It has been a pleasure working with Adrienne Dines, our adjudicator for June. The time between the dead-line and the event was generous which allowed Adrienne to read and comment on your entries, she was even kind enough to choose two commended and has also shared her observations for them. There were 21 entries this month.
Adrienne’s individual comments can be read below with the winning entries. The winners are:
1st Prize: ‘For The Dead and The Living’ by Mari Thomas
2nd Prize: ‘A Lovers Reunion’ by Kristin Tridimas
3rd Prize: ‘Waiting’ by Andrea Parr
‘Lovers Reunion’ by Wendy Fitzgerald
‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch
We feel that we have been asking a lot from our adjudicators as the entry cut-off date and the event are sometimes very close, so please note that from September the cut-off date will be noon on the 25th of the previous month. Also, to keep the competition fair, entries will be restricted to one entry per member. Don’t forget to read the full competition rules on our website.
Enjoy the summer and keep writing,
For The Dead And The Living by Mari Thomas
Adrienne Dines: “Written in second person, this is very skilful storytelling. The reader is forced to feel every tense moment as our heroine approaches her reunion. We don’t know the nature of their relationship but we can feel the damage it caused her and we worry for her now. Skilful use of pacing to keep us waiting, wonderful strong voice. This was a clear winner for me.”
You are sitting in the most uncomfortable chair of your life, the metal digging into your shoulder blades. Sweaty hands clench into fists; you have to force yourself not to fiddle with your clothes.
Opposite you, two court bailiffs are staring you down. You miss Sally, your contact from the UKPPS, but you know she can’t be here. Too much publicity. Too high a chance that she’ll become the lynch pin in someone else’s carefully crafted fake life.
Inhale. Exhale. You can do this.
The door opens. You’re beckoned forward. You go.
So this is it – the final call to arms. A battle of suits and jargon and you are the centre fighter. The king on the chessboard. You end the game.
This is, you realise, the most important thing you will ever do.
With each successive step, you can feel yourself regressing, falling back into your old identity. You dyed your hair blond for this, you remember, and it itches at your scalp.
You’ll feel better when it’s brown again.
He’s the very first thing you see when you enter the courtroom. You wonder if he has a new lover now, if he has someone else to smear with blood and kiss in the middle of his self-created carnage. You wonder if he’s found another person to tear apart.
You take your seat.
As you state your name and date of birth for the record, he stares at you. His eyes are wide, as if he never saw this coming. Good. You hope it’s unexpected. You hope he never forgets this moment. You hope it feels like the worst sort of betrayal.
“And what,” asks the prosecutor, “is your relationship to the accused?”
You look out at the courtroom. Take a deep breath.
“He’s my husband.”
A Lovers’ Reunion by Kristin Tridimas
Adrienne Dines: “The tension between the exterior and interior voice works perfectly in this story. In a few carefully chosen words and phrases the whole backstory is filled in and we don’t need to know what happens afterwards, only that our heroine will not fall prey to this Lothario again. Beautiful controlled writing.”
“May I introduce Paul Armstrong,” says the vice-consul and she slides away, her duty done.
I recognise him straight away: tall, erect, ice-blue eyes, his dark hair now silver at the temples. The slightly cruel twist of his mouth caused by a tiny scar; the result of a childhood accident. He stands out from the small group of talkers. And even after twenty years, I find my heart beats faster and my palms feel cold with sweat.
“We’ve met.” I give my professional smile, perfected over the years: neutral, dispassionate, efficient.
In a bar. Or a nightclub. I forget.
I hold out my hand. For the briefest second my skin touches his and I look into the blue of his eyes.
Flesh on flesh; thigh on thigh; his lips on mine. The sweet smell of pheromones mixed with aftershave.
“It’s been a while,” he says and the warm blanket of his voice has deepened. His eyes send coded messages.
Someone in the group says something. I respond, an automaton; I know the protocol.
“What are you doing now?” I ask Paul as soon as I can, the measured politeness in my voice disguising my curiosity.
I never really knew what he did. It didn’t matter.
My brain whirrs. I should move on, forget him.
Secret kisses. Snatched moments. Anonymous hotel rooms.
“This and that.” He smiles and his scar stretches into oblivion. “I import British shoes. They’re very popular here.”
I sense a familiar frisson of danger.
I didn’t find out he was married until I was already in too deep.
“And look at you, Celia,” he says. Haven’t you done well?”
I nod; smile politely. False modesty. I’m proud of where I’ve got.
Right on cue, there’s a low murmur in my ear. “Ambassador?”
Waiting by Andrea Parr
Adrienne Dines: “Lovely romantic reunion. The backstory is fed into the woman’s waiting and her pregnancy is hidden until he acknowledges it. We are given clues – the to milky tea, her discomfort – but we have to wait for the ‘ah ha’ moment to realise. A good example of showing, not telling! I particularly liked how this writer varied her sentence lengths to control the tension.”
Her tea was too milky. One tasteless sip and she left the cup, a pink smear of lipstick on its paper rim. No matter how she shifted, she couldn’t get comfortable. The seat was too hard, too plastic. Switching her gaze between the arrivals board and her book made her neck ache. With a snap, she closed it. She couldn’t concentrate on reading anyway.
