The stranger’s eyes fell upon me. Uncle Dave’s hand still rested reassuringly on my neck, but when the man looked at me, I felt his grip all the tighter.

 “You’re at the back Bobby” Uncle Dave whispered and pushed me towards the back of the box. His look, his demeanour, said - Just follow me son. Do as I do. As I was about to, the stranger stood between us.  A moment of panic hit me until Uncle Tom, tugged my sleeve. He was beside me, in the opposite back corner of the coffin. 

 “Lift it quickly, like I do and get it onto your shoulder, OK?” He advised, I nodded. My voice got lost in the howling wind and rain.

 The coffin was hardly light – I knew this from the grunts the other men made. Being only twelve and still slightly shorter than the rest of them I didn’t take much of the strain. Grandfather didn’t bother me at all, he lightly grazed my shoulders as we marched to the Kirk but that was it. I was grateful to the old man for this. My hands were blue, I couldn’t feel my fingers. The rain had seeped through my shoes and was beginning to freeze my feet. My blazer proved woeful in keeping the bitter winds and stinging rain at bay. The old man was buried in the rain and sleet on that bleak hillside – his family there to see him to the next world. Me for my father.  At twelve, the head of our family.

 We trudged back to Uncle Dave’s as a pack. My mother greeted me with a stern look, blame for the heavens opening placed firmly at my soggy feet. My Aunt for her part greeted me with a smile and a hot cup of tea. I knew what I would rather have. I had near forgotten the man on number five until he walked through the open door at Uncle Dave’s. The room froze – silence bore loud. My mother gave out a small yelp, as though she had seen a ghost.  You could feel the chill wind blow in from the Kirk there and then.

 “I ... I’m here to pay my respects”, the man ventured to the room. “You’ll not see me after this” His eyes flicked between Dave, my uncles, my mother and oddly, me.

 Dave eyed him.  Scratching his chin. Thinking. The room remained silent, waiting for a sign. After what seemed like minutes, he nodded.  The man would stay. The small gesture lightened the room in parts, darkened it in others. My mother immediately busied herself with the food table, finding the sandwiches of sudden and awesome interest.

 I was put to work opening the door, showing people into the front room and taking coats.  I was not to veer from the hall until all we had expected had come to pay respects. Dave, the stranger and my uncles all talked in one corner of the room – uneasily and in hushed voices. I tried to catch what I could when showing new visitors through but they were skilful in conference and stopped talking whenever I approached.

 My mother watched me like a hawk, whenever I sloped off from the door to talk to cousins or tried to pinch a sandwich from the table, I got the look and retook my position as quick as I’d left it. When finally discharged from the door, I was proudly shown off like a prize pony, indeed a prize grammar school pony to all the extended family and friends. I had hair ruffled and cheeks pulled but none of it interested me. All I wanted to do was talk to the man who’d picked number five and the way he kept looking at me, I got the feeling he wanted to do the same.

 It wasn’t until there was some raised voices from the corner that I suspected I might get to meet this man. The stranger was gesturing and pointing towards me, and Dave following his finger turned momentarily catching my eye, just as quick, he looking guiltily away. The man stood, almost threateningly, pacing around the room. Dave waved him to sit down, after an intense moment or two he did as asked.

Eventually Dave, Solomon to the last, stood and came towards me.  He gestured me to follow with a tilt of his head. We wound up in the box room, directly above the wake.  He stared at me intensely, and tried to start his conversation several times always shaking his head and giving up, never seemingly able to find the words.

 “Robert, I’m not sure how to speak to you about this, son.” He turned his back and stared out the window. “The man you met this morning at the Kirk, he’s my brother.”

  Dave looked at me, out the corner of his eye. “That would make him my uncle?” I said.

 Dave shook his head. “No. He’s your father Robert”

I didn’t understand. My father was in my bed at home, having been cut in half by a forklift at the Steel Works. This guy, well, who was he?, he was no-one.  My frown betrayed my confusion. Uncle Dave went on.

 “Mary, your mother – you know my mother took her in when her own died of the Cancer. She’s as much as sister to me as my brothers are brothers to me but blood is blood. Robert, your father, married her when she came of age and then, well you came along.” He stopped abruptly. Peering sideways again. 

