WEEK 4. WINNERS
We are delighted with the calibre of entries this week and after long and careful deliberation, we would like to announce the winners in the following categories :
CATEGORY 1: Previously Published Writers:
Short story, The Crucified Silence by Mick Donnellan
The Crucified Silence
Do us all a favour, says the Super, and go home, will ya? Nobody wants to be looking at a useless pisshead like you.
So I decide to hit him. Hard as I can. Smack on the nose. He falls back on the table and hits the ground and goes sort of purple. And he starts kicking his legs like mad.
So I do what any man would at a time like that. I run. Straight for the pub. Down High street, passed the mound and the Bowers walk. Cold night, like a childhood winter. My mind racing, like a hamster on the purest coke.
Time to put her in first and sink the shoe. I can see the lights on above O’Neill’s door, like a lighthouse in a serious storm. I can almost taste the Guinness. And I can hear Church bells in the distance for the evening mass. There’d be a few there for the anniversary but I couldn’t handle it. Paid my own respects today with a bag of cans and a bottle of Powers. And then I went to work. Not the best plan as it turned out.
Walked on. Past the river. Same place I first met Karena. Bushing one night when we were kids. She was one of the O’Donnell’s. A highly respected family. She’d married low with me, no doubt about it. But now she’s gone. Long gone.
Inside, the pub is warm and fairly packed. I get a whisky in to me fast. Talk a bitta scutter and then Shane has the Guinness ready. I throw a twenty on the counter and take a big slug. Pure cripple it. Give the salute for another and look around.
It was here we went the day after the wedding. Big session, pictures. Future looking bright. And after, we got pregnant. That’s how they say it now these days. It happened almost straight away. I was happy. She was happy.
The child comes. A little girl. My little girl. I held her in my arms. A gift from God. I felt immortal. She was part of me. And Karena. Sorta like an Us all in one. Her big blue eyes looking up at me. Like they were saying: Mind me will ya? Mind me.
We called her Sharona. Don’t ask me why. I just rolled with it. The nights were long. She cried a lot. We took turns with her. Then it was ok after a while and me and Karena got some time to lie down. Ya know? Just lie there. Making shapes on the ceiling. Talking about the first things that came into our heads...
Do you want to buy a dog? Heh?
It’s Micky Murphy. Four foot prick with a lisp and a square head. Known around here as: A character. A crayture. Harmless. Always trying to sell dogs and look for news.
No thanks, Micky. You’re grand.
Are you sure?
And I walk away.
Glass almost empty again. Jez, I was always fond of the drink too. Nights on the beat. I’d have a naggin of whisky in my flask. Just to keep the cold out. I’d get home and go upstairs and throw off the jacket and get ready for more. And on the way by Sharona’s room I’d look in. The cot. The toys. The innocence. Her little chest going up and down and her eyes closed. And she looked like my mother ya know? (Almost tearful here) and I’d rub my hand along her cheek and she’d stir a little bit then. Like my mind was connected to hers and she was waking up so I’d slip away downstairs again. And some nights I’d cook a few chips. I’d always be hungry after a shift. Karena didn’t like deep fat fryers so I’d fill up a pot with oil and load the frozen chips in. I liked them better that way anyway. Often nights I’d ate a feed and fall asleep at the kitchen table.
Will you sort out a speeding fine for me? Heh?
You don’t drive, Micky.
It’s for my brother, heh? He’s an awful messer.
I can’t, it’s against regulations.
Ah go on, said Micky, I’ll buy you a pint. Heh?
Make it a Guinness so.
He orders it, says: I seen the O’Donnell’s going into the chapel, heh? Is it a year now since the fire that time?
I don’t want to talk about it.
Someone said the house was all done up again?
That’s enough now, Micky.
Sure no one could live there after that? Heh?
