Monthly Competition – June 2021

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  • #10332

    I shall be 65 this month. For most of my life, that was a significant date. It was the year that you became an Old Age Pensioner. Not now. It was a Labour government that did that. Hey Ho. OK, here’s a minor trope in many a thriller, in many a genre. You’re waiting for something significant, but it doesn’t happen. 250 words min, 500 words max.


    Sound Waves (470 words)

    An aeroplane churns the sky but no siren has sounded, and behind the blackout fabric at my attic window there are no searchlights. The aircraft must be one of ours.

    In my armchair I pick up today’s paper but find it hard to concentrate. We have all turned into experts in aircraft identification and the noise from this one has the mid-range rumble of twin engines alongside that feathery note made by two propellers almost in sync but not quite.

    In the flat below, the young woman runs a bath. The walls and floors in this narrow townhouse are thin but in any case sound has become like the sweeps on radar screens I study at work, except that I can’t switch off my ears. I try again with the paper. When the woman turns off the taps, one or other gives a short whine.

    The aeroplane has gone and instead there’s the grizzle from the woman’s baby. He complains, then pauses, complains, pauses. If he starts a full-lung holler, she will pick him up even if it means missing her bath. If a siren wails, she’ll do the same.

    Silence all round. I could have a try at the crossword. But my attention is fixed, unhelpfully, on trying to hear the air move, a dance of particles that I can’t locate.

    A grumble again, piston driven. A steady sound to match a mapped route. A crump and a blow-out of breaking glass several streets away. Up I jump and, in the seconds needed to identify the bomber’s direction and to pick up my coat, the door below slams shut. The baby’s tetchiness echoes down the stairwell with his mother’s footsteps, heading towards the cellar.

    One of the many absurd things one hears said is that people in bath-tubs plummet down through hit houses, tub and all. At least she hasn’t suffered that.

    A siren howls, mournful with presumptive grief, but not saying whether there are more aeroplanes or just the one. Up to a high pitch the banshee goes, down again with a keening fall, drawing breath before the next upward yowl. I put on my coat, gather my reading spectacles and the paper. I’ll keep warm, or offer the coat to the mother to keep her warm, and I’ll have something to read in the cellar.

    I collect a pair of scissors. Cutting paper dolls from the newspaper might entertain the baby, a good idea I think, as the siren is in full lament all the way down four flights of stairs. When I reach the bottom, my breathing has synchronized with it, my lungs tighten in time to the notes.

    The call gives way to the single pitch of the all-clear. With a slow breath I turn and start the climb back up the stairs.


    Another fairy tale

    Was it when, age three or maybe four and my mother, part way through their evening meal, seated at the table with husband, husband’s sister and husband’s parents, met my bad dream request for comfort with a withering ‘Why should I help you when this morning you said you didn’t love me?’. I knew then the rest of them didn’t think she’d got there yet. Because she was behaving badly. Behaving like a child.

    Or was it when, age eight, when I ran away from home, then felt my confidence wane and spent ages thinking up a reasonable reason to return: ‘Pip (our cat) will miss me’, that I knew I wasn’t there yet?

    Later and more consciously, smoothing skirt and regarding my plain, National Health bespectacled face in the mirror on a Saturday when my Dad took me into the County Library to explore the storage for the Children’s Section while he did his work, I did think it might be approaching …

    Then … then teenage years. Stroppy sixteen when I never even had to think about it (because it was so obvious I was).

    Motherhood (at twenty-four) when, given the choice between banging my head or new baby’s against the wall just so it would END and let me sleep … I knew I’d made the right decision, (but also that it might not last)

    Finally an answer, when my Dad, age 71, said even while he bought and paid for shirts he didn’t like, he knew he’d be returning them in the morning, just didn’t have the whatever it took to do it that same day. That told me, and I knew, and found it hugely comforting. A release from an occasionally nagging thought.

    There really is no such thing as ‘grown up’ (and now twenty or so years further on, I’m content I’ll never reach it. [308 words]

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