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Henshaw Short Story Competition
    Henshaw Short Story Competition

 

 

  September 2021 Competition Winners are: - 

 

 

 

First Prize:

 

Dianne Bown-Wilson of Exeter

for

‘The Man-Friend’

 

 

 

Second Prize:

 

Mark deMeza of High Legh

for

‘Vultures with Machine Guns’

 

 

 

 Third Prize:

 

Paul Sherman of Dover

for

‘The Alternative 800 Metres’

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**********

                        

 

 

‘The Man-Friend’

 

by

 

Dianne Bown-Wilson

                        

 

 

 

 

My daughter, Lauren,  just called. One of The Sisterhood (as she calls her unattached girlfriends) wants her to go out for drinks tonight.

            ‘Will you babysit?’ she asked, more a demand than a request.

‘Sorry, I can’t.’

‘Why not?’ Don’t tell me you’ve got something better to do.’ Her tone became sharp-edged, only half-joking.

I picked up on this because I know her inside-out. What she was thinking was: What’s the point of a mother if you can’t rely on them to drop everything and come and look after your kids?

‘Actually, I have. I’m meeting up with a friend. It’s been arranged for ages; I’m sure I mentioned it.’

‘I don’t think so. Anyway, who? Someone I know?’

‘No. From work - way back.’

‘Man or woman?’

I started to panic. ‘Oh, for goodness sakes. A man, actually. But he’s just an old colleague. Anyway, I have to go now; I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.’

‘Fine.’

It wasn’t fine. It was a lie as subtle as over-ripe cheese. But I hadn’t anticipated her call and didn’t have an oven-ready alibi.  There’s no way I could have told her the truth.

Tonight’s the ninth time he and I will be meeting up; I know the number exactly. I’ve managed to keep these meetings secret until now, but after this conversation, I feel my luck might be running out. I push the thought away. I know Lauren would love me to be going on ‘a date’ - she’s been nagging me for ages to ‘get out there’.  But although it’s been three years since Alan died, it still feels too soon. Besides, as I function within a Bermuda Triangle bordered by my part-time bookkeeping job, child-minding for Lauren, and helping take a group of pensioners supermarket shopping, I’m hardly likely to stumble across any eligible men. So no, this isn’t about dating.

 

Once again, I drive myself to the pub, a small place in a village backstreet some twenty miles away. It’s hardly stylish, certainly not one of those glitzy gastro-pubs that Lauren favours, but it’s a good place for a quiet midweek chat and a bite of something - the sort of understated atmosphere we like.

When I arrive, he’s already there, sitting sideways on a stool at the bar, keeping an eye on the door. He sees me and grins, ‘Good to see you!’. We briefly hug; then while he orders me a glass of wine, I go and bag our usual table in the corner.

I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks, but he looks okay. Tired - but who isn’t these days? He works long hours and, on top of that, has a lot on his plate: children, his parents, financial problems. But his opening words circumvent it all. ‘So, what did you think of the book?’

I don’t need to question what he means. Last time we met, we ended up having a lively debate about Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo and the merits of the Booker Prize. He’d read both books, whereas I hadn’t started Bernadine’s, and he made me promise I would.

‘Fabulous, I loved it. Thanks for pushing me. What are you reading now?’

‘Probably nothing I can persuade you to take on. I’ve plunged into sci-fi lately - pure escapism, but  it works for me.’

I pull a face, and he laughs, knowing I loathe black holes and cyborgs.

This is why I love our meetings: our conversations, discussing topics that usually remain submerged in the mire of everyday life. He’s a thinker, but not an intellectual, just an ordinary working person like me. The interests we share are eclectic but commonplace: reading, films, philosophy, art - and we both love a good laugh. I treasure our friendship, knowing that romance and the complexities of a physical relationship will never rear their intrusive heads. 

We first arranged to meet up after I’d asked him, as we talked on the phone, whether he could think of anything that might cheer him up and make his life more tolerable. He didn’t take long to answer. ‘You know what, I’d love to go out with someone just to have a meal and a chat -  not about anything but to remind myself that I’m still a fully-functioning, normal human being.’

