Winning Stories - 4th Quarter 2018- The London Independent Story Prize
Winner of The London Independent Story Prize 4th Quarter 2018 :
'Dance of My Parents' by Lee Reilly from USA
The Dance of My Parents, August 1946, after My Father Gave His College Sweetheart a Ring and a Promise, Then Left for Philadelphia, Where He Cut the Rug at Justine Belson’s Party
What Nancy Noble Thought When She Saw Mulligan Jitterbugging with Justine’s Little Sister
Wound tight like a snake (thought it, and said it too).
What Justine, the Hostess, Thought
Nancy’s just bitter because her boy’s still in the Pacific.
How Simon Saw It, as He Grabbed a Lamp before It Fell
Mulligan better not drop Justine’s little sister.
How Justine’s Little Sister Felt during That Last Swing between Mulligan’s Legs
I’m in love.
When the Room Changed and Why
The girl by the window stored her glasses in her purse, pinched her cheeks, and moved next to Simon.
6. What Simon Thought
What’s she doing?
7. What Justine’s Little Sister Thought, Still Swooning from Dancing with Mulligan
What’s that girl doing?
What that Girl in the Glasses Not Wearing Her Glasses Knew
She was beautiful Florence Baker, fresh from a broken engagement with an agnostic from Harvard, and she didn’t need glasses to find out if Mulligan was Catholic.
What Mulligan Knew as He Took Her Hand
He was a catch who’d never been caught.
10. What the Girl Not Wearing Her Glasses Thought as Mulligan Whipped Her into a Hip Lift
Is this safe? This doesn’t feel safe.
11. What Mulligan Noticed
Whoa. That was close.
12. What the Girl Not Wearing Her Glasses Almost Said But Didn’t
What? Not again?
13. What Mulligan’s Sweetheart Back in New Jersey Knew
Catholic—and wound tighter than a major league pitcher.
2nd Place: 'Light Coming in Through a Chink' by Catherine Edmunds from UK
Light Coming in Through a Chink
When he walks into quiet rooms these days he can’t tell if they’re empty or full of invisible people. He longs for a clue. The stripes on his pyjamas shame him with their blue and white certainty. Someone touches his sleeve and he moves to one side, obedient.
He thinks he hears a woman wailing for her lost love. Maybe it’s him; maybe she’s lost him. He wanders down the corridor hunting the wail, hoping he can give some comfort. His chest is tight with remembrance, but he fears he never made any difference.
Except once. Once he laid forty-feet of rail track between sofa and kitchen and the child clapped her hands and skipped. But she boarded the train and he doesn’t know where it stopped.
Another empty room. Or is it? He smiles politely, just in case. Someone walks over and hugs him. He remembers hugs. Somewhere a huge black telephone jangles. He picks up the receiver and returns the hug, and someone whispers ‘Daddy’.
3rd Place: Ruler by Stef Smulders from Italy
I’ve got this secret.
Bart is my only friend in first form. During a sleepover at his home, I secretly watch his long dick, resting in his fishnet underpants. ‘Which girl do you like most of our group?’ he asks me while we are in bed, next to each other. As I hesitate, he puts me in a headlock to force me to answer. ‘Ma-margot,’ I stammer. ‘It seems we have the same taste then,’ Bart replies, satisfied. ‘But do understand why she likes that sissy, Eugene?’
Gradually, Bart is drawn to my older brother who has more exciting interests like music, cars, girls. Things I don’t have a clue about. ‘How do you know that autumn has arrived?’ Bart asks while we are sitting at the table in my brother's large room. I have no idea. ‘As soon as your gland drops,’ my brother answers. ‘What’s a gland,’ I ask, innocently and regret it immediately. ‘It’s the end of your dick, you... dickhead!’
They laugh, hysterically.
In the afternoon Bart and my brother joke around, playfully romping. I only watch. The urge to join them. Desperately jealous. I notice my ruler lying on the table. My beautiful ruler, what’s it doing here? It’s mine, damn it! Angry, I take it and stick between Bart’s legs from behind. I move it back and forth a few times.
Bart turns around in a rage and strikes the ruler out of my hands. Bewildered, he looks at me.
The secret I kept, stands between us for everyone to see.
Highly Recommended Stories
Jimmy and Abram by Mahesh Nair
Jimmy and Abram
I was jealous of his room. Parents promised I’d get the room one day after he’d left for his Bachelor’s. A year to go. I want him gone.
A teakwood bed, a laptop with two terabytes of memory, and a flat screen television sat with elegance. But, Jimmy sullied the room with dirty clothes, stained the mattress with ink, and replaced the bed sheet with sports magazines and writer biographies.
He left his window open in December, when a breeze carried in a green-veined, red leaf that landed on Usain Bolt in a magazine. “Look, the leaf is on U.B.” He’d rushed to me, shivering in his jacket. “It’s a sign.” But before he could blabber more, I slammed the door shut.
