Hello everyone. I’m delighted to bring you the results of this year’s flash fiction competition (the top three then the runners up)…
First prize (winning £75 plus up to 5,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £50, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)
Deborah Cross with ‘Hope in Springtime’
The moon hangs low in the sky. It is becoming fuller, but it’s heavy, struggling to rise. I have stood every evening on this balcony since it all began, to relax, to breathe. There is so little time. It helps me believe there is a higher hand in all this. These last few weeks are the darkest I can remember.
Across the way in the next building in the dim moonlight, I see the dancer, supple and lithe. She creates beauty in her dance, and I understand. This is her time too.
A patient I recognised arrived today, scared. They all are, struggling to breathe. So many coming, confronted by their own mortality. I treated him elsewhere in London for cancer, and he’d responded well till he caught the killer virus. Now, doctors and patients alike are moved to Nightingale hospital. Struggling to breathe between coughing fits, he gasped, “Don’t end up like me. Face your fears, your regrets. While there is time to change.”
His words stayed with me, as I watch the dancer twirling and pirouetting. She and the moon are my solace in this crazy pandemic; the first in 100 years. Every day, the news is bleak, swallowed by death and logistics. My patient is right to be afraid.
I think back ten years, to my training. Claire, the student nurse I asked on a date at Kings College hospital. I’d missed my train and stood her up. I was embarrassed. We didn’t speak. I haven’t seen her since. She found a new guy almost immediately and then it was too late.
Sighing, I take out my phone. I see the dancer has gone inside. I flick through patient updates, treatment plans. So many of us, working in unfamiliar teams, housed separately from our family and friends for their safety.
The next evening, the moon has turned a pale pink. She dances, but I cannot see her face. It was truly brutal today. I checked on 30 patients, 50% of whom will be unlikely to survive, giving instructions. The dark-haired nurse nodded and started organising the treatments. She was swathed from head to toe in protective mask and plastic. I filled my details on the patient record, then hurried on.
Wearily, I crawled back to sleep at the end of the shift. As I am nodding off, a text message pinged. I pick up the phone. “Balcony man, thanks for your message. Perhaps we can dine under the stars at 8pm?”
I am stunned. How could she know my number? Its 7:30pm now, so I shower quickly. When I venture outside, she sits 100m opposite. She waved across. “Glad you made it.”
“How did you find my number? I’m David – I’ve lived here since I studied at King’s.” Momentarily, she replied. “The dancing helps my stress levels. I trained at King’s too. Claire.”
I look up – surely not? The moon is full, immense and pink. Unusual and beautiful, it’s the April Supermoon, signifying the start of Springtime.
Second prize (winning £50 plus up to 4,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £40, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)
Pat Mernagh Thompson with ‘Muse no more’
This story was inspired by BBC4 documentary on Lee Miller; a life on the front line.
And so we move from the Metropolis into this backwater to play happy families. Roland deemed it for the best. If he could inhibit my brooding we could create a new satisfactory life. If he can filter people and deflect their interest, there will be some peace.
Here alone at night, in our strange English garden, I sometimes find respite from the phantoms. Too often they cleave to me like they clung onto life long after it should have been extinguished, that skin with protruding bones barely human, those crazed eyes in sunken sockets. They waited too listless to react when we ventured in as friends. It was, will always be, cataclysmic. By opening the shutter I showed the ultimate degradation and evil to the world. My camera recorded the horror.
I lie on the grass and look at the sky. It is not as vast as my American childhood sky, nor hypnotic like the Egyptian desert sky punctured with celestial menace, but more sheltering. I like the English damp that falls, when the sun descends, in sprinkles. The stars, in their capricious shimmering, still hold our fate.
There’s a yellow glow and odd bursts of merriment from the house. I cannot be involved. The visitors, not always invited but always welcomed by Roland who is thinking of his next project, exude surreal intellectual confidence. Discussion around love, life and the meaning of art no longer grabs me. Picasso’s opinions bore me, Man Ray has nothing new to say, Henry Moore’s in love with himself. I am no longer muse, nor beautiful icon. No more a looker, I choose to be merely wife and mother, the silent partner. And cook. I create lavish food experiences that assault the senses, I dispense generosity from the whiskey bottle, my own glass first, I hold my baby.
