Winner – ‘A Deep Burn’ by Anthony Cornish
It was probably an indicator that he had had too much to drink. It usually was. He knew that to Lydia it was. To Lydia, it was one of his less desirable habits that featured on her long list of faux pas that she considered a clear sign of his having had too much to drink. At least with this particular gaffe he could agree. It was a fairly standard display of sloppiness. Not like some of the other things she considered to equal a certain level of drunkenness on his part. Like asking the waiter if they had read such and such. The few occasions he had done that, he insisted, he had barely had a drop. Besides, he would always stubbornly contest, it had only ever gone down well. Well, it had in his eyes. Needless to say, every time he’d toked a cigarette from the burning end it had not gone down well; this occasion being no exception. There was nothing quite like nestling a flaming stick between your lips to put you well and truly off your flow. Except for perhaps the glower from Lydia that invariably followed like the rumble of thunder after a flash of lightning, assuring him that a storm wasn’t far off. That’ll scar for a week or two. The conversation continued around him, albeit after one or two sniggers prompted by his pain. He resigned himself from that one and made sure the cigarette was properly in his fingers. Looking at Lydia, who was now talking to a friend, he took a long, wincing drag burying the smoke deep, deep down inside.
1. ‘Out of your mouth’ by Andrew Gardiner
Once it is out of your mouth, you can’t put it back in.
I love you. I don’t love you.
I hate you. I love you. I hate you.
Best to cut out my tongue now, wipe up the blood, and cauterize the wound. I can always shave off my beard and buy a new shirt and tie.
I could stop talking then and just write; honestly, you would be doing me a favour.
I could listen more. I could see more
and I could disappear from view.
Maybe a Paisley cotton in blue.
A bit dashing. Along with a chiselled chin to wag at no one. Certainly, a cleaner look; blood always goes so black when it dries. I don’t need this monochrome, I want blue, blue sky with lime green leaves bursting new on trees, and orange flowers in the hedgerows and along the lanes.
I will become a flaneur, schlooping with narrow shoulders, looking into everyone’s pie and no one’s eye.
Mind you, a flannel could come in handy … you know, to mop up the blood … and the gravy.
At last, it will be best to move slow and subtle through turquoise and sunny, shallow and salty ocean … I am become a basking shark on my pillow
… taking it in and giving a little out
What’s left will just come out of my arse and land on the seabed.
At least I will help
to grow some kelp.
2. ‘Mute’ by Kitty Horlick
My memories of him are typical kids’ memories, his face wildly distorted by time and the fact that my eye line met his knee caps.
His hands though, I remember those. Impossibly enormous, with veins, huge blue snakes, flexing below the surface. They were strong hands, could-have-crushed-my-skull hands, but he was gentle, putting plasters on my knees, stroking my hair.
Every photo of him is mutilated, the mouth burnt away, and I resent that. I would like to know if I have his mouth. I would like to know what he had to say. And then I resent myself for my resentment, because the last thing I want is to be like my mother.
In one go, she burnt the photos, little piles of ash building on the kitchen table. She did it ostentatiously, ceremonially: match struck, paper flamed, curses muttered like incantations. Bastard. Bastard. Thought you could leave me.
She did it, she says, because he was liar. I suspect it was the closest she could get to chopping out his tongue. My mother was born in the wrong time. The Medieval period would have never known a more devoted torturer.
She didn’t throw the photos away, she hung them round the flat. Hate shrines. They embarrassed me, stopped me having friends over as a kid. Probably stopped her having friends at all – who would walk through a door, see that up on the wall and decide not to run?
The photos are still up, but she hardly needs them there. His presence pervades the flat anyway. He’s all she talks about. His flaws, his cruelties. Her world has contracted around them. Tug the boundaries with politics, gossip, questions about her day and she turns listless. Bored. Mute. A second mouth blistered away by hatred.
3. ‘Events in the Immediate Aftermath of an Assassination’ by James Cornish
Maria ascended the coastal hill. Her footsteps made little to no noise.
Forgetful passions of bygone summers lingered in the warm evening air. The Mediterranean swelled knowingly in the distance…
It was towards the Trippertoni estate that she strode towards and to young Marco she lay destined to meet.
Maria took for granted the August rain. She ignored the crows flying overhead that soared in swift tandem. Alas, she took no notice of shepherd and sheep in the neighbouring field. Was it really all but too late to turn back, back towards home, husband and child?
Then, as the Venetian saying goes, fate threw a coin into the cup of the beggar.
A well dressed, if slightly bedraggled gentleman of an age between forty and fifty had come up from behind Maria and tapped her gently on her right shoulder. Maria turned and recognised him to be none other than Kiko Sangrazi.
Sangrazi had been in and out of the region’s hospitals and prisons his entire adult life owing to episodes of perceived mania and apparent delusion. He had not said a word to anyone for six years. Rumour has it that he lost his capacity for speech owing to trauma. Though placing where and when such a trauma had occurred befuddled those who had tried to understand and help Sangrazi.
Sangrazi leant in and whispered into Maria’s ear. He informed her that the world was on the brink of war, devastation and destruction and that turning back might change the destiny of Europe, the world and humanity at large.
As Sangrazi turned away and walked into the distance, Maria considered his words and forgot them as quickly as they had come, continuing uphill.