‘Mmm. I know what you mean. Most of my female friends either have husbands or partners they feel they have to include, or they want to turn ‘going out’ into a girly group event. It all gets to be a bit much.’

It’s one of the things I miss most about Alan. As well as my husband, he was my best friend, and we’d regularly go out for a meal and spend the evening talking about nothing in particular. ‘The sort of things that cross your mind but aren’t worth making space for,’ was how he put it. But I said nothing about that because although he and I talk about just about anything, very little of it is personal. Sometimes we discuss his children, but not his marriage. I say nothing about how mine was or my relationship with Lauren. And we try not to speak about the obvious, which is that we have to keep our relationship hidden, whereas Alan and I were free to go anywhere we pleased.

 

Lauren, predictably, is now mad keen to know more. First thing this morning, she texted me: So how was your *date*???

            Fine. No date - we were just catching up.

Lauren knows all about dating. In my opinion, she launched into it with indecent haste when she split with Dan six months ago. I said as much to my sister, Janet, at the time.

‘She’s young,’ Janet said. ‘Perhaps she’s still trying to establish her identity outside of being a mother and, until now, a wife. It’s hard, as we both know.’

‘Hmm. You didn’t rush out and start dating when you left Brian,’ I reminded her.

She laughs. ‘No. But who knows – perhaps I would have done if Tinder had been around! Things change, Gill. Perhaps she needs to spread her wings. As long as the children are okay, does it really matter?’

Well, yes,  it matters to me.

The real reason Lauren’s dating rankles with me is that I think she behaved badly during her marriage and was totally unjustified in asking Dan to leave. When she dropped the bombshell that they were splitting up, my obvious response was, ‘Why - what’s happened?’ But there seemed to be no particular reason. ‘Oh, he’s just a total waste of space,’ she sighed. ‘Spending time with him is about as exciting as watching paint dry.’

So why did you marry him, then?’ I wanted to say.

But I didn’t, because I know why.

She married him because having a big fancy wedding was the thing to do. And then she had babies for the same reason. I’d never reveal this to anyone, not even Janet, but the way my daughter’s view of the world starts and stops with herself horrifies me. She’s my child, and I love her to bits, yet in some ways, she’s a stranger. Frankly, in terms of how she treated Dan, I’m ashamed of how she’s turned out. It’s the main reason I look after her children.  Of course, I love spending time with them, but more than that, if she’s out there confronting the real world, I hope she might grow up and adopt a less selfish approach. And have less energy for dating.

So far, my strategy doesn’t seem to be working.

 

As she knew I was in the office today, Lauren didn’t call until this evening. When she did, she went straight for the kill. ‘So what did you do last night? Where did you go? Who is this person?’

            This time I was ready for her and appalled myself by how easily I lied about my fictitious ex-colleague-and-his-wife-and-grown-children-and-how-we-went-to-the-pub-by-the-river-and-had-steak-and-chips-and-red-wine. ‘Back home by 9.30,’ I laughed. Hardly a wild night out.’

            ‘And will you be seeing him again?’

            ‘Unlikely. He lives up north now and was only here for his father’s funeral.’

‘Oh.’ It seems she believes me.

And you? Did you find someone to babysit so you could go out?’

‘No. Actually, I didn’t try. I decided I’d rather stay at home and watch TV.’

‘That’s not like you…’

 ‘Mmm. I think I’m getting too old for partying. Much as I hate to say it, I even miss Dan.’

‘That’s a first.’

For a moment, there was silence on the line. ‘Not really,’ she said wistfully. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot lately.  I might park the divorce idea for a while.  The kids miss him, and he did have his good points.’

‘Oh?’

‘I’ve realised how much I miss talking to him; he was a great listener. And he could always make me laugh. Perhaps it might be an idea to have another go.’

‘Would he want to come back?’

