Short Story Competition 2023
‘Walking to School’
I’m up at six thirty. It’s not by choice- my alarms are persistent- and it always takes forever to get up and dressed. School technically starts at nine, but I walk, and leaving any time beyond eight is too late. I grab my lunch and stuff it into my satchel before swinging it over my back. My body groans, but I have to go. After all, I’m the teacher.
It’s a long road to school, and it stretches in this cold. Headphones and music block out the wind at least; my mismatched coat provides some relief from the sharp breeze that snakes down my sleeves, even if my long cardigans awkwardly hang beneath my coat. Jumpers, no matter how thick, are useless. This wind is so forceful I’ll feel the cold seeping in through the stitches. I’m going to have to stay mismatched and awkward a little longer.
The world is a soft grey, with watercolour lilac blurs. I taught a child who loved the sky. She wouldn’t work unless I showed her photos of the sunrise. I think of her whenever the heavens glow pink.
Orange shimmers over the cemetery. I don’t know who decided that it should be built in the east. I want to thank them. I imagine bodies warming after freezing nights, stretching once the light hits them first out of everyone in this city. Tired eyes blinking. The softest smiles in the sunshine. My grandparents were always so cold before they died. Maybe they have some warmth now. I held their hands softly, heating them in mine. Maybe if I kept them warm a little longer they would have lived a little more. As I pass the gate to the cemetery and glance at the burning sky, I think the same thing I do every day- / love you. Have a great day. I like to hope every day is a great day after you’ve died.
Pass the church. Do the sign of the cross. Switch my phone back to my right hand.
Cemeteries are never scary. My sister says she feels nothing, that people are no longer there. Part of me wishes I could feel like that. Part of me is relieved I don’t. There’s a peace among the dead that you can’t find anywhere else. They’re grateful you’re there. It was always like that, even when they were alive. They were just so grateful you were visiting or calling. I know I didn’t call every day, but I hope I called enough so they know I loved them. I hope they know.
There’s a snail crawling up the wall. It’s smaller than the nail on my smallest finger and brighter than the whitest pearl. I see him every day.
My grandfather used to show me where snails hid in the garden- big, ugly brown things, and I loved them. I loved all the bugs. I loved tracking in dirt on bare feet and running through the house and making cabinets shudder. I loved finding all the things my grandfather told me about like books and keys and fencing swords. I don’t think many children played with pebbles or torches or stethoscopes, but those were my toys at his house. I would listen in the room above my family, too little to sit at the table but old enough to press the stethoscope to the floor and hear their voices float through the earpiece. My grandfather always thought I was clever. He loved how much I could read. When he died, and I went upstairs to be with the books, I stroked the spines he told me all about. I was born to read, and he gave me that.
I have to pause now. There are too many cars. No one knows how to use an indicator around here. My grandmother used to pray for parking. Can you imagine that? But she always got it. She always got the parking.
I teach at the school she taught at. All the teachers knew her. The school knows her. It’s not the same building, but she’s there. In the painted house shields, in old photos and documents. She said she designed the school badge and if someone tells me that’s wrong then I know they’re a liar, because my grandmother always told me the truth. If nobody is in the photocopying room I can crack open the old school records, pages and pages of her most beautiful handwriting, the one she died with. I don’t read the words. I become lost in her loops and swirls, in how she sat me down the first day of middle school and made me perfect my writing from a child’s to an adult’s. It’s untidy but she gave it to me. I was born to write, and she gave me that.
I push open the school door. My girl, the one who loves the sunrise, darts towards me for a quick hug. She runs off before anyone else finds her. I haven’t taught her for two years now. As I’m walking down the corridor, I’m constantly questioned. Kids I haven’t taught in years say they missed me over the weekend. Maybe I was born to teach.
Maybe I was born to carry them. I was born to read and write and teach in their name. To love music like my grandfathers, to create like my grandmothers. Baking bread and flipping cards, the click of camera shutters and clack of needles. To brush colours like she did. To play piano, even though his died before I was born. To hold my niece who holds her name. How can they be dead when I carry their parts in my life, my mannerisms, my eyes? How can they be dead when their legacy lies longer than the coldest road? How can they be dead when they never left? How can I be anything but proud?
I’m at my classroom now. I click on the lights. I hope we have a good day.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Overall Winner: Amy Marie Montegriffo with Walking to School. This story is a meditative piece which weaves a strong bond between the living and the dead. Traditionally, cemeteries are forbidding places, where death seems to reign supreme. However, our teacher, the protagonist of our story, finds the cemetery she walks through on her way to school, a comforting and uplifting place. Here, she feels, the living, if sensitive and loving enough, can commune with those who were your nearest and dearest. She recalls holding her grandparents’ hands when they were dying. Surely, now, the coldness of death has been dissipated by the warm rays of the rising sun. Our teacher acknowledges a debt of gratitude to her grandparents. Grandfather’s odd collection of books, fencing swords and his stethoscope are now treasured objects, reminiscent of her beloved ‘grandpa.’ The speaker was also inspired by her grandmother’s example and followed her into teaching and became an avid reader and writer because of her.
It is gratifying and inspiring to see that in an age when we all seem to be hurtling into a precarious future, entangled in financial worries, suffering from failed relationships, aware of violent conflicts we can neither remedy or stop, Amy Marie has cast a loving, nostalgic glance at the past, thereby resurrecting old memories and fond recollections. The past here is recreated lovingly and gratefully and shown to permeate the present. She acknowledges the past lives on in the present and our lives are all the richer for it.
This piece is full of lyricism, poetry and deep feeling. Eliot’s bold statement comes to mind, ‘the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.’ Congratulations, Amy Marie.
An institutionalised Casanova, a Romeo, a libertine, the legend that is Arthur was the alpha male. More tenacious and unyielding than most of his peers, Arthur used the desire for a hierarchical structure within the company he kept, to his advantage.
Philandering and food were Arthur’s main obsessions. He didn’t know how many offspring he’d fathered. He didn’t know how many calories he’d consumed. He simply had a female fetish and a yearning for food.
To maintain his figurehead status and role as the unelected commander of his throng, Arthur would ensure daily acts of heroics.
Embezzlement of other people’s belongings curried favour amongst his peer group. Taxis were his modus operandi to launch an unexpected assault. Younger members of the clan provided the distraction. Arthur homed in on his prey, a handbag, a holdall. His exit strategy was perfected by his athleticism, strong limbs, split second decision making, and fearless positioning.
Gang violence was common. Territorial warfare fought with bare knuckles intensified the unison within Arthur’s tribe, their turf defended constantly with agility and guile.
Arthur’s reign had begun in 2014 when on a rare foray outside his patch, he noticed that a rival clan had vanished, an evaporation of enemies and an opportunity for his own grandeur. Bloodying himself from brambles and decaying wire fences, Arthur gathered his clique to make a public avowal of his Herculean task. “l have rid our neighbourhood of the antagonists” he declared adopting Churchillian splendour. With the fiefdom enlarged from his mythical act, Arthur was catapulted to immortal stardom.
Copulation was effortless, intimacy arduous. Arthur bore no remorse nor unilateral desire. Parenting in absentia was an accolade not a misdemeanour. Despite this, Arthur was generous with his time, coaching youngsters with survival and enrichment techniques akin to the Artful Dodger’s nurturing of Oliver.
Arthur’s day job was in tourism, hosting a site of historical significance. Surprisingly reliable and remarkably charming, Arthur dictated his own hours of work. He enchanted the unprepared visitors with his wide smile, inappropriate banter and erratic mannerisms. The free food and accommodation from his employer ensured his allegiance whilst the perk of private healthcare along with his physique meant that Arthur had never phoned in sick. Indeed, he probably didn’t know how.
The Covid years had remodelled gang culture. Tourism died as Wuhan’s export shuttered Arthur’s turf. Boredom and social deviant behaviour are inextricably linked. Furlough was manna from heaven for some, an incendiary ticking mental health time bomb for others. Arthur grappled with the monotony of time, the tedium of empty space and the apathy within his community.
“Brothers and sisters, we can fight for fun or make peace with our adversaries. Eradicate the enemy or love our neighbour. Seek unity or spill blood” he pronounced. The aggressors saw no victory in peace. Theirs was the louder voice. However, with time an expanse of infinity, and suffrage granted to even the youngest of minors who could assemble themselves at the polling station, the quiet majority triumphed. Arthur was mandated to seek reconciliation and goodwill, to emancipate his brethren from daily threats of hostilities and belligerence from the neighbouring foes. Sovereignty of Arthur’s turf was non-negotiable. Cooperation and friendliness the target.
As a youngster, peace and love was the mantra of his then idol, John Lennon. But survival and stardom had overwhelmed Arthur’s innermost emotional standpoints and a fierceness had engulfed him. Detaching these negative emotions unburdened his soul. However, could he deliver to his people?
Arthur’s antagonist on the other side of the fence, the indiscernible, undetectable boundary dividing two communities of fellow anthropoids, was of equal stature. Muscle and vigour, potency and might, evenly balanced. A summit was approved by both sides and the spearheads of both packs assembled with their respective disciples. Arthur met Jonas, singing his favourite ballad to himself en route.
Christ, you know it ain’t easy, You know how hard it can be, The way things are goin’, They’re going to crucify me
Monotony had driven hostilities further as a form of entertainment. How could the tediousness of Covid be unwrapped to unravel a gift of diversion, distraction and amusement? Arthur knew that wealth creation and shared prosperity could be the trigger. Would Jonas work with, not against, his old foe, setting aside the history of sieges and resentment, intimidation and conflict? Would he work towards collaboration and mutual understanding? Could Arthur’s gang freely enter Jonas’ turf? Would Jonas’ contemporaries be welcomed into Arthur’s patch?
Arthur had studied Eisenhower for his day job and knew that the mantra “for history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid” from the president’s inaugural speech, would inspire his impending journey.
One summit led to another, the silence of progress deafening to his people.
Covid eased. Tourists returned.
Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, is the negotiating mantra. Arthur had stuck to his red lines, knew his concessions and Jonas’ troupe were welcomed like brothers in arms, or perhaps we should more honestly state, apes in arms. The Windsor (Suspension Bridge) Framework would be Arthur’s epitaph.
Arthur once again amused the holiday makers in his inimitable, mischievous manner. Jonas led excursions to deeper furrows. Their respective followers fleeced day-trippers of their worldly goods.
Life was good. Shared prosperity the present, not a figment of a distant imagination.
As the most gregarious, convivial, and beloved of the barbary macaques, and with a lifespan of duty to maintaining Gibraltar as British, Arthur Ape of Apes Den, Nature Reserve, Gibraltar, won the Mayors Award, before returning to his duty and the humblest of passions: sex, theft and tourism.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: Mike Nicholls with Arthur’s Antics. Mike’s animal fable of gang rivalry, machismo and uninhibited sexual exploits, contains a masterly and acerbic commentary on contemporary affairs, the machinations of smug politicians and the lust for awards and medallions which has recently spread in our society.
Arthur is immoral, a hedonist, unscrupulous and wily. He seemingly leads a gang unopposed and wins the approval of others with a ‘wide smile, inappropriate banter and mannerisms.’ He is obviously quite a character and indulges his primary passions, eating and coupling, without restraint. Most of the time, as we read this enthralling narrative, we see Arthur as just another alpha male, but hints here and there, make us wonder if more is going on than meets the eye. References to Churchillian oratory, the Covid 19 pandemic, Eisenhower’s mantra and Oliver Twist, clearly point to another, deeper level of meaning. The protagonist may turn out to be just another pugnacious macaque, but Mike has cleverly used his story to comment incisively on our relations with Spain, our tourist product, and our fetishizing of medallions, and our panic over the pandemic and the agony of lockdown. This is writing in the hallowed tradition of satirical comment so prevalent and powerful in the eighteenth century and expressed so powerfully in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
Mike’s story is in the tradition of the animal fable-brutal at times, ingenious in its many layers of meaning and brilliant in its conception. This is writing of a very high order and Mike richly deserves his place as the winner of this category.
‘An Affair to Remember’
It was almost midnight on the coldest night of the year when Jacques Visconti stood at New York’s Grand Central station. For a split second he yearned to be nestled in his cosy Parisian apartment in Rue Saint-Rustique. He took three sips of espresso hoping it would calm him down, as a recovering alcoholic with five years of sobriety under his belt, he couldn’t resort to a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Momentarily, he was overcome by a wave of regrets, they should have done this sooner.
