Monthly comp – October 2019

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition Monthly comp – October 2019

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    I recently found some writing notes that I’d forgotten about. I was surprised by my reaction. That seems like a theme to me. Something (anything) forgotten then discovered. Surprising reaction. 400 to 500 words (tops).


    This only 269 words but says what I intended

    Time to play

    Clearing a 25 year-old to-be-replaced kitchen, and the resultant sense of temporary displacement, gave time and focus to a wider realisation of things no longer needed. Delays gave more time than anticipated to jettison stuff, then the lovely announcement of a visit from good friends from America (whose house I’d stayed in) turned attention to what is called a spare bedroom but is really fit only for family become used to squeezing in beside a double-stacked plan-chest and past a son-built single bed with drawers. too useful to discard.

    Wardrobe space ought to be made available.

    In 2009 lack of it damped down the urge to continue printmaking – a skill learnt and loved while doing a part-time Fine Art degree – which was when I turned to writing.

    I’d forgotten I also painted.

    Forgot until I pulled out two of an original series – subsequently entitled CHART – of four (the others sold) and tried to remember how they’d come about. Hazily remembered they’d once been prints considered failures. Large prints on paper too good to waste.

    Remembered I had played.

    Had let my mind lose focus and simply played with paint and pencil. Knowing nothing could be lost, allowing colour and shape to dictate direction, suggest ideas and tell me where and when to stop. Give each of them a title.

    Finding them again not only gave me joy but made me realise that, much as I love writing, and using words, it far more rarely offers the chance to play. Made me resolve to fish more of my failed prints out of the plan-chest and start to play with them.

    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by Sandra.
    John S Alty

    Lost and Found and Lost

    Arthur was rooting through a drawer in the garage, the one reserved for plumbing parts, searching for a tap washer. His gnarled hands scrabbled through off-cuts of plastic water pipe, white nylon fittings, a flushing mechanism still in its packaging, old tobacco tins holding copper olives, bolts, nuts and split pins. No tap washers. But, what’s this?

    “Holy-moley” he said aloud. “I don’t believe it”. He reached for an object lying half hidden under a coil of flexible hose; it was a yoyo. The uncoiled string was entwined with the hose and it took a few seconds to untangle it and lift it free. The yoyo was painted bright red but the perimeter edge was uniformly worn to bare wood. “Walk the dog” he whispered, running his thumb over the damage. The string was special; a continuous loop, twisted for most of its length but loose around the spindle of the yoyo so you could do those tricks – spin the yoyo at the end of the string, then a little tug and it would shoot back up to your hand. Arthur stumbled to his old wooden toolbox and sat on it as a wave of melancholy swept over him. Marianne. It was the last time I saw Marianne, he thought. That night, at the yoyo competition in the town. Walk the dog, around the world, rock the cradle. I was so good.

    Arthur had gone through his repertoire almost faultlessly that day. He recalled the finale clearly. He’d flicked the yoyo to the end of the string, which set the body spinning, lowered it to the floor and followed it as it scrabbled along the stage like a puppy straining at its leash. Marianne was in the crowd, lovely Marianne. Generous applause and he thought he’d done it, won the competition. And her heart. But the others were good too and in the end he’d had to settle for silver. But Marianne? Whatever happened to her?

    “What are you doing, Arthur?” she said from the doorway, “You only came out here for a washer.”
    “What?” He looked up, brow furrowed, squinting. Confused. He offered up the yoyo for her to see, the red body in his left hand, the string looped around his right. He shook his head, eyes glistening.

    “It’s me”, she said. Resigned, weary. “Your wife, Marianne.”

