Imagine you are in your twilight years and you want to tell a grandchild a story to inspire them to overcome some difficulty they are dealing with. Don’t allow your narrator to launch into a lecture; it should be a story.
First prize goes to Michelle Ainslie, for her well told story with a counter-intuitive twist and a touch of humour. The runner-up is Linda Ravenhill, for her moving story of love and redemption. Special mentions go to Ingrid van den Berg, Alma van As and Jenny Grice for their creative takes on the assignment.
Winning entry Golden Moment by Michelle Ainslie
I placed the chipped button in her tiny hand and folded her fingers over it. “This will show you what your heart really wants.”
“How does it work, Grandma?”
“I’ll tell you the story about how it helped me.
I was on holiday in Paris with my fiancé, Nick, and I bought a really beautiful, expensive coat with burgundy suede cuffs and intricate gold buttons.
Like that coat, Nick warmed up my world, the sun roaring in his brown eyes just before he kissed me on the lover’s bridge across the Seine River. That same night he left for Germany and he called from his window as the train started moving, “One last touch!”
I ran with my hand stretched out to his, but then my coat snagged and one of the buttons popped off, rolling under a carpet of feet. I gasped and swiftly turned around to search for it. Crawling on my hands and knees, I managed to pick it up just before it got trampled.
Dusting the button off and dashing to Nick again, I saw the train had moved along and I could no longer see his face.”
“So the button helped you realize that you must keep running after what you love and not look back?”
“No. It helped me see that what you really love is shown to you in the split-second choices you make. I knew in that moment, holding my button, that he wouldn’t be the man I married.”
Runner-up Linda Ravenhill
The muted clop of shoes comes to a stop outside my room.
“She’s been in a fritz all morning. Haven’t you dear?”
Loudly and slowly, as if I’m senile. Which I’m not.
I grunt and shift in my chair, showing my back dismissively.
“Hello Gran. Been giving them a hard time have you?”
Patty, my youngest grandchild, moves the plastic chair round to my good side, taking my hand gently in hers.
She bends forward to tuck my hair behind my ear and gives me a conspiratorial smile.
We sit like that for a moment, the two of us, the fragile summer light fliting in the net curtaining.
She talks –the children, her job, the new place she is trying to find for them all.
The worry lines carved into her face, the dark smudge under her eye and badly applied concealant, tell the other story.
I grunt again, squeezing her hand as hard as I can to let her know I understand.
I shift sideways in my chair, and nod my head in the direction of the side locker.
“Is there something you need Gran?”
I nod more vehemently, the effort making me wheeze.
She moves to the locker and opens the draw. I nod a few more times, pushing forward with my chin to indicate she needs to dig deeper.
The envelope is buried under what remains of my life – a few toiletries, my lavender soap wrapped up in old plastic, my rosary.
She opens it, unfolds the paper with the faded writing and holds up the safety deposit box key. She looks at me “Gran?”
I nod, just once more, fall back in my chair and close my eyes.
Louts And Literature by Ingrid van den Berg
“He pushed me into the gutter again today, Gran.”
I fill in a seven with satisfaction and look up from my Sudoku. Liam’s slouched on the couch, pouting, fingers picking at a loose thread on a cushion. I must remember to cut that before the whole thing unravels.
“Don’t the teachers do anything?”
“When they moan at him, he just puts on a smarmy face and promises not to do it again … and if I tell on him too often I’ll start looking like a liar.” Pleading eyes turn to me. “He’s ruining my life, Gran!”
I ease myself up from the table and join him on the couch. “Hmm, you know you could be wrong?” Liam looks suspicious. “Have I ever told you about Alison Edwards?”
“Friend of yours?”
“Ha, more of a career kick-starter I’d say … sixty years ago already.”
“Geez, Gran, that’s nothing to do with now?”
“Trust me, love, life keeps repeating itself … it’s just the slang that changes. Alison and I sat next to each other … this was Grade 4, so about your age … and Alison liked to write on my leg. Hard. With a pen.”
“Write on your leg? Why? What did she write?”
“Honestly, I was more worried about not blood-staining my school dress than reading her scratchings … but that’s not the story.”
Liam is agape now.
“I found the only way to cope with my hell at school, was to write about it in the evenings. Three months later Alison was moved to another class, but in that time I’d written enough to form the basis to my first book … and the rest, as you know, is history.”
Alma van As
“Now that the elephant was closer, he looked gigantic. Jacky had nowhere to hide. She could even hear the rumbling in the elephant’s tummy.”
Hannah patted the cushion as if her hands would do what her eyes couldn’t. George would have scoffed, always losing her spectacles. Where was he? Probably knocking some corporal into shape, poor guy. Why wasn’t he home yet? Come to think of it he wasn’t home yesterday either.
“Where was I?”
“The elephant, Granny. And Jacky couldn’t get away.” Gemma’s eyes were still large. She’d sidled closer to her grandmother.
“Oh, yes. The elephant lifted its trunk and sniffed. Jacky was too frightened to move. It took a step closer and pointed the trunk at Jacky’s head. Jacky was petrified, so she pinched her eyes closed, hoping the elephant wouldn’t touch her, let alone stomp all over her.”
“The elephant gave a soft trumpet, more like a snort and then thumped away. Jacky didn’t wait one second longer. She turned and ran back home as fast as her legs could carry her. She never ran away from home again.”
She was interrupted by the phone ringing. Hannah held it to her ear.
“Mom, I’ll be working a couple of hours late. Can Gemma stay for a few more hours?”
“Gemma? Isn’t she with you?”
“Mom, don’t you remember, I brought her to you this morning?”
“Mom, are you ok?”
“Of course I remember.”
“Mom, is something wrong?”
“Everything’s perfectly fine dear.” Where was George?
Hobson’s Choice by Jenny Grice
“But Gran how do I choose. How do I know which one is Mr Right? I love them both.”
She smiled. The question took her back to when she could still run up mountains, when she had freckles on her face instead of unsightly brown blemishes and wrinkle furrows, when love was seized during army leave.
“There was once this young girl called Gwen. She was about your age.”
“Is this your story Gran?”
She ignored her granddaughter’s question. She saw only two smiling faces, both in army uniform, their hair clipped into conformity. In their sepia coloured photographs they could have been brothers. They couldn’t have been more different.
“She had two admirers, both handsome. The one she’d had to stand on tiptoes to kiss, she could rest her head on the other’s shoulder when she was standing behind him.”
“They both wanted to marry her. The short one made her laugh, he was like a best friend, he said he loved her to bits. He would have done anything for her. She could bask in his love.”
She put her hand to quell the quiver in her breast. “The tall one touched her like no-one else had. He made her look at things with upside down eyes, he saw into parts of her she didn’t know she had, he took away the boundaries of her small world. He led his soldiers from the front.”
“So which one did she choose?”
“The war chose for her. She married the best friend.”