Well done to all who made the longlist and congrats to the writers of our shortlisted stories. Please honour the spirit of the competition and vote for the story which you think is the best – not the one you’re guessing your friend wrote! And if you’ve been shortlisted remember to celebrate anonymously 🙂 The prompt this month was “Wave”.
Vote for your favourite from these 10 fab stories to win the surprise People’s Prize. Our judging team are busy re-reading to choose the winners of the cash prizes. Voting is open until 23.59 (UK time) on 25th July 2022. Results will be announced on Tuesday 26th. Good luck everyone!
Abilene’s Heatwave of 2012
On day seven, Jimmie’s family drove toward cooler Colorado without looking back. That was after Papa caught us naked in the barn, after the wells ran dry and dead calves littered ochre fields. Before a red rash swept across my back and Papa claimed I’d invited God’s wrath.
By day twelve, electric lines sizzled and wildfire clouds choked the sky. Papa stumbled into First Baptist to pray forgiveness. I watched flames tease the altar’s cross before tramping down the road, hell-bent to reach the highway.
When I stuck out my thumb, thunder rolled and rain battered the earth like tears.
I know, because you once told me, that light travels in waves and it takes a Julian year for it to cover nine trillion kilometres.
When the police called about you I stayed awake all night searching the stars for traces.
It will take forty five billion years for the image of us under the clock at Marylebone to reach the edge of the observable universe. Every day for the rest of my life, those moments will still live somewhere in the cosmos. So that afternoon, when you told me that you would love me forever, it was almost true.
Between Iris and the Ocean
Iris stands on the dock, daring the ocean to sweep her away, like it did Bobby twenty years ago. Instead, a gentle kitten of a wave laps at her feet with its salty tongue.
She peers into her bag of memories. A spaceship, a baseball, a drumstick. Finally, she picks the medal won at a chess tournament and dangles it over the edge, her yearly offering.
‘Now keep your side of the bargain!’ she commands.
Later, on the horizon, Iris sees her son, half-dolphin, half-boy, chasing the golden disk on the crest of a wave that roars like a lion.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
Mrs Jones is droning on about wave-particle duality. Robbie scribbles in his chemistry notebook, but all Jessie can concentrate on is Grace sitting at the desk in front of her. Grace, who kissed her on the way home from swim practice with lips warm and slick with cherry lip balm. Robbie’s lips are firm and dry and steal her breath.
Mrs Jones starts describing Schrodinger’s thought experiment; the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened. Grace turns and smiles. Robbie’s thigh is warm against hers and she wonders, what if I don’t lift the lid?
I Advise You to Put Your Affairs In Order
He stops half way up the pilgrims’ steps and a fruit stall in the shadow of the castillo takes him back to his father’s allotment and the drizzle and rolled-up cigarettes of home.
The doctor had been clear and kind. At once he is ravenous. He will buy lobster and salt cod and cold white wine from the bodega by the fountain. They will feast.
A wedding boat is leaving from the quay and a small child sees him and waves. He raises his hand and, in the ravishing clarity of the afternoon sun, silently wishes them bon voyage.
Reclaim the Night
It’s a full moon midnight when the Wavers slide from water onto sand.
Too bright a night to fear attack, the men here stumble deep in drink or sunk in dreams.
But the Wavers aren’t here to fight; they’ve come to reclaim.
And I’ve been waiting all my life for these women who tame the sea, whose hearts beat with the rhythm of the tide.
As I ride away with them over the waves, the roused men cry: The Wavers have taken our daughter.
As if I was theirs to keep. Like a bowl, or an axe, or a beast.
The Child Bride’s Action Plan In Case of a Tsunami
Follow the evacuation procedure. Leave before he gets home; take the money he thinks you don’t know about from the drawer in his desk. Pray this shitty life is washed away.
Move to higher ground. Take the hidden path through the woods, up and up. From the treetops, command the water to lunge at the land, to grope and claim it all.
Return home only when told it’s safe. It’s never safe. Make him believe the wave took you, battered, spun, and ripped you apart. Keep going till the sea is lost from view and you can no longer drown.
The Collector’s Wife
My husband crouches at a rock-pool high on the shore. Spume-laced water laps my feet. If he notices before Ten, I’ll go back.
I wade into the blue-green-gray. I’m waist deep.
He sits up; examines whatever he’s captured.
I’m up to my chest. My skin tingles, thickens.
Five, six, seven.
My bones crack, shift, re-form into something sleeker. Sea-salt rimes my eyelashes.
He stands, pockets his prize.
My heart stops beating. I duck my head, shake rainbow-droplets. I’m not cold anymore.
‘Cathy?’ His voice, thin as a seagull screech.
Too late. I’m free.
The Waving Woman
Keziah loved the way the permanently waving woman entered every room of the dolls house with a joyful greeting, for the husband with legs splayed, never looking up from his newspaper, the child lying on its stomach, feet kicking the air, reading a book with unturnable pages. Undaunted by her disappointing life, the woman seemed to dance to unheard music, her arm raised in ecstasy.
Today, Keziah finds the woman in the loft, separated from home and household. Her painted lips are downturned, as though all along she had been waving goodbye. Keziah wonders why she never noticed this before.
What I Realised Van Gogh Was Telling Me When I Looked At Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890
Look how the wheat is stirred by the breeze, says the guide and our necks undulate this way and that as if we are on a raft, feeling each ripple of the field. Impasto, she addsand I wait for Hugh’s theatrical whisper. Thickly textured he announces as the group moves on. I stay, looking at the rise and fall of flowing lines, swirls; each stroke says freedom, possibility. Hugh doesn’t turn around to look for me. And so I listen to the swell of thoughts that I have long pushed down and let myself be carried out the door.
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