    About 400 words


    Untitled (314 words)

    We’d been to Tesco’s. A late night shopping trip. I bought a ready meal and a soft, fluffy scarf in shades of blue and grey. In the car home we talked about a chip shop tea and the possibility of potato fritters.
    ‘Your grandad used to make potato fritters,’ I said. ‘As a special treat. Mixed up the batter and did them in the deep fat fryer.’ I corrected myself. ‘Chip pan. We never had a deep fat fryer.’
    ‘I wished I’d had the chance to get to know him better,’ she said.
    And there it was. That pang of something. The dimming of a switch. The momentary interruption of normal power.
    I’d forgotten, you see. Forgotten how dark his hair was and how his fingers were stained with nicotine.
    Forgotten how his writing sloped because he was left-handed and he turned the page to write.
    Forgotten that armatures were a permanent fixture on the kitchen table and the way he had of wiping greasy fingers on an oily rag – with purpose and a concentrated frown.
    The old basin he soaked his feet in so he could clip his toenails in a Sunday night ritual.
    Forgotten how tall he looked in his uniform and how strong; that when we were children he tossed us in the air or held one of us to the ceiling with one hand while the rest clamoured around his legs and squealed ‘Me next! Me next!’
    Forgotten how we huffed as teenagers when he asked for tea then let it go cold.
    How we never really said ‘I love you.’
    How he died before we got to the hospital – a guilt trip that will last forever.
    ‘He was a quiet man,’ I said.
    ‘We would’ve got on well, wouldn’t we?’ she said.
    Yes. Yes, you would. And he would have been so very proud of you.


    Yin and Yang

    A gurgle of whiskey titillated the silence, ending with a full stop tap of glass on glass. Darrol picked up the tumbler and drifted over to the window, mind still emersed in his Yin and Yang infatuation. Her long blond hair against his dark skin; her crystal cry above his leather groan, their lovemaking uniting them – like the ivory moon up there, set into a vantablack sky.

    Belinda had been reluctant to go out, he was so freshly returned from his business trip. But Em, she bemoaned, had been quick to remind her of how much organization had gone into the reunion, and of the void her best friend’s absence would no doubt cause. That mate of hers, she was no stranger to manipulation – Em’s way or the highway every time – but tonight, Belinda went with Darrol’s blessing. Truth be told, he was ready for a quiet evening after such an all-consuming week.

    A sip of malt and he moved to the sofa. He slouched into it, leaping aside when a hard protuberance bit into his hip. What the … Belinda’s phone? It must have fallen out of her bag. She probably won’t have realized she’d forgotten it, she’ll be so busy weaving words into a tapestry of others. Darrol shrugged and stretched forward to put the phone on the coffee table, when it pinged.

    ‘Message from Sam’ blinked up from the screen.

    Sam? A new one on Darrol. Samantha perhaps – late or lost. The screen was locked and their unwritten rule was no prying … but she’d want him to look this once, wouldn’t she? If he could guess the code. Pass the message on to Em (who was bound to be listed), along with news of the found phone. Belinda’s code was so predictable, birth day and month, same as her bank cards – he really ought to have a word about security.

    Darrol stared at the message, clearly not from Samantha, nor any other girl going to a reunion. Had ‘Belle-babe’ pulled off the ruse? Sam asked. He was in room 225 with bubbles of both kinds if she had, and a horn as stiff as a unicorn’s.

    Wow. Wasn’t expecting that. Thought they’d last forever, he and Belinda. But the job he landed two years ago had brought a few changes besides the huge bonuses they loved. So much time away, for instance. Weeks at a time, he and his blonde assistant, a yin/yang contrast to Belinda.

    Darrol knocked a slug of whiskey back and relaxed. His announcement might not be so devastating after all; one he’d been so reluctant in breaking, he practically pushed Belinda out of the door when she mentioned the reunion. Much as they thought they never would, both had moved on. And he’d have wished Belinda all the best with Sam, if she hadn’t forgotten her phone.

    475 words


    Memories, memories

    Through a mane of blonde hair, through streaks of bleached and of darker dyed strands, her eyes flickered upwards. “Can I help you, sir?”

    Behind me the door hissed shut expensively, hinges well greased by wills and probates. “Do yer know where Bryant Street is?”

    “I umm… don’t know.” She bent her head back down to the screen below the reception counter, and her fingertips clicked keys. “Let me check.”

    I knew she was lying, because I’d followed her here from there, from Bryant Street, since Monday, that’s three times.

