November Flashes – the Pamela Miller Memorial Prize

And the 2016 prize goes to …

Neville Hiatt for his story, ‘2016’.

Pamela Miller was a very active and productive member of Ballarat Writers. She wrote short stories and poetry and won the ‘Murder at MADE’ short story competition held in conjunction with the Sisters in Crime Festival in 2014, and in early 2015 was part of the ‘Poetry Pathways’ ekphrastic project. She was also the winner of a number of Ballarat Writers monthly Flash Fiction competitions. Pamela died in June 2015 after a short illness.

The prize is $100.00 and a certificate. The winner will be announced at our final Members’ night for the year on Wednesday, 30 November.

The process for submission is similar to the monthly Flash Fiction competition:

Genre:          open, however, poetry and non-fiction pieces will not be accepted for this competition

Theme:         everyone is welcome

Words:         350 – 400 words

Keyword:     corner (remember to include this word in your story)

Entry Conditions:

You must be a Ballarat Writers member to enter.

Entries will not be accepted if they exceed the maximum word limit – even if by a word, and must comply with all the stated parameters.

All entries are to be submitted to competitions@ballaratwriters.com by Sunday, 20th November 2016. Your email must include author’s name, story title and word count.

Voting will open the next day here on the blog.

Come along to our Members’ Night on Wednesday, 30 November, 7pm at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel to hear the winner announced. (Results will also be posted here on the blog the day after.)

This month’s Flash Fiction entries are:

Entry 1   Bargains                                   Words: 390

Kaz poked her head around the corner. Sure enough Tash was there, standing outside Portridge’s Fashion House waiting for the end of season sale to start; and in the window was that dress Kaz had her eye on. A pale blue slim line. Half price today. Its style would flatter her whale-sized hips. Tash would have noticed the dress too. Tash, her neighbour with the perfect figure and oodles of money, who always stole the bargains from Kaz’s finger tips. Not today though! Kaz strode across the street, squeezed her way through the crowd and stood beside Tash. Tash turned her head and smiled.

“Hello Kaz, are you going to buy anything?”

“No, just looking.” Kaz sneaked a sideways glance at the dress in the window. “Are you?”

“Yes maybe.”

The door opened, the crowd surged forward, Kaz and Tash neck to neck. In the foyer the unthinkable happened. Kaz was jostled against an advertising stand, wedging her arm between two of its rungs. She let out an almighty screech and by the time staff came to her rescue and released her, the crowd had dispersed throughout the store. Then she saw Tash coming towards her on the way out, a familiar pink Portridge bag swinging in her hand, a triumphant smile eclipsing her face. The dress! Kaz’s immediate thought.  Suddenly a green goblin rose within her. She jumped in front of Tash, grabbed the bag from her fingers and ran into the street, throwing it over the road as a big truck was passing. The bag sashayed across the truck. Its contents, a frilly red nightdress spilled out, catching on the smoke stack. The nightdress waved like the national flag along the road until it disappeared on the other side of a rise with the truck.

“What did you do that for? Tash glared at Kaz.

“I thought you’d bought my dress.” Kaz looked at the window where a sales girl was slipping the dress off the mannequin, to the delight of a customer standing nearby. Tash’s eyes followed Kaz’s gaze.

“Seems as though both of us have missed out on our bargains today!”

“I’m sorry about your nightdress Tash.”

“I don’t think I like it afterall; it was pretty loud hanging off that truck.  They laughed.

“I really did want that dress though,” said Kaz with a sigh.

 

Entry 2  Journey to a Better Life                          Words: 390

The waves threatened to topple our tiny boat. My stomach felt sick from the constant rocking motion but I tried to ignore this as I held my baby daughter Rosa closer to my chest.
Salt water burned my nostrils and the water kept splashing onto my face stinging my eyes. My teeth kept chattering, but I didn’t care. I had to be strong and see this through for my child’s sake.
This was our chance to finally turn the corner and to start a new life. Our guide told us everyone was welcome in the country we were travelling to. Violence and fear was what we were leaving behind. My husband Andre had been killed last week. A suicide car bomb had driven straight into his office block and exploded. I still felt completely numb. This is how I found the strength to carry on. Anything can be achieved when one feels numb all over. Numbness takes over anxiety or fear. I felt mechanical, like I was just going through the motions. One foot in front of the other. That was my mantra now. I repeated it in my head constantly. I would not even think about what happened to Andre. It was just too painful. I hugged Rosa a little tighter.
I heard a loud cracking noise and someone on the boat started to yell. Our boat was starting to break up, we were taking on water fast. Our tiny vessel was just no match for the angry waves dancing around us.
A tiny glimpse of land appeared on the horizon. We were nearly there! My feelings of jubilation soon turned to despair as there was another almighty crack and our boat literally broke in half. We were all plunged into the cold ocean. I kicked under the water with all my might to bring my body back to the surface. Finally I felt the sun on my face and gasped for air. Rosa was crying so I knew she was still alive. I held her tight with my left arm as I grabbed onto a piece of the boat that was floating around us. I placed Rosa onto it and started towards the land. Tears welled up in my eyes. To be this close and not make it was too cruel. I remembered my mantra and started kicking.

