And the winner of the August writing challenge is…
Accolades where they’re due
We’d like to congratulate the winners of the August competition, which challenged you to write a scene set on or around water.
Our winner, who will receive a token from an independent book store of her choice, is Lauren Smith for her taut and enigmatic piece, which we found deeply compelling. The runner up is Ingrid Ross, for her portrait of a state of mind, filled with small domestic details which point outward to a larger reality.
We had a record number of excellent entries this month, so we have many special mentions: Penny Castle, Pamela Williams, Liz Dewing and Frankie Francis, who wrote from the perspective of a rabid jackal.
And lastly, you know you’ve been around a long time when members of your community are joined by their children. Richard and Jo-Anne pick the winners blind, so we certainly didn’t do this on purpose.
We were thrilled to discover that one of our special mentions was among our very first Creative Writing participants, Mandy Collins – and another, her daughter Samantha.
Here are all the stories:
I used to hate drinking water. Eight glasses a day, my mother insisted. She’d measure them out in a jug she made me finish. It tasted like emptiness to me.
Then someone – someone –taught me to think of water as love, and suddenly I drank as much as I could swallow.
It poured the night I finally invited Lee to sleep over. After breakfast, he helped me empty overflowing tubs of rainwater into my bath, relic of a luxury I had to let go.
‘You take this drought very seriously.’ He was standing – uncomplaining – in mud because I’d recently ripped up the lawn for being greedy.
I said, ‘Someone once told me that droughts will wither your heart.’ Was that too intimate? I kept talking. ‘You know how, when you’re broke, you regret every frivolous, unsatisfying thing you ever wasted your money on? Well, if we run out of water, I don’t want to be longing for a shower, remembering how I kept the grass green and my car shiny.’
He laughed, but he was slow and gentle with the next bucket, pouring it into the bath as smoothly as a drink.
I thought about water being love, but also the stuff of miracles and transformations. I took a deep breath. ‘Would you like a glass of wine? We still have last night’s bottle.’
He looked a little alarmed, but intrigued. ‘It’s 11am.’
I shrugged. ‘It’s Sunday. We can drink it slowly … I didn’t make any plans but you.’
Ingrid Ross – Drowning in a teaspoon of water
A teaspoon of water. A sink full of dishes. Perhaps just the immensity of an angry ocean? All seemed about the same to her that day.
She woke dejected and lay there, motionless. Maybe if she didn’t move the day would not know she was there and simply continue on without her. Perhaps it would pass her by without incidence or injury.
07:47am. No messages. She placed her phone back down next to her empty wine glass and got up.
The kitchen was a mess. She had one rule and one rule only, never to leave it that way. Nothing ruins your morning coffee more than fighting for counter space in your own home. The sink full of dishes brought back annoying childhood memories. She opened the empty dishwasher, stared blankly into it and closed it again. Maybe if she turned on the little green lights of her Nespresso machine, George Clooney would appear?
The ocean seemed recriminating that morning. She was there to run. To pretend to run. To pretend to live. She wasn’t sure. She ran anyway. Every step she willed the day away. With every bead of sweat she searched for something more. Something less, perhaps? She was terrified of the sea and its deafening judgmental waves. But she ran along it everyday, nonetheless. Like a scolding teacher, it watched her. She ran anyway.
Today, yesterday, tomorrow. All lay in a sink of dirty dishes. All judged by an immense ocean. All drowning in a teaspoon of water….
The chlorine stings my eyes. I blink. Shards of sunlight glitter against the chip-tile bottom of the pool. The hem of my faded t-shirt floats upwards, oblivious to the panic and pressure swelling in my chest. White-hot air smoulders and expands behind my pubescent breasts. I can feel my ribs spreading wider and wider, pulling at the seams of my end-of-summer-saggy swimsuit.
The air would push me to the surface if it weren’t for the rigid, uncompromising fingers curled around the neck of my shirt. I wriggle and the fist clenches tighter around the fabric. His knuckles bump against the back of my head. He pushes me down; further from the surface.
A bead of air leaks from my nostril. I tighten the muscles in my neck, trying to create a lock that will keep the air safely in my lungs. My cheeks bag out. Pressurised blood fizzes against the back of my eyes. The light begins to dim and I feel the tickle of bubbles as they trickle out through my mouth, up and across my cheek.
I reach around my neck and peck at the hand.
One. Two. Three.
The hand releases. My feet find the pool bottom and I push up with mouth open; ready to suck in the summer-sweet air. I break the water’s surface heaving and shuddering and gulping.
“Very good,” my brother consults my Christmas-present-stop-watch, “you added another five seconds to your record.”
Pamela Williams – Lament
He had been walking his dog when she beckoned to him from a rocky promontory close to the cliff path. A rather shabbily dressed woman, probably in late middle age, he guessed. Yet another beggar? Automatically he felt in his trouser pocket for loose change, but she dismissed his gesture with the lift of an eyebrow.
Meanwhile Taffy had been straining at his leash to reach her. Sniffed her ankles, wagged his tail, acknowledging her pedigree.
‘I wonder whether I could I ask you to do something for me, please?’ she said.
The cultured accent came as a surprise.
‘May I sing for you? You see, today is an anniversary.’
