Henshaw Short Story Competition
    Henshaw Short Story Competition

            

 

 

  March 2021 Competition Winners are: - 

 

 

 

First Prize:

 

Victoria McKay of Clacton-on-Sea

for

‘Little Victory’

 

 

 

Second Prize:

 

Kate Ashmore

for

‘Café Reunion’

 

 

 

 Third Prize:

 

Trudie Thomas

for

‘The Letterbox’

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**********

                        

 

 

‘Little Victory’

 

by

 

Victoria McKay

                        

 

 

 “Oh my god, it’s you isn’t it?” He looked at me scornfully through his side swept fringe.

I could already feel the heat radiating off my cheeks. He directed his voice towards our physics teacher.

“Miss, I can’t sit here, something smells like shit.” The end of his voice pinched in a whine.

“I’m sure you can deal with it for another thirty minutes, Harry.” Mrs Hayward supressed a sigh as she turned toward us, sat together in the front row, but most definitely not by choice.

I averted my gaze and stared at some helpful space equation like it would stop further humiliation. Though she had meant well by her statement, all she had done was confirm that something did indeed smell shitty.

Someone tapped a rattling pen against their knee, another was flitting through the text book. Mrs Hayward continued about some obscure fact that I was too distracted to pay attention to. Harry stayed reluctantly quiet for two minutes. During which time he sat, pinching his nose, throwing his lad-pack the occasional exasperated eye roll.

Two minutes. I would have let the moment go, if I knew that Harry would drop it. No.

Instead I spent two minutes revisiting the experience of my lunch-time toilet break.

I don’t normally shit at school. I wait (doesn’t everyone) until I can go home. Not to savour the experience, simply because school toilets are small and not well ventilated and plus…well…people.

Today was different. Today was urgent. So much so, I had forgotten to check if the cubicle I entered was equipped with enough toilet roll, before I hastily plonked myself on the seat. I don’t know how much time passed, all I knew was abdominal agony and the smell. God, what had I eaten?

I stared at the clumps of wet toilet paper that dotted the ceiling, read the self-pity graffiti on the cubicle walls and sure enough, just as I was reading ‘P.B. hearts D.H. 4 life’ (furiously scribbled out by this point), I reached for the loo roll to find two squares left.

Two squares. The shame of the moment. I wiped carefully. Knowing and feeling that it was not enough. I couldn’t very well stand and shuffle to the neighbouring cubicle, because at this low point, a gaggle of year nine’s had entered.

“It fucking stinks in here, someone spray.” One of the barked. The unmistakable smell of Poundland body mist filled the room. It caught in the back of my throat making my eyes water, I willed myself not to cough.

I sat and drip-dried like sad towel until they had departed. Then, I ripped off my panty-liner and wiped as best I could with it, hoping that the universe didn’t have it in for me to the extent that it would bring on my period as well.

I went to class and crossed my fingers, a mantra of - please don’t smell of shit, please don’t smell of shit - going through my mind. Eyes burned into the back of my head in the way that eyes do every time you’ve done something so horrific you think everyone can tell by just looking at you.

And everything was fine. Until Harry fucking Holland piped up from his science stool next to mine.

I was dragged back to the present when Harry announced to his friends “Oi, anyone wanna swap, I’m dying over here.” Gesturing to me. The lot of them smirked flicking their identical fringes. And then he did it. He actually did it.

He leant towards me, purposefully and slowly. One eye on Mrs Hayward as he reached a hand under the desk, as though fumbling for his bag. Clever, considering that his bag was the other side of him. He paused, head level with my waist. I shuffled as far away as the narrow stool would allow. He looked at me and sniffed, deeply and loudly. I was trying to look defiant, but I am pretty sure I just looked terrified. A triumphant smile spread over his stupid face. He rose just as purposefully as he’d descended and tried once more with our teacher.

“It’s you. Miss it’s definitely her, can I move?” He was practically drooling over-confidence at this point.

Mrs Hayward turned with all the unamused distain she could muster and her shoulders dropped as she looked at me apologetically and asked “Have you checked the bottom of your shoes Phillipa?”

I was stricken, but I obeyed and one after the other, I bought each foot atop of the opposite knee. My shoes were clean – it’s me, it’s me, it’s me – the mantra was back. I shook my head slowly.

“Have you Harry?” Mrs Hayward turned to him, her voice clipped short like a thick green lawn.

“ME?!” He exclaimed. Mrs Hayward just nodded.