‘Maybe not. I have treated him pretty badly, so I can’t just whistle for him like he’s a dog. Not that I’d want that anyway.’

‘No.’

I hear her sigh softly. ‘But would you say there’s hope, Mum?’

‘There’s always hope.’

I say nothing more. Whether and however Lauren wants to work towards a reunion is nothing to do with me. She’s an adult and needs to reach her own conclusions. I don’t even know if I think it’s a good thing because although reconciliation would carry plenty of pluses for Lauren and the kids, I feel Dan deserves much more.

 

We’d planned our next get-together for a week on Thursday, but just now, I phoned to tell him it’s all off. He didn’t answer, so I left a message, breathing deeply to remain in control. ‘Look, meeting up with you has been great, but we both know it’s unwise. I’m sorry, but I think for everyone’s sakes, we need to stop now.’

I put down the phone, biting back tears, already feeling the loss.

As a woman, it’s hard to have a man-friend.

It’s impossible when he’s your son-in-law, and you know he’ll soon be going back to his wife.

 

 

 

******

 

 

‘Vultures with Machine Guns’

 

by

 

Mark deMeza

                        

 

My mobile phone beeped plaintively.  Looking down, I saw the flashing image of an empty battery and an exclamation mark.  Then, the screen went blank.  I pressed the restart button several times, but there was no response.  Now I was alone, quite alone. 

I had been outside Kabul airport for three days now.  It had been pandemonium.  The area was seething with people bustling in every direction, desperately looking; looking for family, for friends, for colleagues, for contacts who might help them beat the queues. Looking for a way out.

It was as if a new village had formed where we stood. Fruit sellers had set up with freshly cut, crimson pipped pomegranates glistening on rickety mobile stalls. The smell of grilled meat drifted in the air, tainted with the stench of latrines that had been set up in disused gullies and ditches. Tattered sheets had been draped across the women’s facilities to protect their modesty. Hawkers darted about the crowds, but I never saw anybody have time to stop and buy.

The Taliban peered down on us like attendant vultures.  Vultures with machine guns. They used any way to raise themselves above the height of the crowds around them.  They stood on car roofs, on oil barrels, on low, flat roofed buildings.  They were everywhere. On their own, or in small groups, sinisterly whispering into each other’s ears. 

Some wore traditional, white peraahan tunbaan clothing. Some wore uniforms stolen fron Afghan army soldiers, the spoils of war. Some even wore US military uniforms, perhaps from a little last-minute bartering with the enemy. But every single one had a gun in his hands, muzzle pointing directly at the masses before them.

We were terrified of staying.  And terrified of leaving.

After hours of persuading, cajoling, and begging, I found myself in the final queue.  Like a human funnel, we were being guided into a gap of around a metre between two forty-foot steel containers.  In the searing sunlight, the containers themselves had risen to a baking temperature, scalding to the touch, like being wedged between two electric heaters.  But I shuffled on. We all did.  I could not go backwards; I could only go forwards with the snail-paced momentum of the queue.

In single file, nobody spoke.  All that could be heard was the scratching of feet on yellowed grit, and the incessant hubbub of people beyond our steel cage, buzzing like an increasingly enraged swarm of hornets.

I was desperate to relieve myself.  I did not want to humiliate myself, and yet I could not lose my place in the queue.  I feared the reprobation of the people in front of and behind me.  In the end I could wait no longer. I loosened the azaarband of my harem trousers and sighed as the pressure eased.  Nervously looking from side to side, I could see that no one was looking or watching or bothering.

“It’s okay.”  A voice spoke softly behind me. 

I turned to see a short man, perhaps forty years old and with bright blue eyes that flitted around, nervously taking in the Taliban soldier who loomed above us on the roof of the container. He was wearing a peraahan tunbaan suit, plain blue, edged with striking and unusual golden stitching.

“The Afghan people are known for their civility, culture and hospitality,” he continued. “That’s all gone now, my friend.  It’s coming to an end yet again. Perhaps, it’ll return once more in the future. Nobody cares about where we piss anymore.  It’s the least of our worries.” 

