On Thursday May 17th, Carol Sherry joined the judging panel of the HSE Book Club and second Guest Judge Martin Edwards to select the winner of the Short Story Writing Competition 2012.
HSE Book Club Members Pen, Annie, Anne Marie, Tracey, Margaret and Karen all standing, with Judging Panel Chair and Eye Fund Trustee Helen Rowlands, Guest Judge and author Martin Edwards, and finally, Guest Judge and Eye Fund Chair Carol Sherry
After much discussion and negotiation the panel selected Andy Siddle’s entry “As long as they could remember” as the outstanding winner. The panel thought that this was a poignant and touching story that showed good character development, particularly in such a limited number of words. Andy will be presented with a book token and framed Eye Fund Print in the coming weeks.
The panel were impressed by the high standard of entries, making their selection, particularly for 2nd and 3rd place particularly hard. Congratulations should also go to Richard Conway for his ‘Mysterious Parcel’ in second place, and to George Gough for his entry ‘Another Year’ in third place.
Well done to all of the entrants and thank you from The Eye Fund for contributing to the £65 donation. Here is Andy’s winning entry
“As long as they could remember”
David was wishing it was all out in the open. Then he wouldn’t have to pretend. It was taking her an age to get to the door. At last, a blurred shape appeared through the frosted glass. She pulled the door feebly to the extent of its chain.
‘Hi, Mum. Sorry I’m late, the traffic was terrible.’
She hesitated, then slid the bolt back and the door opened. He stepped forward to embrace her but she was already heading up the hallway.
‘A cup of tea would be good, it’s taken me four hours to get here.’
‘Tea … tea … oh yes.’ She headed into the kitchen.
He settled back in the living room sofa, still feeling the miles of road in his mind and flexing his hands to relieve the tension from holding the wheel too tightly. He needed to tell her. He’d agreed with Sue to keep their break-up quiet until after Easter but, now he was here, it felt wrong to hide the truth. Even though they hadn’t been close for years, she was still his mum – she had a right to know.
He stood up and went into the kitchen to help her. ‘Come on Mum, I’ll do this.’ He filled the kettle and put it on. ‘Do you want one?’
She nodded and shuffled into the front room. As the kettle wheezed and grumbled into life, he rummaged in the cupboards for teabags and mugs. He opened three drawers before he found the cutlery. It was all jumbled up, but eventually he found a teaspoon. He was about to push one of the other drawers back into place when he noticed them – sheets of paper covered in spidery handwriting. He picked up the top sheet and his hands began to shake.
Put water in kettle (white, by sink). Put switch down (red). Get teabag (jar, in cupboard) and put in teapot (blue, on shelf by sink). When red light goes out pour water from kettle into pot. Leave for two minutes. Put milk (white, in fridge) in cup. Then pour tea on top of milk. Put milk back in fridge.’
In the same drawer, written on a piece of card in black marker, were the words:
‘I am Helen Hardwick. I was born on 8 September 1942. My husband was called Peter. He died on 5 December 2010. I have a son called David. David is married to Sue. They live in Leeds.’
The floor seemed to shift beneath his feet and he had to sit down at the table. Silence poured from the room beyond the hallway, as if he was suddenly alone in the house.
She sat on the sofa, watching the flames move inside the thing that kept the room warm. She turned to look out of the …the … She knew this word … it was like standing in front of the class again …. win … windig …. Well, whatever it was called she liked it, and the white shapes that moved slowly across it.
A man came into the room carrying something on a tray. She liked his face and felt she knew him from somewhere – he seemed quite at home. She asked, ‘Who are you, then?’
‘It’s David.’ He could barely look at her.
‘Which days will you be coming?’
‘It’s hard to get away. Work’s very busy … Oh, you mean … I’m not the home help, Mum. I’m David … your son.’
She looked at him and he thought he saw a flicker of recognition. ‘You were friends with Peter.’
‘More than friends, Mum. Peter was my dad – your husband.’
Her face lit up. ‘He liked chocolate cake – huge pieces. Always ended up with bits around his mouth.’
At least that’s a start, David almost said aloud, as he stood up and took the mugs through to the kitchen. He glanced at the sheets of paper in the half-open drawer. ‘David is married to Sue…’ Not for much longer, he thought.
He went back to the room and sat down next to her. She pointed a trembling finger at him. ‘I remember, you’re … now let me see…’
‘You don’t have to pretend anymore Mum.’ He showed her the notes from the drawer.
Her shoulders slumped slightly.
‘Do you understand?’
‘Yes, yes I can understand you. I just need a little time to work out what you’re saying.’ She rubbed her forehead. ‘Everything’s a muddle. The doctor says it’s a demon … demon … I can’t think of it…’
‘Dementia.’ He said the word as gently as he could, so it wouldn’t sound like some sort of punishment.
She reached out and touched his arm. ‘They’re taking the treasures you know, from inside my head, while I’m asleep. The best ones are safe, though…’ She leant down, picked up a shoebox from the floor by the side of the sofa and took off the lid.
The tree decorations were packed neatly in white paper. The colours shone brightly as she unfolded them, like the memories themselves. She looked into his eyes and it seemed part of her mind was clear again, as if a light was flickering in a supposedly deserted house. ‘You’d ask to do the lower branches. We used the same ones every year…’
He remembered the breathless, tinselled thrill of Christmas mornings and favourite presents, like the pirate ship his dad had made for him, complete with black sails and a flag with skull and crossbones.
She delved into the shoebox again and passed him an old photo. It was of her mother’s house, tucked into a cliff-side. She talked about childhood holidays there – from the fifty steps they’d count on the way down, to the creak of the saddle when she rode the old donkey on the beach.
As he listened, he remembered diving into the green fizz of the surf, the sudden silence under the waves, and then emerging to sunlight and shouts. Eyes stinging, he’d run up the beach with goosebumps on his arms, before enduring a sand-scraped towelling.
The pebbles between the beach and the ice cream van would give his feet a hollow ache but it was worth it for a cone with a flake that would sweeten the sea’s taste away. At last he’d feel the relief of cool, wet sand squirming between his toes. And when it was time to go, they’d count the steps up the cliff-side again until they arrived breathlessly at the top.
By nightfall logs would be spitting in the fireplace, while stories rose like curls of wood-smoke to the ceiling. He’d drift off to sleep with the sound of waves breaking on the shoreline below, matching his breathing to their rushing in and drawing out.
David reached out to hold her hand – her eyes were glazing over again. He knew the floodwater would keep creeping into the edges of her memory. Maybe he could hold it bay, at least for a while.
‘I’m going to stay a few days. Help you find more of the …’ He lifted the shoebox up.
Rain was pattering against the window and the light was starting to fade. He needed to tell her, before it was too late, that he hadn’t forgotten being happy as a child. He wanted it to stay like that for as long as they could remember. And as for his news, well maybe that could keep.