He pushed back on his chair forcefully and lifted his left foot, there was nothing there, I could tell because he grew more confident as he lifted his right foot. This time I could see. So could half the class who, in their enthusiasm to support Harry, had deserted their notebooks and were peering over my shoulder. There, embedded into the intricate sole of his converse, was shit. Dog shit presumably.

Harry fell silent as he placed his right foot back down on the bar of his stool hesitantly. He looked as though he stopped breathing. I was relieved, more relieved than I had ever been.

“Well I’m sure you can find a place to wash it off between classes Harry, as long as Phillipa isn’t too bothered by the smell I suppose?” She turned to me, the barest hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. I shook my head. Harry was silent for half an hour. Not one glance at his mob. When Mrs Hayward announced it was time to pack away, he was the first out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

 

 

‘Café Reunion’

 

by

 

Kate Ashmore

 

 

 

Holly paused outside, catching sight of her hesitant reflection in the glass. She felt overly aware of herself; a long-forgotten teenaged desire to make herself small, shrink into the background, was simmering just under the surface. She smoothed her black hair down unnecessarily, watched her reflection square her shoulders and, before she could change her mind, pushed open the café door.

She saw Amy immediately. She was sat towards the back of the café with her black hair falling in soft waves across her shoulders. She looked achingly familiar. Everyone had always said they looked like they could be related - Holly and Amy, the black-haired twins – but Holly had always thought Amy was the prettier of the two. Amy’s eyes were a startling blue and her cheeks always a healthy rose. When they were younger, Holly had seen herself as the toned-down version of Amy; less glowing, a little rougher around the edges. She approached hesitantly, pausing to allow a mother and pram weave around the tables.

‘Hi,’

Amy, who had seemingly been engrossed in the dark swirls within her coffee cup, jumped slightly.

‘Oh my god, Holly!’

She stood up, all smiles, and raised her arms as though they were going to hug. This was too much for Holly; this was supposed to be a sombre affair and Amy’s smiles and hugs were not part of the equation. She unconsciously took a tiny, half-step backwards and watched as Amy’s smile momentarily faltered. Her arms fell limply but they were both saved from the awkward moment by the waitress dashing past.

‘Can I get you anything?’

‘Yes,’ Holly said gratefully. ‘A cappuccino please.’

Amy shook her head and then they both slowly sank into the chairs as the waitress bustled off. Amy curled her hands around her coffee cup, the smile still half-plastered across her face but not quite reaching her eyes.

‘I wasn’t sure you would be here,’ said Holly.

Amy looked surprised. ‘But I asked to meet you?’

‘I know. But… you know.’ Holly swallowed and resisted the urge to point out that in the last couple of years of their friendship Amy had become notoriously flaky, her excuses more outlandish. The same grandfather had died three times for crying out loud.

‘I wanted to see you Hols, it’s been so long!’

‘It has,’ Holly agreed. She realised she was perched on the edge of her seat with her coat still on as though she was going to bolt for the door any second. She forced herself to shrug out of the coat and sit back. She had to do this properly. Whatever the outcome of this, a line had to be drawn in her metaphorical sand. She forced herself to smile.

‘So, how are you? What are you doing these days?’

Some of Amy’s initial enthusiasm reappeared as she responded.

‘I’m good! I’m a marketing executive now. I live near here – do you know Dean Street? The apartment block with the white brick?’

Holly nodded. She did know it and she knew it was expensive. She couldn’t imagine him living there and she felt the stirrings of optimism. The facts in front of her – good career, nice place to live, healthy glow – all aligned with that first, hopeful, thought she’d had when Amy’s name had popped up on her phone for the first time in six years.

‘How about you? What do you do now?’ Amy asked.

‘I work in publishing.’

‘Just like you always wanted!’

Holly smiled.

‘And where do you live?’

‘Just outside of town.’

‘On your own?’

‘With my husband.’

Amy froze with her coffee cup half way to her mouth and it was only then, when she noted that she felt nothing but grim satisfaction, that Holly realised just how angry she was.

‘You’re married?’ Amy said in hushed tones.

‘Yes.’

‘But,’ Amy’s voice was almost childlike. ‘You didn’t tell me.’

Holly, who had hoped to not be so accusatory, raised her eyebrows.

‘It’s been six years Amy. You do remember the last time we saw each other?’

Guilt flashed across Amy’s face and for a moment her last words seemed to echo between them. Holly still vividly remembered the physical pain they had caused, how she had doubled over and clutched at an invisible wound.

The waitress arrived with a cappuccino and they were both silent. Holly sipped the foaming coffee and watched the waitress move to the next table. She sensed, rather than saw, Amy’s sharp inhale.

