In the last two weeks, since launching my writing competition, I’ve been inundated with well over a hundred short stories. I’ve been swept away to Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Beirut, Bangkok, the US, Northern Ireland, and Jamaica. I’ve been whisked back in time to the Suffragette movement, to the Edwardian and Victorian period, to the Second World War and the 50s. I’ve been on the ocean, travelled on trains and planes, and best of all visited alternate realities. I’ve met fortune tellers and Marilyn Monroe and ghosts; and talking trees and dogs.
I had entries from all over the world – long and short, complex and simple, funny and serious. It’s been so hard to choose a winner. I will come to that. Meanwhile, a kind anonymous donor gave me some beautiful hardback books to I can award them to three runners-up. These go to three stories that came so close, which I will share here in the coming weeks.
The Rain Garden by Joanna Campbell.
Mothers by Zuzanne Belec.
Ride The Peter Pan by Allison Whittenberg.
I’ll just mention a few others that affected me. Another Little Morsel was a dark, funny tale about the true power of the book review. A Picked Scab Always Scars, with an opening line of ‘the exquisite pain reminded her of picking her biggest ever scab’ was a gorgeous, angry and clever tale of revenge and pain. A History Of Knitcraft had a beautiful sense of place. The Other Wives was perfect in its simplicity. Herald was a touching tale of longing for lost love. I also enjoyed Bitter Blue, Balloons, and Bittersweet.
Thank you everyone for entertaining me, for making me laugh and cry.
But now, my winner. I chose this one simply because I could not forget it. The words imprinted themselves on my heart. It is simple and effective. For me, true art is speaking directly to your audience. Honesty somehow transcends style and ‘cleverness’ and precise grammar. These things are great, necessary in so many things, but with stories, I need to feel it. Honesty is voice, and for me, that’s what it’s all about.
This is the beautiful Elements of Love by Sarah Starr…
Elements of Love
(Inspired by and in memory of Grenfell)
It snowed the day I wove her golden braids, black ribbons twisting through her luxurious mane of flax. She held her head proudly, but sadness curtained her dark eyes. The sky, still grey from soot and ash, held the further surprise of frosted sugar as I led her prettily from her stall.
I remembered the day my sister had leant over the railings above me, her hair the same gilded hue, her laughing eyes obscured from my view. She enjoyed affecting flight, arms outstretched to that same sky, then blue as cornflowers and with the promise of endless summer days. That was when bees had circled the tower in search of nectar and pollen for their hive. Seeds drifted on silent thermals with only the birds for company. She saw me way below her and ran inside to meet me.
But soon a dreadful, fateful day exploded. When no rain or snow came forth to quell the burning tongues that mocked and flailed against stone and iron. Writhing and crawling higher and higher the fire broke forth in a raging tornado of destruction. This was to be her epitaph, terror and hopelessness pitted against an unstoppable inferno. This was the element of suffocation, of ultimate chaos and death. There is no comfort knowing she walked the bridge to the next life with our father.
Memories reduced to silt were piled into corners of the home. I scraped up what was left of her books and toys and gently placed them into a small box. It was months later when I found the courage to set them into the sea. My fishing boat at the ready, it was with a heavy heart that I sailed along the Thames, the final journey for the little things that had afforded her so much bliss. The ocean waters lapped up those remains, while I was left with only the memory of another day.
It was a day when the snow settled in soft lace over her coffin, making it seem even more perfect in its simplicity. Then, I backed the flaxen pony between the shafts and buckled her harness, black ribbons in her mane and tail. And as I drove the cart snowflakes melted on my face and mingled with my tears. I watched as she was laid to rest in the soft earth; her home now, for all of eternity. It was then I decided to scatter her ashen playthings into the sea. Standing by the grave I could see her waving to me from her fairy castle. And I knew I would think of her always with every ebb and flow of my breath, every dream I had, and how I would forever love her with every fibre of my being.
Years later flowers laid claim to her grave, along with the bees and the birds. My own child gambols through the graveyard and I call to her. She has the same laugh as my beloved sister and those same laughing eyes. If there is life beyond death, perhaps I can claim to behold it now as I watch her grow. And with time I endeavour to teach her of real joy and hope, of forgiveness and sacrifice, and to open her heart to the endless power of love.