 “I’m sure he’ll explain ...” Dave bristled, “... why he left you and your mother as he did, and I’m sure you’ll be able to work out why your mother married Archie McClellan as she did”. I noticed his shaking hands behind his back as he rocked on his heels.

 “I don’t mean to upset you with all this Robert. You’ve lived this long without knowing and in my mind, you could have lived a lot longer.  But, he’s going to Australia, Monday week – likely not coming back. So, I, that is to say we, decided you should know. It is your right after all”

 He turned to me, the truth now laid bare. I was a maelstrom of emotion. I had heard him talking, that’s true. I had on one level understood it, but on another level it was dreamlike. I started to feel cold, shivering, as though I was still on that hillside in my wet clothes, I held myself and trembled.  Uncle Dave’s concern for me was written on his face, being as he was a man of another era he just rocked back on his heels again and waited for me to pull myself together. It took a good few minutes until the news had sunk in to a point that I had stopped shaking. He took this as a sign of my recovery and ventured a loaded question.

 “Would you like to meet him?”  He enquired. My life would change with either answer.

 I nodded. Uncle Dave turned to go, he hesitated and turned back for a moment.

 “Nothing need change,”  he said in almost a whisper, and then disappeared.

 Within seconds of Dave descending the man I was told was my father appeared. He hung at the doorway for a moment, aware he had startled me with his presence, indeed with his story.

 I, not knowing what to do, stuck my hand out formally to shake his. He laughed slightly, amused at the gesture but took it all the same, his grip tight, his eyes locking mine as though drinking in the moment. 

 We talked in the box room for about half an hour. He was going to Australia to make a new life for himself, as a rancher – a kind of cowboy – in the outback. The sun he said, barely ever went down and the land, stretched on forever. He made it sound like Shangri-La. For a moment I wondered why wasn’t everyone immigrating to Australia. For a moment, I wondered if I should ask to go to. I told him of me, my school, my grades, my sisters and my life. It was all very boring I thought, but the questions he asked made it seem like the most important life that had ever been lived. We connected in that box room, above my Grandfather’s wake. Then, all too soon it was over, my mother having had all she could stand of the two of us alone, sent Uncle Dave to call time. 

 My mother and I went back to the house that night in silence. We looked in on my father, a cuckoo in my bed, asleep now, his pain for today gone with slumber. She made me swear not to bring today back up, with him or with my sisters, or indeed with anyone. I gave her promises she wanted and we never talked of it again. 

 

When my father finally succumbed to the forklift I knew what to expect, having been through it all with Grandfather not six months before. I guided my mother and my sisters through the days of their grief, I performed admirably as head of the house, and I even managed an ironic smile when the undertaker gave me a slip with the number five on it.

 Marching into the Kirk that summer, with my father on my shoulder and the sun in my eyes, my thoughts jumped between the man I carried and the cowboy in Australia. Both fathers, in different ways, and me bits and pieces of both of them.  Bound neither to the mistakes of one, or the misfortune of the other.

 

 

Mark Wagstaff

Mark was born by the sea and has lived most of his life in London. The city provides most of the inspiration and backdrop to his work.

Mark's new novel In Sparta is available now from www.troubador.co.uk

His previous novel The Canal is now available to download as an ebook from www.allromancebooks.com and from www.amazon.com

More information on Mark's may be found at  www.markwagstaff.com  

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes and Footlights

by

 

Mark Wagstaff

 

 

Silly, how things happen. Ask my children, grown up now and appalled by silly things. Of course they’re right. Right as their parents made them. We do so want our children to do well, don’t we? To avoid the wiles of silly things.

 

Now my father, I should say, was a gourmet of good sense. From that last generation perennially expecting disaster, he met the most hideous setbacks with fortitude and a proper Full Windsor. My mother was a paragon of self-effacing toughness, braving the most frightful privations with a tightly-turned plait and a whispered ‘Oh dear!’. Or, in extremis, ‘That’s a bit much!’. Young, I thought them ridiculous, although not, I fear, to the same degree my children view me.

 

I married late - twenty-nine - but lastingly: just shy of twenty-three years. Exceptional events - three children born; houses gained and lost; business triumphs and disasters; dogs dying; parents dying - erupted, insistent as volcanoes. But, looking back, those eruptions merely mark and don’t disturb the landscape of years. Everything is tolerable, in the end.