Jacque’s mind drifted to the moment he met enigmatic Lucille when she arrived from Chicago as a backing dancer for his rock band ‘Terranoire.’ Unlike the other French backing dancers who were insipid and lacklustre, Lucille’s intoxicating presence, thick American drawl and carefree nature were both welcoming and refreshing. Before the rock tour was over, Jacques had become bewitched by the raven-haired beauty.
On the last night of November, a few hours before Lucille returned to Chicago, they watched the 1950’s classic ‘An affair to remember’ in his plush hotel suite. He was not enamoured with spending the evening watching a black and white movie, but succumbed, watching with delight as Lucille sat mesmerised during the long-awaited reunion of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr on the top floor of the Empire State Building.
Lucille turned to Jacques as if a bright idea had descended from the heavens above. With a glint in her blue eyes whispered, “How about we reunite in New York’s Grand Central station at midnight on this exact day in ten years’ time?” Jacques was silent as he digested her request. Lucille continued sheepishly, “I’m terrified of heights, so the top of the Empire State building is out of the question.” Jacques was overtaken by the anticipation in her eyes and realised that giving an affirmative reply would soften the blow of their final farewell. He whispered gently, “Lucille, I promise you that I will be there.” not quite understanding the commitment he had bound himself to.
The echo of that promise had reverberated through his life when Jacque’s status as a French rock star run its course. As his alcohol addiction took root, he married the glamorous socialite Claudette within eight weeks of meeting her, he wasn’t sure he was even sober when he proposed. They were divorced three years later; the only fruit of the disastrous nuptials were his son Dominic who he shared every other weekend. In Lucille’s life, her bohemian nature spilled out into her choices, living in places which were off the beaten track and never remaining in a city long enough to keep up regular contact with him.
Jacques looked at his watch for the eighth time that evening. He was ill dressed for the cold weather. In his desire to impress Lucille and not appear like the drab, middle aged man he saw staring back at him in the mirror, he wore his favourite blue shirt over a stylish pair of jeans, Calvin Klein leather shoes and a Ralph Lauren sports jacket, smart casual for a night out. Jacques had a reputation to uphold as a sharp dresser, shopping only in the best upmarket stores near the Champs Elysees and refusing to show up to a ten-year reunion wearing a woollen jumper, fleece pants and fur boots.
As he paced up and down Grand Central station, he noticed the temperature drop, and he shivered, rubbing his hands together to keep warm. He wondered if Lucille would keep her end of the promise, after all, he was a failed rockstar, no longer being snapped by paparazzi appearing dishevelled on the front page of newspapers. He was a middle-aged man who had made disastrous choices, but being the eternal optimist, he felt deserving of another shot at happiness.
In the distance he suddenly noticed a frail looking figure walking in slow motion, and he squinted his eyes towards that direction. The slim frame walked with a limp, a walking stick aiding each step. As the figure approached, he saw the familiar face, the piercing blue eyes. The beanie hat on her head, where her luscious black locks used to be. Lucille’s athletic figure and the sashaying of her hips had been replaced by a stilted walk, looking fragile like a porcelain figurine that would snap at any moment.
Jacques shouted “Lucille!” and in that moment the years that had passed between them evaporated into thin air. He run towards her, hugging her thin frame carefully as if she was a crystal vase teetering over the edge of a windowsill. They looked at each other and instinctively guessing his first question, Lucille pulled away awkwardly and said, “There was an accident a year ago.” She looked at his face for confirmation of concern and continued speaking, “l was driving the car during a heavy downpour, swerved into the corner of Madison Avenue, everything else is a blur.” Jacques spoke slowly trying to process her words, “l had no idea, I wish I could’ve been there for you.”
She looked up at him, hope engraved in her eyes and said, “Do you think we can still be Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr?” Her lips opening into the cheeky smile he remembered fondly. Jacques grinned and replied, “Lucille, the worlds a stage, and with you and me as the actors, everything is possible.” Hearing the familiar French accent she loved warmed her heart, and despite her stilted walk, in her mind imagined she still moved with sass, because with Jacques by her side, she could do and be anything.
In that moment she didn’t feel the debilitating effects of walking each step, and he no longer felt like a failing middle aged rock star. He whispered, “l think this might be the start of a beautiful affair,” as they linked arms and walked outside Grand Central station, not caring where they went, as long as they were together.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Michele Attias with An Affair to Remember. Michelle’s story of a superannuated rock star and a limping back dancer is very poignant and sobering. Jacques and Lucille had the entertainment world at their feet. They enjoyed the limelight and inevitably became lovers. Before they part, they make a vow to meet up in ten years’ time, seemingly unaware of how the passage of time and the vicissitudes of life would impact on their appearance, character and mood. The heart of this riveting story is the meeting ten years later in New York Grand Central Station. Jacques is now a recovering alcoholic, divorced and no longer pursued by the paparazzi. In fact, he is a ‘failed rock star.’ Lucille, in turn, is a ghost of her former self, frail, limping and with thinning hair. A car accident has only aggravated the ravages of time.
However, the former stars are unfazed. Drawing inspiration from their favourite film, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, they decide to renew their old passion. Their encounter, so many years later, has energised the two stars and given them the confidence to launch into a new phase of their relationship.
It’s comforting to learn that we can still rise from the dust, that time cannot be defeated, but it can be held in abeyance and age and illness must not have the final word. A story with a very positive message. Well done!
‘A Brief Connection’
I’ll be on here for a while. I know… A book. I can read! That’ll pass the time… What are my options? Dante’s Inferno? Why did I even bring this? Oh, I know. I want to look pseudo intellectual. Yeah, I’ve read Dante’s Inferno. Have You? That would really get people going. Reading is so strange, isn’t it? It’s just a bunch of words on a page… I wonder how he’s doing… Ah, stop thinking about it! I could use my laptop and get started on some work? Can’t lose my laptop, it’s my life. Anyway, let’s be real. I won’t do anything. Let’s? It’s as if I’m always talking to someone. I wonder how much people’s inner monologue has changed since like… the 1800s. Or before. I wonder if, because of technology and how interconnected everyone is, that’s why I always talk to myself as if I have an audience. Going home. I can’t wait to be home. Or can l? What will I even do? Everyone’s gotten the hell out of there. UGH. It’s just to pass the time. Everything is just to pass the time. When will I do anything meaningful with my life? Will I ever?
When you get home, you’ll miss me. You’ll see. Shut up! Stop it! I’ll find someone else to fill the gap. Just you watch, the perfect man will just fall into my lap. It could happen any time.
“Hi, is it okay if I sit here?”
Endless stretches of tracks ahead. A dimly lit train carriage with wafting noises of hushed speech. A woman; book in hand. Dante’s Inferno. She pretends to understand.
“Hi, is it okay if I sit here?” A voice jars her out of complacency.
A man: clad in a waistcoat and a top hat. Holding nothing but a plastic bag. She looks up, happy to be distracted from the words that jumble on the page and the harsh thoughts that lie in a liminal space somewhere between her and the page. He has already sat down before she replies.
He flashes a smile. Falsely timid. His boring eyes reveal confidence. He sits right opposite, eyeing her. Her eyes return to the book, but her leg twitches slightly.
“Dante’s Inferno, huh?”
“Yeah. It’s… confusing,” she laughs, in spite of herself.
“Well, it’s very impressive if you finish it! Not many people nowadays can say they’ve
“Right?! That’s what I was thinking! That’s mostly the reason I’m reading it in the first place if I’m being honest.”
“Well, there’s no shame in that! I still couldn’t read it even if I wanted to.”
“I’m not sure I can either. We’ll see!”
They both laugh. Silence emerges and envelops the two. To look busy, she quickly buries her head back into her book. He still doesn’t remove his gaze from her.
“What do you think about its attitudes towards death?” He asks, suddenly serious.
“l thought you haven’t read it…”
“l haven’t, but I’m acquainted with the story, of course.”
“Oh. Well, I’m not sure yet. I’m not very far in, sorry. Ask me again in a few hours?” She laughs again.
“You’re not very far into death either, one might say.”
“Sorry, I phrased that weirdly. I just thought your response was quite metaphorical.
Like, you’re not very far into the book, just like you aren’t very far into life.”
“Oh, right! Ha-ha, yeah. I guess so.”
A second of suspicion comes over her, until it washes into relief as he sends her a saccharine smile.
“Erm, why are you dressed like that?” She asks, waving her hand up and down his
“l have business to attend to,” he answers in a way that refuses elaboration.
“So where are you going?” He deflects.
“Northampton. Well, home.”
“Are you a university student?”
“No, no. Just had to move for my job. I only graduated two years ago, though.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“What? University? Oh, yeah. A lot. Oh well. All good things come to an end, I
“You all reach the same end,” he whispers.
“What did you say?”
“l said, ‘it’s a shame it has to end.”‘
She nods but doesn’t look entirely convinced. She picks up her bag and puts it on her lap, hugging it. She puts her fingers through the loop and idly twirls them. The man’s lips twitch.
“What’s in the bag?”
“Can you keep a secret?” He nods. She smirks, leans in and whispers: “My life.”
The man raises his eyebrows. She laughs hysterically, slapping her knee, but doesn’t
elaborate further. The lights in the carriage dim. The remaining light presses onto the heads of the victims, suffocatingly.
“I’m so thirsty. I forgot to buy water,” she groans.
“l have this drink if you want it. I don’t really like Coke.”
He gives her a faux-casual smile – the kind of smile reserved for someone’s who’s about to pull off a neat trick – and holds out the bottle for her to take. She looks at it briefly, hesitatingly.
“Sure, thank you.”
She sips it.
Half an hour takes its course in time’s blissful manner, such as it does when the connection between two people flourishes. When time seems to meander, rather than consume itself. And then she yawns. Can’t stop yawning –
“You know, I’m really, really tired. I want to keep speaking to you but… I think I need
to pass out.” She says, barely able to keep her eyes open.
“Don’t even worry about it! I’m going further than Northampton, anyway, so I’ll
wake you up when we’re nearby.”
“Oh, thanks. That’s so nice-” Her eyelids droop slowly, shutting the stranger and all
the worries of her material existence out with it.
The man waits. A mischievous smile etches on his face. His eyes flicker — bag; exit; her; bag; exit; her. The train screeches to a halt. A split-second decision. He pulls the bag from the woman’s grasp and runs. She doesn’t stir but looks finally at peace.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Highly Commended: Coppelia Aitken with A Brief Connection. This story could be a fitting beginning to an Agatha Christie crime novel. The situation is quickly and succinctly sketched: young woman on a train, reading, of all things, Dante’s Inferno, travelling to Northampton. A smartly dressed man sits beside her; they engage in conversation; he drugs her so that she falls asleep (or dies), he grabs her bag and runs off with her laptop which, she earlier confessed, contained her life.
Interestingly, the story starts inside the young woman’s mind. We have direct access to her thoughts: her intellectual pretensions, her reliance on her laptop; her recent bust-up with her boyfriend. The elegant stranger then bursts into her private world with his innocent sounding: Hi, is it okay if I sit here? What could be more natural during a train journey?
Though the conversation seems normal and banal, occasionally though, there are hints that something surreptitious and threatening lies beneath the exchange of pleasantries. The man mentions death in veiled form; the young woman is non-plussed but brushes aside what seems an unimportant misunderstanding. If we focus on the book the woman is reading, we remind ourselves all the inhabitants of Dante’s Inferno are dead, except for Dante himself. Enigmatic sentences alert the reader: ‘you’re not very far into death either’ modulates into ‘you aren’t very far into life.’ It’s almost as if the deeper the woman penetrates Dante’s kingdom of the dead, the more precarious her hold on life becomes.
The offer of a drink, again, sounds natural and a sign of good manners. Again, just as in an Agatha Christie novel, we suspect the stranger has an ulterior motive: he’s a common thief, or worse, a murderer too. Coppelia has written the beginning of a first-rate thriller. A pity she doesn’t bring this very promising start to a satisfactory end-one of those stories that leaves the reader on tenterhooks!
‘Mr Copley’s Painting’
“Follow Carter” they said. “Paint it like Carter” they insisted.