There are many languages and dialects in Afghanistan, but I recognized his Pashto dialect immediately. There are many languages and dialects in Afghanistan, and Pashto is the language of the Taliban.

I immediately looked at the Taliban soldier above us, frightened that he might interpret our talking as suspicious. Fortunately, he was shouting into his walkie talkie and waving his AK-47 at somebody else.

At the far end of the containers, the gap was secured by two British soldiers.  One was standing guard, in his mid-twenties, tall and athletic, with pale skin and fair hair.  The other was sitting at a small table, of smaller stature and darker hair, and responsible for scrutinising the paperwork that could save my life.  I hoped upon hope that I would recognize them, and they me. But their faces were as blank as the desert sands.   

As an interpreter, I had stood amongst British soldiers in Helmand province, in remote villages where the darkness is as black as ink and as silent as a graveyard. I recognized the L11 sniper rifle that the soldier was carrying. I wondered how and why he had come to be using this long-range weapon amongst a closely packed throng like this.

The rifle was slung over his shoulder. That tells a story. In civilian situations, the British bear the rifle over the shoulder and across the back. The weapon is there, but not intended as a first response.  The Taliban always stands with finger on trigger, the weapon ready for immediate use. An angry Taliban fighter will have you dead in the blink of an eye. I have seen it many times. Shoot first, no questions, no answers. 

My Special Immigrant visa and letter of recommendation were stuffed tightly into my trouser pocket.  Folded and covered in dirty marks as if worthless,  they were literally life or death documents.  If found by the Taliban, and revealing my affiliation with their enemies, it would lead to my summary execution.  Down a shadowy alleyway or in a public park, whichever suited them best. Otherwise, these flimsy pieces of paper could give me a meaningful life in another country.

“My name’s Adnan.” The stranger continued, “It’s okay, the Taliban cannot hear us from up there. And between these metal containers, it’s far too cramped, and too close to the British Army for them to become engaged.”  He smiled nervously.

“We can never be too sure.  Never,” I replied quietly, barely moving my lips. 

He must have sensed my reticence.

“Don’t worry. I am only a humble schoolteacher. Unfortunately, an English teacher, and nowadays that puts me in the same danger as yourself, no doubt, my friend,” he said. He dipped his head reverentially as he spoke.

I made as if to give my name but held back. Who was this guy, with his fancy golden stitching? That’s a sign of money, surely? What if he were a Taliban spy? I was too close to freedom to take any risks. At any moment, Taliban could be in this gap, dragging me away. Nothing was too cramped for them. The British could and would do nothing to intervene.

In such a state of fear, it seemed to take hours for the paperwork to be processed.  By midday, when the sun was at its highest, I had only moved a little more than half the length of the containers.  I tried to stay positive, telling myself that with every step there was more behind me and less in front.

The heat was blistering. Even by Afghan standards.

When we finally neared the end of the containers, I had a glimpse of our next destination.  A single story, grey brick building standing several metres beyond, with a door facing us bearing a sign saying, “WARNING.  Airside authorisation required beyond this point”.

There were only two people between me and the British soldiers. A man and a woman whose voices I had not heard and faces I had not seen.  Both dressed in black, to me they looked like featureless shadows. I noticed how their index fingers gently coiled and uncoiled around each other.

I glanced left and right.  And upwards.  The Taliban had disappeared.   I stood on my tiptoes to see a little further, but there were no Taliban. My belly tightened.  There was a breeze block lying on the ground. I stood on that too, and from there I could see that there were no Taliban on either container roof.

Strange, I thought.

And then the world caved in.

The noise of the bomb was so loud I thought it had knocked me to the ground on its own.  It streamed into my ear drums and seemed to shake my head from the inside, like a cat tossing a mouse in its jaws.

There was dirt and debris everywhere.  I gasped a desperate breath of air, and hot dust coursed through my lungs, like fire spreading through a coal mine.

I could barely hear, but as moments passed sounds started to drift through.  There was frantic screaming and shouting.  One scream was so high and heartrending, it had to be a mother grieving a child, I thought.