 

I felt tested most when my husband died. A little older than me, but no great age, it was a shock I hadn’t yet thought I’d need to be prepared for. Two years on I’m still raw with it: the way illness comes to take a life and - even now - all the doctors can do is watch. The poor specialist, the poor surgeon, in that hateful little room, telling me it was all too much, too fast. Their clever, learned fingers twisted tight with the inadequacy of knowledge against this small, deadly thing. I felt so sorry for them: professional, committed, and utterly beyond what they could control.

 

That’s where I got the idea. Oh, I know it’s a cliché: widows and evening classes. But marriage absorbs a great deal of time. Evenings, sorting household matters; business dinners; nights out. Just being with someone takes time. And it’s a thin enjoyment, making cakes for one. When, conversationally, I mentioned evening classes, the children heard it as their mother going on the pull. All those single gentlemen. Indeed! And when I said I was studying medicine and health, it was suddenly morbid. As though every doctor in every age was a product of despair and all a mother is good for is flower arranging or advanced tarte Tatin. I should say, my mother, for all her starch, could strip an engine.

 

That’s why, two years on, I was three nights a week in the college library, grappling with footnotes, a mountain of texts and a hill of learning to climb. Not for exams, but to understand how we live, how we give way. The librarians - sorry, Resource Consultants - were a youthful, jolly bunch. Their particular pride was remembering names without looking at your card. Amnesiac newcomers always stood out. Like the louche young man who studied my card like an opportune cheque and said, “Alison Sawyer?”

 

“Yes?”

 

He peered forensically. “Have you always been called that?”

 

My secret is I’m a footnote. I didn’t tell him, with a queue grumbling behind me. But when I went out to contemplate digestion over a cup of the celebrity caterer’s chokingly overpriced coffee, he beetled into the cafeteria and asked if a plainly vacant chair was taken. What could I say? I didn’t actually want conversation, but by fifty-four one’s mask of pleasantry has become a second dermis, inured by parents’ evenings, dinner parties, and periodic readings of wills. He was very earnest - that property of the young - and thinking not of Alison Sawyer, but Alison Bliss. Neither, of course, is my name. I was married Sawyer, born Cartwright. A Surrey Cartwright, in fact. And I should confess, when I left school, I didn't do as my parents wanted. Their preference was social advancement through marriage to some clean young man. But, as a stopgap, I could have a career. Sadly, I chose neither. My costly and hideous country school was pretty much good for nothing, but it had Miss Bradley. Miss Bradley taught drama and through her passionate, rather loopy, tuition, I fell heart over head for the stage. To my shame, I became an actress.

 

My parents - indeed, everyone - gratifyingly miffed at this turn of events, I grew my hair, shortened my skirts, and headed for London. Obviously, I should say, the business was easier then: a girl could get noticed with none of this theory and exegesis which nowadays precedes unemployment. I did rather well. Had several seasons working my way up the bill and appeared, although as a footnote, in a handful of those solidly-made social dramas the suburban film studios churned out then. The kind that occasionally find their level on obscure corners of the digital range. I took the name Alison Bliss remembering - from a footnote - the classifications in the school library were Bliss, rather than that other system no one understands. And it's near the top of the alphabet, which is good marketing. And in London, in those times, with all that was going on, it seemed a rather hopeful name, as youth and love were on the verge of conquering the world. Indeed.

 

Of course, as I neared my thirties, ingénue parts got harder and the eternal lack of money wasn't quite the lark anymore. Friends were starting to settle and, when I met the rather dishy man soon to be my husband, I was bowled out my pumps by what I believed was a whole new adventure. And it was: I never, not for one moment, regretted getting married. And he was rather dishy. Right to the end.

 

The earnest young man was just filling time, misplacing books at the library, while waiting for his real career to take flight. He was, he told me alarmingly, a graduate of film. In a rather sticky leaflet mined from his pocket, he showed me the Barbican season on some great British director. They were running a famous film in which I had a modest part. The young man had recognised me. The first time in over twenty years anyone recognised me. I went rather hot and cold. I mean, it was a shock - I'm hardly Hollywood-tidy. He wanted to talk about this director and I struggled to remember much beyond a bossy little type with no respect for lunch. But the young man seemed charmed by my hazy recollections, and bought me a muffin. And said I was a good actress.

