Well done, Jane D’Abbs, for your clever interpretation of the prompts, and your well-executed story with its satisfying twist. Trish will be in touch to find out which independent bookstore you choose to receive your prize from.

A very close runner up this month is Alma van As for her beautifully executed piece, with its great sensory details.

Special mentions go to Florence Onyango, Sherry Woods and Corinne Lamoral Rosmarin.

We would also like to mention two more writers for their creative ideas: Ginny Swart and newcomer Steven Albert.

 

Winner: An Act of Retrieval by Jane D’Abbs

The garden debris burns fiercely in the bonfire. John, in a shambling dance around it, croaks, “Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê, Wat sal jou mama darvan sê.” Clasped to his chest his last painting. The one he completed shortly before his diagnosis. The diagnosis that gave a label to his confusion, the delusions, the hallucinations and his slow retreat inward, away from her and their world together.

It’s a painting of John, Mark his best friend and her. She’s always loved this painting. It captured a moment of pure joy and happiness. In deft brushstrokes it encapsulated the setting sun illuminating the mountains behind them. They are sitting at a table on this very lawn, sipping a Sauvignon Blanc. In the painting she is in her blue floral dress, barefoot, toes buried in grass and laughing. Mark’s head is almost touching hers. His hand rests lightly on her forearm. John is slightly apart, glass in hand. Watching.

Just as suddenly as John started dancing he stops at the edge of the bonfire. His smile is sly and calculating. He flings the painting into the fire. “John! Fergodsake what are you doing?!” She runs towards the fire trying to reach out and grab the painting before it is completely engulfed, but the oil-paint draws the flames to it, burning her hand. “Shit!”

John frowns, then cackles. “You thought I didn’t know, Elsie. But I did! Oh my God I did!”

Just as suddenly he crumples, weeping silently.

Runner up: Anguish by Alma van As

Even in muted light the pyramid of paintings glower at John. He feigns his disregard by walking back inside and snatches the box of matches from the drawer. Should he accelerate the fire with some fuel? Somehow it would seem more malicious.

Back on the lawn, the oblique shapes still slash at his heart. He substitutes the sensation with rage. Keeping them would be too much a reminder of who Elsie once was. A vision of the graceful stroke of a brush in her once graceful hand, transforming a blank canvas into beauty threatens to dislodge him. He had to do this quickly, while he still had the conviction.

The scratch of the matchstick against the coarse side of the box is almost deafening in the quiet of the night. The salty smell crawls up his nose as wisps of ghostlike smoke haunt him above the flickering amber flare.

The bitterness of his deed weighs on his tongue as he holds the match close to the pile. The flame licks the watercolour once and then flickers and vanishes as if rejected with acrimony. He strikes another match and this time shelters it from any distraction.

The fire coils around the frame then gropes at the artwork. John, oblivious to the scorching as the hairs on the back of his hand crumple into a messy web, seizes Elsie’s creation through the threatening blaze. Doused against the damp grass, it hisses in relief.

 

Special mentions:

 Elsie’s Hands by Florence Onyango

The kettle’s whistle awakens Elsie from her sedative languor. The fervent intrigue of a van Gogh-esque artist has long since cooled just like the rising steam. Elsie looks down at her gloved hands and a bitter pine of regret dries her throat, all the hours and money she had spent on her hands she could have traveled far and beyond. She slowly tags the fingers off the glove on her right hand and pulls till it comes loose. Of all the beautiful words he had used to describe her hands, not one was of her mind or spirit and the thousands of paintings of her hands, not one of her face. She picks up the kettle and pours the scalding water over her bare hand. She drops the kettle as the pain scathes her hand. John rushes into the kitchen, he grabs her hand and weeps in devastation as he kisses it.

As she treats her hand and packs her suitcase, she hears John’s rage stir a storm, splintering wood and glasses smashing. She walks out the front door to find John burning all the paintings of her hands.

Sherry Woods

It was hot in her studio, stifling hot.  Elsie wiped the sweat from her brow, but it kept trickling down into her eyes, across her cheeks and she tasted its saltiness on her lips.  She stared at the painting across the room.  The painting she loved and loathed.  The painting she’d created.  The painting that had caused so much pain in her family.  John, in particular, was suffering because of the painting.  Her hand ached from struggling to get it out of his grasp earlier.  Her palm was red, her fingers sore and she was sure her wrist would be swollen in the morning.

