Winner – ‘A couple of Swimmers’ by Anthony Cornish
“He still thinks he was being smooth but I knew what he was doing.”
“We both swam at the same spot.”
“At the Hamilton Fish Pool.”
“In the morning.”
“Until one day I’m sat drying my moonstones on my towel ‘cos they were all wet, see? And all of a sudden I see this towel flapping into my vision from the left all green, yellow and white stripes. I remember the colours like it was yesterday.”
“It was my sports towel.”
“And there was plenty of space for everyone so it was like, you know, he didn’t have to be drying himself right next to me now, did he?”
“Plenty of space.”
“But he was.”
“And then he asks me.”
“I ask her.”
“’Say,’ he says, ‘are you Meredith Hall?’ I mean – not exactly the hottest chat up line I ever heard but hey. ‘Sure,’ I says. ‘Who’s askin’?’”
“And he comes back with his name and we chat about the water and before I know it we’ve got a date lined up to go to the pictures the next afternoon!”
“I took her to the pictures.”
“We saw A Streetcar Named Desire.“
“With Marlon Brando.”
“And Vivian Leigh. At the Village East on Second Ave then walked all the way up to Central Park.”
“Where we stayed until after dark.”
“And that was it.”
“That was it.”
“He schmoozed me.”
“I schmoozed her.”
“We still swim at the same spot.”
“At the Hamilton.”
“After all these years.”
“After all these years.”
- ‘A Briny Baptism’ by Laurence Gardiner
Like a Bedouin, trooping through the desert searching the horizon for the next oasis, I had survived a week’s labour under the Sicilian sun by picturing that first, stirring kiss of The Mediterranean.
The bus to the coast was now winding through the outskirts of Siracusa. A purgatorial crawl through narrow streets of the last century, hemmed in on either side by short-tempered motorists and ugly, industrial buildings. Finally, we broke through to the heavenly, baroque centre where the ostentatious piazzas lie in their honeyed stone.
Above the beach, two stone structures punctuated the bay on either side. To the left, ruined walls of a Norman castle sat atop a barren stretch of rock. Even with centuries of disuse it had not lost its imposing sense of dominion. Opposite the castle, and across the bay, sat the other pillar of Norman power, a church, still grand and proud in shining white limestone.
Between these two symbols of control over body and soul I found myself a place on the beach. That first swim in the sea was like a baptism. Starting over from scratch. The tedium of the long bus journey and the weariness in my muscles from working the land forgotten in an instant. I understood then why an aquatic dunking had become a central element to Christianity. In the hot and dusty sandscapes of The Middle East it makes sense that water would take on a sacred quality.
I settled back on my towel. Two boys were playing while their parents dozed under an umbrella. They were stacking stones. I watched as they carefully selected flat wide stones as a base, then built their towers higher, the stones getting smaller the higher they went.
As the sun set, the shadows the towers cast grew to be giants.
2. ‘Beach’ by Kitty Horlick
George’s heart attack had ruined their life together. His release from the hospital ushered an obsession with ‘living while I’m still alive.’
Madeline understood the sentiment, and because she loved him, she indulged it too. Tourist attractions. Holidays. Theatre trips. Long queues in sweltering heat. Swollen ankles. Exhaustion. A sense of rush that built and spilt and left the worn and well-loved armchairs in their living room unused, left the teapot empty, the books unread, and the garden overgrown.
For George, Madeline was trying, but she resented it. She thought the resentment was just wistfulness for the calm before the coronary failure. But as she sat on the jutting concrete promenade, the sky grey and the wind blocks of ice against her skin, she released her resentment had layers.
Her father had died when she was ten. Freak accident on her Uncle’s farm. The barn had been old. Structurally unsound. He was alone when the beam fell. The finite nature of life: the inevitability of faulty hearts and mutating cells and crashing cars, had always been obvious to her.
She had assumed it was obvious to everyone. Death and taxes, isn’t that what they say. The two inescapable certainties.
But it hadn’t been obvious to George, and now she wondered if he had sleep walked through their life together. Wondered if their slow afternoons and the comfort of their home, the soft and easy life she’d built so consciously for them had never been what George had wanted, but instead was something he’d just let happen.
As Madeline watched the ocean rock the buoy, she realised her resentment was actually a kind of heartbreak.
3. ‘The Couple in Dalmatia’ by Andy Gardiner
– It was very good of you Alexei.
– What do you mean?
– You know what I mean
– What? … the bikini? … I don’t mind. In fact, I prefer it to wearing the speedos. Although it was murder getting those knickers off. I like the colour, I like to wear nail varnish, and I do have small, neat man boobs … don’t you think? Little, little, dumplings. And … I don’t have your pot belly Viktor …you hairy beast. I am happier being this half of us. I can cope with the leg shaving, but I like it when I have the chance to wrap the towel around my bits. Anyhow, it will be your turn next time. But you’re lucky; it’s an indoor shoot. We have to be in Milan in two days for some loser.
– Yeah, yeah, but you do look very good … very nice sweetie.
– Stop it … shut it … you know this is an important mission, and we are really in full sight here. Not like in Salisbury.
– But I’m telling you, you do look very good. Authentic butch lady bitch. I think I am getting a bit of a semi. I’ll hold the towel in front; no one will see.
– Give it a rest. Just get on with it and fit the silencer, while I get the camera ready. They will be back any second to get their ball. Slip the catch off.
– Oh, you shut it … I won’t miss … you know I won’t …I never do.
– Good. Don’t. I’ll grab my pants and get the car.