November/December writing challenge results
We have invited the finalists onto the stage, we’ve examined them carefully as they paraded their virtues and their finery, and we have come to our decision. Yes, the winner and runners-up of our final writing challenge of the year have been selected. First past the post, remember, gets a free pass to our new, glittering Creative Writing Day-by-Day coaching programme, which kicks off on January 22.
The runners-up don’t go away empty handed. Each of them gets a R500 voucher which they can redeem when booking onto any one of our 2018 courses.
And the winner is…
(Drum roll. Trumpets sound.)
… For her sassy story (with lots of heart): Bonnie Espie. Well done, Bonnie. We’ll see you on the Day-by-Day next year!
And the runners up, in alphabetical order, for stories that contained neat twists, some elegant phrasing, and a lot of energy: Nina Gerber, Raj Isaac, Tayla Kaplan, Katoji Le Roux, Ingrid van den Berg and Chantel Venter.
Congratulations to all of you – and to all of the many others who took on the challenge. Writing, remember, is always its own reward.
“Howzit doll, same outfit you wore to Shamus’s barmitzvah? Purple makes you look peaky you know,” she said striding across the cavernous entrance hall, “No, no Josephine, knife blades should be facing towards the plate, wine glasses to the right of the place setting just above the table knife. We’re having red and white so a glass for each. Honestly, finding good help is impossible, but at least this one doesn’t smell like a cattle kraal.”
“Doll, look what Hymie bought me for our anniversary.” She dug through a pile of jewellery that sat in a confused heap on the kitchen counter. “I’d just been creaming my hands. The new La Prairie Cellular hand crème. You should try it for those age-spots you know.” She proffered her hand, sporting a hulking ring on a skinny finger. I resisted the urge to mock, drop to my knee and kiss her sun exposed skin. Her nails were shaped to a feline-like point.
“It’s a pink diamond, one carat. Of course, we’re drinking Veuve Clicquot, Rosé Brut tonight. A special vintage, expensive, but hey, can’t take it with you,” her smoker’s laugh sounding more like a cough. “I know what you’re thinking, that I shouldn’t be wearing it on my wedding finger. Fuck tradition I say.”
Our Bubbe had risked her life smuggling a small ruby wedding ring out of Poland. The band was worn thin. Delicate and dainty it lay like an orphan amongst fatted cousins on the kitchen counter.
It was a week later when she phoned. “We fired that Josephine you know. You can’t trust any of them. She stole Bubbe’s ring. Denied it of course, but hey,” she screeched.
The ring hung on string between my breasts, hidden, but close to my heart.
Forgive me Josephine.
With tears of triumph in my eyes I embraced the man of my dreams. After years of waiting in the wings, being there for him whenever he needed a shoulder or someone to confide in, he had finally married me. Such a catch. Blue eyes, dark hair, tanned and muscular, he was a dream come true.
Flash lights popped and friends and relatives clapped and whistled as we sealed our love with a kiss at the alter. Then we turned and left the church to the wedding march, I love tradition and my white dress and veil were a vision I had dwelt on for years. My bouquet of peach roses matched the peach silk waistcoat Terry wore under his grey morning suit.
I was in heaven. As we stood for photos outside the church two small girls in matching peach dresses ran up to me. How sweet I thought, but then froze as the eldest said shyly,
“Hello, may we call you Mum?”
The drum roll silences the buzz of the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present to you the winners of ‘Strictly Ballroom 2017’ … Nadia and Neil!” The audience erupts as the couple take their position on the dance floor. The lights dim. The fans fall silent. The band strikes the first note.
It was fascination I know… the singer croons in silky tones.
The couple waltz across the dance floor, the spotlight keeping pace. Applause greets every weave, sway and spin.
Just a passing glance/Just a brief romance…
She in shimmering blue and gold, he in black and white, glide three steps to the bar, their hearts beating faster as one.
And fascination turns to love …
The last note dies. There is a silent moment of awe. Then cheers resound in the auditorium.
They hold each other round the waist.
“You must feel on top of the world, Nadia?” prompts the TV host.
“This is a dream come true,” she gushes. “I could not have done it without Neil.” She places her hand on his chest and looks up into his eyes. “He picked me up when I fell. Soothed me when I cried. It was hard, but Neil was so very patient. Thank you so very much.”
He puts an arm around her shoulder and holds her hand. “Nadia was amazing. She was such a fine student. Teaching her to dance was a joy.”
“And John…your boyfriend? He must be proud.”
Nadia hesitates a moment and looks out at the audience with blurry eyes.
“Yes, he’s out there somewhere. The third row, second seat, I think.”
“Okay, let’s see if our camera can catch sight of him.”
The cameraman scans the audience and zooms in on an empty seat. John has left the building.
Mom advised me against choosing satin. She said it clings to every bad decision you’ve ever made and reveals each lump of cottage cheesy flesh to the camera. He said I looked beautiful though. Six foot in a rented suit, clutching a wilting bouquet he picked up at the BP on the way and I didn’t care one bit. His dimples were angled down at me in every photo. He chose me. I had never been in a limousine before. Hardly a phenomenon at fourteen and a half years old. The LED neon bars turned the atmosphere frenetic with the pulsing blurs of colour. He had been drinking from a hidden flask all night. He laughed louder every time the metal got lighter. I snuck an offered sip when no one was looking. Mom made me promise not to. We dropped off his friends – I forget their names – one by one so they could change for the after party. I wasn’t allowed to go to that – mom wouldn’t cave on that one. Blake?- was the last to slide out the car, slipping his tongue into his date’s ear as they walked. It looked wet. I turned, smiling, to face him. He had shifted beside me, his soft hands sliding up my ill-chosen satin. His fingers found the zipper and started pulling it down. My mouth remembered how to move and asked him to stop. He nuzzled into my neck and laughed. Low, throaty, chilling. “You owe me one, remember?” His hands gripped the tonged curls pinned to my head in concentric spirals, pushing me down, gently and then firm all at once. I choked on the salty unfamiliarity. His dimples angled down at me. “For the best night of your life.” The lights flickered red overhead and then blurred.