Why would you ever mimic a second-rate artist? You resisted their ridiculous suggestion and told them you wouldn’t commit to changes until your meeting with the general. They nodded dismissively and shrugged their shoulders; annoyingly polite as only British officers can be.
Like the Spanish sailors clutching at flotsam struggling in desperation to stay alive. Everything you said, every attempt to convince, rebutted in chorus as you tried in vain to rescue the painting. ‘The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar’, the largest painting commissioned, the pride of the City of London, drowning in bile and with it your reputation.
Two days later you arrive early, anxious to meet the legend. Everything is intimidating. The hall dripping with militaria, the paraphernalia of earlier victories. You think back to that awkward first meeting — what you remember most, what still makes you squirm uncomfortably — the servant’s averted gaze when you arrived and how he ignored your attempts at politeness as he escorted you to the lounge.
“Copley, my officers tell me that our position on the painting is removed from the action in Kings Bastion.”
A full-frontal attack when you had hoped for a little chit chat and the offer of refreshment. You apologise and grovel when you needn’t, compose yourself and clear your throat, worried a stutter will betray nervousness.
“M-m-may I have a glass of water? Please…”
Pause and breathe in deeply — one… two… three… Breathe out slowly — four… five… six… seven…
You get the easel out and prepare your materials; the charcoal sticks, the paint encrusted pallet, the coloured oils in their bladders and your favourite brushes. Always the brushes last. The same ritual over and over. Why change the habit of a lifetime? You’re almost ready, nearly comfortable when he returns in full uniform and you tighten up. ….. twitching buttocks, sweaty palms, dry mouth.
“This won’t take too long?”
More command than question. You want to tell him you don’t like to rush, that it never works when you’re pushed. It’s what happened with his officers and look how that ended. Instead, you bite your tongue and tell him that you’re pleased to be painting him on his white charger.
Sukey will tell you later that you should have been more confident, more assertive. You have your prepared excuses telling her you wish you could, that she doesn’t understand. You’ll tell her once more that’s’ how you’ve always been and, once more, she’ll reply with her best withering look.
The general taps his cane on the floor impatiently and you snap out of it. Time to start sketching. You tell him how you want him to stand, where he needs to look. You insist that he remains still and ask him to fix his stare somewhere behind you. He interrupts but you insist he holds his pose. He doesn’t know that he could move if he wanted to, that it’s fine to avert his gaze or to scratch an itch. He tries to interrupt again, and again you insist he holds his pose and give him hogwash about capturing him in the commanding pose of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill. Perhaps it’s the firmness in your voice but it works. You’re in control and it feels good — very good!
If only Sukey was there to see it for herself.
You draw careful lines in a grid on the canvas, more maths than fine art. Meticulous measurements; six inches by three inches, ratios in proportion, a right angle for the general’s commanding arm, more measuring and calculating. Tedious graft but it’s the only way and it works. Benjamin West said in a Royal Academy meeting that artists should use a camera obscura to make it easier but that’s cheating. You don’t need to cheat. You scratch the canvas with your charcoal, shapeless, nonsense lines only you understand pausing for an instance before peering around the easel and drawing more deliberate, less frenetic lines. The general emerges in shades of grey on the paper. You stand back to review your work, take another step back when you’re too close and look again at the gaps needing attention. A nuanced touch with the charcoal for his beaked nose, that’s all. No need to overdo it, no point sketching anymore; it’s as much as it needs.
Time to mix the oils and start painting. The grey charcoal disappears replaced by the oily pigments. First the vermillion on the jacket, then the gold braiding, the white on the tunic and the black on the bicorn. Broad, gliding brushstrokes that come alive on the canvas. The mood changes as the paint flows and the general insists you’ve earned a cup of his best Twinings tea. He’s keen to chat and full of advice.
“You should meet General Picton. Henl ‘instruct’ you on the officers’ placement on King’s Bastion.”
“Sir, I am at an important point in the painting and need to concentrate.”
You let the tea go cold and continue with your painting adding thin layers of colour and detail. You ignore the general’s suggestion and remind him to hold his pose. He stops talking and mumbles while you pause and smile to yourself. A dab of pink on a cheek before inviting him to see his portrait. The Cock of the Rock gets up slowly, walks to the canvas to study his likeness and nods his approval.
“How is it you paint so well so quickly?”
Did you just see him smile? Is that warmth you felt? You pause briefly wondering if he meant it and convince yourself it was your imagination. Anyway, he doesn’t need to tell you it’s good; you know it is. What does he know? What does the great General Eliott know about portraits or history paintings? You purse your lips, pretend to smile and say nothing. No need to.
If only Sukey was there to see you; assertive, confident, in total command.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Highly Commended: Tommy Smith with Mr Copley’s Painting. Mr Copley’s Painting is deceptively simple. Copley is a painter of historical scenes who has been engaged to paint an equestrian portrait of General Eliott. The general is tetchy, arrogant, querulous, manipulative and condescending. Copley is timid, hesitant, uncomplaining, but deep down he is sure of his painterly skills. He has already rejected the suggestion he follow ‘Carter,’ convinced he is better than that second-rate artist. The main section of our story reflects the tension and moods of both artist and sitter.
An earlier attempt to paint a scene from one of the many sieges of Gibraltar has been a flop. Copley needs to prove to himself and, especially, to his partner Sukey, that he has the strength of character to impose his will, even on someone as proud as Eliott. As the painter grows in stature, he exacts petty revenge by making the general hold his pose and ignoring his many interruptions. Copley becomes more self-confident, and the painting is executed according to his wishes and exacting standard.
Tommy has depicted a clash of wills; he has also crafted a detailed account of the painting process, showing a rare understanding of pigment, palette, easel and charcoal. This story is full of matter, insights into the artistic personality, the recalcitrant sitter and the craft of painting. A rare achievement indeed.
‘La Experencia de Sentir’
Hola, mi nombre es Pasión, y sí, soy un sentimiento; o eso era hasta hace poco. Siempre he querido estar en el cuerpo de una persona y experimentar todo lo que los seres humanos sois capaces de sentir. No puedo evitar fijarme en esas expresiones que inundan vuestras caras; como os sonrojáis con vuestro primer te quiero, como vuestros Ojos se achinan al sonreír o como se llenan de lágrimas de felicidad. Las emociones no podemos experimentar nada parecido ya que la mayor parte del tiempo nos sentimos de la misma manera. A veces evolucionamos y conseguimos llenarnos de otras sensaciones similares, en mi caso ilusión o placer, pero eso solo acontece cuando las personas sentís dicha necesidad. Dia y noche presencio parejas desesperadas por sentirse cada vez más cerca, artistas cantando a pleno pulmón o celebraciones llenas de personas. Siempre deseé experimentar y valorar cada emoción como 10 hacéis los humanos, y hoy parece que mis plegarias por fin han Sido escuchadas.
Me acabo de despertar en una habitación desconocida… iEn el cuerpo de una persona! Sigo intentando procesar esta situación, pero me inundan mil sensaciones que no sé como gestionar. Siento una presión algo molesta en el pecho, creo que es miedo. Echo un vistazo a la pequeña habitación; es de color blanco y los muebles son de madera de fresno. Los mil posters que hay en la pared captan mi atención al instante, hay fotos de diferentes actores y actrices a los cuales recuerdo haber hecho sentir pasión anteriormente. Intento levantarme 10 más rápido que puedo, pero como todavía no me he acostumbrado al funcionamiento de mi nuevo cuerpo tropiezo un par de veces. Cuando me miro en el espejo me recorre un escalofrío de euforia por cada una de mis extremidades, ¡soy una chica preciosa! Lo primero que me llama la atención es mi altura, mido alrededor de un metro ochenta. Me paso las manos por cada fracción de mi cara; mis Ojos de color verde claro, mi nariz respingona y mis pómulos algos marcados para acabar acariciando mi melena rubia.
Un grito me arranca de mis cavilaciones -¡Kala baja a desayunar, es tarde!- Ay dios mío, creo que me están llamando. Quiero reaccionar, pero los nervios que comienzo a sentir son tan abrumadores que soy incapaz de hacer nada. Decido vestirme antes de bajar, ¡y me resulta de 10 más emocionante! Abro el armario y me quedo absorta con el tacto y olor de cada prenda, son muy suaves y huelen a vainilla. Escojo un conjunto de chándal marrón claro y bajo corriendo por las escaleras. Me encuentro con una mujer sonriente muy similar a mi, debe de ser mi madre. Engullo una tostada con mermelada de frambuesa y me resulta placentero como mi boca se inunda de ese delicioso sabor, ahora entiendo porque a los humanos os fascina tanto la comida. Acto seguido me subo en un coche con mi supuesta madre, resulta que su nombre es Isla. Nada más comienzo a hablar, me percato de la vibración que nace en mi garganta y del sonido de mi voz, esta forma de comunicarse es de 10 más interesante. Intento averiguar todo 10 posible sobre mi, y como sospechaba, mi nombre es Kaia. Tengo 18 años, vivo en Inglaterra y hoy es el estreno de mi primer musical. A medida que voy escuchando todo esto una gran sonrisa se pinta en mi rostro, no sé como he acabado en este cuerpo, pero sé que hoy no solo se está cumpliendo mi sueño, sino que también se va a cumplir el de Kala.
Al bajarme del coche Isla me dice que va a aparcar y me aconseja ir entrando al teatro. Acto seguido me da un beso en la mejilla y al sentir como esta se humedece me invade una sensación de calidez. Corro hacia el único edificio que veo esperando que este sea el supuesto teatro y al entrar me reúno con mis compañeros. El musical es una adaptación de la película “Rapuncel”, ¡y resulta que soy la protagonista! Me dirijo hacia la habitación en la que se encuentran las estilistas, y al abrir la puerta genero un silencio incómodo el cual llega a su fin cuando saludo. Cojo mi libreto para aprenderme mis líneas, pero a medida que 10 voy leyendo me percato de que sorprendentemente ya me las sé. Al darme cuenta me invade una oleada de nervios e ilusión la cual me deja completamente embobada.
Dos minutos más tarde me dirijo hacia los bastidores para presenciar el comienzo de la obra, mi primera aparici6n es para cantar una canción. De repente un chico se acerca a mi para decirme que salgo en quince segundos, y antes de poder procesar 10 que acabo de oír me encuentro a mi misma entrando en el escenario. Cuando veo a tantas personas mirándome temo empezar a temblar, pero contra todo pronóstico me invade una pasión incontrolable y comienzo a cantar. Lo hago desde el corazón, con una emoción desbordante y viviendo el momento como nunca antes en mi existencia. El público comienza a animarme aplaudiendo y eso me llena de felicidad; por primera vez me siento viva. Cuando la función llega a su fin veo como Isla me dedica una mirada llena de cariño, por 10 que decido ir donde ella.
-Estoy muy orgullosa de ti hija, -comienza a decirme- sé que tu pánico escénico te ha limitado anteriormente, pero admiro que no dejes que este te impida hacer lo que verdaderamente amas. Cuando estabas ahí arriba he visto como tu mirada se llenaba de pasión y eso me ha hecho inmensamente feliz. Te quiero.
Al escuchar esto, mi vista comienza a nublarse y en cuestión de segundos vuelvo a ser Pasión. Me siento eternamente agradecida por haber vivido una experiencia como esta, he podido descubrir múltiples sensaciones y ahora aprecio el poder hacer sentir algo tan bello a los demás. Nunca olvidaré 10 especial que ha Sido presentarle mi emoción a Kala.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: Sarah Salgado San Sebastian with La Experiencia de Sentir. In the old psychology passions were disapproved of as they were seen as passive and dangerous. You suffered a passion and the Latin verb ‘patior’ implied submission to overwhelming feelings. In Sarah’s story a disembodied ‘pasión’ gains control of someone’s body and personality. Pasión becomes human and real in the body of an eighteen-year-old dancer called Kala. The story sensitively re-creates the initial sensation of having a body, standing in the middle of Kala’s bedroom, studying her features in a mirror, eating toast and getting dressed. The detailed realisation of what it means to be human is beautifully portrayed as Kala gets ready to appear on stage to sing in a musical.
Everything happens effortlessly-she learns the lyrics without studying them; the choreography is similarly absorbed; she overcomes the stage fright Kala suffered from. When Isla, Kala’s mother utters ‘Te quiero’ after her impressive performance, the strange experience starts to dissipate and Pasión returns to being a mere passion. The old philosophers taught us how to manage the passions and how they could enrich our lives-Sarah’s story reflects this attitude.