“Harry, are you okay?”

I turned my head to the side and saw one of the soldiers on his haunches, shaking his companion.

“Should be,” came the reply, “just a bit shaken, Robbie. The containers must have shielded us from the full force of the explosion.”

They both stood up, briefly dusted themselves down and looked around.  Harry now did have his rifle out, butt nestled against his shoulder, panning from side to side like a periscope.

“This is our flight, Robbie,” Harry shouted.

Their gaze met.  There was silence as each waited for the other to speak.

“But...” was the only word Robbie could muster.

“This is our flight, Robbie,” Harry repeated firmly, before continuing, “there’s nothing more we can do here. It’s the last flight.”

“But we still have five civilian spaces to fill! It’s the last flight for them, too!” Robbie replied.

Harry considered for a moment

“Okay, just bring the next five, sod the paperwork for now,” Harry urged, glancing at me and the two men directly in front. “Make it snappy!”

I turned around to look behind.  The area was still swimming in a sea of dirt.  One of the containers had been shunted by the blast, making the gap even narrower.

In a daze, I stood up.

There had been a concrete lamp post between us and the building.  The force of the blast had cracked the post, and with a quirk of fate it had toppled into the gap between the two containers. I could see it at my feet, stretching into the distance and disappearing into the fog. It must have fallen just behind me. 

“Adnan?” I asked, peering forward.

There was no movement, no sound.  I took a step forward.

“Not that way!  Not that way!  This way!”  Robbie was shouting at me. Covered in dust, his face was ghost-like.

I sensed movement from within the gap, silhouettes appeared, making their way forward.

“The next five only!” Robbie ordered.

I made another tentative step forward and deciphered the shape of a man, pinned underneath the post. And a dark coloured garment.  My heart stopped when I noticed an intricate stitched hem.  Even within this hellish sandstorm, the golden stitching seemed to glow.

I sensed another person moving towards me and heard the barking orders of the British soldiers.

I turned and briskly made my way to the door which was being held open by Robbie.  When I had crossed the threshold, I watched as he quickly pulled the door to and firmly slid the bolt into its keep with a resounding thud. 

And I followed the others into the airport building.

 

 

 

                                                                 ******

 

 

‘The Alternative 800 Metres’

 

by

 

Paul Sherman

 

 

 

From his small bedroom window, Abraham could only see his beloved aerodrome, a mass of concrete and a decrepit runway but Abraham loved it nonetheless...especially the runway...his racetrack...his Olympia.

            The high-rise block of flats stood at the edge of the derelict aerodrome.  From his bedroom window, Abraham Nguru was spared the view of the other high rises and the sprawling mess that was the inner city, with its tawdry playgrounds awash with graffiti, the bleak comprehensive school with its single lung of a playing field, avenues of bumper-to-bumper slow moving traffic, the depressing mist hanging lower than the tops of the tower blocks.

He had worked hard clearing it.  Much of the debris he had moved himself.  But two of his school buddies had helped him shift  the larger blocks.  He’d saved hard-earned money from his part-time supermarket job  to buy a rake, with which he had smoothed the rubble on the runway, leaving the surface level enough for his running.

Abraham loved to run.  He ran as it his life depended upon it.  At five-thirty in the morning, Abraham would make his mother a cup of tea and take it to her so she could drink it in bed.  He checked she had everything she needed, the gas fire on if it was cold, the radio tuned to Radio 4, then he would say:

“Just goin’ running Mum.”

“Take care Abe,” she’d caution, looking in his direction with sightless eyes.

“Will do,” he’d assure her and then he would sprint down  the twenty flights of stairs, avoiding the lift, to step out on to the front patio of the tower block.

It was five hundred yards to the runway he had so lovingly nurtured for two months, and which now resembled an Olympic racetrack...exactly what Abraham intended.  He knelt down, gathered the finedust in his hands and then let it slide through his fingers.

“You’re good,” he told the earth.