    “I’m looking for my daughter.”

    She looked up, and seemed to be taking me in. “Your daughter?” Her eyes and face crinkled like they should do when you smile, but with all the warmth of a frosty park bench on a winter’s night. “You don’t look old enough, sir.”

    “I started young.” Memories, memories. I shook my head to break that chain of thought. Mustn’t go there: if I remember too much, the tears’ll come back, and I don’t want to go back where they got me.

    She looked down at her screen, perhaps she saw a glisten in the corner of my eyes. Or she was trying to work out what to do.

    I threw a grenade. “Younger’n you.”

    Her tippy-tappy typing stopped. The only sounds were from the street, filtering through the thick glass frontage: cars; a distant siren; a dog barked, once.

    I threw another. “Yer probably about her age, yer know.”

    Now she sat back, crossed her arms over her fancy blouse that was the same colour as the flowers on the counter, and faced me full on. “How old am I, do you think?”

    I couldn’t help raising my voice. “And yer live on Bryant Street, I seen yer there.”

    She picked up the phone and started dialling, so I reached over the reception desk and grabbed the handset. It dropped with a clatter on the desk and she pushed her chair back.

    Now when she looked at me her eyes were wide. “Get out of here. The security guard-”

    “Why’d yer think I was lost?”

    “You look… most people who come in here wear suits.”

    I made a show of looking around at the empty leather seats. Lawyers can afford suits and fancy furniture, the prices they charge. “Can’t see none.”

    When I looked back at her she was reaching towards her desk, to the side.

    “No yer don’t. Stay away fer that button. All I want is to talk to yer.”

    Now her eyes were glistening, but she stood up. Nearly as tall as me. And not afraid. Like a lioness, with that mane of hair. Like…

    “God, yer look like yer ma. I’m yer da.”

    “I worked that out, Sherlock.”

    “So why’d yer try to call the police and press that thing?”

    “You took me by surprise. I’d forgotten what a bastard mum said you were. She was right.”

    It was almost a snarl.

    Then she slammed the button.

    “And you stink.”

    (I edited trying to add some gap between the last line and the word count. Fail.)

    500 words on the .

    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by Barny.
    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by Barny.

    Her Granny’s face beamed through the steam rising from the jug that she clutched to her chest as though it was a precious jewel.

    ‘Surprise,’ she said.

    Lily looked carefully at her. What could it be? Her plate was complete; a piece of white fish at the top; sweet corn balanced on the left; and mashed potato carefully piled to one side. She’d have preferred chips. Granny’s mash oozed a bit and threatened to leak into the rest of the things on the plate. And there was always a risk the small heap of sweet corn might tumble and mingle. At least it wasn’t baked beans. So difficult to eat baked beans and mash together without the white greyness of the mash being tinged with orange.

    But it was OK. She’d promised her mum that she’d try not to be fussy. Granny didn’t have time to cook lots of different things.

    Her little brother gurgled away in the corner and flicked a bit of mashed potato onto the tablecloth. Lily winced. He was such a messy thing. Mum said Lily had been like that a couple of years ago and he’d grow out of it and that Lily shouldn’t be such a wimp.

    And now Granny was holding the jug out to her.

    ‘Look, Lily. Your favourite. Parsley sauce!’

    Parsley sauce? What was parsley sauce? An aroma of thick milkiness with a hint of something sharp. A little like the smell of Mummy’s shoulder after she’d burped her brother when he was just drinking bottles.

    Granny poured a sloppy, blobby stream of white with specks of green onto her plate. Over the fish, over the sweet corn, over the mashed potato. They all disappeared under the rolling stream. Her food is smothered and muddled by the hot, shiny liquid oozing into every crack and separation.

    ‘Mummy,’ she wailed.

    Her mother sighed. ‘I’m sorry. Lily won’t eat anything runny. And especially not anything milky.’

    ‘But last holiday, it was her favourite. She wanted it with everything.’

    Lily listened without understanding. Granny had it all wrong. She could never have liked this disgusting gloop. It was one of many things they kept on telling her that she knew couldn’t be true.