For weeks, he woke up at 4 AM to run. Parents bought him Nike shoes.
When January winds planted a rotten leaf between Hemingway and Orwell, he banged on my door. “The leaf likes Orwell more than Hemingway.” When I didn’t open, he muttered, “Take my room,” sounding frigging half-hearted.
He began reading Animal Farm, and became terribly sick—his eyes like the missing pieces of his broken heart.
After father whisked him away for a health evaluation, Mother said, “Maniacal obsession afflicts one, spares the subsequent generation.” She wiped away tears. “Your grandfather and his grandfather had it. Now, Jimmy.”
With him off to a mental asylum, I got the room. I left the window open as a tribute, but it was hellishly chilly, and nothing drifted in through it. It wasn’t supposed to.
And when a February drizzle slanted into the room, I shut the window.
Taped on to the sill under his clock was a note: Abram. SOS. Can’t close the window—can’t discuss it either, as words rust in my mouth. Miserably cold.
School Gates by Alexis Wolfe
My aim is to arrive for pick up at the last possible moment, without appearing neglectful. If the kids are just exploding out of the cloakroom, I’ve timed it spot on. Head bowed over BBC News to avoid small talk, the other mothers have realised by now, I don’t do coffees or playdates.
He texts: you’ll have to speak to me eventually, I’ve got all your stuff.
From the headphones of the other mother who doesn’t engage, faint lyrics hum. Can’t work out who she’s listening to.
I scroll past: Freak dust storm kills 100 people
He texts: Bought Billy a present. You don’t understand how much I love you. You make me do crazy stuff.
Love is a heart emoji and all the you’s are U’s.
“It’s a suggested donation of twenty pounds for teacher gifts,” the PTA queen bee is buzzing amongst us. I cast my gaze down to the pavement. My ribs hurt when I sigh.
Headphones Mum whisper-sings, a power ballad.
He texts: The first to apologise is the bravest, the first to forgive is the strongest, and the first to forget is the happiest.
I swipe: Royal guests bemused by lack of catering
“Is everything okay at home?” Billy’s teacher hands over a twisted plastic bag, its weight circling slowly like an orbiting planet. Urine-soaked uniform is heavy.
Billy hops from foot to foot. “Mum, can we go to the park?” The spare school trousers hover inches above his ankles. I shake my head and wonder when to explain about the bulging rucksack in the backseat.
He texts: Reply now or I’ll burn it all, you bitch.
The council must have emptied the park bins today, there’s a clatter as my phone meets metal.
Albaster by Bruce Meyer from Canada
Through the green and clear lake as you submerged, I could not tell the difference between your outline and an island. Your skin reminded me of alabaster. White, translucent, your beauty spoke to me in the light passing through you and reflected by you. There are only so many ways I can protect you. There was such delight in your eyes when you found that carved, Mexican parrot at a barn sale up the Sixth Concession. The farmer must have been sitting there forever among the round bundles of greying hay, trying to sell it. I know how proud you were of it for the brief time it was yours, the same look you had in your eyes for the few hours we
had our son. I failed to hold both tightly. When I brought it out to show the neighbour you were talking to, and it slipped from my hands and shattered on the rock. I thought the world had broken. Everything that should have wings is heavier than air. The instant the bird’s short flight began, I knew it could not fly. Just like the child we made together. There was no way to hold on. It never stood a chance. It didn’t even have wings. If I could give you anything, it would be a pair of wings for that tiny body. Wings move the air. They almost want to make something breathe, but everything we seem to touch turns to stone. At least with the parrot, light passed through it. Now, as you swim, I know your eyes are open under water, looking for something that you once had and no longer see, and I cannot tell the difference between the lake and your tears.
Toll by Bruce Meyer from Canada
Two bells summoned the children of our street – one they disliked and the other they found fascinating. The ice cream truck was famous. Mike, the scooper, had five flavours though only three on hot days because his fridges never worked well. The other was a brass bell. The old man who rang the brass bell would never tell us his name and he spoke with a foreign accent as his foot pumped the treadle and sparks flew from his grindstone. Our mothers relied on his infrequent appearances. The grinder rang his bell and pulled the stone behind him when he was tired and pushed it uphill when he turned the corner onto the next street. We would ask to ring the bell, but he always said no. Everyone liked McBride. He was always involved in whatever we were doing the first one out on the street for road hockey, the last one to come in. He wasn’t a bad goalie. In the summer, when our street turned dusty and games relocated to the local diamond where we played baseball instead, he was a pretty good catcher though his throws to second were always weak. McBride’s mother was on the phone when the grinder walked by, clanging his grinder’s brass teacher’s bell with every third step, and the boy’s mother called to him to catch the knife man before he turned onto the next block, and running back to his front porch, she handed McBride the old blade. The next day the teacher rang her recess bell – a brass dome with a worn black wooden handle – and everyone lined up at the double doors as usual.