And that’s when we hear the sirens scream. Flying down the hill. The Super must have hit the panic button. The “send bloody everything alarm.” It distracts everyone. Even Micky. He runs straight for the door to see. I go back to my pint, take a long swill. It goes down my throat like warm honey, but the good is gone out of it. I walk up to the bar to get more and it feels like everyone is looking at me, expecting something. I can feel the heat of the lights burning against my head. It’s a bit like being on stage. Like an actor that can’t remember his lines. That feeling of crucified silence.
Joe, they started saying, there’s an ambulance outside the cop station. You could see it from the door of O’Neill’s, like.
Really, I said, wonder why’s that? Pint, Shane, when ya get a chance.
Are ya not going up? He goes.
And it’s not a question. More of a tone that asks: Aren’t you the guards?
I suppose I better go up so, and see.
And I walk out into the night again, evicted from the sanctuary. I can see the red and blue lights dancing in the distance. It reminds me of this night a year ago. Drunk then, drunk now. The firefighters, the guards, the bystanders. And how Karena’s father was going around like a madman, shouting and roaring. And how he went for me, pure rage, like he wanted to kill me. But sure it didn’t matter. I was already dead, my heart in the morgue, my mind gone to the greatest Hell.
CATEGORY 2: Unpublished writers
Our winner is Melissa Briody with a short story, Inevitable.
No, that sounds stupid. A cheerleader in a sappy teen movie.
Journal note one.
No, that sounds weird too. Like a frumpy professor with the misguided belief that anyone actually cares what he has to say. Back in my day we used to blah blah blah. Alright old man. You can sit down now.
I guess I could go really nerdy on this. Captain’s log, day one, but I’d be morto if anyone ever found it. Which they won’t. But still, I’ll just keep it simple.
There. No so bad. Maybe this won’t be as excruciating as I thought. A scratchy jumble of messy words in inky black and ta-da! Feelings dealt with; mind cleared.
So? What do I want to say? What do I need to say? There seems to be way too much blank paper. Like a white void. I feel daunted. How do I fill it all?
My therapist says I should picture my mind like a river, filled with thousands of thoughts. The ones that surface to the top as I look out across the water are the ones that are at the forefront of my mind. The ones that I need to deal with. And this, I guess, is dealing. Writing, processing, thinking, dealing.
My mam agrees with the river analogy. But then, she would. It’s her analogy. I guess I should mention that she’s my therapist, in case you don’t already know. But you aren’t anyone so how could you know or not know? You don’t exist. You’re me, or rather, this is me. I’m talking to myself. A personal account of my feelings. A way to deal. Not for anyone. For my eyes only. Thank God for that.
I’m rambling. Writing has never been my strong suit. Never mind, mam says, everyone has a special talent to contribute to the world. Give it time. But maybe I don’t want a special talent. Maybe I just want to finish school and get a job I detest like everybody else. Maybe I don’t want to be unique.
God, lockdown has made me into a philosopher. How annoying. Still, four months of house arrest will do that to a person. Even an introvert like me. That’s mam’s nice way of calling me a loser. Billy no mates.
But I don’t care.
I actually prefer being by myself. It’s easier. You don’t have to bind and twist yourself up for people. Wrap yourself up in a bow with personality traits stamped all over the worn paper. Try and match them up with other people like some twisted version of snap.
Laugh when you should, frown when you shouldn’t. One false move and you’re out in the cold.
It’s a head wrecker.
I still have people I hang out with. Not friends really, but people I can go to the cinema with. Companions.
I haven’t seen any of them in months. Not that I miss them. I do miss the cinema though. The crinkle of snacks pulled from overstuffed pockets. The whispers of anticipation rustling through the darkness.
Last week Mam said I could go out again, that things are starting to get back to “normal”. I don’t believe her though. How can I? For months it oozed through every crack and orifice of life like a bad smell. Everything you looked at was soaked in its stink. Tainted. Toxic.
When my phone died, I couldn’t even bring myself to reach for the charger. I slid it under the bed like it might explode and tried to wrap a duvet around my mind, tried to keep out the news. But a stink like that has a way of finding its way in. It slips through the cracks in the walls and clogs up your nostrils until it feels like you’re suffocating.
