And The Winners Are…

I’m pleased to announce the results of my mini writing competition on the theme of ‘The Discovery‘. The shortlist was announced last week and now it’s time to reveal the winner and two runners-up:

1st place:                  Lynne Love with Under the Skin

Runners- up:         Stephanie Buosi with Getting it Right

                                      Suzanne Forman with Space

Now read their wonderful stories:

Under the Skin

By

Lynn Love

The doctor examines Alice’s hands, her exposed forearms, the lines that slither under rolled up sleeves.

‘And this happens while you’re asleep?’ Head bowed, his words flutter to the blotchy carpet.  

Alice listens for skepticism, for barely concealed disbelief and finds none. This one’s good at pretending.

Seven GPs, three specialists, a holistic healer … all have studied the marks. Like ancient scars, they pucker the surface of her body and she blushes to think of the few undecorated fragments of flesh hidden by her clothes. All of her examiners doubted her honesty. Three suggested psychiatric referrals, though she wonders if others left the same instinct unspoken.

Why wouldn’t they think she’d made the symbols herself, that she’d taken a blade, sliced the freckled skin, watched the crimson pearls burst, form chains along every creeping tendril? She’d tried to explain to the last doctor — a puckered woman, nicotine yellow hair and fingernails — that she could never create something so intricate. That her lone, pathetic attempt at self-harm as a teenager had left a few scrappy slashes that healed quickly, vanished in weeks. The mention of self-harm had been a mistake that led to her changing practice again.

‘At night. Yes.’ It’s all she can say. There’s a chemical taste on her tongue, as if she’s gargled with antiseptic to mask the flavour of something worse.

She wants to tell him how she lies awake, trying to hold off sleep and failing. That every morning is the same. The itchy, tight sensation at the back of her knee or the sole of her foot or the small soft spot at the base of her spine. The mirror shivering in her hand as she discovers the new image — a leaping boar, a wolf, a lotus flowering in the notch between her collarbones, its petals opening and closing with each breath. She wants to share the worst thing too, the feeling she can’t shake. That she’s being manipulated, reimagined. Redesigned.

His finger follows the profile of a dragon, its snout in the crease of her wrist, the end of its tale spiralling her elbow. The touch feels intimate, as if he wants to map every inch of her. Why is she here, laying her body open to scrutiny again, letting another stranger handle her, judge her?

‘This was a mistake.’ She tries to pull away but his fingers curl round her wrist, smothering the reptilian head.

‘Don’t,’ he says.

Something in his voice makes her pause, but then the feeling returns — of being a rabbit caught in a snare, his grip the tether.

‘Let go!’

In the struggle, the cuff slides up his wrist. There’s a mark — a scar! — and below that more, loops, whirls, question marks encircling bulbs of bone. Alice stares, unsure, unwilling to believe. The doctor inches back his sleeves and … There. Her arm rests against his. His lines beginning where hers end.

Scuffing her damp cheeks she whispers, ‘I’m not alone.’ 

***

Lynn demonstrates how to paint a picture in the mind superbly here. Stunning imagery. Each word matters in this story, yet it flows from start to finish so effortlessly. But, it’s not just about the description; there’s also a fantastic story here, with a beautiful ending, which leaves the reader with feelings of hope for Alice’s future.

***

Getting it Right

By

Stephanie Buosi

She mixed paint carefully, adding touches of blue or black when she changed her mind. Which she did often—she couldn’t remember the colour. Chewing her bottom lip, she leaned back and judged her work. Then she bit hard, her mouth filling with blood, and resisted the urge to scream. 

It wasn’t right.

A walk, she decided, dropping her paint plate—leftover Styrofoam from last night’s dinner—and eagerly turning away from the portrait. A walk to clear her head; maybe the last of the hangover too. The memories were always sharp when she was sober, but for this, this catastrophe of a painting, she would risk it. The colour would haunt her if she didn’t get it right. That little pink face, always perfect, would dance behind her tired eyes until she cracked open the next bottle, and she needed a steady hand to paint. 

Then, maybe, if she got it right, she would sleep that night.

Elsi was thirty-seven years old, and her age was starting to bother her. She had begun avoiding mirrors, shop windows…even clean glassware. Thirty-seven and living in a tiny rental, fifty-seven steps from the ground. She was panting by the time she reached the bottom, but elevators would irritate her until the hangover left. Last night’s binge clung to her like a second skin.

How many bottles had it been since she’d last seen him? She counted back the years as she took her next twenty steps. 

When did her life start falling apart? She counted back again to twenty.

The sun was too bright. She should have waited until dark, when the regret aging her eyes would be less obvious. But Elsi knew she couldn’t have stayed in the apartment without destroying that painting, and she had worked too hard to let it go. Besides, the fresh air was nice. Shuffling, squinting against the sun, avoiding the afternoon crowds, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green like a good person, Elsi wondered if she was normal. Then she wondered if people thought she looked old. And then she stumbled, nausea ejecting the one piece of toast she’d managed to eat that morning.

At least he’s happy, she thought with a shaky smile. At least that was one thing she’d done right—despite how much it hurt to remember his perfect little face, the perfect little hands, the beautiful blue… green… brown…?

 Elsi bit her lip again. Clutching her rolling stomach, she tried to quicken her steps.