 

To my shame, I never quite escaped the stain of vanity, and a few nights later paid rather a lot for a Barbican seat and wallowed. There's a seasickness, seeing one's young self on screen. The years reverse, conflated. I didn't think I handled the role, being honest: too scrubbed and plummy, though I would have gagged if someone else said so. But I did linger after in the poster exhibition and felt ridiculously miffed that no one noticed.

 

When the earnest young man approached me again, I had a dizzy thought he'd want my autograph. But he'd found more treasure in the reference section of his pockets: a cutting from a local rag about amateur dramatics. He thought, with touching shyness, I might be interested. Silly. I thought it silly. All the way there on the train. Of course, I said nothing about my past - that would have been ghastly - but presented as the hopeful widow short on things to do. They were doing some creaky old farce, with a comedy dipso mother. Incredibly, my drunk act was least-worst on the night.

 

Oh, lord, but I was shocking scared getting up on stage. All the horror returned: the lights, the expectation. The audience, wanting something, anticipating something. I was rather croaky first off but then, it happened. I'm not sure when or how, but I had the sensation of wings unfolding, as everything beyond the footlights melted away. And the applause, that sound: my heart raced like a hummingbird's. Couldn't sleep when I got home. Just curled up with his picture, and cried.

 

Silly, that scene on the Sunday. My children are in the big world now. They've been lucky, with skills to pay the bills. It was one of our Sunday lunches, not cooking; lord, no: we go to that place on the Common. It was the lull after main course, when ice cream looks inviting, and everyone weighs the calorie footprint of pastry over pears. We'd had an hour and more of their job news and, cracking another bottle, the youngest asked how my medical studies were going. That's when, as he would say, it all got messy. I confessed I'd been neglectful, that respiration had found me wanting, as I'd been doing rather than reading about it, on the amateur stage. They know my history, of course, but are unimpressed by it, as children are always unimpressed by life before they were born. For years, I was indifferent to my mother's time in the army, where she learnt to handle guns.

 

There was some polite condescension about how important it is to stay active, as if I was some old fossil propped on a tatting frame. Miffed, I mentioned a nice young man had said nice things about me, and that sank as lead-balloonishly as one might expect. They went back to their terribly exciting talk of the contract, the deal.

 

I love my children; I'll love them till I drop. But I'd had three glasses of red and formed what was, no doubt, an unreasonable opinion that they saw themselves as moving and me as standing still. I didn't like that. To my shame, I resented it. They were supposing a future for me exactly as my parents had. And with the same result. Oh dear. I broke into the conversation. Entered, one might say, with alarums and excursions. Told them I meant to go back, full time. Work my card again. None of this went down well.

 

What would I do for money? How would I cope with the stress, the disappointment? From being an old fossil, I was a child again. I pointed out - perhaps more coarsely than I should - that, unlike them, I didn't need money. The house was bought, thanks to their father's clever business brain, and the golden web of assets and interests he’d woven kept body and soul together. Apart from college fees and my fondness for Italian leather, I hardly had greater expenses than anyone living alone. Living alone: I made a point of that. No strings, no obligations. As for stress and disappointment: if I got a part, marvellous. If not, I could make jam. I thought we were having a conversation, but the silence that followed sequestered me in monologue. Or a rant, as my daughter said, getting her coat: a silly, silly rant.

 

It's a bind, but I had to do it. Otherwise I'd never be able to tell them off again. I bought papers, checked websites. Saw a man in Soho, in one of those rackety top floor offices braced on a solid foundation of dreams. I told him I'm Alison Bliss and he said, with touchingly skewed chivalry, that he'd heard of me from his father. He made a call. Something out of town, looking for a dotty old bag.

 

There's always openings for dotty old bags, shrewish mothers, truculent widows. Got a fortnight in Hampshire coming up. I'm petrified. Found myself on a website the other day, in a footnote on some leading man I remember as rather priggish. I'm a perennial footnote; in its way, that's rather jolly. What you find from digging deep is always more special, I think. We're in Andover, Winchester, and finish in Basingstoke. Do come along if you can. I'll be the grey-haired girl, terrified and fearless, silly and young in the footlights.