In Munich I posed in Hitler’s bath, a glamor model. I deliciously defiled the pristine room with the human detritus of Dachau from my boots. Later, I crawled stupefied into the Fuhrer’s bed for a sleep of the dead. When I woke, I staunched the thoughts that breathed, with a slug from my flask: there would be time for grieving after. I buried thoughts of rape and humiliation, theirs’ with mine, deep down. And continued my work as witness. The world had to know. This could never happen again.
Now I cannot rest from the ghosts. Oblivion will not come.
I will lie here until the house lights go out and dawn threatens. I will lie here until Roland comes to lead me in. We will sleep in the same space, apart, till noon.
My camera is wrapped in once-worn silk stole gifted by Vogue and consigned to a place where I will not chance upon it. Roland has boxed it away. We are complicit in this fiction.
One day I will record my son in more than snapshot detail. But not yet.
Third prize (winning £25 plus up to 3,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £30, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)
Sarah Foord-Kelcey with ‘A Letter to Mr Coleridge’
An imagined letter concerning an iconic poem, sent to the poet Coleridge from Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William.
My dear Samuel
Good news! We are solvent once more and William is writing.
Allow me to explain. William had been in the doldrums all winter, lying on his couch and pondering Matters of Universal Importance. Even the glorious sights and sounds of spring outside his window failed to rouse him.
Meanwhile, our coffers were almost empty. I outlined our financial position to William in the starkest of terms, describing the mountain of unpaid bills, the increasing lack of civility shown to us by our creditors in Grasmere, and little John’s need for new shoes. The solution would be for William to write more poems, as his publisher, Mr Cottle, has repeatedly requested. Simple, uplifting verses that his readers could learn by heart and recite. Alas, his mind was on Higher Things and he would not take heed.
In desperation, I read him a description of daffodils from my journal, hoping this might inspire him, as my scribblings have sometimes done in the past. It worked. William rose immediately and started writing feverishly at his desk. Within two hours he had drafted a poem entitled ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’
‘See if Mr Cottle likes this sort of thing,’ he sneered.
I read the poem. It was charming but one word jarred.
‘And all at once I saw a crowd,
A mob, of golden daffodils.’
‘‘Mob’ will not do’, I told him. ‘It fails to uplift.’
Try as I might, he would not change it.
‘It hints at Revolution,’ he countered.
On Sunday, while the vicar was delivering his sermon, I, as usual, entertained myself with an examination of decorative elements visible from my pew. A new stained glass window has been installed on the south side of the nave, and for the first time I witnessed brilliant sunshine illuminating the scene. It is a loose interpretation of The Last Judgement. God sits at the centre, surrounded by tiers of angels, and smiles approvingly at the benefactors, a local mill owner and his wife, who kneel before Him. A legend in Gothick script unfurls across the sky. Try as I might, I could only make out the mill owner’s name and that of his wife, the words ‘heavenly’ and ‘angels’. Then another word revealed itself, which I now like to think was Divine Intervention.
After lunch, at William’s request, I made a fair copy of the poem in my neatest handwriting to send to Mr Cottle. When I reached the word, ‘mob’, I paused, then replaced it with another.
Yesterday, William received a reply from Mr Cottle, together with a banknote for ten pounds, more than enough to pay our most pressing debts.
‘Dear William,’ he wrote. ‘Your poem is first-rate. The uplifting image of ‘a host of golden daffodils’ will remain with me forever.’
William has not mentioned the matter since.
From your good friend
And the seven runners up (each winning one free entry to the 2021 literary festival, currently worth £26.50 each) – in author name alphabetical order:
- Chris Tattersall with ‘Discharged’ (theme: The fifth)
- Fran Egan with ‘Bibliophilia’ (theme: The female assassin)
- Julia Grieve with ‘The Trial’ (theme: Norma knows best)
- Katy Todd with ‘Spring Fever’ (theme: The spring)
- Lydia Clark with ‘Made with Love’ (theme: Sweet and sour)
- Ramsay Dunning with ‘A Sticky End’ (theme: Sweet revenge)
- Sherry Hostler with ‘Take on Me’ (theme: Fourteen again)
A huge congratulations to everyone. We’re awaiting a final figure raised but are confident it’ll be around the same as previous years (£400-£500)… we’ll let you know asap.