Congratulations to Janine Amos and John Holmes, the winner and runner-up in my competition. I am delighted to be able to share their stories.
Janine will also receive a copy of my novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which has been kindly donated by my published, Louise Walters.
A Stranger Finds Her Voice
by Janine Amos
I stand at the hotel window, looking out over the bay: white foam horses riding a grey, greasy sea. I dig my knuckles into the window-sill and take two deep, slow breaths in – and –out, in a vain attempt to still my fiercely-beating heart. What I am about to do may rile the mob for I am a stranger here. A gull dives past, shrieking its yellow warning and is carried away on the wind.
“Miss Davis, it is time.” A timid tap on the door and in pops Rosemary Jones the tweeny, sent up by Cook no doubt, who can’t stand the sight of me. The little maid bobs a curtsey, reaches for my pot from under the bed, and scuttles away with it down the back stairs. Her trembling figure gives me heart as I must give heart to other women and girls the land over.
I leave the sea view and make my way down two flights of stairs to the front of the building. A faint smell of boiled cabbage pervades the air; my stomach lurches as memories of Holloway rise to my throat like bile. I swallow. The tread of the carpet is bare in parts; this is a seedy, run-down sort of place notwithstanding its genteel façade. My legs are shaking so that I stumble and must take hold of the banister. I am all alone, despite Miss Richardson’s assertion that she would be by my side, alone and vulnerable just as I was in my prison cell. I force myself to attend to the business in hand.
A constable waits at the french doors and I am guided on to the balcony. A gust of wind catches the brim of my hat and threatens to carry it away, but it settles and I look out at a different sea: a sea of gentlemen’s boaters. A large crowd has gathered just below me, nearly all gentlemen but some ladies too, their hats bedecked with ribbons and roses. I am an amusement to most of them, no doubt, a curiosity to help them while away a summer morning in a seaside town, but some will heed my call. If I can change but one mind, I will have done my job.
“Get on with it!” The first heckle comes from the front of the pack, before I have even begun to speak.
A rotten egg smacks onto the wooden board in front of me, spilling out its contents. Cabbages, carrots, an array of vegetable scrapings follow.
“Please – “a stick, smeared in some foul-smelling substance flies past my face and hits the door-frame behind me. I quake. The horrors of prison return: the stench, the horrific snake of the rubber feeding tube.
Then, wobbling along the road on a bicycle is Miss Richardson; a friendly face at last. The sight of her gives me the courage I need to continue and, keeping my eyes fixed upon her, I begin my speech again.
“I am a Suffragette!”
Janine Amos worked as a children’s commissioning editor in London, Bath, Berlin and Chicago before beginning her career as a children’s writer and tutor. She is the author of more than sixty ‘special issue’ information and ‘faction’ books for children, on topics such as bullying, divorce, anger and self-esteem. She has been published in fourteen languages. Janine takes her writing into schools and works with small groups of children to help them make stories of their own.
Janine has recently returned to live in Wales, to the beautiful town of Usk, where she lives with her husband and two unruly cats. She is currently writing her first historical novel for adults, set in Monmouthshire.
by John Holmes
The sound of perfection.
Bicycle chains and bikers’ breathing, oiled gears and smooth tyres. Finely tuned harmonies rising from the choreographed band, accompanying the flashes of colour, backed-up with its own wind.
Individuals working in unison, all waiting to orchestrate a solo break.
As they zip by, they create their own live stream.
I cheer loudly as they pass, but internally I worry that wheels will touch, carbon will snap and we’ll be only left with a choir of human cries.
The notes are carried away to the new, appreciative audience, waiting further down along the sweeping bay. Necks stretched, eyes wide and ears open. Cold fingers attentively hovering over the record buttons on their phones. The musical movement is heading their way.
Leaning back against my firm cushion, I allow myself to soak in the new silence, which is suddenly broken by the far off cry of a single, black-headed gull. I throw my dark memories up there – force them to grow wings and fly away. As always, some of them are just too powerful to take off. That day my bike screeched across the tarmac, like the call of that single bird, is still my private, permanent tinnitus.
My attempts to turn the wheels are fruitless. I’ve sunk deep into the muddy verge. A cheerful spectator registers my difficulty, gives me a firm push on to the path and I’m on my way.
‘Watch the pot…’ he shouts, as my front, right wheel bounces into a hole.
‘Too late,’ he adds with a laugh.
My chair rattles violently over the uneven paving, fighting the gaps and cracks.
No beautiful music escaping from my transport. It performs only one tune.
The sound of reality.
John Holmes, based in the North East of England, is a writer of short fiction. ( JohnHolmesWriter.com )
He is a previous winner of the The Times Short Crime Fiction Story prize.
In the last 12 months his work has appeared in Paragraph Planet, 101 Words, Fragmented Voices, Pen to Print, Glittery Literature, Globe Soup, Drabble, Cross The Tees, Bag of Bones and Ellipsis Zine.
John is the co-author of Rough Rides, a mountain biking guide book (ISBN 0861901894 9780861901890).
When he isn’t writing, he’s out on his bike, exploring new routes.