I never even told her that. I just started holding my breath and hoping she wouldn’t notice. My laptop joined my phone in the darkness and I reached for my bookshelf. I wriggled my way into the pages and made myself forget.
I got good at forgetting. I started to forget the days blurring one into the next. I let myself forget what it felt like for the sun to warm my skin. I forgot what it was like to be surrounded by chattering, moving, pulsing people.
I built myself a little castle against the panic and the sadness and I don’t think I’m ready to wind down the bridge. I can’t remember how to talk to people, how to shop, and talk, and eat like nothing ever happened.
My house is my armour. It pulls against my body with its weight and it keeps me safe. It protects me but it's so heavy it cuts me. I know I need to take it off but it feels like its rusted shut.
What if I can’t do it?
What if I can’t go back out there and ignore the danger vibrating through the stillness?
I feel like a prisoner, emerging from captivity with a shaggy beard and no shoes only to find the world has moved on. I’m not sure if I’m ready for this new world. I don’t know if they’ll be ready for me.
I stall when she asks me to go out. I say I’d rather relax in my room than go to the shops with her. I hold myself together but I know I’m transparent. She looks through me like I’m glass, and I am. Fragile. Breakable.
She hands me this diary and I laugh it off but I know why.
I let myself forget too much.
I forgot me.
Am I still in here? The old me?
I don’t know.
I’m hunched over these pages and my back is starting to ache but there are words everywhere. They’re leaking from my pen and it actually feels good. Like talking to someone without having to talk to someone.
Maybe my old self doesn’t exist anymore. But I can rebuild. I can pry the bricks loose from the castle walls and make them into something new.
I’m not ready to go out there yet, but I’m ready to figure out who will.
I’m ready to find the person that can.
I’m ready for the next me.
CATEGORY 3: Young writers
This week's winner is Erica May Pajimna for her prose
'Free Time .'
Here I am again. In my all too familiar, all too typical teenage bedroom, where I sit in complete solitude and silence. Father cooking up his classic Filipino dish downstairs. Mother watching her customary TV drama in her bedroom. Brother playing on his all too addicting console station, trying to survive yet another “zombie apocalypse”.
Unfortunately for me, I had no raging group of zombies to fight, no affinity for cooking and definitely no interest in the latest episode of some ancient Chinese drama. Instead, what I had was the unthinkable, the inconceivable, the unimaginable. Free time. Don’t get me wrong, I waited hard and long for this moment, in fact I craved it. I desperately pushed myself beyond my limits to unlock such a favourable privilege. Yet the second I laid down on my ample bed, I didn’t feel the intense satisfaction I hoped to receive.
My mind went both blank and mobile. It was nowhere yet everywhere at the same time. I went into a paradox of feeling both bored and overwhelmed. I had nothing to do but the thought of nothing surprisingly did the opposite of comfort me.
Free time is like most things that are free. Rare and sought for. But unlike other free things, free time is expensive. The word “free” itself is deceiving. No one can afford to buy time yet we spend it so carelessly. Every second, minute, hour that passes can never be reclaimed. Greedily, we want more and more of it, yet what exactly are we meant to do with it?
And so I panicked at the thought of wasting such precious time, doing nothing but lying down on my bed. Was I supposed to relax or be productive? Is relaxing considered productive? Why was I thinking about it this much? My mind went from one thought to another, on an endless train of possibilities and conflicts.
The blank ceiling was so uninspiring. The intimidating clock noisily went on. Tik Tok, Tik Tok.
Then suddenly, a voice shattered the silence. “Dinner’s ready!”
And just like that, my free time was gone.
Congratulations to all the winners of our Week 4 Creative Writing competition. You will be receiving a €50 One4all voucher and a book voucher from our partner, Books on the Green, Sandymount.
Week 5 of our Creative Writing competition is now open. Please see details for our competition here.