The central conceit of this wonderful story is the transition from mere passion to a passionate individual who lives the experience fully and excitedly. A very well written and enjoyable piece.
‘El Minotauro en Andalucía’
En la sombra de otoño, el Minotauro se encontraba el mismo en el campo Andaluz, sentado en las escalones de su caravana oxidada, la pintura blanca ya rústica y gastada en la tarde lluvia, y los ruedos demasiados finas ara arrastrar este Viejo pedazo de metal.
Con su sombrero de puja y camisa holgada, el Minotauro se sienta con nada más que su alma tranquila una rama tierna de olivo masticando entre sus (lientes, mirando al lejano horizonte. Entre los árboles solitarios había otras caravanas ociosas, aunque ninguna estaba tan alejada como el del Minotauro, Que, desde su perspectiva, no eran más grandes que la palma de su mano, las caravanas eran no más grande que su palma. Había brillantes tonos de todos colores, la pintura fresca cada verano, y sus ruedas redondas y fiables, listas para llevar los colores de este sitio cada invierno. Los inviernos eran solitarios en el campo de este toro bípedo, siendo su único consuelo la esperanza de que la primavera lo llenaría todo de color una vez más.
Las familias que iban y venían raramente eran las mismas. Los que regresaron hablaban de la caravana oxidada y gastada a las afueras de su campo, algunas veces lo escuchaban mientras él andaba entre ellos, chal cubriendo su cabeza y escondiendo sus cuernos, orejas y hocico. El Conocía el peligro de la mirada humana, sabía muy bien las consecuencias de ser visto, pero qué dolorosa era una vida sin otra voz cerca. Algunas veces el Minotauro escuchaba susurros desde su ventana, se escondía bajo sus finas sábanas, esperando hasta el ruido cesara—oh su miedo se terminó de atormentarlo, así venían las noches inquietas pasadas escondido entre almohada y manta.
Sentado encima de sus escaleras, la rama ya contenta en su estómago, el Minotauro pensaba ir hacia las caravanas otra vez, pero con el sol hundiéndose rápidamente del cielo, el frío pronto mordería su pelo y enfriaría sus cascos; solo quedaban unos cinco días hasta que la solidaridad de invierno regresara otra vez. Así que el Minotauro se puso su chal y manta, y corrió hacia los colores desvanecidos de las caravanas.
Dentro de cada vehículo había redes de luz, cada orbe brillante contra el oscurecimiento del cielo nocturno. Sentado en sus escaleras, había familias con puertas abiertas, andando entre caravanas con rostros cansados, algunas en pijamas frescos, otra todavía en sus trajes del día, y otros que todavía tenían pijamas de la noche anterior. Colgado de una ventana con cortinas cerradas, el minotauro vio una vasija de cerámica con flores de clarinete, vibrantes contra la suave terracota, dejando que su olor fluyera en su hocico. En ese momento, las cortinas se abrieron de repente por dos pequeñas manos, una cara aún más pequeña miraba la cara del toro, el hocico envuelto en las sombras de su chal, y en ese momento de pánico, el minotauro retrocedió, dio media vuelta y cargó hacia su hogar solitario, sin siquiera volver su mirada hacia atrás.
La noche que siguió file de insomnio, llena de miedo y ruido, el sol naciente el silencio sobre el campo por fin, y el Minotauro surgió de sus sábanas. Con ojos soñolientos, soñó un desayuno exuberante, pensando en qué sustento encontraría hoy, pero sus pensamientos fueron interrumpidos por un sonido tan extraño que consideró que fuera un sueño y estaba a punto de despertarse en la noche aterradora una vez más; fue alguien llamando a su puerta. Tres pequeños golpes de un pequeño puño golpearon el metal oxidado de la puerta de su caravana, cada pelo de punta mientras intentaba trataba de calmarse. Asomándose por la rendija de su ventana, vio el rostro que lo había visto la noche anterior, el de una niña, sosteniendo un puñado de clementinas.
“Te traje esto, te vi mirándolas en la ventana, todo lo que tienes es este olivo y una autocaravana oxidada, espero que estos te traigan algo de color, Señor”, con eso dicho, la niña dejó las clementinas en la puerta del Minotauro, dio la vuelta, y corrió hacia el campo de caravanas.
Durante los próximos días, la niña volvió, cada día un nuevo color dejado por la puerta del Minotauro, él no abrió la puerta. Pero al día siguiente la niña regresaría y vería el color del último día plantado en una maceta improvisada alrededor del vehículo. Y después de cuatro días, los cuartos del Minotauro olían a flores, todos los días se despertaba, ansioso por ver el color que adornaría su puerta, aprendió que era posible sonreír con un hocico. Hasta que un día, decidió que abriría la puerta, en cuanto salió el sol esperó detrás de su puerta, sin ningún chal ni cobija. A medida que el sol se alejaba más y más sobre el cielo, el aire se enfriaba y las sombras se acercaban. Renunciando a su paciencia, abrió la puerta y se sentó en sus escalones, tomando una jarra de aceitunas que había recogido el día anterior y sosteniéndolas en sus manos. Fue entonces cuando vio el horizonte vacío ante él. Las caravanas de colores se había ido, el invierno estaba aquí. Se fueron los vehículos llenos de color, se fue el cielo despejado, y se fue su única compañía. Como todos los años anteriores, con el frio y la lluvia, venia la soledad del Minotauro.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Honoria Easter with El Minotauro de Andalucía. The most famous minotaur in Greek mythology was kept confined in the Cretan labyrinth and was killed by the intrepid hero, Theseus. This blood-thirsty monster was violent and intimidating. Our minotaur, in this very strange piece of writing, is a very different type of creature. He lives in a broken-down caravan at the edge of a caravan site. He prudently covers his bull’s head with a tracksuit and yearns for colour, friends and human love.
The creature is either shunned by everyone or they are unaware of his existence until one day a little girl sees him looking through the window of her caravan. The innocent child feels pity and compassion, totally unaware a Minotaur is a creature to be avoided and feared. But our Minotaur is the exception to the rule: he loves the care and solicitude the young girl lavishes on him and he becomes happy, fulfilled and almost human.
Having a snout, horns and long ears are no longer an impediment to having human contact. This extraordinary story requires interpretation. In the absence of any help from the author, we can only surmise the minotaur might be a symbol of the ‘other,’ a person with some kind of disability or disfigurement, or someone belonging to a despised minority. The feeling of isolation, rejection and the need for human love, are all poignantly expressed in this beautifully written but enigmatic fable.
‘Madre No Ay Mah Ke Una’
Te voi konta an incredible story ke mi madre me kontava, y a mi me shalava hkushahlo, despite the fact k’era tragically sad, pero era komo argo out of a spy novel.
Komo tu sabe mi madre e hpanyola, pero travahava aki en Gib en una tienda. Eventually se namoro de un Yanito, mi padre of course. En December 1968 se kasarong y se kedarong a vivi en la kasa mih aweloh aki en Hivrerta.
La vida mi madre kambio for the better. Deho de travaha porke mi padre 10 ganava vieng. Eya iva kasi to Ioh diah a ve a suh padreh n’Ehpanya. Siempre leh yevava kosah ke ayi no avia komo er bacon, er corned beef y Ioh Cadbury’s chocolates, k’a mi awela l’enkatavang. Y, ya to make her happiness absolutely complete, se kedo pregnant de mi!
Pero, as we all know, 10 weno dura poko. Mi awela, por parte mi madre, se puso mala y a la povre l’isieron diagnosing un kanse de pesho. Unfortunately, en esa epoka no avia Ioh advances ke exihteng oi en dia. Le kortaron un pesho pero no sirvio pa na. Mi madre pasava tor tiempo ke podia kong eya.
Ya pa entonse se htava poniendo la kosa shunga kong er tema la frontera and everyone was fearing lo peo. Kuando l’osho de June de 1969 serro la frontera, a mi madre se le vino er mundo ensima. De la noshe a la manyana she was no longer able to contact her parents porke kortarong ahta Ioh telecommunications. Eya htava desehpera. Se fue pa la frontera veviendose lah lagrimah, Llamo ar wardia sivi who was there pa hplikahle ke su madre htava mu mal y le pidio ke la dehara krusa. Er polisia la miro kong kara d’ahko y le diho, “tü no quieres ser Llanita? Pues ahora püdrete ahi dentro.” En ese momento she felt komo si le atravesarang er korasong with a red-hot blade. No se podia kree the sheer absence of humanity.
For the next few weeks la povre se htava volviendo loka. No savia na de su madre y no savia k’ase. Finally, un dia she got a letter de mi awelo ke desia ke l’aviang ingresao nel ohpita y ke she was on her deathbed. La karta htava dated a few weeks earlier, konke no savia si mi awela htava viva todavia o no. N’ese momento desidio ke iva a krusa esa frontera by hook or by crook. Asing ke entre mi padre y eya planearong komo lo iva se.
Mi padre avia travajao ner Dokia desde ke tenia deisiseih anyo. N’esa epoka kasi tor mundo tenia argin en su familia ke travahava ayi. Kuando nesesitavang arguna ramienta very often they ‘borrowed’ it del MOD. Mi padre nunca s’avia atrevio a saka na der travajo porke avia un police post y te asiang checking ar sali. Pero mi madre se puso mu pesa y 10 konvensio pa ke le trahera unoh wire cutters.
Esa mihma noshe de madruga, kohierong er koshe, Ioh do vehtio de negro from head to toe, y se fuerong par Ma Levante. Irse deresho a la frontera a esa ora would have been lamarde suspicious. They went all the way to the end of the beach ahta er fence del aropuerto, sakarong Ioh wire cutters ke teniang la marka de la pata gayina, which was particularly ironic, ya ke er wire fence ke kortarong era del MOD. Er runway htava pitch-dark, pero obviously no podiang usa una antorcha. Pasarong por er vokete y, agashaoh to avoid their silhouettes being made out, krusarong a l’otro lao. Kuando kasi aviang yegao a Ioh British Lines, vierong un guard del RAF ke htava patrolling kong un perro. Se tuvierong ke hkonde ner shed de una de lah kasah Ioh ofisialeh, ahta ke se fuera. Finally they got to the frontier fence y tratando d’ase lo meno ruido posible lo kortarong.
Ya from that moment on mi madre tenia ke segi sola. Weno, not quite, porke yo htav dentro su varriga. Htava de sinko mese at the time. No te vea tu! Pero en ese momento eya namahke pensava en su madre, sin save si htava viva todavia o no. Agasha, pokito a poko she started to make her way across er dehkampao entre la frontera y la karretera. Komo tu sabe no ay mucha dihtansia pero la wardia sivi tenia lookout posts to a 10 largo la frontera, asing ke tenia ke i kong musho kuidao. De wena primera, kuando ya htava kasi ai, lah luseh d’un koshe ke pasava l’alumvrarong. Se kedo ela. Ensegida se tiro ar suelo. Hperava ke no la vierang vihto. Htuvo un weng rato kieta komo una htatua. Kuando fue a levantarse she felt the cold barrel de una hkopeta on the back of her head. Una vo, which sounded familiar, le dijo, “levåntate muy despacito y con las manos arriba.” Kuando se puso en pie y miro parriva vio a ehte omvre vehtio de verde, with a three-cornered hat negro y la hkopeta en la mano. Era er mihmo de l’otro dia!
La arrehtarong, y la metierong en una serda komo si fuese una krimina. A la mihma ora, five hundred metres d’ayi, en un kuarto de l’ohpita de La Linea, mi awela, sing save 10 serka ke htava mi madre, was drawing her final breaths. Yorando amargamente le desia a mi awelo, “me voy de este mundo sin poder despedirme de mi ünica hija. Dile que la quiero con toda mi alma.”
La manyana sigiente, yevarong a mi madre a la frontera to hand her over a la polisia d’aki. Ante de entregahla, er wardia sivi le diho, “anda y vuelve con los tuyos, traidora, que os vais a enterar de 10 que es bueno.” As they locked the gate behind her se dio la vuerta y mirandolo a los oho le diho, “onke tengamo ke hta enserrao aki dentro par rehto la Vida, vardra la pena porke Franco y Ioh frankihtah komo tu se vai keda kong lah ganah de kitahno nuehtro penyong.”
