Monday, 10 July 2017

Colours: the three prize winners stories!

Read the three winners stories of the 6th international short story contest!

Sarah Isaak /Foreign fruit
stories in colour s  fibres of her dress, her hair, are illuminated by sunlight. Shadows travel the length and breadth of her as clouds fray. She pushes her chin forward. The ellipse of darkness cast on her neck momentarily beards her. She watches the plants, the subjects of my drawings, with an intensity that is a reproof for my daily inattention.
With her fists resting on her knees and her hooded eyes level with the top of the planting bed she reminds me of the ape his Lordship kept, until he grew bored with the beast’s habit of spitting and grabbing at women’s hair.
The pineapple is suffused with rose madder and gold and looks too heavy for its stem. I turn a page in my book. I have not told his Lordship about my experiments with pigments, that the colour I paint on these drawings might be as transient as the fruit itself. The gardener’s wife is more robust.  Her hair, ribboned with raw sienna and silver, her skirts, a collapsed ochre dome, are a collection of pigments that will endure.
She is a striped cat about to pounce. Her thick fingers become claws. Her wide mouth bears sharp teeth to bite the flesh of the pineapple with. I smudge my lines with fingerprints of cadmiums and umbers and, ah, Naples yellow, the colour of home.
The smell of manure, horse piss and sweat announces her husband’s arrival. He stands in the doorway, holding his hand to his back. The basket containing his lunch sits alongside his wife’s skirts. The uncovered cheese glistens and the bread is dry.
I turn a page so he will not see what I have made of her. His neck darts forward. His clay encrusted boots are lifted and tucked behind him in turn as he releases the pulsing bone ache of his morning’s work. He is a heron watching the river. His wife reaches out a hand and slowly pushes it through the humid air until it almost touches the pineapple. He says ‘no, please’ and she withdraws but not until she has greedily inhaled the scent, citrus and honey and something else that is not at home amongst the dung and the tanning bark.
She smiles. Her tongue catches her lower lip.
‘It’s a shame you don’t be coming to bed smelling like that,’ she says to him.
Her shoulder brushes mine as she walks past. Her arm feels hot and heavy.
‘I want it,’ I hear her whisper in his ear. ‘Make it mine.’

That night’s dinner guests have a castle and an older lineage than his Lordship. He now owns most of their land. These neighbours contravene the absurd rules by which we dine and raise a rapid succession of toasts out of turn, imbibing huge quantities of wine which is sharp and musty. Politeness dictates that I also drink. His Lordship’s daughters drink. Hannah, the eldest, peers around the table’s florid centrepiece, a pyramid of sugar paste fruit, gilded in parts, topped by the first mature pineapple grown on the estate. Her lips are stained dark. She stares.
‘Seven years it has taken me to grow this fruit’ his Lordship says. Hannah’s satin clad toe nudges my foot. She’s asking a question. Perhaps she thinks my distraction is caused by the cut of her muslin dress and her soft, spaniel ear breasts. In truth I am distracted by the pineapple, the aureole of white and turquoise mould at its base, its colour now an indifferent burnt umber. I am distracted by the leaves the fruit has shed, lying like moonlit rose petals on the damask. I am distracted by the smell, no longer sweet but dank.
Hannah whispers ‘the yew hedge,’ and ‘tomorrow.’  I assume she is talking about the drawing lesson I am to give where I will compliment her on her timid lines and poor grasp of tone. I agree. A flush of carmine spreads across her cheeks which are beginning to fall like her mother’s.
His Lordship waves a fork at the gross indulgence that squats on the mahogany. He describes the system where pits either side of the glasshouse are filled with the horse manure, straw and urine that keep the plants warm. The castle owning neighbour levers himself out of his chair and walks unsteadily to the corner of the dining room and straddles a chamber pot, pissing a faltering stream as if he wishes to illustrate the process.
In the hills above Naples we grow peaches in meadows rich with volcanic ash. Oranges burst in a rush of sweetness on our tongues.
We would not let fruit rot.
‘Why in London,’ his lordship declaims, ‘pineapples are rented by the hour.’
In my room in an echoing part of the house away from the family, away from Hannah, I open the package containing my most recent order. A tightly rolled bundle of gold leaf, the paper delicate, shimmers even in this dull northern light. I secrete pigments in the unlit fireplace. I am relying on the steward’s sloth when dealing with the accounts to maintain this pilfering that is no longer petty.