It was almost five o’clock. The café would close soon, her margin of time shrinking on her yet again. She wanted to hear his voice, and this time, too many years later, she would do it. She would walk up to the counter and order something, anything, and listen to her boy ask politely what cup size she wanted. He would smile at her—a perfect stranger—and she would finally see the colour of his eyes.

***

Stephanie’s story stood out for me straight away. I was intrigued to know more about this troubled woman and why getting the colour right was so important. Stephanie’s writing brought all the woman’s suffering and pain to life. The ending made me gasp. A very worthy runner up. 

***

Space

By

Suzanne Forman

When she was in nursery school, the teacher said she could be anything she wanted to be.

Sure, girls can be astronauts nowadays.

*

Then, when she was ten: “We have lots of books about space if you want to know what it’s like up there.”

 *

 Thirteen. “I think you really need to start taking your future prospects more seriously, young girl.”

 *

What the guidance counsellor said was that being good at something is more important than the thing you’re doing being good.

Like, you’re not gonna be an astronaut, Billy. Let’s be realistic here. But, hey, you could be damn good at hospital administration. Take that leaflet, hon. We don’t have leaflets on going to space as a career. I suppose you’d have to go to America for that.

Or Russia, maybe.

*

 “You’re twenty-fucking-three, stop with the space shit.”

 *

 “If you can’t be an astronaut, marry one.”

“Oh, honey, they always go for, like, beautiful women. No offence, Billy.”

 *

 She’s nearly forty and people still bring up the astronaut thing, like she can’t forget she wanted crazy things when she was a kid. Every child dreams too big. She wound up doing chemistry instead.

 And so they say: if you can’t do, teach.

Billy lectures Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at the university, then does life drawing classes at the leisure centre on a Friday evening. You’ll get chemistry students who want to be the next Robert Boyle and ones who really liked Breaking Bad. She’ll never say to anyone: no, you can’t do that.

Even if they do casually ask about cooking crystal meth. You know, for a friend. Their friend is, um, just curious.

She has her ways of talking around these questions.

But she doesn’t outright say no.

 *

Her students ask so many questions. Sometimes they make her stop and think: hey, who am I to tell them what’s right?

A whole lot of teaching, she finds, is actually about learning.

 *

“You’re twenty-fucking-three, stop with the space shit.” That was her first real boyfriend. Christopher, his name was. He said she’d just let anyone tell her what to do. Like he did for a while.

*

What the guidance counsellor said was that being good at something is more important than the thing you’re doing being good.

 What Billy teaches her students is that that’s crap. If you want to be an astronaut, be an astronaut. Somebody has to be one, after all.

 *

“You know what I discovered after I started teaching?” Billy says to the woman so close to graduating, “sometimes you just need to do what you want to do, because other people will guide you to where they want you to go, and maybe that isn’t always where you need to be.”

 “Does that mean I can stop listening in class?”

 “Absolutely not.”

*

 She still reads astronomy books in the bath. If only for fun.

***

I loved the central character of Billy straight away and felt for her; we often have our dreams quashed in real life. Billy could easily have done the same to others, but she breaks free from the confines placed on her and encourages others to reach for their dreams. The story unfolds so effectively and the touches of humour bring a smile to the reader’s face. 

***

 celebrate-2

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45 Responses to And The Winners Are…

  1. Lynn Love says:

    Wow! Thank you so much Esther. I’m chuffed to pieces to have won your competition – and especially as I was up against such amazing writers. Thank you so much – absolutely made my day 🙂
    Congratulations to Stephanie and Suzanne for two beautifully written, moving and inspriational stories.

  2. Congratulations to the winners! Great stories. I love how Under the Skin leaves us wondering what is really happening, how it happened, what is going to happen. That’s my favorite kind of story. 🙂

  3. Steve says:

    Congratulations to the winners and a big thanks to you for sharing your time and ideas with all of us.

  4. Helen says:

    Wow! Some great stories here. I really enjoyed reading them. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to Esther for show-casing them here.

  5. Jason Moody says:

    Woop woop. Well done winners and runners up!

  6. Suzanne says:

    Thanks so much, Esther! I’m thrilled to be runner-up amongst such wonderful stories!

  7. Sacha Black says:

    Wowza that winning story is amazing

  8. TanGental says:

    you’ve oa terrific bunch here Esther; well done everyone.

  9. Pingback: Competition Win : Esther Newton Short Story Prize. – Word Shamble

  10. EDC Writing says:

    Congratulations to Esther’s ‘top three’ … I’d love to read everyone who made the shortlist … any chance of them posting on their sites and providing links here? Eric.

  11. Helen Jones says:

    Three wonderful stories, Esther – you had your work cut out for you deciding on a winner! Congratulations to Lynn, Stephanie and Suzanne 🙂

  12. Amazing stories – congratulations to the three worthy winners. 🙂

  13. Congratulations to Lynn, Stephanie and Suzanne and to all the other writers who entered. Congratulations to you as well, Esther, for running a great competition and for having to read and decide between all those stories. You may have had a tough job, but it’s produced some fantastic writing.

  14. Glynis Smy says:

    Congratulations to the winners, and well done, Esther for working your way through so many entrants!

  15. Annika Perry says:

    Congratulations to Lynn and the runner-ups.😀 All great stories and reading Lynn’s I got goosebumps at the end. Absolutely terrific. Well done!

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