 

Entry 3    A Click of the Mouse                            Words:  400

Vivian wanted a small party for her 60th birthday, only a few family members and her best friend Alice. She and Alice had been friends for 30 years – since the days they both worked in the school canteen.

Alice had worked in IT for the last twenty years; Viviane was a stay at home mum.  Alice was very savvy with mobile phones, the internet, had an iPad, with all the apps. Viviane owned an old brick of a mobile, no internet, could just manage a few text messages when necessary. Still this difference did not hinder their friendship.

Alice wanted to arrange the party for Vivian’s birthday, as a favour to her friend. She also had a computer and this made the job so easy, a click of the mouse and the job would be done.

Alice enjoyed organising others, which sometimes irritated Vivian, but she let it go as she valued Alice’s friendship in other ways.  Vivian only had a few friends, wasn’t really a social person, so Alice brought a lot of excitement to Vivian’s life, which at times seemed rather dull to Alice.  She enjoyed telling Vivian of the lives of her well–to–do friends, and Vivian was a good listener.

Alice had a long list of people on her contact list. She never had any trouble getting a crowd, and even though Vivian said she only wanted a small party, Alice knew she really deserved a great party. And so did Alice.

So Alice set about arranging the party, and turned on the computer in the corner of the lounge. The food was easy; ordered online, with a variety of finger food from various countries, no ordinary party food.  Alice really was a food snob. Then the cake – she accessed an app and created her own design,    ordered plenty of wine and champagne, then moved on to the music. A sixty’s band would be the thing; she and Vivian loved to dance to rock and roll.

With this all done, she set up an email, typed ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ in the Subject box, then added information about the party, and directions.

Alice was adding a few select contacts when the phone rang. Reaching over she bumped the mouse, then thought, ‘Better send these off first,’ and clicked ‘Send.’

Grabbing the phone, she glanced back at the computer; then stared at the message:

‘Sent to All Contacts’.

 

Entry 4  In the Company of Others                      Words:  400

He stood at the door, watching, undecided. Barbara noticed him as she set out the tea and cakes. She’d seen him often in the library; he never stayed long, exchanged his books and left. He was always in the same baggy trousers and knitted jumper, and shuffled around in a pair of dirty old shoes. Staff quietly sprayed the room after he left.

Barbara looked across at him now and beckoned. ‘Everyone’s welcome, we’re starting a new book club.’

He glanced at the others gathered around the room, lowered his eyes, and turned away.

Next week he appeared at the door again.

Barbara hurried over. ‘Do join us please; we’d love to hear about the books your reading.’

The other members smiled and rearranged the chairs. He hesitated, then ambled across and sat on a chair in the corner.  He said very little, nodding now and then when the others spoke. When asked, he told them his name was William, and he lived nearby in a house down by the river.

Each week he returned and sat again in the same chair.

Barbara greeted him and enquired, ‘It’s good to see you William, what have you been reading this week?’

‘I’ve been reading biographies and history novels,’ he said as he pulled books from his bag. He mentioned his years as a teacher; how he’d taught students the history of many wars, and the lives of the men who led them. With encouragement, he started sharing the books that were important to him and quoted passages from stories he’d read.

As the weeks passed, Barbara noticed a change in William’s clothing, his hair had been cut and washed, and a new pair of shoes appeared.  Gradually he moved closer within the circle, and smiled when he arrived each week. He joined in the discussions of various books, and showed understanding as the other members listened to him with interest and enjoyment.

William often stayed after the meetings to help clean up, and sometimes shared his thoughts with Barbara. ‘I look forward to coming here, I like talking to the others. Things have been hard lately but I have a reason now to get up each day.’

Barbara nodded; she understood.

At a meeting of the library staff, Barbara was asked how the book club was progressing. Reflecting on the meetings, she realised it was far more than a book club.