Early morning light blues the walls. It is almost June and there is a frost on the lawn. I wear as many layers of clothing as I can without making myself an object of ridicule.
The yew hedge encloses a formal garden of box and other borders that provide a symmetry Hannah may manage in her drawing; if I allow her a simplistic point of view. She is halfway down the left side of the hedge, her pale dress offering no concealment amongst the Scheele and Verona greens. She has long expressed an interest in painting ‘en plein air’ but she has brought neither her paper nor her paints. Her pale lips are parted.
‘You came,’ she says. Her cold fingers clutch mine. She smells of powder, cake and old blood. She talks but I am not listening. I am back in Naples with my mistress, a capricious creature who never carried just the one, same stale scent but smelt of oranges or of wine, of garlic, of the sea.
Hannah wants her hand held and secrets. She wants to be loved in the way the girls in her romance novels are loved. I think about thrusting her over one of the lower hedges and lifting her skirts. Her buttocks will be wrinkled like the fruit on the table. They will be cold.
I reciprocate her tentative touch crudely, pushing my knee between her skirts and squeezing her spaniel ear breasts hard.
I whisper, ’my mignotta, my puta’.
This crude ardour should repel her. Then I remember that
I am not the first Italian to ‘instruct’ her.  She might understand the words. Her lips wobble, her moist eyes overflow and she runs across the frosted grass with slumped shoulders and a teetering gait
It is a day of poor decisions. Another package arrives, too soon after the last. The steward finds me in the glasshouse. Hannah’s slack mouthed incomprehension has been represented in the back pages of my book alongside the pissing castle owner and the under gardener and his wife. The steward’s wig is askew. He’s holding the bill for my latest order.
‘You’ll be telling me,’ he says, ‘what all this is. You’ll not be taking advantage, oh no. You’ll be a telling me.’
His bulbous nose is the colour of an Italian onion. His collar is damp. He is sweating like his Lordship’s ape. The ape smelt better.
He repeats himself until the heat and my suddenly acquired difficulty with the English language become too much for him. He shakes his jowls and the sweat falls away in beaded arcs. I draw him later as a bulldog after an enforced swim, decaying teeth protruding over a veined and purple lower lip.
When I return to the glasshouse after eating a bland meal,  the ripest pineapple, the largest fruit grown, the pineapple a ball has been planned around, the fruit that is measured and recorded daily, the thing coveted by the under gardener’s wife, has gone.  It has been ‘CUT AND STOLEN AWAY!’
The under gardener has his broad hands spread and his narrow eyes closed. The steward is apoplectic. I will draw him again later, exploding like an overripe peach, his rage a spatter of reds.
The inquisition that will surely follow this theft will delay the auditing of my orders, but not for long.
I have secreted far more than I remember ordering. My bag is heavy and my pockets full when I tiptoe along the corridor. I am wearing most of my clothes. There are voices in the drawing room. I hear Hannah saying ‘but father, he, he…’
‘It will have to wait my girl. This is a theft of such magnitude it must be dealt with.’
‘But my honour father…’
‘Was lost several drawing instructors ago,’ he says, a remark that leaves me feeling somewhat diminished.
The theft took place during my absence from the glasshouse, a fact documented by the steward’s presence, then by the cooks, my rosemary and orange zest tisane making them shriek with laughter, my presence in the kitchen something to remember.
No one will be looking for me.
Summer has arrived. It is a weak and thin affair. I thread through woods, walking amongst the indigo remnants of bluebells.  There is a mound of red ahead, resting against the wide trunk of an oak. I can see ochres, russets and the soft gleam of a white cap. It is the under gardener’s wife. Resting in her lap is a slender curl of green and gold, coiling. A tuft of green rests at her side like a scalp taken from a Mohican. I breathe out slowly and let my hands unclench. She stands heavily and thrusts out her hand. In it is a golden disc of sweet smelling pineapple. She smiles. There is blood on her lips.
‘For you,’ she says, ‘take it’ and she pushes it against me so that I have to accept. She holds her hands to her stomach then raises them to her mouth where she finds her cracked lips to be damp with something that is not pineapple. Her eyes widen when she sees her finger’s bloody tip and she frowns.
’Is this my punishment?’ she asks.
I shake my head.
‘It is simply a fruit. How can it be so?’ I say. ‘It is perhaps meant to be eaten in …’ I look at the fruit and the fibres that radiate from its core, ‘lesser amounts?’
That reassures her. It must be true for why would his lordship invest so much in something that would cause harm?

