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The theme for this year's competition was '...one evening, 20 years ago...'
The Venn Diagram by Nicky Forrest
Louise tells me that I’m the most insular person she knows. It’s not
that I’m not interested in things; I’m interested in Greek poetry, WWII infantry and Bach.
But as a forty year old man living on his own, I tend to bask in the selfish isolation of my ivory tower. If I see something curious, I’m like a quick tongued lizard catching a fly; I grasp it, then bring it straight back to the comfort of my own armchair, ruminating on my ‘catch’ so that it becomes relevant to me alone.
Louise says that I never ask questions. Last week she told me that she was going fishing with her uncle. I said, ‘I went fishing once; too much standing around.’ All the time I knew that she was willing me to say, ‘Sounds like fun. Where are you going?’ Making it about her and not me.
Another time she told me about when she learnt to sail; how the dingy capsized and she couldn’t get back on the boat. And I think that was my cue to say something like, ‘Sounds hilarious; did you make it?’
Instead, I started on the story about how one evening, twenty years ago my dog drowned when it went overboard during rough weather on the Solent. You can get pet life jackets now, but back then you couldn’t.
Every conversation I have is about me. I’m like a venn diagram where all the circles are me and the bit in the middle where they overlap is my stage.
She says that if she’s to stay with me then I need to change. But the venn diagram is my skeleton; it’s the only thing between me and the ground. They say no man is an island. But this one is.
In The Frame by Laura Tapper
“But they’re not mine, officer…..honest! I’m just looking after
’em for a mate.”
“What’s his name, then, this mate of yours? Spill the beans and we might cut a deal,” snarls the police sergeant, flattening my face on his windscreen.
As if I’m gonna tell him. I may be no oil painting, but I still want my mother to be able to recognise me on visiting day. They wouldn’t let me go, anyway. Coppers are all the same - liars. No, there’s nothing for it – this is the end of the line. I’m not grassing Terry up. No way. I’d be dead within a week.
I’ve never been very nimble. Always big built. Stocky. I like my food. I was in the wrong line of business, really. I’d just moved here ’cos it was getting a bit hot and uncomfortable in Hackney. It’s a well-known fact that you should always do your homework when you move to a new area. You know, find out what’s what and who’s who. Network. But not me. Oh no, I was a cocky little toe rag.
That’s how I got into this mess. Teflon Terry came across me one evening, twenty years ago, half hanging out of his window, balancing his telly on my knee. He’d come back early from the pub, to see a man about some plants, and I bet he couldn’t believe ’is luck when he found me. I should have let him shop me. Done my time. It would have been easier; been over by now and I could have trained as a plumber while I was inside.
Instead of which, I struck a deal with him. Just deliver a bit of this and fetch a bit of that. Always one more favour and then we’d be square. Now I’m stood here with the counterfeits from the boot of my car blowing about in the breeze. When Terry finds out what I’ve cost him, I s’pose I’m dead anyway.
“Look, if I sing, I don’t want lettin’ off. I’ll be safer inside. How long’s a plumbing course take, anyway….?”
Hitting Home by Clive Harris
The train left Gary in the unmanned station. One other passenger stepped into
the night. Following, he saw High Street ahead, softened by lamp-lit November mist. He breathed
in his home town, heard its quietness. Opposite, Barclay’s Bank, now a disused wine-bar, up for
sale. Something had lived and died in his absence emphasising his many years away.
Where to go? Home? Not yet; they’d be overwhelmed. The Hope, he recalled, had rooms.
He passed familiar shopfronts housing unfamiliar stores.
He’d had to leave; trouble, in his youth, dogged him. Drugs, fights, expulsion. The family shamed. He’d grown up since; the Army, a spell of homelessness, his own business saw to that. And Time mends everything – gives perspective. His roots were here; important for his boys. Assuming he was granted access.
Reaching the Clock Tower he traced his initials chiselled deep in brick. His stomping ground, this; the roost he’d fought to rule - one kid left broken-jawed and stammering. They’d congregate here nightly, the town theirs – his town. Just along was Narrow Alley where he took the girls. Such sweet dark fumblings, though Angie screamed the place down high on E. Deserted now, everyone’s indoors on Facebook.
The Hope was bright but empty, the barmaid barely legal. As she drew his beer laughter exploded from the function rooms. “Annual knees-up,” she apologised, “Gaz Night.”
“Yeah. Story goes there was this youth, Gazzer. Terrorised the place. Nasty. Hurt people. Brain damaged one boy in a fight. Rapist, my mum said. Everyone wanted rid. So, one evening, twenty years ago, the local kids chased him, cornered him in the Clock Tower. Then, my mum stepped forward with a one-way ticket to London.”
Angie’s daughter stood the pint in front of him.
“Best bit, though, his mum and dad were there – they’d packed his suitcase! He begged… cried, they said, as the train pulled out. Three ten, thanks.”
He asked, “Can I still get to Bristol, tonight?”
“Quarter-past train. Ages, yet,” she said, ringing up the till. But when she turned back with his change he’d gone, his beer untouched.