 

Entry 5   Lost                                        Words:  364

Some say they know a place like the back of their hand. Declan Pierce, with a proud sense of civic ownership, took it a step further. He claimed to know his town by the soles of his feet, each slap of leather against concrete affirming his sense of belonging; however, when put to test, they failed to meet his boast.

Declan was lost, irrevocably lost in the mist that covered the familiar streets and landmarks of his home town. He had left the library half an hour before, when a persistent doubt whether he had turned the stove off at home refused to be stilled, his mind playing out scenarios of fire and destruction. Unable to bear the uncertainty any longer he put down the books he was replacing on the shelves and set out for the ten minute walk to his home.

Stepping out the door, he walked into an unseasonal fog that denied vision and consigned sound to the imagination, and he groped his way blindly down the paths he had trodden for most of his uneventful fifty-three years, no longer certain of any compass direction. He could make out muffled footsteps of others adrift in the above ground ocean of whiteness, the whoosh of car tyres and the refraction of light from headlamps that glared back at drivers, the only recognisable demarcation between road and pavement. He put his trust in the soles of his shoes, that long marriage of leather and concrete, ignoring the emergency vehicle sirens throwing their voices from building to building on the other side of his reduced reality.

Home was only seconds away. He could feel it and he ran with that half falling down lope, synonymous with men of a certain age, guided by his feet. Turning the corner on the home straight, his shoe argued with the pavement and he pitched forward, arms flailing, searching for the familiar.

Workers leaving the library after the fog had lifted walked unseeing past the brown brogues discarded by the steps. The marriage over and the fire of his doubt forgotten, Declan Pierce now put his faith in the unfettered soles of his feet to lead him home.

 

Entry 6   Cheap Batteries                      Words: 397

Alice looked over at Nina who was sitting in front of the laptop typing away, squeezed in between the Christmas tree and a pile of books stacked up on the floor.  The tree had been up since late November as Nina loved putting it up early.

“Do you need the computer?” Nina asked.

“No, I am right, thanks.”

“Okay, I’m getting off now. Have you put the wreath lights on?” Nina asked as it was starting to get quite dark.

“Yes, I have.”  Alice replied and felt that there was more coming, maybe something about the batteries.

“Let’s go and look, I’m sure those cheap batteries you got from the milk bar on the corner are starting to lose their power. Come outside with me and I will show you,” Nina got up and headed out onto the front porch and started studying the wreath. Alice followed closely behind and shut the screen door just in time to stop one of their cats from escaping.

“See! Look they are only half as bright as last night. They are definitely fading.  Can you go up to the shops and get some better batteries,” Nina said with urgency and then shortly after waved to some people going down the street.

“They were looking at our wreath; either that or they were just waving to me cos I am Asian. They probably don’t even celebrate Christmas. I am not a normal Asian.”

“You’re not normal full stop and that is why I love you.  I’d better go to the shops now,” Alice said and kissed Nina before leaving the porch.

As she came home with the batteries Alice saw their neighbour putting up a sign out the front of their house.

“I saw next door putting up a sign but I couldn’t see what it was,” Alice announced as she came back into the house.

“Can you go and ask them?”  Nina pleaded.

“You go.”

“No, you go. You got better clothes on than me.”

“Alright, I’ll go,” whined Alice as she headed out. She caught her neighbour Susie putting the last cable tie on her sign.

“Hi Susie,” Alice spoke the words in a quiet tone as she approached.

“Hi. I’m just putting up a sign for our Christmas party. You and Nina are welcome, in fact tell everyone. Oh, by the way I like your wreath this year.”

 

Entry 7   2016                         Words: 375

It took me a second to see her curled up in the corner. Her matted hair covering her face. It never got any easier, as my heart went out to her as it did to most new arrivals on their first day.  This was the part that years of training couldn’t have prepared you for. Even months into the job with each new child and their own unique story it was a challenge to make them feel safe and welcome.  The attrition rate within the staff was almost as bad as at the front. Some days it felt like there was no where to hide from the horrors they had witnessed.

They should have been playing or reading a book and instead they were dealing with PTSD before puberty. I was classed as one of the lucky ones having been injured beyond repair for service at the front line. Though how lucky am I really, knowing that if I perform my job too well they will just end up back at the front.  I often think the lucky ones are the ones whose names are read for the final time at sunrise and sunset.