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: John Manuel Enriles with Madre no ay mah ke una. We usually associate Yanito with oral communication within the family, among friends, in a socially relaxed ambience, humorous, and when we let our hair down. John Manuel’s story refutes this popular notion of Yanito. He has written a tragic narrative, set in the closed frontier period, when families were brutally torn apart, when telephone links were cut, and people shouted their news across no-man’s land.
Our story revolves round the speaker’s mother who was unable to comfort her own mother when she was dying of cancer in La Línea. The many local references make this story epitomize the general feeling during those dark days: ‘er bacon, er corned beef y loh Cadbury’s chocolates’; the fateful closure of the frontier ‘l’osho de June de 1969;’ the insensitivity of the ‘wardia sivi;’ the father who ‘avia travajao ner Dokia.’
The story reaches its climax when the mother defies the authorities and crosses into Spain, only to be arrested by Franco’s minions.
John Manuel has very considerately appended two pages of notes to the story which have proved very helpful. There is a genuine ring to his version of Yanito. The writing down of Yanito could be the first step toward some kind of standardization; after all, this superb story provides ample evidence of Yanito’s flexibility and range. It is a very worthy winner of this new category.
No sé si fue the worst job on the planet or un pedazo de quarté de la virgen María y to los santos. A veces, I wonder if I dreamt the whole thing pero when I look at the photos stored in the memory of my old laptop, me digo a mi mismo, quillo Jason, it was real y te tocó a ti.
Era around 2005 y a mi chorbo le habían dau un chapu en New York en Lehman brothers de abogá. Te imagina, pisha? Lehman Brothers! Una yani de Varyl Begg sorteando contratos de million dollars en Wall Street. Pero bueno eso que lo cuente ella que escribe mejón. The thing is, yo estaba en New York de regalau y de mantenio y nos cogimo un flat por el East Village y todo estaba andando la buti hasta que en una de esa pelea de gato, el chorbo me dijo que estaba hasta el mismísimo poyo de pagarme las latas de Budweiser y que o me cogía un curro o me iba al peñón de rodilla. Me quedé blanco bro. A Varyl Begg I wasn’t going back con el rabo entre la piernas. Anyways, I start looking on Gumtree y me encuentro un advert que pone, can you believe it?
POET WANTED. IMMERSIVE EVENT. EAST VILLAGE. APPLY BELOW.
Cuando miro el address I realise que el sitio está a dos calles de nuestro flat. Nique! I said to myself. Los yanis tenemos una suerte exagerá! The curro is for me, fetén. En Bayside los bruva me decían poeta porque leía TS Eliot de memoria y porque me pasaba to el día enamorao perdió. Hasta el Bonavia en English class said que yo tenía cara de Keats y que los readings me salían very natural indeed.
Po na! I sent an email y en a couple of hours I get a reply qué me dice de pasarme por el sitio. Me pongo a da salto como una rana después de siete cafés y me planto en el address; The Back Room, Norwich Street, New York. Valiente disappointment, bro. Por fuera el building parecía un bujío. To oscuro y sucio. Era como el Penelopes en los 90’s pero sin música ni takeaway. ¿Te acuerda? I felt desinflau hasta que me abre la puerta una tía que parece la sobrina de Monica Bellucci y me dice que entre please. Por Dio! Por poco me desmayo de la impresión. No vea el back room, más candelabros que la casa del gobernador. Por fuera una porquería y por dentro, un palacio Napolitano. Anyways, me puse a hablá, a decí shalaura, like we yanis do cuando nos entran los nervio. Despué, cuando la tía me pidió que leyera me envalentoné and recited a poem like I used to do in Bayside. I thought que me iba a mandar a freí pimientos pero instead me decí la Bellucci, mas buena que el pan, que she loves my cute foreign accent y que they are looking to include foreign poets in their immersive Poetry Brothel event y que, por la cara, I can definitely have the job.
-Poetry Brothel?! -Pregunto yo. Pero what do I have to do?
-Just read poems of course -me dice.
-Vale. Vale -I reply.
-And by the way can you buy some vintage waistcoats and grow a moustache? -dice ella.
-Sí, whatever you want hija -I say -mientras no me tenga que pone en pelota, lo que sea.
Well, me compro el chaleco y un plastic moustache en un costume shop por detrá del Gaslight Café y aparezco en el Back Room two Saturdays later vestio como el camarero borracho of The Love Boat. Qué ida de olla bro. I had to stand on a stage con la Madame y twelve otro “poets,” la mayoría tía en sostén y cuco, pa recita un poema de cinco minuto. Menos mal que me controlé y pude leé the first two parts of The Waste Land sin cagarla mucho. The thing is bro, que si a alguien le gustaba tu rollo, te pagaban cinco dollars pa llevarte a un cuarto chico dónde you recited poems one to one. En plan stripper pero con poetry, you know? Poetry Brothel de los cojones! No vea el surprise, cuando me vienen un montón de yanquis forrau pa llevarme al cuartito. Yo estaba más contento que una carne en salsa aunque the problem was que no me sabía otro poema de memoria. Me puse a recitá el Waste Land over and over, y el poema es tan largo que ante que acabara yo, ya estaban tocando en la puerta otra gente pa darma mas cash. Me forré bro, te lo juro. Hice como 1000 dollars en un par de hora y to el mundo diciendome que le encantaba el accent, que era el accent más exotic de todo el event. Que locura y to por hablá como un yanito. Epic!
Y bueno tu me dirá chiquillo, entonces, ¿de qué carajo te queja? Una bendición de trabajo, no? Po no. La cosa acabó fatal. I spent all the money en whiskies con cola de veinte dollars y me echaron del bar por ponerme chulo con el barman que me preguntó si había toilets en Malta.
Gibraltar payaso, not Malta! -I yelled.
Lo peo is that when I got home, echo un trapo y oliendo a alcohol, perfume de muje y cigarros and told el chorbo donde había estau, por poco me mata. Primero se partió de risa y me dijo que estaba harta de mis chistes baratos y después, cuando vio que I was saying the truth, me puso de patitas en la calle, diciendo que el brothel me lo metiera por donde me cabiera, literario or otherwise. Que mucho había trabajau ella en la vida, lidiando con tiburones y banqueros pervertidos, pa acabá con un chulo de dos peniques. Bueno bro, we made up in the end y me pude quedá un tiempo en New York pero de Poetry Brothel, bro, ná de ná. Nunca má. Nunca jamás.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Gabriel Moreno with Poetry Brothel. Gabriel’s Poetry Brothel is a sheer delight to read-funny, clever, witty, hilarious and very Yanito indeed! This is Gabriel’s version of working in a brothel which specialises in delivering poetry recitals in front of an audience and then on a one-to-one basis in a room. In a way, it is also a spoof of the American dream: work very hard and get rich very soon.
The humour lies in the stark contrast between the New York setting with its work-driven ethos and ‘quillo Jason’s’ laidback attitude, with his drinking binge, his shameless indulgence of his baser instincts.
It would require a much longer essay to highlight the many outrageous comments, sharp observations, humorous touches found in this extravagant story. The exchanges between Jason and his ‘chorbo’ are precious; the horror of returning to Varyl Begg, crestfallen and rejected, unthinkable; the first impression of meeting the madame ‘que parece la sobrina de Monica Belluci’ unforgettable; the role of the Waste Land in such an incongruous setting ridiculous; the stink of ‘alcohol, perfume de muje y cigarro’ which get him evicted, overpowering. All create a picture of a sponger-he means well-who fails to live up to expectations.
One line alone would require extensive comments: the barman ‘que me preguntó si había toilets in Malta’-so much has been packed into this seemingly innocent question. Gabriel has written a comic masterpiece-the Yanito is fluent, very resourceful, and side-splittingly funny.
‘Tarìa Perìsima I Patrà’
Lô rekwerdô son komo lâ kalamitâ, t’asen atràkting, su pul ê komo un gaite ke parese ke tà ‘siendo xiterìa kon er gràviti ke tà supwêto ‘sêlo privènting de volà. Mi mente parese un sine kon un ùniko spekteita onde exan una pelìkula k’ase dipìkting mi vida nun lup. Ê komo irse de hòlidei sin tenè ke tomarse livertà, namâk’ai ke serrà lô s’ohô mu taitli i dehà k’er film aga ròuling…Sienpre ke me veìa la dêkantsà de mi tìa, sin farta, se metìa lâ manô nla vorsa pa sakarse una livrita, me la ponìa nla mano pa dêpwè disirme “toma rei, pa ke te konprê unâ volillitâ, un rolipò, un likirvà, un pakete patatâ o lo ke tù kierâ“. Er detallito ese me traìa er mîmo satisfakxon ke Fadakrîmâ er dìa de Pâkwa. Anda ke no tendrìa l’arkantsìa llenita kon una hartà de livritâ si lâ ‘viera exo sèiving. Pa un ninyo delô 90z, tenè una livra era tenè flux, la podìâ ‘sè strèching à to metè. Un pakete patatâ à diê, veinte o treinta penikê i lâ volillâ swertâ te podìan kôtà un penike si t’ivâ polâ varatâ, devarde no ‘vìa na.
Dêpwe de ‘sè kolèkting la livrita i de gâtàrmela, po derexo patrà pala kasa mama, onde namâke ntrà pola pwerta sonava la mîma kantsiòn: “Sabor, sabor, sabor a ti”. Kwàntâ vesê m’avrè tomàu er tè kon ese pograma ner televixon? Me sentava nun sillòn de kolò kafè, to dèkoreited kon trapô i panyô de nitin. Sienpre tengo er mîmo pikcha nla mente. Àlo lehô un mop, una kova i una pala pa rekohè er pâtiso i er plag der huva to preparàu pa ‘sêlo konèkting ner soket por si se kaìan migahâ ner tapete. Alante mìa un êpeho kon vordê d’oro i un murtimwevle kon kaxarritô pa ‘serme distràkting demientra me tomava er tesesito kon un vollo o un durse. Nel’aigre, komo sienpre, un olò à tavako i l’umo ke se ‘sìa mìksing kon er vapò dela kafetera kon auwa pipando. Una tasita tè nunka m’a savìo mehòn ke ntontse.
I ese dìstent pero vìvid mèmori der tesesito m’ase tranzpòting àl’eropwerto. ‘Siera frìo, kalò o viento i âta si davan auwa, kwando ‘sìa lànding l’aviòn, tormundo salìa de vulla korriendo par varkòn. La hente kolô kapotê i gufandâ se reginxava kontra la varanda de gierro xillando nombrê, haxeando delô ke vahavan pavaho lâ kaleritâ i àr mîmo tienpo moviendo lâ manô ‘siendo wèiving. Ni xan tenìâ de kolarte pa ponerte alante sin ke te xaran er wo. Toi seguro ke mâ dun turîta s’avrà pentsàu k’un A-list selèbriti ‘vìa llegàu à Hivertà delô xillìô de pavana dela hente.
Àr finà der dìa, kè de tumbaletâ da la vida, amehòn ê asìn komo tà supwêto sè pero aholà pudiera ì patrà, onke fwera por un minuto namâh, tarìa perìsima. Pero de to eso ke vivì namâke kean unô rekwerdô repartìô ke slouli se van ‘siendo disòlving komo una kuxarita d’asuka nun tè resièn xàu.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Dale Buttigieg with Tarìa Perìsima I Patrà. Dale’s piece is a nostalgic journey into a golden past, where the simple things of life seemed to mean so much more than they do now. The mind is conceived as a cinema, with an ever-rolling film, a film made up of his beloved aunt, now dead, with her generous gift of a pound, undreamt of riches then, and which gave him ‘er mîmo satisfakxon ke Fadakrîmâ.’
Not only does Dale lovingly and fondly re-create the past, but his phonetically rendered Yanito has many echoes of how many of us spoke when young. At home, we encounter a Gibraltar household with the standard ‘murtiwevle; his house-proud mother with all her cleaning paraphernalia and, of course, the ubiquitous cup of tea. The superb vignette of the expectant crowd at the old Air Terminal is wonderfully rendered. Dale has re-visited the past and used Yanito to revive old memories, recall those dear ones who have passed away but never forgotten, and evoke a world which seems distant but lives inside our hearts and minds.