Fiona MacLeod

Fiona is a psychology teacher and research student at the University of Nottingham. Her first taste of the power of storytelling was at the age of 13 when, on the back seat of the school bus, she began a daily serial for her friends, and discovered that making up stories is better than anything else in life.

Her first novel, Imposter, published by Wardgate Press, is about an unknown spy, Ann Dance, who changed the course of 18th century British history. She is now working on a second, Walker, a story of love, obsession and murder set in contemporary Manchester

 

 

                                    Chris Anderson  

 

                                                                                   by

 

                                                                         Fiona MacLeod

 

 

              

Chris.

Chris.Chris.

Chris.

Chris.Chris.

Sound of the sea, lipping the shore.

Sweet, hissing whisper. Gently over the rocks, the sand , and then the

underpull. Sucking back down into the depths of the ocean. Deeper than

I’ve ever been. Deep enough to be alien. Dangerous. A drowning place.

Primeval. I don’t have the necessary non vertebrate, gill ridden

structure to survive there. There is no magic.

But she would not see it.

Bitch. Pulling me under.

Sea creature. But I am not. And this was not for my good.

Just for hers.

 

What did she imagine? That it would last forever? That it was love,

love, love? Could she clearly state what that actually is? For I

cannot. And at least I am honest. No self delusions. She is lost in

them.

 

The sex was good. I had no problem with that. We pushed the boundaries.

Sometimes she bled. A little. We were wild. Out on the cliffside at

night, among the coughing, indifferent sheep. Clutching at clumps of

heather, bare roots of whin bushes to get a purchase. And giggling.

Hysterical children, naked in the bitter rain, and then back to the

kitchen for old American movie mother comfort of hot chocolate and rugs

by the fire.

 

Not ordinary. That was Chris. Dark, small, windfall nut of a woman.

Bright eyed and glossy. Breasts like ripe Italian plums. Hands tiny.

Legs sturdy, with white, blue veined, breakable ankles. Way of keeping

her head slightly down when she’s talking. Not in subservience, but in

defence. Always ready to fight. Before others have even thought that

there is a battleground.

 

She didn’t fight when I ended it. When I showed her the door. Yes,

actually showed her the door. Perhaps clichés are always based in what

happens in extreme realities. Well, it was my house. And one of us had

to go. She didn’t fight. But looked at me fixedly. Unable to speak. I

could feel her mustering all the clever words she could to argue with

me, for after all, what I proposed must have seemed preposterous. An

aberration. We were happy. No, too light a word. We were complete,

replete in each other. Nothing had changed. Just one morning I asked

her to go. She listened, nodded her head. She looked up the bus

timetables. A bus came to the end of our road and would take her to

Hawick. She could go anywhere from there. I didn’t offer to drive her.

She had slipped in to my life one night. Almost unbidden, and now she

should go the same way. Her hands were trembling when I took her case

from her to carry it down the steps, out on to the track to the bus

stop.

 

After she had gone, I went on a man’s drinking spree. Watched football

on the television. Went for walks in the night. With only my own

breathing to listen to. I exulted in the acres of bed space and the

untouched cutlery. The lack of perfume and ridiculously small female

packages. My own rhythms reigned supreme. Simple and daily excretion

with a newspaper for company.

 

Of course, I missed her. I expected to. But what I waited for was worth

any pain. I  welcomed the pain, for out of it would be born my renewed

self. So I waited. But the new self did not appear.

 

 

I had not written for ten years, and Chris, arriving on my doorstep to

interview me for some minor people’s press article, was to be my

catalyst. She was to transform me. She was very willing to make a

transformation. Flatteringly excited by being in my presence. A one

book man. But not to her. I was sodden with potential. Needed love to

set me free. Only love love love could set me free. God, she believed

it. And then so did I. After a while I grew full of my own

possibilities. And I knew that at a certain point, I would have to tell

her to go. The second part of my rebirth had to have no witnesses. No

interference. I half thought she knew that. Until  I asked her to go

and her immediate, silent compliance with my proposal showed me the

depth of her shock.