I don’t even try and engage her that first day. Experience as short as it’s been has quickly taught me that just leaving her daily rations next to her is enough for now. If I give her the time and space she will hopefully come out of her shell. Continuing down the corridor relying on my sheet to try and remember everyone’s names. Sometimes forgetting helps, but the flicker of light I’ve come to see in some of their eyes just by saying their names is one of the few bright points about my new role.  Matty, Fred, Patricia, I never get to spend enough time with them to hear their whole story but there are no divisions here. With no garden or park to play in the indoor courtyard is slowly turning into a mural of the world as it was before as salvaged art supplies are used to tell stories of where everyone has come from.

It’s a sad blight on our society that it’s here with room after room of wounded where all those differences no longer matter.

 

Entry 8   Goodbye Holly                 Words: 386

‘C’mon, don’t tell me you don’t want some of this.’ She slides her dress up her thighs. She’s been picking her scabs, they look pink and weepy and there’s a line of blood on one of her shins. She smiles, in what she must suppose is a seductive way. There’s lipstick on her teeth.

‘Damn it, you’re drunk again.’

I turn away, wanting to bolt from the room. She launches herself at me screaming and lashing out with more force than seems possible for her size.

‘Holly, it’s alright please calm down.’

‘You don’t understand,’ she says, sitting down on the edge of the bed with her long hair hanging forward. I kneel in front of her pushing her hair back, needing to see her face, afraid to see it. Underneath the smudged lipstick and the dark tear tracks can I find the Holly that I recognize, the Holly that I came here to see? Not the vixen who flashes her Lolita smile to elicit control, the way a rich man flashes his cash. Not the broken doll with the torn knees and bruises, but the shiny pony girl with the glitter rainbow eyes, who’s freckles are fallen stars in disguise.

I stare at her face letting my eyes go out of focus, as if she was one of those magic eye puzzles that you can only see properly when you stop looking. But Holly has gone, all the Holly’s are gone. Her dark eyes look right through me.

She touches my cheek, a cold dismissive gesture, devoid of thought or appetite, she might be raising a potato chip to her mouth while watching television. She goes into the bathroom closing and locking the door with the quiet click of something fragile snapping.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The bartender hands me my jacket and as I turn to go I catch sight of her leaving with some guy. What the hell?

No sign of them outside. The cold wind slaps my cheeks causing my eyes water. Empty bottles clink, fall over, rattle roll along the ground, muffled speech, a giggle, Holly? I round the corner and there they are in the alley. She looks up and our eyes meet, hers widen in horror and fill with tears, she is pushing him away, calling my name. But it’s too late.

 

Entry 9  Everyone is Welcome                  Words: 400

Jimmy wasn’t at school yesterday. Ms Newman remembered, it was Wednesday the sun was shining and Jimmy wasn’t at school.

”Where were you yesterday?” she asked Jimmy.

”At home,” replied Jimmy.

”Hmm!” at home she thought, “something s not quite right here.”

“Jimmy how did you get mud all over your pants? because Tuesday

they were clean.”

“Oh!” replied Jimmy “I fell over on the way to school today.”

“The mud is dry as if a day or two old.” Questioned  Ms Newman.

“Good mud,” said Jimmy. “It dries hard and dries quick.”

Ms Newman became annoyed. She knew Jimmy wasn’t at home yesterday and he was most likely out with his cousin John. John didn’t go to school as his parents needed him to help around the farm.

This wasn’t the first time Jimmy had missed class and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Out with cousin John yesterday, were you Jimmy?” Jimmy smiled! “Better than school is it Jimmy?”

Jimmy’s smile broadened as he nodded his head.

“Well now! What shall I do with you Jimmy?”

Jimmy answered. “Nothing.” “Ok! Nothing It shall be.” Replied  Ms Newman.

“I think it best you go sit in the corner for the rest of the class” Ms Newman said.

“Ok!” replied Jimmy as he leant below his seat and picked up a medium sized box.

“What is in the box?” Ms Newman asked. “Nothing!” replied Jimmy.

This wasn’t the first time Jimmy had brought a box to school, one time he had a tortoise in it another a lizard and another a snake.

“Ok Jimmy you take your box and go sit over there.”

“I will be right back” said Ms Newman.

The teacher hurriedly walked out the class room heading for the headmasters office. Before she made it to see Headmaster Stic,  Ms Newman heard screams and laughter coming back from her class room. She turned and ran back.

Ms Newman flung open the door to see the girls standing on their desks screaming and the boys either sitting or standing laughing at the screaming girls. And there was Jimmy sitting quietly with the biggest of grins. His box by now missing it’s lid. Ms Newman bent down to see what or if anything had escaped from Jimmy’s box.

“Oh! How I hate these she thought,” while she gazed at a dozen or so, big green frogs jumping about her classroom floor.

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