‘I’m so sorry for what I said that night Holly. I’ve thought about it a lot since then and I handled it so wrong. I understand why you walked away but… I guess I thought you might come back one day. And I know that’s silly and I never reached out either. Somehow, I thought it might all repair itself, then suddenly it was six years later and I realised I’d spent all that time missing you. God, I’ve missed you.’

Holly swallowed the lump in her throat and risked looking at Amy. Her blue eyes were shiny and sincere.

‘I missed you too Ames,’ she whispered. ‘I nearly called so many times. I just felt so angry that he’d come between us, after all those years…’

Amy’s eyes dropped at the mention of him and Holly forced herself to continue before she lost the nerve. She knew she had to say it.

‘And I felt so guilty. Like I’d failed you. You and I always looked after each other, right from that very first day in reception. And something awful was happening to you right before my eyes and I didn’t help. I know I could have done more; I know I could’ve…’ She felt on the verge of tears, willing Amy to understand.

‘I didn’t know what it was Amy. I knew it was wrong but… well, no one used the term coercive control when we were teens did they? And…’

‘What are you talking about?’

Holly froze.  Amy had the strangest expression on her face.

‘Why are you talking about coercive control?’

‘Because that’s… that’s what he did. Liam.’

‘What the hell Holly? Liam isn’t abusive! Why would you say that?’

‘You don’t seriously still believe that? It’s been years and…’

Isn’t abusive.

‘You’re still with him,’ Holly choked in horror.

Amy looked confused but her entire body bristled, like when a cat’s hair stands on end.

‘Yes. We live together.’

‘But, then, why did you call?’

‘What do you mean, why? Because I missed you?’

‘I thought it meant you were no longer with him. That you were allowed to see me again.’

Allowed?! I can’t believe you’re still spouting this rubbish all these years later. Liam always said you were jealous Holly but come on! We’re not seventeen anymore.’

Amy’s smile was almost smug and Holly had a strange urge to grab her by the shoulders and shake, if only to remove it. Instead, she forced her voice to be calm.

‘Do you think our friendship fell apart because I was jealous?’

‘Not quite so literally. But it didn’t help. I know what I said that night was the worst and I take responsibility for it, but you contributed too. I know it was hard me getting a boyfriend after all those years of it just being the two of us. But that is what happens when you’re in your teens.’

‘Yes, it is and I got that. It was him abusing you that I had a problem with.’

‘Why are you still saying that?’ Amy glanced around at the tables nearby. ‘Do you honestly still believe it?’

Holly didn’t lower her voice.

‘He stopped you seeing me.’

‘Don’t exaggerate. We couldn’t be joined at the hip…’

‘He said you had a drinking problem when you’d only ever drunk a couple of alcopops in your entire life.’

‘I shouldn’t have been drinking at 17 anyway!’

‘He forced you to delete your Facebook profile.’

‘He didn’t force… it’s an awful site anyway!’

‘Hannah’s 18th? You lied to him so you could come and then he rang you in a rage and said if you didn’t leave, he would post naked photos of you in the internet.’
          Amy flinched.
               ‘I was stood right next to you, I heard him say it! He said you looked like a slut if you wore a dress above the knee. He said you had to lose weight and that he thought you were pretty but no one else would despite the fact you have always been the most beautiful girl in the room. Everyone always wanted to go out with you and he hated it. He didn’t want you to go to university, he used to try and stop you going to school. He…’

‘Stop it, stop it, stop it!’

The café momentarily quietened and several people looked over at the two black-haired women both crying, both breathing heavily.

‘I walked away from you because I no longer knew how to save you. Because I couldn’t bear to watch my best friend – the best person I knew – lose herself to that poor excuse for a human being. Jealousy was the last thing on my goddamn mind Amy.’ 

Holly’s hands were shaking and she shoved them under her thighs. She had thought this might have been the start of something new, or at least closure. Instead, it felt like everything was crumbling around her.

‘You’re remembering it wrong,’ Amy said shakily. ‘Twisting it. We weren’t perfect and yes, we sometimes argued… but what couple doesn’t? He’s my first and only love, and you think you can just come here after all these years and throw false accusations at him! It’s one thing when you’re seventeen and confused but how are you still so bitter?’

The bile rose in Holly like an angry snake. She stood up suddenly, knocking the table and the cappuccino slopped onto her hand. It was still hot, as though it had only been a few minutes since the waitress had put it on the table.