The track wasn’t oval or circular like the real thing.  It was wide enough to give him room to turn after the first 400 metres, although he still had to angle quite sharply to run the final 400 metres back.  But it did the job.  He had marked out the start post and finishing post with oil drums.  The start line was a row of pebbles and the finish line was a length of string tied between two oil drums.

Abraham became an Olympic fantasist.  He knelt in his affordable middle-of-the-range running shoes,   and waited for the imaginary pistol shot.  When it burst upon the morning aerodrome air, Abraham ran.  This was when he felt life was for living.  Heart full pelt, limbs toned, cold morning air invigorating his face, blood singing in his veins, triumph whistling in his ears, the imaginary roar of the crowd urging him to glory, he knew, as he crossed the finish line, arms held high, that he was worthy of being an Olympic champion.  Oh yes, Abraham Nguru could win Gold. For his country.  For Great Britain.

Later he cooked breakfast for his Mum...two soft boiled eggs with brown bread and butter, served up with a mug of hot sweet tea.

“You’s a good boy Abe,” she said warmly, “You enjoy your run today?”

“Yes Mum,” he said, the words inadequate to describe his elated sensation of fulfilment.  He wanted his mother to know his feelings; when  the time was right he would share his greatest moment with her.  She would be so proud of him. 

He would stand on a pedestal for her and the gold medal would sit on the mantelpiece.   Although she wouldn’t see it, she would pick it up and feel it and remember that eventful day in June 2012.

Mr Wakeling, the PE teacher at Grove Comprehensive, championed Abraham.

“Come on lad,” he’d say, “You’ve got talent.  You’re fit, you’re fast and you could outrun champions.  But you’ve got to be focussed.  You’ve got to run like you really want to win.  You’ve got to see that golden pillar in the clouds.  And you run towards it.  Grasp it.  You leap into the sky and come out the other side.  When your heart feels like it’s going to burst and the lactic acid in your muscles is making them scream, then that’s when you start really trying.  That’s what champions are made of, lad.”

When he’d finished talking, there was a film of perspiration on his brow.  It was as if Mr Wakeling himself was leaping through the mist for that golden pillar. 

Abraham won most of the school sports day running events and many inter-school contests, also competing  for the City Under-Eighteens.  He’d been offered a national training course, but couldn’t afford the fee.  The school couldn’t cough up and his dad never answered his letters in which Abraham tried to find out if he could sponsor him. 

“It’s a diabolical tragedy, lad,” Mr Wakeling told him, “It’s a crying-out-loud shame.  If I had the money, which on my salary, I don’t, I’d give it you meself.”

Although disappointed, Abraham knew the man bitterly resented that he couldn’t help.

“However,” Mr Wakeling went on, “There’ll be folk out there looking for talent.  Scouts.  You need to be discovered lad.  That’s how it works.  I’ve got contacts.  But I’m not saying it’s a certainty, mind.”

Abraham knew there was little chance...which was why he felt impelled to stage his own personal event, with his mother present to hear, if at least not see, his victory.

Abraham took her out often.  It was a struggle to get her into her wheelchair, get the wheelchair out of the flat and into the lift, but Abraham achieved it with the true devotion of a loving son.  

Sometimes he wheeled her to the school playing field, took her around the perimeter, describing some of the times he had won races and been presented with the trophies that he’d taken home for her.  At other times, he’d take her to the aerodrome; she loved to be there on a crisp day when the breeze straddled the airfield and tugged at her curls.

“This is where I’m gonna make you proud of me, mum,” he said.

“I’m already proud of you, Abe,” she responded, her fingers squeezing his hand which rested lightly on her shoulder.  Abraham didn’t see the tears in her eyes, but he felt the warmth of her words.

Abe’s heart was bursting.   She was going to be there when he won Olympic Gold.  That day dawned bright and clear.  When he got up he checked the aerodrome out of the widow. The track looked perfect.  He couldn’t wait for ten o’clock and the 800 metres final.