Abruptly, she turned and left the studio.  She marched back to the house and headed for the kitchen.  She contemplated a drink but settled on a cup of tea in the heat.  She was frazzled, nervous, after their argument.  The house was quiet.  Elsie wondered where John had gone.

Was that burning she could detect in the air?  She hurried to the kitchen window.  Her breath caught in her throat.  John was out on the lawn.  He was burning the painting.  She ran out of the house screaming and launched herself at the charred, crumbling ruin of her artwork.  She turned and said, “How could you?  How could you?”  John simply said, “No portrait of our son is going to bring him back Elsie.  No painting of our dead boy will restore him to our lives.”  He turned away as she fell to her knees sobbing.

Corinne Lamoral Rosmarin

Staring at the painting, John can’t believe he’s never noticed it before.  The wound is rich brocade red, like it was meant to be a decoration on her sleeves, but he sees now clearly – it is an injury. The thin strips of red trailing down her left hand are not ribbons but blood.  His mother’s other hand lies pale and useless across her lap.  Elsie’s smile had always seemed slight and distracted; now it looks pained, wary. The sewing basket, painted in thick oils, spills in front of her and lying at an angle is a pair of discarded heron bird sewing scissors.  Beak sharp and pointed. His father said it was an accident. John casts back, remembering Malcolm’s strangely calm face and the strong smell of paint and turps on his hands as he came to tell them the news. Bile rises in his throat as he lifts the painting up, so much lighter than the life it held.  Shaking, he walks outside onto the sloping green of his father’s front lawn, with a box of matches clutched in his hands.

Mixed Media by Ginny Swart 

“This studio of yours is a tip, John.”  Elsie surveyed her husband’s sanctuary and scowled. “I’m coming in here tomorrow to clean up, no matter what you say.”

“Leave it alone, woman.”

This little wooden hut at the end of the garden was the only place John could call his own. The room where he could escape her eternal nagging about his personal habits and her moaning about everything else: the idiotic students, the corrupt politicians, the noisy neighbours and their dogs all withered under her corrosive droning tongue.

John’s protests about privacy were in vain. The following morning she marched in, bucket and duster in hand.

“Call this splodge a painting?” Else glared at his current work on the easel and flicked her duster over it derisively.

“Ouch! “ Blood poured from her fingers.

 “No, I don’t call it a painting, it’s a mixed media work,” he said calmly. “Subtle arrangements of bark and mirrors and glass fragments. Maybe you should see to your hand.”

His wife didn’t return that morning and when he went into the house for lunch, he wasn’t surprised to find Elsie on her back. Quite dead.

Right, time to bury the Phyllobates in the deeper recesses of the garden

Wonderful what exotic things one could order on Amazon

The tiny yellow dart frog had succumbed to the postal journey but the deadly effects from its poisonous skin had served him well and instantaneously. Just as advertised.

But first, he’d burn that picture.

Steven Albert

It was the same thing every time. Whenever anybody came round, she’d take them off to show them the painting. They’d stand there with a glass of wine and talk about the colours and technique and God knows what else. They’d talk and talk and talk. Then she’d bring them round to John, who’d probably be fixing the lawnmower or something, and they’d say things like “Wow John, that’s such am amazing panting! Are you going to do any more?” It was driving him mad. He’d painted it for Elsie. For her alone. For his love for her. Why did she have to show it to everybody? Every time she showed another stranger that painting, it took something away from what it meant for him. It ate away at him a little more each time. She didn’t speak to him about the painting, she spoke to them about the painting, and about him, through the painting, to them.

One day, John could not take it anymore. He took the painting off the wall and out to the backyard. He poured paraffin over it and set it alight. Elsie saw the bright orange flames leap up and came running out, screaming “What have you done? What are you doing?!” She instinctively tried to grab the frame, burning her hand. John rushed forward and scooped her up out of harm’s way, “It was only you, it was always just you” he said, shaking his head, brushing the hair from her face.

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