A strange request, but it could do no harm to humour her. Wondering what to expect, he agreed and she turned to gaze across the bay, to search the sea, to look toward the barely visible lighthouse on the smudged horizon. Gathered herself.
‘Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly
blow the wind southerly, south o’er the sea . . .’
A rich contralto, a trained voice.
‘. . . but my eye cannot see it
wherever might be it
the bark that is bearing
my lover to me . . .’
The song ended and, still staring into the distance, she slowly shook her head.
‘He never did come back, you know.’
Then she drew her sagging cardigan about her like a velvet cloak, nodded to him as if bestowing a knighthood and walked away, her proud back disappearing among the fynbos.
And he was left listening to the sound of the sea sobbing far below.
I’m starting to feel a bit silly avoiding this Flotation Tank for so long. Malcolm nagged for months to get me to try it out and he’s dead right, it IS helping. I feel ever so much better and I’ve only been in here about 20 minutes…I think? The girl who helped me in was lovely; Oriental type – All bird bones and coffee skin with that gorgeous shiny black hair. My goodness, I wonder how they keep it so smooth like that? Asked if I wanted music but I said no thank you! Who knows what they would’ve put on… stupid whale song nonsense, or worse. I had to listen to a whole hour of Indian chanting once. God knows how anyone finds that ruckus relaxing; It’s just uncivilised if you ask me. Now this, I think I could actually like. I thought it would feel too claustrophobic inside a closed box but it’s not at all – It’s more like floating in the night sky, like I can see stars when I open my eyes even though it’s completely black…..and the water’s quite extraordinary. So odd how you sort of float ON it rather than IN it. That’s what the Dead Sea’s like I believe. Just don’t put your face in! My friend Carol made that mistake and lived to regret it. I’m sure it’s been longer than an hour. This water’s starting to feel a little chilly. I wonder how Malcom knew that girl’s name?
Frankie Francis – Instinct
My nose twitches with the ache for water. But wait. It’s that sour man-smell as well. My hackles bristle.
“Nyaa-a-a-a. Nyaa-a-a-a.” I hesitate. My mate is calling from the den. The pups will be safe.
I slink closer to the man’s lair, and collapse on an alien-smelling softness. My parched tongue flops into a shiny bowl full of life-giving water, leaving in its wake a trail of slimy saliva dribbling out of my mouth.
Why are these beasts barking at me? I reach forward to scent, only to get a nip from the short-legged black and white one. He belongs to man. Like me, and yet not like me.
“Don’t touch. The jackal’s rabid. Shoot him,” Man grunts.
My body’s burning. Is it fire? My head wants to explode. I struggle onto my feet. I must away from these offensive smells. I skulk outside the fence and scrabble under a thorn bush. Why can’t my eyes focus?
Somehow, my belly scraping the rough ground, I slide down the bank towards the hazy kaleidoscope of shimmering blues and greens.
Nyaa-a-a-a. Nyaa-a-a-a.” My mate is beckoning.
Keep moving. The scent of algae and fish are stronger. Frogs. My front paws slip on the muddy bank.
I crawl slowly into the murky water, and drink deeply.
“Thwack.” That enemy sound again. I must run, but my body jerks. There is new pain. Spine curdling pain. Then nothing, as I sink into the silky smoothness of the lake. And eternity.
Fuck. He should have listened to Miranda when he was packing. This fucking aeroplane bathroom was too fucking small to do anything in.
Where was the fucking hairdryer? Weren’t they standard by now?! Oh. No. He’d got it wrong again. He kept getting things wrong. It was hotel bathrooms that had hairdryers, not planes.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. This was taking too long. People were starting to knock on the door. But he couldn’t go out. Not like this. Not now.
He perched on the tiny seat, goosebumps cresting on his thighs, cold seeping through his socks. The stain had spread; an inkblot of shame.
“Hey, buddy! You gonna be much longer?”
“Yeah. Um, no. Just a minute!”
Maybe if he pushed the call button, summoned a crew member. But which would be more embarrassing – a woman or one of those disgustingly camp men? He’d have to open the door. And what could they really do to help, anyway?
He should just have listened to Miranda. He should have packed some extra pants, extra underwear, and more of those goddamn pads.
And he should never have had that extra glass of water.
Life is but a dream
Row row row your boat…
The stars are reflected in the water lapping up the sides of my boat. I shiver and wrap my arms around myself. The night is colder than I am prepared for and I can’t help but wish I had packed some hot chocolate.
Gently down the stream…
I look back to the shore. Our cabin is still dark. My plan is working so far. No one’s woken up yet. No one’s found my empty bed or deserted clothing. I should be back by dawn before they wake up.
Merrily merrily merrily merrily…
I continue to row the boat to the middle of the lake. I stop and settle down. Gentle waves make the boat bob up and down. I could almost fall asleep here.
Except then I’d miss it.
I lean back and look up at the sky. The stars are everywhere; I can see what feels like be our entire galaxy. Our family came out here for the stars. Here the stars are uninterrupted.
There are no street lamps or tall buildings trying to outshine them. Tonight, the moon is a sliver of its former self; barely visible in the night sky with its soft glow.
At 12.03am it finally happens. The night sky lights up with shooting stars. They fly in all directions, creating streaks of glittering lights that slice through the blackness. The meteor shower lasts for an hour before fading away. I sit stationary on my boat in silent awe.
Life is but a dream.