Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. In June 2017 she was awarded the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella, and her novella The Plankton Collector was published by New Welsh Review in September 2018. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, was published by Louise Walters Books in November 2020. Cath is also active in the on-line community of writers of flash fiction.
I mean God being non-binary is old news, no? So much lost in translation. Did you ever see a nativity scene with folks the right colour? As if the only brown yolks were the donkeys. The baby Jesus, the colour of snow and his mammy a natural blond. Joseph looking on like some bearded Shoreditch hipster.
As a child I belonged to a funny old outfit called the Legion of Mary. We were some kind of army ready to fight if she returned to earth. Fearsome we’d have been. All aged about 10 and natural selection having removed us from sports activities on a weekend.
Me at that age an unknowing but obvious homo. Loved to skip. It’s actually a very economical way to travel. Always met with fierce resistance, mind. My mam let me cut bluebells from the garden, soak them in loo roll and take them up to the convent to adorn the Virgin.
So, this one day and I’m off to join The Legion and doesn’t Sister Mary Evangelista of the Holy Roses stop me at the door and ask me to nip down to the church and get the statue of the big Lady and bring it to the convent for our meet.
Talk about give me joy in my heart keep me burning! Flushed with the obvious leadership status this affords me among the ranks I race at speed to the church of the Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Jubilation.
Spotting Mary Marilyn of Monroe in the corner I am suddenly afeared that she is almost as tall as I am. Undaunted I pick her up and sure she’s made of something terrible light and no bother to carry. It feels wrong to put her under my arm, so I hold her upright and steady against my chest and head off back to Convent HQ.
It’s been a beautiful frosty morning and I’m careful enough not to skip but truth be told I can’t properly see my way as Mary’s big veil is in my eye-line and I don’t see the patch of ice on the pavement. I go down in slow motion, but the feels come at me faster than a bullet. If a single bit of her comes to harm, I’ll be hell bound before you can say a decade of the bountiful mysteries.
In my falling I cling on to her so tight. I make sure that every bit of my body hits the pavement and not one bit of hers does. I hear the tinny thud of impact and rejoice that it is me and not her.
I sit for a few moments on the ground. Mary stood next to me. Traffic going by and no-one pays any heed. Nor does Sr Mary Eva of the Angelic Fashionistas when I knock on the convent door, blood in my hair.
Sacred Blood, I decide.
Blood of Honour.
Blood of The Cross.
Blood of The Legion.
David Abbott lives high up on a hill in Wales with his boyfriend and a rescue dog called Roxy. He is a very occasional writer of fiction.
It’s a creature. The thought seems to lie in wait for the sound. I can’t tell if it’s hunger or curiosity which freezes me. The noise comes again from the reedbed, in a slightly different place; a spoor of crumpling, fracturing. Something moving.
First rule of listening: stop. Now scan, locate. A fox does this, can swivel its ears through half-circles. Is it reynard in the swamp, tempted by ice-bound waterfowl? I look for a viewpoint, a gap between blackthorns. But you cannot see far into reeds before the eye falters. A bittern understands, stretches a vertical neck, hides itself in slender rushwork.
Unusual here, so near the coast; ice. Golden sunshine falls on ivy by the track, blue flies bask. It might be Summer, but for a damp tunic. It is ivy Summer. Contrary as the back of the moon, ivy wears her garland of blackjacks; which the redwing gathers with its needle, the fieldfare with pruning shears.
Farther away now, the movement. Twitches and waggles of reed seedheads. Bleached and wispy, they hold their own frozen light, give body to the wind. I think about deer, have seen roe not far from here. Might one have strayed into the reeds and got into difficulty? I hope for a flashing white rump, a roe hind jumping clear. There is no deer.
What if it isn’t mammals at all, or birds, but fish? Maybe pike have woken to see winter midges settle on the surface of the ice; black stars in a white firmament? Pike stirring, rousing their great hulls to smash through ice. No. Midges are small meat. Pike will be lying deep and still, silent as boatwrecks.
Staring low into the edges of the swamp. Oily, rusty water skinned with white wafer-ice. Evidently the flood has receded and the surface frozen several times, because the ice is layered like thin-breads. Leaves of ice clasping stems in Runic shapes. A feather breeze shivers the reeds. A volley of shattering slingshot-falls, yet no shot was flung. Imagine a Winter feast, the revellers all eating crackling.
A chorus of squeals. I clutch my bowstring, crouch lower, but it is not boar. I’m losing sense of their spoor, beginning to forget their sound. Water rails are calling deep in the reedswamp. Sharmers. They squeeze between reeds like shuttles through the warp. I’ve seen very few in all these years. They know who the creature is.
Dudley Martin is 53 and lives in Worcester with his partner and daughter. On Twitter you may find him @ivysuckle, where he tweets about garden wildlife and and close encounters with nature. One of his true loves is the natural world and it is in the wonder of nature that he finds the inspiration to write.
I had 32 entries. They were anonymised for me for judging. I scored each entry out of 10 for each of the following criteria:
All of the shortlisted entries scored over 30. I have also given a special mention to the entries that scored 29.
I will be contacting all those who entered individually. The winner and runner-up will be offered publication. All those shortlisted or given a special mention will receive a couple of lines of feedback.
Congratulations to the authors of the entries listed below. Feel free to broadcast the fact that you have made the shortlist or got a special mention, but please don’t identify which piece is yours until the final results have been announced.
The Next Good Joy That Mary Had
Winter Needs Watching
The Taste of Champagne
Come back on Friday 17th February for the announcement of the winner and runner-up, and names of those on the shortlist and with a special mention.