 

But I had to accept her pain along with my own. And I willingly did.

Through it would come the words. The words to describe our

relationship… or the shoreline …or the life of the village daft boy. I

didn’t know what the words would bring.  But each day after Chris had

gone  I waited for them.

 

They did not come.

 

She had not transformed me. She had failed. She was a lie.

All that wide legged open woman-giving had not benefited me. As the

days of my vigil passed I realised that I had been mistaken in her. She

had not really had the capacity for the task of transforming me. She

had some slight sleight of hand, could change a cold room into a

welcoming feast-hall or make a corner of it a secret place. She could

sooth and sway me in her arms like some old crone of a Viking madra,

and then suddenly twist her body across and above me to become my

searing, sliding, silky concubine. Fleshing out every fantasy as fast

as I could make them. But more than that – no.

 

And now I have to come back to her self delusion. She believed that her

function was to be my muse. My amuensis. She was so convincing, being

so convinced, that I believed her.

 

God.

 

I must have lost my marbles. To believe a silly little Glasgow woman

who had attended a few book club meetings. Clutching at straws. At the

end of my tether. These clichés are all she deserves.

She was probably using me to kick start a new life for herself. It’s

what women do. Then they can blame love love love for their wild

abandonment of their responsibilities. Why don’t they just sin and be

done with it? Take the blame. I was sick of being a wife and mother so

I got out. Oh no. It has to be passion. It has to be special. It has to

be a sacrifice for art – or the church - or saving the trees – or

something.

 

At least men are honest. I told her to go. To her face. I knew it would

hurt both of us. I did it. Because the plan included it. She had had

her kick start – now I wanted to have mine.

 

But I did not. I cannot. It won’t happen. I cannot write. I am in a

constant state of grief. Habitual mourning someone called it. This is

the cruelty. I had accepted that I was a one book man. I had grown

comfortable with it. And she opened up another painfully sweet

prospect. Whispering in my ear about my use of metaphor. Glancing at me

as she went about the house as if she was viewing something momentous

in my every action. I was a genius. A great writer. I was her great

writer.  Foolishly, I had entered into this fantasy, like a man easing

himself into a bath which he knows is too hot but which his aching

bones cannot resist. I bathed in this glorious self image, reflected

off Chris at every turn of her head. I was convinced. Certain. I could

hardly wait for her to get out of my house. The computer waited for me.

I had to be alone with it. Then, not long after the door closed behind

her, I began to know with a creeping certainty, which spread further

across my consciousness every day, that she had been wrong, I was not a

genius. I couldn’t even find enough interest in my thoughts to

concentrate on them for half an hour. I bored myself. I would sit in

font of the computer and my eyes would stray to the logo at the side.

Who designed it…why did they choose those colours. After a decent

interval – as if it mattered – who was there to see? I would go and sit

by the fire with a glass of whisky and try to regain my previous state

of non creative equilibrium.

 

But no – the possibility which Chris had cruelly pointed out for me

intruded at every turn. I was being accused by a false doppelganger

which claimed  I was failing to make good use of my talents. I wrestled

daily with this intruder, and never vanquished him.

I stayed at my house on the point in this state of agonising limbo for

one year after she left. No words had come. I decided I had to get out.

 

 

And here I am, in Spain. Not some tacky resort, but in the mountains. A

village - Per Ardua Des Montanias. It is an unforgiving place. Hot, dry

and perched up on rocks. Perhaps here I will find some solace. The vast

heat will burn it all out of me. I will be exhausted by dust and the

effort of walking down to the village square to have a meagre lunch. I

am becoming an ascetic. Perhaps a recluse. Certainly separate from the

rest of mankind here. Not hearing my own language helps. After Chris

left – having seeded the ground of my malcontent - I could hardly bear

to hear the sound of English being spoken. Every word was an

accusation. Every spoken sentence begged to be incorporated into a

novella. Why did I not write that down? Were not those the words which

would open the first chapter of the greatest book in the English

language?

 

Spanish stays impenetrable to me. And I like it that way.

You see how I brood. Here, on the patio of Alphonso’s bar. No English

spoken.

 

In my hand I have an invitation. Posted to my house yesterday. I get

many of these. There are a number of new-lifers out here. I avoid them.

