Congratulations to all our winners!
1st Tania Aslund
Natural Detachment: the (neurotic) woman, the (screaming) baby, and the (dream-catching) spider
There was once a woman who lived with a baby in the very highest room of the tallest apartment of the biggest city in the world. The woman cleaned the apartment and the baby screamed. Using gloves and bleach, the woman scrubbed the benches, she washed the walls, she vacuumed the rugs. The baby screamed. The woman polished surfaces to a mirror-finish, ironed curtains in crisp pleats, combed rug fringes to symmetrical perfection. The baby screamed. The woman cleaned the skirting boards and cleaned the architraves. The baby screamed. Putting on headphones, the woman took a squeezy bottle: squit squit, rub rub, she cleaned the windows until they were invisible. The baby screamed. A spider crept out from the wickerwork of the cradle. She sent a guiding thread drifting across the gap. Reeling and tightening the strand of silk, the spider spun a second and a third. Round-eyed, the baby watched. The spider joined the cross-threads, adjusted the tension, gauged the torsion. The woman swiped at the web with the duster. The baby whimpered, and the woman backed into the kitchen to clean the fridge with a toothbrush. The spider began again, reeling and tightening, tensioning and torsioning; round and round, spoke by spoke, wending and winding the weft and the warp of the web, the spider worked her magic. The baby gave a deep sigh. Her eyelids drooped. The spider continued, catching and collecting and collating. The baby slept. In the morning, the woman started cleaning: dust had fallen in the night. She wiped the cradle; she swiped the web. She opened the window a crack and flicked the spider out. The baby screamed and screamed and screamed. The woman looked down at the quiet cars far below: an eagle rose to fill the view, and the baby laughed.
2nd Samantha Rutledge
A Different Apple
You fell in love with her the way fruit ripens: unbearably slow and then all at once.
She works at the hardware store that sells cheap dog biscuits, and when she heaves the bag into the boot of your Honda you get a giddy feeling that you can’t find a name for.
“How many dogs do you have?”
Three tails bang against the seats, breath fogging up the windows.
You see her again one day at the park with her boyfriend and you like the way her smile blooms when she recognises you, unfurling with colour. Something stirs like the sea in your gut but you chalk it down to the batter from the fish and chips; the brown paper is still crumpled next to you and all soft with grease. It feels embarrassing that she’s seen you this way, human and eating; shine of oil at the edges of your mouth.
Your parents pray for this sort of thing not to happen. They sit in the bowels of their church and worry about sin while your thoughts have already strayed too far, even though if you bit into the fruit now it would still taste green. Too tart and unready.
Jeff thinks it's weird.
“I just can't see you with a wife.”
“I have no idea what that means,” you say confidently. Jeff will always be bitter because things didn't work out.
You're certain things won't work out. You'll wait too long and it'll go rotten; she'll forget you. Get married. Get her own dogs.
That’s why it surprises you to find her at the park alone. She looks sad, but when she sees you her smile becomes so bright it could be a sky full of galaxies.
A thumb press. The skin yields.
3rd Rob Burt
Air was on fire that day. Buyin beers to keep cool. Boy in truck windows down. More feared of him bakin than bin takin.
But takin he was. One min he's goo-fin away, next he's gone. Like he never bin there.
"Don't joke Manny! Not bloody funny! Where's Boy?" Girl screamin.
"No jokin Girl, some un takin him"
She gone all quiet. Jus starin but no seein. She's ere but not ere. Then one day, not ere at all.
It was easy for us at first. We'd been watching them. Pegged them as low-life. Doing little Saul a favour, we told ourselves. Only kids themselves. Time's on their side, not on ours.
Then it changed. Saw her on the street, months later. Words to describe her face elude me.
Waves of remorse washed over sleepless nights. Thou Shall Not Steal, a neverending mantra of guilt.
Yesterday I wrapped him up and left the house. Jason was at work. The Police Station only five minutes away. Yet didn't do it, was too late. He's mine now, he's mine. At least that's what I told myself.
Ma dreams start long-time back. lf ya call them dreams. No pictures, only sounds. Sounds of Boy gigglin no mistake. Ma eyes open, ma heart's heavin', still hearin him. For second am thinkin him back in ma room. But he aint. There's still only me. After that, sleepless.
