1st Place – “January 18th” by Elisabeth Brobby
There is beauty in silence,
Watching the waves gently ripple as they salute those passing by
And the icy wind lightly caressing your cheeks
Such tenderness you can’t help but subdue to the watering of your eyes
You envy the frozen grass that glimmers in the light
Admiring the web of a spider that traps its prey in a net of silver
Maybe even covetous of the prey that belongs to such a picturesque moment
And there is warmth on a Saturday in January
Not because of the rare appearance of the gracious Sun
But for reason of the smile of present strangers engulfed in the moment with you
As well the certitude that those whom you love are safely sound.
2nd Place – “Aichi Touloukeara” by Sopie-Claire Coudoux
The grass grew shiny and free on the island of Aichi Touloukeara. Wherever the wind tripped, the grass followed, it rested when the sun rose. People and nature lived in communion on a peculiar land centering the island. In it, an old lady was planting five tiny seeds meant to represent five generations of freedom. She was known for singing to the silent and with the same vigour, she was mute to foolishness. She was told that a house will tower over the island where she was planting the seeds. Its red roof will capture the interest of birds above the clouds. Five giant trees will be gates to the house and protect it from thunders and spirited beggars. That is what her ancestors said in her dreams. When they visited her they told her stories long forgotten, stories from before they were put on their knees, before they were subjugated to a life without culture, language, knowledge, and spirituality. Before darkness fell on the continent of Africa and convinced the people of the sun that evil rested in their bodies. Before, little boys and girls embraced the trees and listened to their heartbeats. Women traded their sweet berries without ever quibbling a little. The old lady could feel the warmth of the dried clay on which her people laid. Last night was different, the ancestors instructed her to bury along with the seeds, shackles. They told her that a Hurricane called Marie-Galanta will wreak havoc, poverty will follow and wrath will be last. If she listened to them Marie-Galanta will be defeated and Aichi Touloukeara will flourish to become part of Africa. So that day, she took the shackles her father gave her. It was not an heirloom that had value in money, but its price was counted by the numbers of legs it cuffed. Her father got them from his father. When he handed her the shackles, he repeated the same words his father told him. “These shackles represent our pain and freedom”. His eyes never blinked as he said this. The white from them was almost translucent. She could see the tears it held behind. When she dug she thought that maybe it was a mistake, that dementia could have made her ancestors appear to her. How could be she digging a hole and burying the shackles that had been passed on generations, she wondered. But her body felt differently, it ignored the snapping of her mind and kept digging. She was not sure if what she was doing was right. Her ancestors existed only in a realm touched by a few breathing the air. They had seen the men from the big continent experimenting something on the sea and the sky near Aichi Touloukeara. These men were trying to create a tropical cyclone from their own hands. The pursuit of emulating nature and use its anger as a weapon blinded them so much so that they could not even see the clouds about to put an end to it. Their attempt to make history could have ended there, but nature is hard to understand sometimes. The clouds were not going to spare Aichi Touloukeara on its way to destroy the dream of mad men. After the old lady buried the shackles and blessed the five seeds, she sang to the grass with her last breath and turned to the sky ready.
3rd Place – “Returning” by Mary Rossiter
Footsteps strode purposefully from around the back of the house. Sitting in my car long enough had drawn her concern. I braced myself as she and the dogs bolted toward me. Paws scratched at my knees as obligatory arms pulled me close. The forced-cheeriness was still there. ‘Jesus girl, there’s not a bit of you in it.’
In the kitchen, I hugged Dad. Taken aback by his newfound frailty, I still told him he looked well. I noted the same forced-cheeriness in my own voice when they asked me how I was now. Around the table, they relayed the funeral arrangements for people I didn’t know but was probably supposed to.
In the distance, the kettle perpetually bubbled and clicked. I thumbed my way through the local papers on the table, feigning interest in the articles to drown out her incessant chattering.. Nodding and wishing minutes away.
I told her I didn’t mind when she asked was there anything in particular I’d like for dinner. The clock on the wall said it wasn’t yet evening. The flame-haired woman in the painting stared at me before I looked down at my empty mug..
Upstairs, I sat on the floor of the room that had once held so many wishes. There were chips in the old lilac paint. She had said that the colour was called “Ceol” but it wasn’t available anymore.
Baths were supposed to be “self-care”. My sister had bought me a bath-bomb that Christmas. The water turned a pinkish colour and scorched my skin. After standing up, I lowered myself back in. Ten minutes was more than enough. I yanked the plug with my foot and held knees as the colour drained around me.
She came in and out of all afternoon. Various tactics swung from idle chit-chat to being Dr. Phil. I stared at my feet as she spoke, scolding my unpainted toenails. Sensing the failed attempt, she announced ‘Well I’m going having a can anyway!’ and departed.
Dad made two visits. One was to clean out the fireplace, the second to bring in the coal. His awkwardness was palpable. I felt bad for not helping him but he said it was okay. He whistled while he worked and animatedly conversed with the good dog.
There were murmured voices in the kitchen. I imagined what they might have been saying. Her tone rose and fell as he said nothing at all.
At dinner, we sat around large bowls of spaghetti bolognese. Dad still hadn’t come around to the idea of pasta and so there were two boiled potatoes on a side-plate. My grated cheese was heaped around my mince and normal conversation. Despite their nods of encouragement, she interrupted me four times. Tomorrow is another day, so they say.
We sat and laughed. Praises were sang for another lovely dinner. I thanked her. I thanked God that the day was nearly over and that going upstairs would soon be acceptable. One or two more glasses and more excuses made. Dad made a light joke at her expense.
Breathe in. There was no need to look at her expression as it was already too familiar. She started talking about the argument with her brother again. It was time for bed.
Eyelids shut as they lower him into the ground again. Everyone said it was an awful shame. Platters of salad sandwiches to compensate for it all.
You should breathe properly.
Teenagers are drinking in the old railway track behind the house.
Tomorrow is another day just like today was.