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 “Catch”.
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 23rd May 2022. Results will be announced on Tuesday 24th. Good luck everyone!
Catch of the Day
Chips and Scraps : Sharing a bag on the way home from school. The bus shelter smelt of fags and wee, but when you kissed me, you tasted of salt and vinegar.
Hand Battered Cod and Triple Cooked Chips : We thought it would be ironic for a wedding breakfast. You spilt ketchup on your rented suit, but we laughed anyway.
Plaice and Chips Twice : Every Friday for twenty years.
Large Chips : Bought near the hospital after your scan, left uneaten.
Tesco Fish and Chips for One: I scrape them in the bin. Now you’re gone, I’m not hungry.
Always Playing Catch-Up
1970s: Placenta around throat. Intervention from midwife. Slap! Blue skin turned pink, alive, “screaming your lungs out” (Mother).
1980s: Didn’t see glass door. Tears, gashes, copious blood – “otherwise no harm done” (Father).
1990s: School trip to Greece. Pitching ferry. Man overboard! Rescued by lifeguard. Pride dented, but “lucky to be alive” (Headmaster Staniforth).
2000s: Late for work. Missed train. Took car instead. Later, “Worst rail tragedy for a decade” (Huw Edwards).
2010s: A momentary loss of focus, busy junction. “An inch to the right and …” (Dr Sharma).
2020s: A blot on the page. Black on white. “At last” (me).
He is kissing the filigree of white lines on the inside of her wrist and she pulls away and reaches for the bottle. It’s been a month now and she never lets it go longer. He’s starting to make plans, talk about their future. Like they all did. There are some children with a teacher, in the park across from them. They are playing a game, blindfolded, where they partner up and one has to fall backwards and the other has to catch them. Let me in, he whispers. But he doesn’t know what happened last time she did that.
The Secret to A Maze is to Keep Turning Left
The corn is at its tallest where we enter.
Buttery silk tassels catch in our curls. Arms outstretched, we twist off the lower leaves as we run,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxour wake: breadcrumbs for anyone bold enough to follow.
Our footfalls echo over sun-baked ground. We’re abuzz for boys wearing cut-off shorts and for stolen cigarettes we’re too chicken to try.
Come September, on opposite sides of the county, we’ll pin up identical Polaroids, XOXO inked in their frames, our closeness a glossy, laminated memory.
Spiralling towards the centre, we race to outrun the shadows at summer’s end.
The Lock Box
The small once-shiny box lies at the bottom of the wardrobe, dusty among the discarded shoes, belts, old train tickets, receipts for things long since used, forgotten, misplaced.
Inside the box lies a curl of auburn hair forty years old.
She doesn’t know what to do with the box now he’s gone. Her time is limited – she knows this. She can’t leave it behind for others to find, to become used, forgotten, or misplaced. She can’t ask people to remember what they don’t know, what they’ve never known.
And the box catch is rusty now, corroded by time and tears.
Catch the Drips
A bright light spills dark shadows over my new-born’s eyelids. Her weight is nothing, a floating lightness.
They are all present – grandmothers, great-aunts and sisters alike, living and dead – to see me breast feed for the first time. My neck prickles under their collective, anticipatory gaze.
Everyone has a tip:
‘Careful with the head!’
‘Watch the nipple!’
‘Catch the drips!’
My mum tells me – with treasonous pursed lips – that I am too tense.
The baby shrinks in my hold, disappearing with hunger –
In the dark quiet, I can hear the beat of her unborn heart.
How to Catch and Keep a Kiss
You blew me kisses from the front doorstep, stooped in your dressing-gown, as I left for work. I’d mime catching them like a cricket fielder, shouting, “Howzat!” and reached into the air. You’d grin.
When your illness made you weaker, the same ritual applied, with a backstop catch at the bedroom door. Your smiles muted by pain.
These days I keep those kisses in a jar. When I wake in darkness, hollow with missing you, they glow like fireflies. I unscrew the lid, they fly about me fluttering, until I feel them gently settling on my skin with a ‘shush’.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lipstick But Were Too Afraid to Ask
The lipstick was in the air before the word had left my sister’s mouth.
My panic raced and arced in unison with the gift. This precious gift. I watched it rise and fall towards me. And I saw adolescence. New decisions. Fear — all looming up behind.
Ham-fisted, it fell through my sausage fingers to the ground.
For a beat, terror hit. I thought she would be furious, sad. Maybe she would walk away — turn, head shaking, brows down. Perhaps.
But I should have known.
My sister simply laughed and laughed. Stayed nearby. Comforted me.
And then threw another lipstick.
It always snags on my sweater; strands of wool pull free like candy floss. My mother told me to return it—why would I want it—he said keep it with sarcasm imbedded in the words like shrapnel. I saw a rainbow in it the other day when I tilted it toward the sun. While looking at the rainbow I saw a tiny reflection of my eye, red from all the crying. He came to the door, he did not have a key anymore, and I slipped it off and threw it—lightly—in the air and he caught it.
The soldier stops, ruffles her hair. She forces a giggle and steps back a few feet.
“Play with me!”
She throws him her green ball. He throws it back.
To and fro. To and fro.
She lets the ball slip from her fingers and it bounces away, exactly where she wants it to. With two skips she’s there at the half-ruined wall – the hiding place.
She picks it up. It’s heavy, but she’s been practising with lumps of concrete.
She pulls the pin. Counts to three. Throws it with both hands. Dives behind the wall.
This is for her father.
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