She wipes the blood away and smears it onto her skirts where it joins other stains.
‘They, in the house, they are …’
She shrugs.
‘Tis done, ‘she says and her smile is sorrowful.
If I eat the fruit I am made complicit. But I am leaving. The smell is sweet. I bite into the ring of gold… My lips are soon made tender and my tongue a little sore.
I take my book from my bag and show her the drawing I made of her. Her smile is broad and her laugh a low rumble.
‘That’ll be me right enough.’
I tear the sheet away and hand it to her. She sees the drawings underneath then, the etiolated figure of a man pecking the ground. She crumples the drawing I have given her.
‘You be mocking him!’
Her broad hand is on my chest, pushing. She steps back.
Her arms hang at her side like an idle ape’s.
‘I have done him such harm,’ she says. She is crying. Unlike Hannah’s tears, it moves me.
I can hear birdsong. I can see beauty here. I can see why she might want to stay.
‘There need be no harm done,’ I say. ‘I’m leaving. Make the fault mine.’
I do not tell her that it will simply be the addition of one theft to another. The steward, his lordship, the cook, they will all find a time when I was unattended, a moment in which I could have acted. I do not say that I would have preferred to be the one that stole the pineapple, that I wish I had dared that.
The folds of the paper lying on the ground facet her. I tear out another page. It falls on top. It shows his lordship in his best wig, the curls turning into the plant’s corona, his face transforming into the outer flesh of a pineapple. The whole is supported by a body that is shrunken and potbellied. I have not wasted any colour on him.
The under gardener’s wife prods it with her toe and bends to look closer. She tries to suppress a smile but she can’t.
‘I’ll not be finding that just yet,’ she says. ‘Maybe in a few days. Or a while longer?’
‘That would be a kindness,’ I say.
The taste of the sun is in my mouth. As I travel further south it will grow warm and the trees will bear fruit.
                                                          stories in colour s
 Jennifer Tucker              
The Many Shades of Darkness
In the last few minutes before it happened, this is what Kyla tried to remember:
Red was the dry, dusty ‘soil’ of her planetoid home.
Red was the sweaty, scowling faces of the B colony crowd as they shuffled and jostled and muttered in the heat of the public square, squinting and grumbling in the daylight. So different from the calm, bronzed people of Colony A, all seated in quiet, orderly rows before the ceremonial seat of The Lady Arbiter.
Red was the long, ceremonial carpet that led to the middle of the square where her Grandmother sat in a swathe of judge’s robes, waiting to announce her final decision.
Orange was the egg-yolk Sun – feeding the power panels, the mining machinery, the henhouses, the hydroponics labs and a ton of other stuff beside.
Orange was the plastic blocks that formed all the buildings in Colony A. Nicer than the Bs’ dull, grey ones. Even in the dark side’s constant night the vivid orange ones would be more cheerful. Not fair, really…
Yellow was the ration pack ‘custard’ and the giant sand slugs. Double yuck.
The custard and the other luxury rations had started all the arguments. Ration packs were rubbish. She didn’t even like custard, but she ate it when her Grandmother made it, because it helped her remember her Mum, even three years after the accident. And because if she did her two hours of Arbiter training every day without complaining, Gran would let her gloop her fingers through the custard for ages, for the fun of it, like Mum used to let her, if no-one was looking.
The colonies’ rationing battles didn’t make sense. Why couldn’t they all just share their resources fairly? The power grid, the livestock, the crops, the rations. Why should the colony B kids have no nightlights just coz they had no solar panels? It wasn’t their fault!
And the scary sand slugs – like huuuge seal-sized blobs of crawling, carnivorous earwax. Slow, but dangerous. Any family would want to up sticks and move to the day side rather than live next to a nest of those things.  And why not? No life-threatening predators, no radio silences, no vitamin injections – Colony A was definitely the better place to be.
Green was the currency chips that the grown-ups used that looked like strips of candy.
They most certainly did not taste of candy, though. Their taste had made Kyla pull a face a bit like the one that the Colony B leader was making right now. He was a pale, grumpy-looking man. He was big and he looked like he wanted to hurt someone.
Why were the grown-ups so angry all the time?
Ohh, the blues of Earth! The photos of Gran’s visit to Earth with its rivers and lakes and oceans and … and SKY! The way Gran told her the stories made Kyla almost taste the salt spray and hear the screeching seagulls. The thought of actually swimming in endless blue… it was a nice distraction from the chanting that had started, and the shrinking perimeter of fist-clenched B colonists that now surrounded the seated As.
Deepest indigo was the night sky and ‘day’ sky on the dark side of the planetoid.
The Arbiter’s residence had been built on the Dark Side Border to symbolise ‘impartiality’. Kyla’s hand still ached from writing that word out soooo many times.
Violet was her Grandmother’s ceremonial robes – made by her grandmother.
And her beautiful, crystal gavel – part of a core sample geode taken by the first Settlers.
And violet was the nasty bruises that some of Kyla’s classmates had given each other after a debate on ‘The Colony Troubles’ went awry.
Then, with slow deliberation, Gran – the Grand Arbiter – rose to her feet and held up her gavel.
“It is decided… The only way to level the playing field, and prevent civil war, is to equalise everyone’s living standards across both colonies.”
A big cheer erupted from the B crowd.
“And the only feasible way to achieved this… is for me to help you all see as I must.”
She raised her arm further. Aloft, in her wizened hand, the gavel was…  humming?
Somehow Kyla knew what her Grandmother was going to do, and whispered to herself in a shaky voice,
“Red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet, Red-orange -yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet, Red-orange-yellow…”
One loud crackle later, the colours were all gone.
Across the entire planetoid, everything became a drab shade of darkness.
No one spoke. The only sounds were the echoes of a thousand shorted solar cells contracting and irreparably cracking from thermal shock.
The tide of colonists ebbed away in head-hung silence, until only Kyla and her Grandmother remained.
Their hands reached for each other.
“Come, child. There is much work to be done.”
The Lady Arbiter smiled, but tears welled in her milky, unseeing eyes.