Seeing the boy writhe in agony on the sidewalk, the grinder turned the corner onto the next street, his bell began to toll again.
Keeping Company with Orchids by Marissa Hoffmann -Switzerland
Keeping Company With Orchids
I have an orchid who’s a part time therapist. He offers sessions when I’m in transit up or down the staircase, but only when he’s in flower, he’s been quite clear about that. I’ve learnt there’s no point feeling glum when his petals turn papery, fall and collect on his dusty leaves. No point at all stopping to hint about loneliness to him when he’s in that state. That’s when I give him a bit of a soak and a feed. We all need a bit of special attention sometimes, I understand that. I can be just as empathetic. He would be the first to offer, if the tables were turned, so it’s the least I can do. Mostly though he’s a pretty consistent producer of flowers. He puts on a good show, anyone would agree, if they were to come and see him. He does need a lot of light, and he would be honest about that and say the winters can drag on a bit. But he knows the ‘look’ he’s aiming for; it’s dignified, and he’s single minded in that regard, so I snip any yellowed leaves off for him. He’s read the collection on the bookcase beneath him. Rumi’s anthology, he would say, is his ‘go to’, but Deepak Chopra, he recommends as the lighter read. I think he assumes I’m in a rush. Maybe, in his opinion, I’m not ready for 13 th century Sufi mystics. But they are my books. To me, he seems satisfied, quite content, and I’ve noticed he’s very good at holding on, hanging in there, even when there are weeks when I don’t pour the bedtime water on him on a Monday morning. For the most part, he just gets on with it, and that’s to be much admired, isn’t it.
Spiders by Helen Chambers -UK
Listen carefully and you’ll hear quiet scratching noises, made by the marching sets of eight tiny legs, like an army. Tap-dancing. Can we come in, they cry? Of course, it’s too late to say no. They’re already in. Blame our ancestors, though the poor souls knew no better, cut by harsh winds on bleak fells and washed by endless rain in remote rivers. Blame them because they stuffed innocuous gossamer threads into wounds and cuts – the cattle and their own – to staunch blood flow. Healing with nature’s silk. And it worked, the wounds mended beautifully. But inside, pumped around in your bloodstream, tiny egg sacs broke free from those threads. And they crossed placentas, passing like genes from generation to generation. Warm blood stirs the eggs into action; they burst into birth, scatter spiderlets randomly. These fed on the metallic nourishment, and grow, and travel in diverse directions, into your muscles, your skin, your heart, your liver, your bone-marrow. You’re riddled with them. You think you don’t have any? Are you never tongue-tied, tripping your tongue around the words: ‘special spiders spin spiral streamers’? Gauzy filaments entrap your slobbering tongue. Mislaid your glasses? Forgotten your phone? Memory fading, fog spreading through your brain? Their delicate fibres bypass your synapses, divert electrical currents astray, form short pathways ending abruptly in cul-de-sacs. They flood the main routes and impose one- way systems on information transfer. Upset stomach? They’re dancing, legs akimbo, in your soupy gastric juices. Eczema – they’re crawling just beneath your skin. You’re trapped in the web of lies you wove. Malevolent threads are spinning around your very soul, the heart and fire of you, your conscience paralysed with venom from tiny bites. You weren’t born evil. They’re there. Now hear them: whispering, fidgeting, planning and scheming. Malicious parasites
L’échappée belle by Daniela Norris from France
I leave my flat and count the steps: twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight.
Walking down the street, I can’t stop counting: thirty, forty, fifty-six steps to the bus stop. While I wait for the bus I count the blue cars passing me by: eleven, twelve, thirteen. Then the bus comes: number forty-three.
He says it doesn’t mean anything.
“There isn’t such a thing as y” he insists. Destiny is not a thing in his world. He is not a thing in world, but he occupies space nonetheless. He doesn’t understand why I do the things I do or say the things I say. But he sticks around anyway, maybe because he has nowhere else to go
I head to the shop to buy milk, but I also pick some apples: One, two, three, four. One of the apples has a wormhole. I take it anyway: it’ll do.
He says he’ll meet me at seven at at L’near London Bridge but sends me a text at six-forty-five to say something came up and he won’t make it. He doesn’t even apologize.
It’s nine-fifteen and I walk out and count the steps again: twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight. Still the same.
He gapes at me when he opens the door, his eyes glazed-green marbles in dark-cumulus-sockets.
“What are you doing here?” he asks in a low voice.I hear a woman sneezing inside.
I look at him again; this time I count out loud: “One, two.”
“You’re crazy,” he says.
“Crazy is not a thing,” I say. “It’s a decision.”
I put the package in his hand.
Then I turn back into the million-fireflies night.
“Wait,” he calls.