The fairly strict phonetic rendering of Yanito can initially be disconcerting to the eye but, if read out loud or even mouthed sotto voce, there is no impediment to comprehension. A truly moving story, poignant, charming and conjuring up a world we all thought was beyond recall.
‘The Venetian Mask Shop’
Alessia stood leaning on over the edge of her balcony, head drooped, mindlessly staring into the canal below and wincing when the blinding sunlight managed to reflect perfectly off a ripple. She glanced upwards as a trail of cigarette smoke danced from the balcony above her. Fastus. Her brother. Puffing on cigarettes for breakfast, brazenly sordid as always. Alessia winced harder than even the sunlight could make her as she recollected the events from the evening before. Another evening of torment, another ring around her eye. It was purple. Luridly so. She refocused on the vista in front of her. Venice! How it gleamed! Rows of stacked apartments, elegant and purposeful, as if they had been placed, not built, and had existed even before the running water of the canals which spread like ripe veins across the beating heart of Italy. A throng of tourists drifted in the streets, seemingly in a state of interminable ignorance that people in Venice had been going missing for months now. Everyone had their suspected culprits, of course. Gossips’ intricate theories would travel through summer air and prick the ears of even the most apathetic Venetians. Alessia had her own theories, but was never daring enough to start pointing fingers. People told her she was calculated, or in Fastus’ opinion, ‘sei patetico’.
Another missing person. Another funeral with an empty casket. Alessia sat behind her desk in the florist’s with her feet on a tulip-strewn desk. She despised having to provide flowers for funerals, not because she found them upsetting, but because she hated having to pretend she shared their pity. She would make up stories about how these people really felt about their dead relatives or would wonder how rose thorns could possibly stitch up their grieving hearts.
Sei patetico, she would think.
What she did enjoy was seeing their faces as they noticed the shop directly opposite Alessia’s. The mask shop. She watched as people laid eyes on its exterior and viscerally looked away, failing to handle its eye contact. Its very scent could creep through the cracks of your skin, a python, slick and hissing, wrapping itself around the incandescent core of your soul. Alessia enjoyed confecting stories about passing clients with generally affable thoughts and a predictable trajectory, but it was patent that the truth about the mask shop would be far more thirst quenching than anything she could come up with herself. As stoic as Alessia liked to claim she was, she soon became restless and her eyes wandered persistently to the shop opposite her own. At long last the herd of Venetians left her shop with enough daisies to give their deceased a petal-covered pathway to the underworld, and Alessia took her opportunity.
A dim jingle of bells broke the silence which had made itself so comfortable as she pushed open the mask shop door. A stench pervaded the entire room, fleshy and rotten. Behind the ornate yet chipped mahogany table, in a creaking cushioned chair, sat the shopkeeper. Speckled white hair shot upwards from the bulb of his head, and the upper half of his face was covered by a black plague doctor’s mask. The only visible part of his visage were his eyes – bloodshot, glazed, penetrative, blue, and gaping as if his eyelids had shrunk back into the shadows of his skull. His fingers drummed on the table.
‘Hello?’ Alessia ventured.
The man who had seemingly grown a layer of dust on his whole body suddenly leaped up and swung himself over his desk.
‘Hello! Hello! Welcome!’ His voice was of such ardour that, if Alessia closed her eyes and only listened to him speak, she wouldn’t be sure if he was in a state of panic or joy.
‘Come! Please, let me show you my works! At last!’ He grabbed her shoulder and brought her to the wall of bejewelled masks. The stench grew stronger with every step closer she took.
‘Aren’t they fascinating? Aren’t they realistic?’
‘Try one on! Please do!’
He reached for one. It was purple. Luridly so.
She shook her head gently.
Sei patetico, she thought.
‘Why not?’ he broke out, ‘These are just reinventions of everyday people. Made prettier.
Made better. By me. When you put one on you become someone else! Most people are just reinventions of other people anyway. And I like it like that. If I am everyone else then I can’t take all the blame for my past mistakes and failures. I can be her and him. I can be you. And you can’t complain that I am you because you were never you anyway. You were her and him. And so was l’.
He held his hands out and nodded, as if encouraging Alessia to understand, and then brought his knuckles feverishly to his cracked lips.
‘Is there anyone you envy? Anyone you repulse but yearn to resemble?’
‘Fastus’ she said, though the words were dry and hollow.
‘A little louder’, encouraged the shopkeeper as he made his way back over to his chair.
Alessia cleared her throat.
‘Fastus’, she repeated, ‘my brother’.
The shopkeeper straightened his back, several bones clicking, and leaned forwards. He smiled, and then looked as though he wasn’t entirely sure what his face was supposed to do next.
‘I’m Timeo’, he eventually announced, ‘It’s a pleasure doing business with you.’
As she walked home that evening, she dreaded the sight of dancing smoke. The light wisps, amorphous in the breeze, drifting gracefully through the air to compensate for their hideous place of origin. Alessia walked straight up to her room, the shouts of her brothers skidding around the frozen interior of her mind.
Then, at a time past midnight, her brother fell silent.
A part of Alessia’s untethered mind wondered if Timeo would have crafted a new mask by tomorrow.
One to put on when you’re feeling a bit pathetic,
or as someone might say,
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: Eva De Vincenzi with The Venetian Mask Shop. Eva’s engrossing story is perfectly crafted. The Venetian setting is economically sketched: the light reflected from the canals; the palazzi (apartments) ‘elegant and purposeful;’ the hordes of tourists, ignorant of sinister happenings; the general air of putrefaction, decay and death.
Alessia, the florist, is given to daydreaming, confecting stories. She is fatefully drawn to the mask shop opposite. We have already learnt about Fastus, her brother, unconcernedly puffing at a cigarette on the balcony above, after an evening of sibling violence, which has inflicted a black eye on his poor sister. The abusive brother, ironically named Fastus (Faustus, the magician, is dragged to hell for his overweening pride and ‘fastuoso’ in Spanish implies goodness and splendour) will become the target of Alessia’s revenge plan and the mask shop will provide the means to execute it.
The introduction of the owner of the mask shop is masterly and full of Dickensian details: the pervasive putrid smell, the shopkeeper’s hair which ‘shot upward from the bulb of his head,’ the disturbing eyes ‘bloodshot and glazed,’ the fingers drumming on the table.
The conversation with the shopkeeper offers Alessia a possible escape from her entrapment. Timeo (his name is suggestive of fear and doubt) expounds his mask philosophy: masks offer you a chance to hide your personality and enable you to assume a different one. Alessia does not have to remain ‘patetica.’
The denouement is understated, but brilliantly so. Alessia’s brother meets a silent end. Her mask has invested her with a courage she previously lacked. Anyway, she now knows that wearing a mask she will cease being ‘patetica.’ What a wonderful story, a joy to read!
I didn’t know if I had the courage to do this.
Something somewhere in the depths of my mind was slowly stirring, holding me away from the edge- the need to survive. It was the urge that had made me drop the pills from my hand; the same feeling that had made me drop the rope that I was tying to the floor, to leave it in a tangled heap, a fitting metaphor for the mess that was in my mind. But on that day, I had killed it. Suffocated it, pushing it right back into the depths of my thoughts, never to be seen again. Which was what I was going to do to myself.
It had been a long, hot summer’s day. I wound down the windows of my car, letting the blasts of air slap me in the face like a thousand angry hands. Although it made my eyes sting, I relished it. As I turned off the well-worn road, however, all my energy was focused on keeping control over my vehicle as it bounced and reared around the dusty track like a skittering foal. I smiled grimly to myself as I rounded the corner, passed a corpse of trees, and nearly drove into a large boulder. It was like my car didn’t want to take me to my destination- but it had no choice.
My thoughts shattered like a glass pane in gunfire as the landscape unfurled before me. The car stalled, snapping me forwards, but I barely noticed it through the raging torrent of emotions and memories coursing through me. The lake. Her face. The taste of her lips. The feel of the grass against my back. The sound of the gently waving trees, the chattering of the birds, the heat of the sun. For a moment I just sat there, my body an empty shell as the torrent of unopposed memories threatened to completely overwhelm me. Her laugh which I would never hear again, played over and over in my head, a broken record ringing in my ears. I hadn’t even noticed I was crying until I felt my bitter tears drop onto my hands, folded in my lap. The salty touch of them brought me back, and I shook my head slightly as I slowly moved to open the door.
Getting out of the car, I was acutely aware of every sense- the scalding touch of the car, the rustling of the wind in the trees, the crinkling of the letter that I removed from my pocket and laid almost reverently on the seat. It looked lonely, lying there by itself, but I wasn’t going to be around to keep it company. As I approached the shore, tiny waves began to ripple towards me from across the lake as suddenly the wind picked up. Go back they seemed to say, keep away from the depths. Not that I was in any mood to listen to them. With the final dazzling sparkle, the lake ceased to shine, the sun disappearing behind an ominous cloud as though it couldn’t bear to watch.
“Coward”, I spat out loud. I had watched. I watched the light leave her eyes as she lay there in the hospital bed, watched her face go slack and her body go limp. I was useless. I could do nothing for her, as she lay there in agony, as she underwent the treatment that could have kept her alive but failed to work. Cancer. What an ugly word. It had also been her star sign. When she hadn’t been on the cusp of death, she used to joke about it saying how it was obviously “meant to be”. I didn’t find it funny. But I am here now, and I’m about to join her.
I filled my lungs with the cool crisp air as I splashed purposefully into the shadows, soaking myself- not that I cared. Behind and to the left of me, I could hear the trees whispering frantically to one another, as they seemed to realise what I intended to do. I continued to wade out, until the freezing water was around my waist. The arctic water seemed to shock me back to life. This was it. I was doing this for real. The part of me which I managed to suppress reared up again, but I fought it- this was it. I would not back out. I took a deep breath, and prepared to take the plunge, in her favorite place the swim. With her face in my head, I began to sink.
For the first time in two months, the rain poured down. It was the cries that drew me from the water. I surfaced coughing and spluttering, drawing in oxygen, tasting its sweet life. I scanned the landscape, my well-trained ears recognising the sound- the cry of a drowning child. For what seemed like hours I scanned the horizon for them, my lifeguard training kicking in. Where were they? Suddenly, however, I spied a head bobbing up and down in the water. With strong powerful strokes, I swam as fast as I could towards it screaming helplessly as it began to be swallowed by the water, sinking without a trace . I don’t really remember what I did. It was all a blur, certain points standing out- me, dragging the girl to the surface, pulling her to the shore… giving her CPR as she lay there, limp and bedraggled… her eyes flickering open as she breathed once more… And most importantly, the moment when I realised- life is always worth saving… including mine.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Izabella Searle Matthews with The Lake. Izabella’s story is an example of what the ancient Greeks called peripeteia- a sudden reversal of fortune. The speaker has lost a beloved person to cancer. Despair has led to a number of failed suicide attempts. Now, at the beginning of our story, the narrator is driving to a lake, where drowning will bring an end to life. This time, surely, death will bring a blessed release.
Slowly, the would-be suicide wades into the freezing water. The cold and the pouring rain seem to stir the dormant desire for life. Then the sound of someone desperately crying for help energises the trained lifeguard and adrenaline does the rest. The narrator rescues the drowning child and, at the same time, himself.
This is a very well-handled narrative with plenty of suspense, some very mature renderings of nature, and a welcome ending which makes the story a very engaging piece of work.
I looked around at the old archetypal, gothic buildings, a shaky hand reaches to push the glasses back up my face. The hand lowers and I observe it. Its bony. Nicotine -stained fingertips. Cold, silver rings adorn several fingers. Short, bitten nails….
It moves down and rests at my side. Is that my hand? No, it cannot be. I should know my own hand. I giggle to myself thinking of the idiom I used yesterday- ‘l know it like the back of my hand’- ironic.
I clutched the cold, frosted railing of the bell tower and look down at the grounds, the winter chill, numbs my face, it feels like a thousand little ants crawling along my face. Still, all these years later?
I can smell the early morning dew; the students will soon start filing into the building. Trust me I know now. I watched. My coat billowing under me. Everything looks so peaceful from up here. It always has been, that’s why I chose this place, I have always loved it.
I see a red-headed boy, he frantically rushes into the building under me, not sparing a glance at his surroundings, half a bagel hanging from his mouth, holding a plethora of things, attempting to zip up his bag simultaneously. Tell me Atlas, what is heavier, the world or people’s heart?
