We’ve had such a lovely time reading all these BLOOM stories this month. So many takes on the theme and so many good stories on our longlist, evidenced by the number that got at least one vote for the shortlist from our reading panel.
So well done to all of the writers who were longlisted and congrats if you’ve made our shortlist! We’re reading again now to decide our winners and it’s over to you to choose the winner of the People’s Prize.
Voting closes on Monday 26th July. Good luck everyone!
On Mars, she eats blue-green algae blooms. She gets thirty-nine minutes more of each day, double-long seasons, but only eats cyanobacteria. One-quarter carbohydrate, one-third protein. May cause ALS. The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Even in the desert. Qatar crusts killed soldiers’ neurons, muscles darkening to Greek island blue. Mykonos. Her tie to Earth blooming red on the sheets behind the cornflower door. Thélisi tou Theoú, the cleaner said. God’s will. Now she eats blue bacteria. Eight percent fat. She waits for the snow to stop, converts sunlight to electricity in blue Petri. The first Martians, her children bloom.
How to Transplant Desert Flowers into Cooler Climes
Uproot seedlings swiftly – We reach the border under darkness, twist our parents’ hands and wait for ‘Uncle’s truck’. Finally, it arrives, slows without stopping. Men pull us up, throw us amongst the crowd.
Sow in fresh soil – We sit in silent rows at school, terrified we’ll be sent back. The bell sounds and we bolt beneath our desks, memories of air raid sirens screeching in our ears.
Establish roots – People are kind, we tell our stories, make friends. Mother makes Basbousa, invites the neighbourhood. We pray before eating, thanks for new life, hope for those still trapped in barren lands.
Dylan began his work in his bedroom as a teenager, sitting and mixing colours on paper, running his fingers along it searching for the perfect texture, the exact consistency. His work had a certain liminal quality, a certain bloom, like a spring flower.
These days his reputation preceded him, this was not always a good thing, strangers asking him personal questions. Kandinsky he replied when the detectives asked him his name. It starts becoming art when it stops being about money, he thought, stacking batches of fifty Euro notes into a suitcase as if they were miniature Van Gogh’s.
Your cousin sees it first. Look. There’s sauce on your dress. You twist round, see a crimson bloom flood the white cotton, the colour of roses in grandma’s garden, their heavy scent, the flowers you use to pin in your doll’s hair or gather for vases. At night when he creeps in for goodnight kisses, he presses his mouth down hard on yours like you’ve seen cowboys do on Saturday movies. Well, he says, before he turns off the light, you’re a woman now. You curl up small, think about John Wayne and how you hate the smell of roses.
No 6: War veteran. Watching his neighbours from his window. Remembering
No 21: Young men. Laughter. Drinking. Friendship.
Billy’s eyes. Staring beyond. Too late. Bullet-riddled. In my arms.
No 15: Lets her kids run riot. Eyes glued to her phone.
Just children. Playing. Shrapnel-shattered dreams.
No 13: Brute. Wiesel. Know his type. I hear them. She stays. She should run.
Punches. In the barracks. The bully. I showed him.
No 10: Alone. Kind smile. Stops to sniff a rose on the bush by the entrance…Love…
Marianne. Dimples. Breathless after a kiss. Rose-petal scented hair. She didn’t wait.
No 10. Should I knock? Bring roses? ‘Hello, I’m Harry from no 6.’
I dream in mango. Lush. Cleft and the juices run; my face christened on a Caribe morning. Months, I yearned for the land where my tongue crawls upon arrival; by the second day, it dances upon syllables, rolling Rs, undulating them. My words hips in a Bollywood movie. Sun so piercing it sears your soul, claiming you.
Reality is a little more complicated. Sargassum, sulfuric and ubiquitous. Palm fronds, like broken spines of the prehistoric, Styrofoam cups, insoles. The tide is foul brown, laps at the refuse.
Nevertheless, like baybean, like spiderlillies, I root in the sand and bloom.
For my twenty-fifth birthday, Nana gives me a Coco Channel lipstick. Re-packaged neatly in the black and gold case. I laugh. The tip is blunt, the pink waxy surface imprinted with lines from her bottom lip.
“Unhygienic,” my boyfriend grimaces. “The colour makes you look sick”.
My husband receives a tin of Valrhona Jivara chocolate. Disgusted, he sees one layer is missing, and the chocolates bloom with white powdery film. It’s the same tin, wrapped festively for Nana, the Christmas before.
In my forties I prune the withering husband, using the life savings Nana leaves me. Along with her secateurs.
Sound the Sirens: The Dangers of Harmful Algal Blooms
You led me down to this bruise of a sea. ‘Imagine,’ you said. ‘Billions of hands held underwater, creating a canopy so complex it shuts out the sun.’
Your fingers left shadows on my wrist. Was it the devil’s glint I saw in your shades when I sang I have hidden depths too?
You marvelled at the artistry. This lurid gash of iridescence, phosphates feeding phosphorescence. I drew you to me, whispered softly,
‘Look deep beneath the surface, marvel at this toxic harvest, relish all the organisms.’
Picnicking in my kelp forest, you ignored fish rottening, lungs gasping for air.
The Jellyfish Princess
I told Izzy Mum was the Jellyfish Queen, that they’d carried her off on their gummy-bear backs. Every night, under scrunched covers, I whispered stories of fish-scale freckles, seaweed plaits, her crown of seashells and pearls. I whispered the rules of the Jellyfish Kingdom, that once you were Queen you couldn’t return.
Izzy believed every word.
Dad said I mustn’t blame myself when Izzy was dragged from the water, her body a lionfish now. She’d spotted the bloom from our perch on the rocks. Said they would take her to Mum. Smiling, dived in.
I should’ve whispered that tentacles sting.
The Weight of Blue
She feels pretty in her sister’s dress, but her father’s look is ugly.
“Boys don’t wear dresses.”
His words like hands on her shoulders, pressing, heavy.
Bound in a suit at her aunt’s wedding, she carries the ring but wants to throw the flowers.
She tells her parents she’s a girl. Confusion, then denial. Her insistence leads to anger, then spanking.
She gives in. Wears blue. Says her prayers.
She prays to be with Jesus in Heaven.
The weight she feels, they finally feel, too.
Herself at last, she soars in her flowery dress, a petal on the wind.
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