    ‘I know mum, but they change. It’s a pity but there it is.’

    Around 380 words


    498 words including title


    Kirsty wasn’t interested in the marriage album but there was a folder of other wedding photos. She tipped the glossy prints out over the kitchen table: all those relatives and friends, held in their best outfits for decades.

    It was fine to look at them now. The old emotions didn’t snag any longer. Her in a white dress, her long hair permed into curls, standing next to First Husband who had a short mullet. The marriage had been short too.

    And there was Helen, sitting at a table, smiling up at the camera. Sweet Helen, that’s what she’d been called. Kind to old people and animals. Kirsty had disdained that – the nickname. After all, Helen wasn’t sweet when she ran off with First Husband. Kirsty couldn’t use the sweet part of Helen’s name while her own hot tears ran with a pain which seemed set to last forever. And the sense of having been made a fool of; that was even worse. Holding her head up while feeling like she’d been rubbed with sandpaper. When Helen, in turn, was dumped, Kirsty’s cheeks had glowed.

    Kirsty was happy now. She’d won through – eventually had found sympathy for the woman who also was wronged by First Husband. Now she sat here in the kitchen able to move calmly through these photos. It was proof of her recovery.

    When Second Husband came home she showed him Helen’s picture. His expression flickered.

    ‘I’ve seen her before,’ said Liam.

    ‘Is she a patient?’ The mature Kirsty could be comfortable with that.

    Liam said, ‘No. It being a photo is relevant, somehow.’

    The next day he brought home a framed photograph. ‘This used to hang in the waiting room before we replaced it with posters about flu jabs.’

    The photo looked professional, perhaps taken by the local paper. Helen was handing a cheque to one of the surgery’s senior partners, a woman now retired. A caption had been printed below. ‘Mrs Helen Jarvis presenting a donation to the defibrillator fund from the Jarvis Charitable Trust.’

    So Helen was married. She must have recovered too from First Husband. Kirsty googled the trust. It and Helen had moved to another part of the country.


    Several months later Liam said, ‘The husband of Helen Jarvis emailed us today. He’d like a copy of that framed photograph. Helen Jarvis died recently – cancer – but most of the family photos were lost in a house move.’

    Kirsty was sorry for Helen, and for the husband too. Proof again of her own recovery.

    ‘We could give him that wedding photo.’

    Liam looked at her. ‘I don’t think we should.’

    ‘But if he’s short of pictures …’

    Liam was silent.

    After a moment, Kirsty said, ‘The husband might not know about Helen and me. The photo could make him wonder about his wife.’

    Why hadn’t she thought of that immediately? She’d had her own difficult questions about Helen for years. And, remembering them now, an unexpected sense of stupidity came back.


    First day

    The first day of school was always like this – nervous parents clutching little ones’ hands, milling in a crowd of growing frenzy. The sooner they were decoupled and the parents moved firmly on their way, the better it would be for everyone. But first reassurance was needed.

    I moved through the group, cutting apron strings when no one was looking, and shepherding children towards their new classroom. There were always some late ones. The adults had probably sat in the car crying while the children wondered what torment they were about to be subjected to. But it would only take a little glue and glitter to get them smiling. Not so easy for the parents.

    When the final stragglers came through the door, I recognised her immediately. And with that recognition the memories came tumbling back. Memories that I’d sealed away so tightly they’d been forgotten for the last twenty years.

    But now the room tilted and I was just a little girl again, crying in the corner of the playground because Miss Popular had told everyone not to talk to me. I’d been part of the in-crowd for a while, even been her best friend, but it had only taken one silly mistake to turn her on me.

    Odd socks. That was all it was. I hadn’t even noticed the pair didn’t match, but she did, and she laughed and turned her back on me. And now, seeing her face, the pain was as sharp as it had been on that day. My throat grew tight and my eyes pricked.

    She hadn’t recognised me – too worried about the little boy glued to her hand to think, and they were as wide eyed as each other. I couldn’t quite believe it, after all this time, that she’d been handed to me like this.