A small gaggle of children enter the building. Grains of rice. Do you think they know that the world does not end when they die?
I watched as more and more, and more people arrived. I stood there, centuries of dust collecting on my coat and hair. I stay there, it feels illegal to move. I am confined and handcuffed to this railing for all of eternity. I cannot jump, I cannot go inside. This is purgatory. I naively used to believe in the fairytale of heaven and hell, now I know I was just always afraid of the dark.
My perfect silence is interrupted by gasping breathes. I look around and see nobody, I try to manoeuvre my stone body to see more. Then I find her. Her.
She has her hands in her pockets, tears streaking her face. She looks shattered and yet, an air of regalness shrouds her. ‘Ella?’ I say gently. Or I think I did. She does not hear me. I try again and again and again. I am trapped in my own body. Suddenly, she looks at me mortified, she stares at me for a few seconds before swinging herself back over the railing and bustling back into the building. Peculiar. She always comes up here to gaze at the view, she pretends I can talk back to her and fills in for me. I listen but can’t reply. I want to be her Galatea, she’s my Pygmalion. I was alive once, warm blood pumping through my body rather than the icy cold currently. I want to melt like candle wax, pliable in her hands. I don’t have to play statue anymore.
I stand there and return to staring at the students, forever.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Highly Commended: Anmol Udeshi with Stuck. A first, cursory reading of this story will confound the inattentive reader-is this a statue or gargoyle speaking? If so, how is this phenomenon possible? But then we realise that applying realistic criteria to this story is wrongheaded and unrewarding.
The speaker gazes impassively on the crowd of students who enter the building on which the statue stands. The statue is imprisoned in a casing of stone (there is a precedent for this: the figure of the commendatore in Tirso de Molina’s Don Juan) but, unaccountably, it has human feelings and utters the name ‘Ella,’ the girl who frequently comes to pay the statue a visit. A sort of relationship develops between the statue and the suffering girl. Of course, the statue was once a human being, so the rush of emotion is no mystery.
In mythology, Pygmalion, the sculptor, yearns for his beautiful female statue, Galatea, to come alive. His wish was granted. Here, we have a switching of roles: the statue wants to be Galatea, the girl as Pygmalion might be able to infuse life into the statue and love him. A great deal has been packed into this relationship. Will the wish be granted? It seems not.
‘The Voice of the Rain’
There is a place, a meadow, that is full of mystery and wonder. With its vast expanse of green, rolling hills, and the long, dancing grass that whispers secrets to the wind. Where the wildflowers bloom with a definite scent of magic in their petals…
But perhaps most mysterious of all, in that mystic meadow, is the girl. The girl who’s dark hair cascades down her back like a flowing waterfall, the Girl of the Rain. That is why I come to graze in this meadow. While it is true that the grass is greener here, and the sun glows brighter, the reason I am here, perhaps the reason for it all, is her Song. Her voice is like a siren’s song, a melody that fills the air with a sense of otherworldliness.
The fields were awash with the first drops of rain, pattering down from the heavens above. The sun retreating behind the clouds, and the grey sky heavy with the promise of a storm. In the distance, the lone figure sat in the field, singing.
She sat cross-legged in the wet grass, her face upturned to the sky as she sang her unearthly melody. The notes floated on the air, carried away by the wind and the rain. They seemed to be woven with a golden ray of sunbeam, with liquid sapphires.
I watched her from a distance, never daring to approach. She stood in the centre of the meadow, her arms outstretched, as though reaching for something just beyond her grasp. Her hair whipped around her face in the wind, and her dress swirled around her in a dance of its own. And the rain would continue, relentless. Harder, harder, until it poured down in sheets all around her. But she continued to sing, her voice growing stronger and more powerful with each falling raindrop. It was as if the rain was feeding her song, or perhaps, her song feeding the rain.
Her voice seemed to come from deep within her, rising from the earth itself. It was a voice that spoke of things beyond our world, of secrets and magic, of anguish and sorrow. Of things you cannot touch. Things you cannot even see. It would hold me, transfixed, in a spell, and her notes would form into questions that filled my mind, questions that never boarded my train of thought before…
Then, as suddenly as it began, the rain ceased its pummelling. The sun broke through the clouds and the meadow was, yet again, enveloped in a golden glow.
The girl stopped singing. Her eyes lifted skyward, her damp face drinking in her surroundings with relish. I lifted my hoof tentatively. She turned to me. Her bright, wonder-filled eyes met mine, briefly. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. And then, with a twirl of her skirt and a whisper of the wind, she was gone.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: Rachel Hassan with The Voice of the Rain. Rachel’s lovely piece describes the unearthly melody, voice and singing of a mysterious girl. She is part siren, part nature spirit, part muse. She incarnates all that is thrilling, magical and inspiring about the female voice. She is also strangely related to the world of nature: she appears to be the ‘genius loci,’ a kind of earth goddess: her cascading dark hair, her outstretched arms, her association with the pouring rain and her ethereal voice, all point to her role as personifying the spirit of the place.
What is significant here is that her admirer is an animal, not a human being, and this makes her into an Orpheus figure. Undoubtedly, her song is magical and mystical. In a negative context, the sirens’ song lured mariners to perdition. Our girl is the exception-she opens the door to another world, more beautiful, more elemental.
This piece reads almost like a prose poem. Rachel has enjoyed crafting a vignette full of poetic symbols which also works as a short story.
‘Like an Eagle’
The screams of fear and admiration mingle with the sharp whistle of wind in my ears as I take the plunge. I’ve attempted this skate-park ramp numerous times, but the euphoria of triumphing over the speed of light is never diminished.
That is, until I fall.
Having lost all control of my rollerblade wheels, I plummet towards the cold grey concrete below. As I fall, the world whizzes around me as if I’m suspended in a whirlwind of pandemonium, sending great waves of panic and perplexity through my body. All of a sudden, I notice how sheer the ramp is and my bewilderment turns to sheer terror. I see my arms flailing helplessly at my sides and my legs moving erratically as if they’re detached from my body, as if they belong to somebody else entirely.
Blood; weakness; then just disorientation.
You see yourself standing in a sports shop, wavering; deliberating. You’re positioned in the aisle which promises protection. The skating pads hang casually on their racks, as if waiting expectantly for you to pick them up, ignoring their steep price; assuming that you- like everyone else- value your life over your money. Your mother’s voice rings in your ears, echoes around your heart, sends urgent messages to your brain imploring for you to think logically; stay safe; to not do anything rash. You turn a deaf ear to her pleas. All you do is shake your head. Hesitantly, you take one deep breath; you turn away.
The skating pads are pleading with you, desperately trying to reason with the screen of stubbornness that is blocking your mind. It’s almost as if they can visualise the accident that would happen in under a month, as if they hear the loud thud and then silence; as if they smell the blood that will painfully trickle from fresh, open wounds…
I wake up in a daze of discomfort and self-accusation. Disconcerting images of what I did and what I should have done hurtle around my brain, whilst the feeling of guilt accumulates until its smothering me in a choking embrace and practically exceeding the pain of my broken bones and shredded skin.
Powerless over the raging tempest of emotions in my heart, I focus on the future. My imagination conjures up the image of a young woman standing in a sports shop. She stands erect; straighter and more confidently than the last time she was there, and her face expresses experience- experience of being through pain, but conquering it. Arriving at the racks which hold the skating pads, however, a haunting glance of agony flutters through her eyes. It seems, for a moment, that the pain will grip her with an iron fist and hurl her once again into the depths of despair, but she is able to overpower it.
Tentatively, she lowers herself towards the skating pads and pulls a packet off the racks.
The following day, among the multitudes of people, a girl perches at the top of a skatepark ramp. An almost-invisible, almost-healed gash frames her face, concealed beneath her fortitude. The sun smiles down at her, sending rays of light ricocheting off her brand-new protective gear. With immense skill, like an eagle, she spreads out her new-found wings of freedom and gracefully swoops down, past her fears.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Chava Bayles with Like an Eagle. Chava’s Like an Eagle is a story of fear and injury overcome. A roller-skating accident makes the narrator realise the extreme danger this ever-popular sport entails. Though warned by her mother, the speaker is dismissive. She will indulge her yearning, experience the thrill of sweeping into the air, defying gravity and hoping to land safely.
When this does not happen, we have the ‘broken bones and shredded skin’ caused by the impact on the hard, unyielding concrete ramp, but she is undeterred. Soon, already recovered, she goes to the sport shop to buy more equipment, ready to defy gravity once more, but this time with the grace and power of an eagle. Well written and enjoyable.
The sun beams down and reflects on the smooth blue pond as she elegantly strides forwards, her glowing, amber eyes glittering in the golden evening light. Her paws pound the earth as her muscles ripple from shoulder to shoulder. She treads over the stones that stretch out like wet dragon scales. She dips her paw into the water sending uniform waves across the pond. Standing still, she stares at her reflection, noticing a deep gash on the side of her cheek.
The smell of blood fills her nose. She doesn’t even know whose it is; she just hopes it is theirs. In the distance, the wind dances through the broad, lush green leaves as she hears the sound of birds chirping in the distance. Suddenly, the sharp sound of a footstep crunching the vast carpet of leaves breaks her thoughts. Her head makes an abrupt turn, and her eyes reveal the deep sense of threat.
She remembers what they did to her precious child, how they treated him- as if he was just a part of their cunning plan. She remembers his desperate cries, the agonising pain he faced. Her entire being burns with shame at the memory of how she had failed to protect him.
Now she hides behind a tall, sturdy tree in the hope that the monsters are not back again. She tries to blend in with her surroundings, allowing the tangled, overgrown vines to drape in front of her. It is her home, why do they keep intruding? Why do they want to hurt her? She hears one man shout ‘l see it’ as the other pulls out a colossal rifle from behind them. She recognises their smell – the unmistakable stench of human desire. She hears the cutting sound of the trigger being pulled; an explosion of colour and movement as the jungle panics with her. The sky vanishes, covered by a thousand birds in flight. The bullet is hurtling towards her at an unimaginable pace. It skims her chin, and, in that moment, she is overwhelmed with a sense of relief that she is still alive, but the feeling is short-lived.
She needs to do something. She needs to protect herself. She pounces like the evil predator they think she is. A high-pitched shrill pierces her ears as she knocks one of the savages down to the ground, tearing his flesh, while the other freezes with fear in her imposing presence. He reaches for his menacing weapon as she pants in horror. The end is in sight. He aims; everything seems to slow down; he fires his gun with all his might.
All she sees is a stroke of bright red upon her orange and black canvas.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Highly Commended: Isabelle Marie Ramos with Hunted. The struggle between man and beast is primordial. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the odds were heavily stacked against the animal. Rifles, nets, traps made the animal an easy target. Now we have acknowledged our killer instinct and have grown in awareness of animal rights.
Isabelle’s story harks back to an earlier time when hunters killed indiscriminately and thoughtlessly. An animal has lost her young and is now fleeing the hunters. However, they are now closing in and the animal can smell ‘the unmistakable stench of human desire.’ Though the animal evades the first shot, she falls victim to the second shot after killing one of the cruel hunters.
Isabelle’s story is fast-paced, exciting and very well-crafted. Those who still derive a perverse pleasure from killing animals, should learn a lesson from reading Isabelle’s story.
‘The Forgotten Past’
I gaze deeply into my grandfather’s eyes. His deep, dark eyes that tell a thousand stories without saying a word. Oh how I wish we could turn back time to a place before Alzheimer’s invaded my grandfather’s mind. I hold his hand closely in mine and wait for some response. Slowly, his eyes widen and he starts stuttering a story he has told me many times before in the past, about his grandparents and how they met.
As a young boy, my grandfather Papi, remembers the true love story of how his grandparents met. Papi’s grandmother, Rachel, was a young Jewish woman being forced to marry another Jew whom she didn’t love. Papi’s grandfather, Ernesto, was a young Catholic priest who never thought he would ever fall in love. This all changed one day when their paths crossed. It was love at first sight. Despite all their efforts to not let themselves fall in love with each other, it seemed fate had brought them together.
They secretly started spending time with each other without their family knowing. Rachel’s parents were very strict Jews and she knew that they would never accept her marrying someone out of the Jewish faith, let alone a Catholic priest! Ernesto’s parents were true Christians who were very proud of his dedication to God. Rachel and Ernesto knew that their relationship would also be a big scandal in their community.