Katoji le Roux – Glitch
From the moment she woke up Martha sensed something had gone terribly wrong.
It was in the way he’d said goodnight.
It was different. And she didn’t like it. That bump on his head must have been harder than she’d thought.
She bolted out of bed and grabbed her gown from the hook of the door and ran down the stairs, straight to the kitchen. She got right to preparing it exactly the way she remembered.
Fried bacon and eggs served in a slather of grease. Warmed beans and a strong brew of coffee, in his favourite mug, of course. She laid the food on the dining table, sat on one end and watched the clock until it struck seven.
Sure enough he sauntered his way into the kitchen.
“Good morning George,” she plastered on the widest smile she could muster. “I made your breakfast just the way you like it.”
He grunted, plopped down on his chair and ravenously ate his food.
Such unbridled behaviour, thought Martha.
“Woman, where’s the rest of the coffee!” He barked.
“I need to get more from the pantry, dear.” Instead she quickly ducked passed the pantry and into the lounge, picked up the receiver and dialled the number.
“Hello…this is Martha Stevens…239 Pine Avenue… I’d like to report a malfunction…Yes, I’ll hold.” She twirled the telephone cord round and round her index finger. It suddenly felt too long a wait for just a diagnostic?
“Yes?…What do you mean he’s had an upgrade before this one?…That’s impossible! He’d never…”
“Woman – my coffee!”
Martha cupped her hand over the mouthpiece, “Still looking, dear.”
She spoke softly into the receiver, “So if he had a neural activity pattern upgrade…I can’t get him to do all that I want?” It then dawned on her…that sneaky cunning rat!
Ingrid van den Berg
Sandra took a shallow breath and placed the pen on top of the spider-scrawl now crowning her block-lettered name. It didn’t look anything like her usually legible signature, but then very little these past few weeks had felt normal. She noticed a smudge of black ink on her middle finger and wiped it irritatingly across the sheet of paper in front of her. You’d think a bunch of advocates could at least afford a decent pen.
She sneaked a glance at Mike. For someone whose face constantly reflected the worries of unpaid bills, he was looking surprisingly chipper. Probably just as relieved as she was to finally be moving on.
“Well, you may now address each other as the ex Mr and Mrs Thomas.” Their lawyer gave a jowly chuckle and pushed himself up heavily from his desk. “Any questions?”
Whatever questions Mike may have had, Sandra didn’t hear them. Her mind was already spinning on the newly single carousel of life: nights out with the girls sans someone always moaning about the “waste of good money”, sleep undisturbed by Mike’s tossing over yet another deal going south … not to mention the chance to try and save up for the house she’d set her heart on.
An unpleasantly congested throat being cleared brought her back to the afternoon’s business. Both Mike and the lawyer were looking at her expectantly.
“Oh, all good on my front, Brian, thanks for sorting this so quickly.” Of course she would’ve liked more out of the marriage than just the old Nissan they’d bought more than a decade ago, but given Mike’s assets, she was probably lucky to even get that.
She gave the lawyer’s outstretched hand a quick, firm shake, and started for the door, eager to escape what she could now call her past.
“Oh, by the way, Mike, big congrats on yesterday’s news.”
Sandra turned, unaccustomed to Mike being congratulated for anything.
“Thanks Brian. Yeah, always thought winning the Lotto was a pipedream. It’s not the big one, of course, but enough to finally get that Cape Dutch in the Winelands we’ve had our eye on for some time now.”
The newspaper crackled in my hands as I shook it. Morning light streamed through the windows. I took a sip of coffee. The taste was full and rich and not too sweet, the way I liked it. I swirled the cup to get some more of that heavenly aroma.
A message came through on my phone. I thumbed it, still not used to the clunky touch-screen display.
It was results from the lottery last night. Someone had won the record-breaking jackpot of R467 million.
Lucky bastard, I said quietly to no-one in particular.
I looked at the numbers again, frowned then reached for my brown pig-skin leather wallet and opened it. It contained some notes and coins, with a couple of bank cards and receipts. I leafed through them, then took out the lottery ticket I had bought yesterday from old Giem on the corner.
Holding the phone and the ticket, my eyes jumped from one to the next and I had to repeat the process three times before slumping back in my chair. I dropped the phone in my lap, the ticket tumbled to the floor, then took a deep breath, let it out slowly.
The receptionist looked at me quizzically. I jumped up, ran over to her and kissed on the mouth, the way I used to kiss Martha when she was still alive.
I went back to my seat and picked up the newspaper again. The receptionist received a fax, read through it and took it to the doctor.
She returned, smiled warmly at me and said, “the doctor will see you now”.
I folded the newspaper, left it on the centre table and dropped the disposable cup into the bin, but almost forgot to pick up the ticket off the floor.