Eight months, two weeks, five days since she’d last seen him.
“I have to go,” he’d said. “I’m a doctor. I help people.”
And her. Infantile, selfish. “It doesn’t help me.”
She twisted her fingers. Glanced up at the clock. Rechecked her phone.
His flight number inched upwards. Long before it reached the top, she moved to the barrier, the metal cold under her grip.
People streamed in from the arrivals hall, piled luggage obscuring each other. So many, her heart raced until his familiar figure finally appeared. Tousled brown hair, rumpled from the flight. A slight frown creasing his face as his eyes slid anxiously over the crowd.
When he saw her, he stopped. The crowd flowed around him. Like the sun dawning, a slow smile spread across his face. In two strides he was pulling her close, careful not to crush her against the barrier.
“I was so scared you wouldn’t wait.”
“Of course we waited.”
Almost too quiet to hear, he said,
“I’m sorry I left you.”
He’d gone because he needed to. She understood that; she accepted it. She smiled as he bent to face the full moon of her belly.
“Your daddy promises he won’t go again.”
Tangling her hands in his hair, she tugged his head up. His breath whispered warm against her cheek.
“I love you so much.”
Her mouth found his. That was good enough for her.
Lovers Reunion by Wendy Fitzgerald:
Adrienne Dines: “Lovely complete story with an ending that suggests there is life afterwards – absolutely what a short story should do. The characters (particularly hers) are well drawn. We know that they will stay together and she will be the stronger. His love for her is captured in a couple of killer lines!”
He had trudged endlessly beside his father, leaving behind angry bombs, jagged buildings and the broken bodies of his mother and sister. Hunger and exhaustion were constant companions across lands and angry seas; the makeshift sprawling camp a welcome haven.
He recognised Lili immediately. Tousled dark curls, light grey eyes and the scent of home. They became inseparable.
‘Tomas, we must attend the school,’ she told him. ‘Education is everything, even for girls! History to learn from; science for our future, languages to talk! Besides, it’s warm there, and there is always food!’
He went because he would have gone with Lili anywhere. It became their refuge, their playground, their home.
‘We’re leaving, Tomas. We go to Germany, to distant family.’ Tears streamed down dusty cheeks, whilst a sickening abyss opened up before him. ‘Promise me you will keep learning. Look,’ she pointed to the battered globe, ‘the capital Berlin. Meet me there when we are grown!’
‘But how, and where, Lili? Cities are big!’
‘There’s a ‘Brandenberg Gate,’ she said carefully. ‘Midday, the first of January, every year after we turn eighteen. Auf wiedersehen, dearest Tomas!’
She hugged him tightly, fiercely; he felt warm soft lips fleetingly brush his mouth; then she was gone.
Desolate, homeless again, he complied. He worked tirelessly, driven; maths to afford a better life, precious languages to talk. And here he was full-grown: thin, serious, shyly handsome, in Berlin. Waiting.
It was bitterly cold, but he perspired with fear. Would she come – that girl he had once lived for? Would he recognise her? Could life ever be that kind?
Then – a slight figure with dark curls hurtled towards him, his name on her lips; laughing as she launched herself into his arms. Familiar, and unfamiliar, all at once – but she smelt of home.
‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch
Adrienne Dines: “Voice, voice, voice. We were straight into the head of this cool teenager with his patter and his vinyls. The opening was particularly strong. I’d like to see this continues as a longer story – staying in the past as the relationship develops.”
I pretended I liked the Bee Gees but I was really into Motorhead and Punk. On Wednesday afternoon I’d bunked off maths, nicked a copy of God Save the Queen from Menzies, and hid it in my wardrobe. I was going to play it for Karen on Saturday afternoon when my mam was out but then couldn’t find it amongst the junk. It didn’t matter because we got distracted. It was the first time we’d been as distracted as that. Karen had been doing ballet since forever, so sidelining Lemmy for Barry Gibb was a price worth paying.
We’d started going out on sports day when Anne-Marie Rigby collapsed onto the parched grass after winning the 1500m. Her pounding stomach was mesmerising. She’d her legs bent and was too gassed to realize that every lad in my form could see the curly black pubes sprouting from either side of her maroon knickers. Karen followed me over to the long-jump pit and asked why I’d moved. I told her it didn’t seem right to gawk at someone like that, she smiled and that was it. Love.
“Peter, someone who knew you from school rang”. My mam explained about the planned reunion.
When I got there everyone looked the same, just 20 years older. I stood at the bar wondering about Karen, then a voice behind me. ‘Pete, it’s me, Kaz,’ she looked different but her smile was still the same, ‘I’m glad you turned up, I’ve something that belongs to you…’ she held out The Sex Pistols single, ‘I shouldn’t have taken it. Sorry. Probably worth a fortune now.’
‘It’s funny how some things appreciate over time, Kaz. You married?’
‘Still single,’ I held up the record, ‘tell you what, let’s see if they’ll play it for us.’