I cannot trust myself to hear English just yet. The pain of the last

year as only begun to recede.

 

Idly, I open the folded sheet. It is an invitation to a poetry reading,

written in English. Some book club. I smile wryly. Even here.

They meet once a month – I bet they do.

 

Suddenly the world tilts sideways. The sounds of the market square

recede and I hear the rushing of my own blood in my ears. Things start

to go black and then they start to go bright again. Alphonso looks at

me with concern. He takes a few steps towards me but I wave him away. I

regain my place in the present time and gasp for breath. My chest feels

constricted.

 

I look down at the piece of paper in my hand again.

The next meeting will be at 7.30pm  on the 24th July, at Villa Aqua,

home of Mr and Mrs Burdett. The subject of discussion will be the 2003

Booker prize winning novel Hawick by Chris Anderson. Please ensure you

have finished reading the text before the meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st All Write Competition Winner

 


Anne Goodwin

lives in Nottinghamshire.  Her short fiction has appeared in Pen Pusher and QWF magazine, and in anthologies of the Sid Chaplin short story competition, where she took first prize in the 2005/6 and 3rd prize in 2007.


You can read moere of her stories at  http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/


 

After Icarus

 

He cruises through the troposphere, parting the clouds with his arms like swimmer.  Effortless: his body as light as a bride’s veil.  He could go on like this for ever.  Not going anywhere in particular.  Just going.

Far below, the regular people are fussing about their homes and jobs and families, erecting the petty obstacles they need to make their world go round.  Here in the realm of the birds -- whose chatter is only of the latest workout for wings, and the juiciness of slugs -- is where he truly belongs.

 

On the first Tuesday of the month, I call in at the surgery for my prescription.  Today there is a new lady on the reception. Her frizzy hair is the colour of a robin’s breast.  She looks at my form and says, You can’t have your prescription until you’ve seen the doctor for a medication review.

            So I go, Okay, and take a seat in the waiting area among the out-of-date magazines.

            And she calls across, You can’t see him now.  There are no more appointments left today.

            So I go, Okay, give me one for tomorrow.

            And she shakes her head and says, You can’t make an appointment at this time of day.  You have to ring up between half-past eight and half-past nine in the morning.

            So I go, Thank you, miss, and head back home.

 

Latching onto a thermal, he is carried through the blue, the air caressing his cheek like a lover.  It’s all so easy for those few lucky enough to have discovered how arms can be made to function as wings.

            Over the houses of the regular people he goes.  The obstructive people, the no-you-can’t-have-it people who, unlike him, will never experience the exhilaration of flight.

 

If you want to know something about me: well, I’ve got two eyes, a nose and a mouth.  I live in this city and my name is …  No, let’s leave that for now, shall we?

            In the mornings, I always drink a cup of tea, with a dash of milk and two sugars, out of my RSPB mug, before getting dressed.  Then I have two slices of wholemeal toast with lemon marmalade and a second cup of tea.

            After breakfast this morning, I go out to the phone box to call the doctor’s.  There aren’t so many public phones around these days, so it’s a bit of a walk.

            I’m sorry, says the receptionist, we can only do appointments between eight-thirty and nine-thirty.  It’s after ten now.

            What am I going to do?.  I’ve run out of medication.

            I’m sorry, she says again.  You’ll have to ring up again tomorrow morning.

            Are you the new lady?  The one with red hair?  The old receptionist wouldn’t make things so difficult.

            Ring up tomorrow.  She puts the phone down on me.

 

He joins a swarm of swallows on their farewell tour of the Home Counties prior to moving south for the winter.  He feels snug in the middle of the party as they fly over all their favourite haunts.  Every so often one of them breaks away from the group and swoops down to perch momentarily on a selected rooftop.

            What’s going on?

            The swallows flanking him cock their heads and giggle.  Didn’t you know?  We’ve taken on the job of shitting on the homes of all the red-haired receptionists in the world.

 

I’m having trouble sleeping at night.  Strange noises are coming from next door, as if the neighbours are building a machine to send microwaves through the wall.  I don’t feel safe enough to sleep until it gets light and then I don’t wake up again until nearly noon .  When it’s too late to go out to phone the GP’s surgery.