All night waitin' for day to start agin.
4th Rita Shelley
Penny for your Thoughts
Shish…Ha…a…a. Deep inhale. Lungs of insight. Stuff’s so deep my ears and eyes are stiff. That bourgeois banker in the motorcar would call this a skid. He’d be scared. But we say, go with the flow, man. Drive into it, enjoy it. Like we used to sled our hill. Radio Flyers blazing. Soaring boy beneath the blue suburban skies.
Mom has her priorities. First, the living room couch. Second, the silver. Third, my brother. Fourth, my father. Me, fifth.
They say driving on ice is hard, scary. Nary, scary. You just get in the groove. Once I was a saxophonist, good enough to go to Julliard. Yeah, and played baseball - easy for me. I am coordinated, they say. From a tender age working, studying, good at stuff. Look at me, Mom.
Now I’ve seen the light. I thrive in my albums - Magical Mystery Tour, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Stunning artwork on the record jackets. I exist between the vinyl grooves. Making a hash of it. Ha! Funny guy.
Mom says I’ve grown dense these years at college. Her middle-class way of telling me the dope she knows/doesn’t know (how can she not?) is addling my brain. Drop acid to go to my job at the science lab. Liberated from the chains of achievement. Dropped down to B’s and C’s. But getting better all the time.
Shit. Shit. Shit. The car’s not stopping. I’m going over. Flash. Searing. Mama save me. I’m too young to die. Sergeant Pepper, don’t let it end.
Oh my god. My wheels are all touching. It’s a clean machine. Baruch atah adonoi. I’m alive beneath blue suburban skies. Stop and say hello.
Who cares where I’m going? It makes no nevermind. Light up again to clear my head.
Highly Commended Julia Whittaker
On my wedding night, I had a panic attack. I sat on the bed and fought the monster in my throat. My head hurt, my chest cramped. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was going to die.
My new husband held me. I was convulsing, he could barely keep his hands on me but his arms came around me tight, and he let me cry. He let me babble and wail nonsense. He held onto me, not saying a word as I rode the panic wave.
Time passed. The sun rose. I got up and put on my ‘morning after’ dress – it’s blue, regal, with a long row of pearl buttons that need fastening at the back. My husband did them for me; half-way up, he asked, “so what happened last night?”
I waited until the last button was clasped. Then I turned to him and said, “I was afraid.”
“I saw you. My friend. She was walking down the aisle and your eyes were on her. Then I came down the aisle, and your eyes were on me but your thoughts were on her.”
He was quiet. Then he reached out, turned me around, and started undoing the buttons. I pulled away and sank down on the bed, struggled to breathe. Not again.
Highly Commended Michael Botur
I wake up as Mumalade lurches into the house and drops her real precious diamond earrings from nana’s treasure chest into the fruit bowl. Chink. My dream about Bouncy Castle Land swirls down the plughole.
Mumalade’s got this little gremlin-man with sticky black hair squeezing her. His name’s Stan and he could really use a place to stay for a while.
Don’t you effword this up for me, Mumalade goes, peeling my hair off my ear so she can reach my cheek with her kissylips. He’s got a CAR, child.
Mumalade reeeally needs a car for dropping me off when it’s raining. Plus work.
‘You’re sure you don’t mind taking him?’ Mumalade goes in the morning while I’m still all blinky. She’s trying to drink and smoke and pull on her boots all at the same time.
Stan winks and grins. ‘Ever gotten driven to school in a Mustang, son?’
We go to the playground insteada school. I feel happy, but dirty too. He pushes me on the swing for aaaaages til all the mums with babies have gone. Then he stops the swing real sudden.
‘I’m gonna need your help on a secret CIA mission, boy,’ he goes, checking over his shoulder. ‘Gonna need you to tell me where your mum keeps the jewels at.’
All afternoon I feel stink. Mumalade tips my mattress upside down and screams and rings Nana. At dinner I suck her snotty mashpotatoes down my throat but it barely makes Mumalade happy.
Finally Stan clomps in and slaps some car keys on the table. Then he pulls the treasure chest out of his coat.
‘Got you a primo deal on a Holden,’ he goes, and kisses Mumalade’s tears, ‘And plenty of change. And you, my boy: no more walkin in the rain.