    Everyone else faded away as I walked towards them and looked down at her little son. ‘Hmm. Matching socks. Well done,’ I said.

    She gasped, just a little intake of breath, but we both knew she’d remembered, and there was a panic in her eyes, a panic I remembered so well, because there was no escape. She backed up a step and my classroom assistant swooped in, all smiles, knowing the signs of a runner.

    ‘He’ll be fine,’ she gushed. ‘We’ve got a wonderful day planned…’

    The rest of her words were lost as the mother and I stared at each other. And that was when the strangest thing happened. Something inside of me relaxed. Perhaps this was why I’d become a teacher; to stop what had happened to me happening to others. But whatever the reason, I was better than her. I would let this go.

    Patting her arm, I smiled. ‘Don’t worry. You’ll be here picking him up in no time.’

    As I headed to the classroom, I couldn’t help looking back at her tight-lipped, teary face, and a little part of me laughed inside.

    (490 words)


    Oops! Sorry all – got my days mixed up, but anyway, super quality this month.

    Sandra – Time to play
    Yes! That’s exactly the feeling: that unexpected memory. There’s a lot in these few words. Oddly enough I was thinking about the ‘play’ that’s so often missing from writing, quite recently. So easy to assume that a reverential approach will produce something important, when it’s often the reverse: the playful approach.

    John S Alty – Lost and Found and Lost
    I love this piece. Just one little incident as a man pokes around amongst the bits and pieces that build up in a garage, but how razor sharp his memory and what a bitter contrast to his present life. Beginning, middle, end – spot on.

    Seagreen – Untitled
    I always expect a vein of beauty in the words when I read something by you, and this doesn’t disappoint. These are the quiet memories that accuse us from time to time and insist on being heard. The sadness that time passes and never returns. The memories that make us look at what we have right now.

    Janette – Yin and Yang
    How really refreshing to expect a tale of betrayal and revenge but find one about recognition and acceptance! I wonder how these people got here and where they will end up. I could read more about them.

    Barny – Memories, memories
    This is a brutal bit of writing. Nobody emerges well. The narrator is a tragic character with little to recommend him to the reader apart from the tears he struggles to hold back. It is an intense moment in time and feels as though it’s been ripped from something far longer. Really well done.

    JaneShuff – Untitled
    OMG! There’s a memory. I remember (oops, wrong forum) visiting Grandma who made Syllabub as a “treat”. How can I get over how awful it was? I don’t have to – Jane’s done it to a turn. What a marvellous bite of the past. This is delicious – if that’s the right word.

    Libby – Photographs
    They do it like almost nothing else – photos. And what a tangled web is revealed here. Raw feelings that muddle the truth even though time has swept away the causes.

    Kate – First Day
    A lovely little vignette. A story about cycles of life and personal growth. The narrator’s voice shines through beautifully. Do we want revenge? Maybe just the satisfaction of the closing paragraph.

    OK. It’s customary to pick out some honourable mentions. I’m tempted to pick them all, but if I’m really pushed I’ll point to Seagreen, JaneShuff and Barny. My overall winner is one that grabbed me straight away. Such a simple story on the face of it, but so well told: John S Alty – Lost and Found and Lost.


    Well done, John, and the Honourables, and thanks Ath for the prompting of a memory.


    Well done, John, and well deserved. And to everyone else too. I’m glad I didn’t have to judge between such good entries.


    Excellent entries and an excellent winner! Congratulations John and thank you Ath for the competition.


    Well done, John. And thanks Ath!

    John S Alty

    Well, there’s a pleasant surprise for a Sunday morning! Thanks, Ath, and thank you fellow Denizens.
    I’ll ponder a new prompt and put it up later today.


    Ath, you say the loveliest things. Thank you. And thanks for the comp.
    John, congratulations. You opened a window into something quite special.


    Congratulations, John. I loved your yo-yo story. And thanks for organising, Ath.


    Congrats John and HMs, and thanks Ath, for the challenge and kind feedback.


    And thank you Ath for setting the competition and giving us all helpful feedback. Apologies for not mentioning this before.

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