On the table were his ‘props’.  His portable CD player/radio, loaded with new batteries, his medal that he’d lovingly forged in the school metalwork shop and then adorned with gold paint and a red ribbon, the CD of ‘UK Patriotic Tunes’. ..and finally, a stopwatch, borrowed from school.

“I don’t know what you doing boy, but I feel somthin’ is happenin’.”  This as he wheeled her down in the graffiti-ridden litter-infested lift, carrying all his ‘props’ on the handle of the wheelchair.

“What you up to?  I never seen you like this befo’...”  This as he secured the brake on her wheelchair at the side of the track...by the starting line and the finishing line that lay side by side on the disused runway. 

’’S okay Mamma,” he said.  “I won’t be far away, don’t worry.  This day you gonna be real proud of me.”

He placed the radio-CD player by her chair, turned it on and quickly tuned it in to Five Live.  It was the build up the final...the 800 metres.  The commentators were in fine fettle and the excited roar of the crowds was unmistakeable.  The competitors were lining up.

Line up, Abraham’s inner voice told him.  You’ve been training for this.  Do it!

He took his position on his home-made starting line as he’d done many times before.  Heart racing, he awaited the starter’s orders. 

Bang!

They were off. 

He had to get into his pace in the first 200 metres (Wakey-Wakey had taught him this).  He mustn’t slow down.  When he reached 400 metres he should feel tired but relaxed.  He found the energy to accelerate into the 500 metre stretch.  With 300 to go, he had to keep the pressure on the gas pedal.  Into the final 150 and it felt like an elephant had jumped onto his calf muscles as the lactic acid took control.

He was near the finishing line; the roar of the crowd was in his ears.  He was ahead.  His competitors were nowhere to be seen.  He hadn’t slowed.  He’d won the race.  Abraham burst through the string, hands raised.  He finished with a circular jog towards him Mum and knelt down beside her, gasping as if his lungs would burst.

“Listen Mum,” he managed to say.

The winner’s time was announced.  Abraham opened his hand where he’d been clutching the stop watch.  He had clicked it on the finishing line.

“Mum,” he whispered in excitement, “I beat the Gold Medal Olympic runner’s time.  I’m a champion, Mamma.”

He flicked off the radio and set the CD to play ‘God Save the Queen.’  He stood proudly and placed his school-made gold medal around his neck.

“I done this for my country,” he announced.  Then he knelt by his mother again and whispered the words again “I done this for my country, Mamma.”  He placed the gold medal in her palm, enclosing her fingers around it. 

“Feel it Mamma,” he urged her.  “I know you can’t see, but it’s gold.  Gold!”

She put her arms around Abraham’s neck, clutching the medal and told him, “My beautiful son.  I’ll never stop being proud of you, boy.”

Was it time for Abraham to say “I know it’s only make-believe Mum.”?

No, with their tears flowing and mingling, there was no need.

No need for any further words.

 

 

*************

 

 

 

 

 

September 2021 Short List

 

The Alternative 800 Metres by Paul Sherman of Dover

The Man-Friend by Dianne Bown-Wilson of Exeter

He’s a-comin for ya by Peter Pitman of Stapleford

Vultures with Machine Guns by Mark deMeza of High Legh

Deep Down by Mary Clark of Auckland, New Zealand

The Rift by Anna Kappa of Chicago, USA

 

 

 

September 2021 Long List

 

 

Take Me or Leave Me by Kristy Precious of Crewe

Excuses, Excuses by James Robertson of Glasgow

 Warfare by Joanna Spiers of Bristol

The Alternative 800 Metres by Paul Sherman of Dover

The Man-Friend by Dianne Bown-Wilson of Exeter

A Family Breakfast by Colin Coombs of Birmingham

He’s a-comin for ya by Peter Pitman of Stapleford

Moving Pictures by Anne Collier of Sunderland

Vultures with Machine Guns by Mark deMeza of High Legh

Deep Down by Mary Clark of Auckland, New Zealand

The Rift by Anna Kappa of Chicago, USA

 

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