Eventually, after some time, their families found out about their relationship. Rachel’s family was furious and disowned her as she brought shame to the family. Ernesto was forced to leave the priesthood. They decided to flee their country with the little belongings they had in search of a new place to live, somewhere where they could start a new life together and live happily.
With very little money and no help from their families, Rachel and Ernesto managed to cross the border into Gibraltar in 1898. Life wasn’t easy at first as they had to live with very little, but their love continued to grow stronger and stronger. They married in 1901 and went on to have six children; one of them being my great grandfather, Pepe. Rachel and Ernesto both settled very well into the Gibraltar community. Ernesto became a successful businessman and Rachel, apart from being a good wife and mother, found time to help many local Gibraltarians who needed food and shelter.
The story of Rachel and Ernesto and how they overcame all the challenges they faced with love and strength is one I know my Papi is very proud of.
After he tells me the story, Papi’s face goes blank and his eyes widen and darken. Once again, he has gone back to his look of confusion and forgetfulness. As I look at his face, I wonder what other stories of the past are going through his mind.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: Olivia Desoisa with The Forgotten Past. It is still the case that mixed marriages are frowned upon. Olivia’s story is a moving account of a loving relationship between a Jewish woman, Rachel, and a Catholic priest, Ernesto. Both are caught in the moral straight jacket of their respective communities: marrying outside the Jewish fold is seen as a catastrophe; a Catholic priest is bound by a vow of chastity to remain sexually unattached. But their love is stronger than the artificial bonds created by man. Rachel and Ernesto marry, have six children and become successful members of Gibraltar society.
Movingly, the story is related to the narrator by her grandad who is suffering from Alzheimer. It seems the poignant recollection of his grandparents is the only time when the illness loses its grip on his mind, and he is lucid. Though the story is called The Forgotten Past, it is lovingly re-created by the narrator’s grandfather. An example of ‘love conquers all things.’
This is the exciting story of a travelling seed.
At the beginning the departure was a traumatic experience. I had got used to the comfort of being snuggled cosily deep inside the fruit of the tree; but the force of nature dictated that is was time to go. By some inexplicable but preordained force of nature I was spat out of my previous comfortable existence into the scary, unpredictable world out there.
There was a ferociously gusty easterly wind that day — it felt as if it was of hurricane proportions probably due to my miniscule measurements, as, I was only, after all, a small, tiny, insignificant seed, in this big, wide world.
In a flash – the winds were that strong- I was crossing blue and beautiful oceans with out any breaks in my journey.
I quickly arrived at a yellowish green place where there was lots of plant life and it was very, but very hot. At the beginning I was scared because everything was new for me. My neighbour was a palm tree boasting a radiant beauty and majesty, the likes of which I had only previously dreamed of. The tree’s shadow alleviated somewhat the suffocating heat of the day, making my stay in that paradisical place that much easier and pleasant.
I began to notice changes in me, these strange things started to sprout quickly out of my tiny body. I soon learnt they enabled me to eat and drink making me stronger and stronger. These were what I was told later are called roots.
I noticed that the desert air, the warm and the beautiful sunsets made me feel stronger and more self-confident every day. I felt very good about myself.
Over time I realised that I had travelled to the wonderful African continent, and I would stay here forever. Soon my own fruit-seed would travel like I had done, helped by the wonderful force of nature to other continents where they would find their place in this miraculous circle that is life.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Marco Charles Bossino with My Journey. Jesus’s parable of the sower who went to sow his seeds comes to mind when you read Marco’s story. The seeds grew or withered according to the nature of the soil. Here, the seed is variously treated: the gusty Levanter tosses the seed about; other winds send it flying across the ocean until it is lodged under a palm tree, which provides shelter from the stifling heat. Eventually, the seed sprouts roots which mean permanent residence in the ‘wonderful African continent.’
This is a very pleasant and engaging story-plants have their own adventures and Marco has provided us with an evocative picture of one of them.
It was the thirteenth day of the year. The low-hanging clouds clutched the limestone rock. I walked to school, holding up my umbrella and grasping the four-leafed clover that Tango had sniffed out for me at the Commonwealth Park. I could feel the place where he had licked me before I left. His rough tongue brushing against my cheek. His slow breaths warm above the neckline of my collar.
When I arrived at school I was drenched. Rain pounded down and the classroom windows rattled. Our view of the sea and ununiformed buildings was blurred, and it felt like my eyes wore a veil. All I could think of was his sad eyes staring up at me from his green tartan bed, his white feet sticking out from underneath his blanket.
The clock on the classroom wall was broken so I had no way of telling the time, but that lesson was endless. The old bell finally rang; there was a sudden rush and children started flooding out of the classroom door.
Stepping out of the class I was hit by a sheet of rain. The palm tree writhed in front of me, aching for shelter. My feet were wet from the water and there were hazy children all around me fighting their way out of the front entrance.
I reached into the pocket of my blazer, but I couldn’t find the four-leafed clover.
Arriving at home I ran straight to the kitchen. Mum’s cheeks were stained with mascara-infused tears. Tango’s pink frisbee was not under the sink. His tartan bed was not by the oven. His ceramic food bowl was not next to the door.
Tango was gone. He loved me when I was mean; he loved me when I was upset; he loved me when I was shouted at. When Mum hugged me, I could still smell Tango on her clothes.
I thought the love he had for me would fade but I can still feel it warm in my heart.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Highly Commended: Miriam Natasha Ramagge with Tango. Miriam has written an engaging story about a family who is heart-broken when a much-loved dog disappears.
Ominously, it’s the thirteenth of January and the weather is abysmal. Unlucky day and bad weather serve to presage disaster. However, the four-leaved clover the narrator holds in her hand is a sign of good luck and prosperous times.
Nonetheless, after a sad day at school, the speaker makes her way home, having noticed the four-leaved clover has disappeared. The absence of this talisman means the worst prognostication will be fulfilled and this is confirmed when mother appears tear-stained and there is no sign of Tango in the kitchen. Tango was obviously the family pet, much doted on by everyone but, mysteriously, it has gone missing. Marco’s story is a lesson in growing up and having to face disappointment.
‘The Missing Sock’
Claire was wearing her favourite neon pink socks. It was a cold crisp morning, so she needed her long over the knees’ pair to keep her legs warm at the skate park.
After skating for a few hours with her friends, Claire was covered in splashes of mud, which she loved, as it meant they had worked hard at their tricks.
On arriving home her mum took one look at her and told her to take everything off and put it straight into the washing machine.
The next morning her washed clothes were on her bed ready to wear; mum had managed to get the mud out. Claire was so happy; her favourite socks were clean again to wear for the second day running, but only one sock was there!
She asked her mum where it was, she looked in the washing machine … nothing was there and no one had seen it. Where could it be? She had heard about the mystery of the odd socks where pairs of socks go into the washing machine and only one comes out. Where do they all go Claire wondered. She wanted her favourite sock back.
She suddenly thought, maybe mice were stealing the single socks to make their beds, with the world’s underground mice cities full of them in all different colours and sizes
Or … maybe washing machines were coming alive and eating them
Or … maybe her dog fluffy had taken the sock to bury it in the garden. It must be the same with all dogs around the world and missing socks. She imagined mounds of earth appearing on people’s perfect lawns like mole hills.
She searched for hours getting more and more confused. The sock never turned up.
After tea, her mum asked her to make her bed ready for bedtime. Still sad, Claire went to her room. She picked up her fresh pillowcase, sheet and duvet cover; fresh sheets were the best for a good night’s sleep. Almost done, shaking out her duvet cover, something pink flew out…the missing sock mystery was solved!
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Winner: Poppy Brown with The Missing Sock. What a delightful story about a missing sock! You would think there isn’t much to say about a sock, but Poppy has teased out a great deal of humour and human interest from a seemingly unpromising incident.
Where indeed do missing socks end up? Claire has her theories, and they are quite ingenious: mice steal them, washing machines gobble them up, dogs inter them in the garden. However, Claire’s missing sock has not undergone any of these mishaps. It’s tangled up in the duvet and reappears! Funny, light-hearted and very enjoyable to read. Well done.
‘The War Was Over’
The war was over. Everybody was cheering while the Russians and the Americans came galloping in but I knew chaos was about to strike while everybody was filled with delight.
I went back home and had wine soup for dinner. We only had wine left in the cellar and some occasional butter or chocolate bars that the Americans had distributed. We were used to eating so little my stomach could barely take a spoonful of anything. We had been poor, cold and hungry for so long we were just used to it. We lived in East Germany and thought that the end of the war would finally return or freedom and we would finally get on with our lives. However, things took a turn to worse. Life was very difficult with the Russian soldiers crowding and managing our town. It was just me and my mother. We were defenceless. Every time a Russian soldier would knock on our door we would hide underneath the table because we were so scared. Ultimately, we decided to escape to West Germany.
We started planning our escape. We were petrified but at the same time thrilled with the idea of having a new life. Crossing to west Germany was a dangerous and perilous journey and knew that if we got caught we would die…
We had mapped out where all the police controls were to make sure to avoid them. We left our home with everything we owned, and started our journey. We spent many days walking through thick forest and sometimes heavy snow. My feet were full of blisters and my body was tired and cold. We finally reached the border. I had been saving all my energy for this moment. My mother and I started to sprint as we had to cross the last police control; we did not look back and ran as swiftly as possible, not looking back. We were not stopped. We finally made it. We were free.
Based on my Grandmother’s life story.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Runner-up: Alvaro Ventosa Fabrega with The War Was Over. With the fall of Nazi Germany, many people caught in the conflict yearned for peace and prosperity. However, those who found themselves ‘liberated’ by the Red Army were terribly disappointed. The Russians were as brutal and merciless as the defeated Nazis.
Alvaro’s story gives us a glimpse of a poor family, mother and child, caught up in the chaos of East Germany, where life was bleak, grim and, sometimes, brief. They decide to make a bid for a better life. Luckily, they make it to the border, after trudging through snow, suffering from the intense cold and having literally to run for their lives to reach the safety of West Germany. With the war still raging in Ukraine, this story is topical and, at the same time, heartening.
Once upon a time there was a thirteen-year-old boy called Baptiste who lived in French Alps. He studied well and was the best swimmer in the class. His mother was French, and his father was Italian. He became friends with a boy who was Swedish in his class and so he started studying Swedish. His mum was telling him that he would never need Swedish, but Baptiste was not listening and kept studying. Baptiste played with his Swedish friend Tait who was very sporty too.
When Baptiste was fifteen the Second World War began. Italy invaded French Alps. His father Arman was jailed by the French for being Italian. His mother Arana decided to flee France. Baptiste told his mum that they should go to Sweden because Sweden was not occupied by Germans, and it was safe. He learned that from his friend Tait. His mother was a teacher of French language at school and his mum didn’t want to go to Sweden because it would be very hard to find a job and that no one would want to learn French in the Second World War.
One day a bomb fell on their neighbor’s house and everybody in the house died. It was Tait’s house, and he was only 15. It was very scary, and they decided that they were going to go to Sweden. Baptiste had to drop his school. It took them three weeks to get to Sweden by train and then by boat and they were out of money, so they decided that Baptiste was going to feed the family by being a swimming instructor to Swedish children because he spoke Swedish.
He was teaching swimming from 5 am till 3:30 pm. But being a swimming instructor wasn’t enough, so Baptiste started also working as a chef assistant in the evenings for three restaurants.
When the war ended his father was released and joined them in Sweden and they opened a French restaurant together, rented a nice house and went on holidays to America.
Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:
Highly Commended: Alexander James Perry with Baptiste’s Journey. It’s incredible that in the global age, and after the digital revolution, there are still dissenting voices in Gibraltar about the need to learn, speak and write Spanish. Alexander’s inspiring story should be an object lesson in the utility of learning and practising as many languages as possible.
Baptiste learns Swedish with his friend, even though his mother thinks the language will never prove useful. A series of events: the outbreak of war, his father’s arrest, the tragic death of his Swedish friend, make it imperative for them to seek a better and safer life in Sweden, a neutral country, unoccupied by the Germans. Once there, Baptiste can work as a swimming instructor, and as an assistant chef, all made possible by his ability to speak and understand Swedish!
Well done, Alexander, and I sincerely hope those language bigots will overcome their linguistic prejudice.