‘I am bitter. I’m bitter because everything I said that night was true. He assaulted me outside that portaloo and you – my best bloody friend – defended him! And I was willing to forgive you because I thought it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault that he’d manipulated you, turned you against your friends and family…’

‘It was dark!’ Amy shouted, also standing up. Everyone in the café was looking at them now. ‘It could have been anyone! And you were so bitter and angry about me and him! You’d spent weeks telling everyone how much you hated him and then you claimed that he attacked you. You thought you could turn me against him and then were pissed off that you hadn’t got your way. Like a child having a tantrum! It was pathetic. Is pathetic.’ 

Holly turned away from her, no longer able to bear it. She dodged the tables and the stares and pushed open the café door with trembling hands. Her mind raked over a thousand memories and she wondered if she could trust any of them. Amy appeared a moment later, clutching her coat, and they regarded each other; their shared black hair and angry faces.

‘You don’t get to judge my relationship,’ Amy said coldly. ‘Particularly when you don’t know the facts. If he were so controlling, would I have a successful job and a nice apartment? Would I be the breadwinner?’

Holly wanted to argue against this but she was distracted by Amy putting on her coat. As her arms reached into the sleeves, her jumper lifted slightly and briefly exposed her stomach. It was decorated with a smattering of purple bruises.

Without another word from either of them, Amy turned and walked away. Holly stood outside the café and watched Amy’s black hair sway in the wind until she turned a corner and disappeared. 

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

‘The Letterbox’

 

 

by

 

Trudie Thomas

 

 

 

        'Roy? ROY!' Hazel's foot found her husband's shin and his eyes shot open. 'Are you asleep again?'

 

‘What? No. No, I was only resting.’

            ‘You look like a slab of haddock in the chip shop with all that newspaper draped over you,’ Hazel snorted. ‘Why are you so tired all the time?’

        Roy lifted the Sunday paper off his chest, folded it neatly and placed it on the coffee table. It nudged Hazel’s collection of Killer Sudokus and knocked them a little skew-whiff. Roy quickly straightened them. ‘Well, that Laurel hedge was quite a job you know, and I’m not as young as I used to be,’ Roy added with a chuckle. His wife’s stern expression remained intact as if she had smeared on a face mask, and she couldn’t allow it to crack.

‘You need to move those bags, Roy. You know I can’t shift them with my bad heart.

‘Right, right, of course. Your bad heart.’ Roy eased himself from the sofa. How many more years would she torture him with that? ‘I’ll move them right away.’

‘Yes, you will,’ she confirmed, marching from the room, her orange mules clip-clopping on their new wooden flooring. Vacuuming a carpet had proven to be too strenuous for her bad heart, and the beautiful cream Axminster which Roy had laid throughout the house had to go.

Roy shuffled across the lounge. What happened to the girl he fell in love with? My hero, she used to call him, ever since the day he’d scooped her from the path of a cyclist. Now-a-days, the only time he felt like her hero was when she needed a spider caught from some corner – she was petrified of the things. He had to scour the house for them daily, just in case she caught sight of one – with her bad heart.

Roy took the key to the patio door from its little pot on the mantelpiece – Hazel didn’t like it to sit in the door – security risk, she’d warned. He slid open the patio door, kicked his slippers off, and put his gardening shoes back on. He picked up two of the green sacks. Who would believe one hedge cutting session could fill a dozen bags?

 Retirement – what a joke. He got more rest when he worked.

‘Oh, and Roy…’ Hazel took the corner from the hall to the lounge a little too fast and slipped quite spectacularly on her new Regency-Oak flooring. She grasped the door frame and straightened herself up.

‘Ooh, steady on there, dear,’ Roy cautioned. ‘Remember wooden floors have a lot more slide on them than carpets.’

‘Yes, thank you Roy for pointing out the bleeding obvious.’ She pulled her shoulders back and tugged the hem of her apron down. ‘I just wanted to remind you that you promised to fix that damn letterbox. When the wind gets up it rattles constantly. It is driving me insane. I knew it was a mistake to have it fitted so near to the ground.’

Roy held back the urge to remind Hazel, its positioning had been her idea. And that she had scoffed when he had pointed out how inconvenient it would be for the postman and paper boy.

‘You might want to speed up a bit,’ Hazel gestured to the two bulging bags, Roy was holding, ‘the dump is only open ‘till midnight.’

‘Right you are.’ Roy dropped the bags back down for a minute’s respite. They had felt as if they were doubling in weight whilst he stood there, almost as if an invisible pipe had pumped liquid cement into them. He slid the patio door shut. ‘I’ll have to bring these through the hall,’ he called, his back to her. ‘Our bins are around the side; they’ll block my route.’ He felt Hazel’s glare hit him like a bread-knife in his back. He turned to face her, heaving the bags with him. ‘And I’m not sure that letterbox is fixable, dear.’ He attempted a shrug, but his arms were too tired to assist his shoulders. ‘We might have to buy a new one.’