            After breakfast -- or maybe I should call it lunch -- I collect my post from the doormat.  There is only a leaflet from the supermarket advertising this month’s promotions.  I take it to the dining table and study it carefully.  There’s a special offer on aluminium foil.  It must be a sign.  I go straight out to the shop and buy ten rolls for the price of eight.  I spend the next couple of days making my place safe.  I roll out the foil and stick the sheets onto my bedroom walls like wallpaper.  That should stop the microwaves coming through from next door.

            I’m so busy I don’t really notice the time, and maybe I forget to go to bed, I’m not sure.  At some point someone, probably my neighbour, comes and calls through the letterbox, Stop that banging.  Which is a bit much, given his behaviour, don’t you think?

 

Sparrowhawk, goshawk, honey buzzard, kestrel.

            Sea eagle, red kite, black-shouldered kite, osprey.

            Golden eagle, griffon vulture, bearded vulture, falcon.

            Toucan, pelican, Peter Pan, Superman.

            Can he fly?  Corsican.

 

The noises from next door have multiplied.  Banging and shouting at odd times in the night.  In the daytime, a strange whirring sound, like machinery.  People whispering, plotting.  The foil gives me some protection, but for how long?  Can it hold out until the birds come to rescue me?

Perhaps I should make a fire in the garden to attract their attention.  But it really isn’t safe to go outside.  Best to stay indoors.  There’s nobody can be trusted.  Not even you.  At least I had the sense not to tell you where I live.

            I can’t get out to buy bread, so I make do with marmalade and crackers for breakfast.  If they run out, I’m sure the birds will forgive me if I break into the nuts and seeds I’ve stored up for them for winter.

            At night, I think I hear the birds coming.          

 

Come, say the sunbirds, we will take you to visit our mother, Helios.

            He soars through the atmosphere, rising higher than he ever thought possible.  Fireworks spangle into Technicolor just above his head.  It’s beautiful, he says.  I could stay here for ever.

            You must fly higher, say the sunbirds.  Our mother is waiting.

            It gets warmer as he rises, cuddling his soul like his grandmother’s kitchen on baking day.  Down there the earth is as dull as an old tennis ball.  What can the people do to him now they are as tiny as fleas?

            To his right, a rocket bursts into stars, peppering his flying arm with flaming saltpeter.  Ouch, he says.

            The sunbirds laugh.  Wimp!

            High above, Helios sits on her throne, combing her golden hair.  Come children, she calls.

            Swaddled by the heat, he can barely move his wings.

            He’s getting tired, mother, say the sunbirds.

Fire infiltrates his body with every breath.  Hot stings his eyes.  He cannot go on.

Helios lets down a braid of her hair.  Catch hold, she says, and I will pull you up to our home.

The golden rope swings before his eyes.  Inebriated with heat, he reaches out, misses.  Reaches out.  Misses.

Clumpo! Mongol!  Idiot!

Shhh, says the mother.  You must show respect to our guest.

Summoning his last atom of earthly cool, he fixes his gaze on his lifeline to the sun and reaches out once more.  He catches it with his right, squeezes tight.  He wrinkles his nose at the smell of smouldering flesh as he feels himself being pulled heavenwards.

Hold tight, calls Helios.

The pain shoots right up to his armpit.  He gasps and lets go of the hair-rope and goes falling, tumbling, somersaulting, crashing.  Down to earth.

Never mind, Helios tells her children.  He wouldn’t have been much of a playmate.

 

There’s a policeman standing in my bedroom along with one of the doctors from the surgery.

            Sorry about your front door, he says.  But we had to get in somehow.

            How did you know to come? I ask.  How did you know about the microwaves?

            Your neighbours were concerned about the noise.  And they thought they could smell fire.  Let me see your hand.

            Did the birds say when they’d be coming?

Not to me, says the doctor.  But why don’t you come to the hospital?  There are lots of birds around there.

 

Grounded now, his arms ache with nostalgia.  Down here among the regular people, his movements are clumsy, like an astronaut adapting to gravity all over again.  But it doesn’t matter so much.  This is nothing more than a resting point on his migration route to the sun.

            Be patient, the voices tell him, you will rise again.