‘That’s ridiculous.’ Hazel stared at him as if he had just confessed to an affair. ‘Of course, you can fix it.’

‘Why’s that?’ He grinned. ‘Because I’m your hero?’

‘Don’t be stupid, Roy. And don’t forget,’ she motioned towards the front door, ‘I want you to say something to little’n over there.’   

‘Who? The lad across the road?’

‘Yes, Timmy what’s-his-name. He’s doing another one of his tacky Table-Top sales right opposite our driveway. Again.’

 Roy glanced back at the other bags still in the garden and considered a bonfire, but Hazel’s washing waving to him in the breeze whispered his answer.

He headed down the hall, hoping she wouldn’t notice he was still wearing his gardening shoes. But the heat from Hazel’s glare as he passed her, warmed the back of his head and his pulse quickened.

‘Yes, I’ll talk to him,’ Roy called, opening the front door, and hurling the bags and himself through it. He could see their neighbour’s son sitting behind a long and cluttered table. ‘I’ll speak to young Timmy first, then come back for the rest of the bags, and then I’ll have a look at that letter box for you.’ He offered a smile, but Hazel seemed determined not to crack her mask.

Roy closed the front door and the letter box rattled in protest.

 

 

‘Well, now, looks like you’ve found a sharp way to make a bit of pocket money here,’ Roy said, beaming at Timmy’s selection of bric-a-brac.

‘Hey, Mr G.’ Timmy greeted Roy with a high five. ‘I was wondering when my best customer was coming over.’ He rummaged in his cash tin. ‘Piece of gum?’

‘No thanks, Timmy. That won’t work too well with my dentures. How’s it going today? Have you sold much?’ Roy glanced back at his house and spotted the upstairs curtain twitch. ‘Um… are you thinking of packing up soon? Perhaps you would like a hand getting all this back into, er, your garage.’

‘Not yet, Mr G. Dad says I can’t store my stuff in his garage anymore; he’s fed up

of it all getting in his way. He says I gotta sell everything this weekend – even if I have to sleep out here.’

‘Oh, I see.’ Roy took in the long picnic table with its assortment of broken toys and worn-out children’s books. A skateboard and a pair of rollerblades poked out from a box on the floor.

‘So, do you want to buy summit, Mr G?’

‘I think I’m too old for most of this, but wow…’  Roy picked up a small clear

container and peered inside. ‘Why are you selling this fine chap, Timmy?’

‘Oh, that’s Henry. My Uncle Sid bought him for me, but Mum’s scared stiff of it. Stupid really, ‘cos if he bites you, it’s no worse than a bee sting. He’s only two years old, Mr G and they can live up to ten.’

‘Really?’ Roy stared at Henry’s hairy brown and black legs. ‘Up to ten years, you say?’

‘Yeah, which is good, but the female one’s live loads longer than that. You can have him for six quid, Mr G.’

Roy opened his wallet. ‘Gosh, I’ve only got a five pound note I’m afraid. Mrs G keeps me on a bit of a tight budget.’

Timmy took it from him. ‘That’ll do nicely – thanks.’

 

 

Still in its clear container, Roy carried his purchase, carefully back across the road. He knelt in front of their letterbox and stared at Henry. Then as he pushed the letterbox open with one hand, Roy gently coaxed the tarantula from its case with his other.

He let go and the letterbox rattled shut.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

           

 

The March 2021 Competition Short List 

 

 

The Last One by Delphine Seddon of Theydon Bois

Little Victory by Victoria McKay of Clacton on Sea

The Letterbox by Trudie Thomas of Holmer Green

Just Like the Old Days by James Rose of Coventry

Emery and the Wolf by Vanessa Bullock of Barnoldswick

Café Reunion by Kate Ashmore of Ely

 

 

 

 

 

The March 2021 Competition Long List

 

The Angel by Tom Sanders of Oxford

The Last One by Delphine Seddon of Theydon Bois

Touch by Delphine Seddon of Theydon Bois

Little Victory by Victoria McKay of Clacton on Sea

The Last Sense by Ros Levenson of London

The Letterbox by Trudie Thomas of Holmer Green

Just Like the Old Days by James Rose of Coventry

Emery and the Wolf by Vanessa Bullock of Barnoldswick

Still Alive Mother by Patricia Minson of Falmouth

Café Reunion by Kate Ashmore of Ely

On the Wrong Side by Nicki Parkins of Seaton

 

 

 

 

                                                     

 

 

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