stories in colour sTHIRD PRIZE
 Lynda Haycock-Watkins
Feeling, tasting, and smelling colours
I was born blind, don’t feel sorry for me as I’m happy really happy.  I live with my mum, dad and thee older brothers in East London.  I know the house has four floors and there are two rooms on each floor, but I don’t know if my house is big or small as I’m not aware of size.  I know my bedroom is ten paces long and five paces wide but is that big or is that small?

My older brothers John, Christopher and George all go to the local school which is only a five-minute walk from our house.  I however, have to go to a special school because of my disability, I am not really sure if this is good or bad.  Monday to Friday about 8 o’ clock in the morning Peter knocks on the front door.
“Is Anna ready?” he usually asks when one of my brothers answers the door.
“Anna” is then shouted down the hall way.
I had already heard the first Anna because my hearing is so sharp, so I’ve already started to make my way from the kitchen to the front door.  The second Anna sounded like somebody was speaking through a microphone.  I don’t say anything to my brother about how loud he shouts; I’ve tried before but it still continues.
I search for Peter’s arm and find it immediately. The coat on his is arm is bumpy.  I had learnt the difference between bumpy and smooth last month in school so I was still enjoying identifying the two textures.  Peter takes me to the taxi, opens the door and I climb in slowly making sure not to bang my head.  Peter does up my seat belt for me as I am still finding this tricky.
“Let’s get you off to school” said Peter as he starts the engine.
I search for the handle to open the window, it is hard and smooth and I turn it a notch to open the window.  I am not sure how much it opens but it is enough for me to feel a breeze on my face.  I now sniff the air and start to analyse my journey.  I smell something, trees so we must be near the park.  I now know that trees have bumpy bark and usually have smooth leaves.  Next I smell food so we must be travelling up the main street which is full of different types of restaurants and bars, my nose is on over load.
“Half way there” Peter tells me which is nice as it gives me a perception of time.
I know the next smell that is coming up and I don’t like it.  I asked Peter what it was once, he said it was from a factory that made tyres.  He didn’t explain what a factory was so I presumed it was like a house but people made things in it rather than lived in it.  I did know that tyres were part of a car because of my brother’s toys at home.  I once tried to hold my breath when we reached this landmark but I didn’t last long and had to take some deep breaths after which made the smell worse.
“We are here” said Peter but I already knew that as I could hear the car’s indicator clicking.
The car came to a sudden halt, I heard Peter get out of the car open my door then felt him as he reached in to undo my seat belt.  His breath smelt weird and not nice at all.
“Come on young lady” he said beckoning me out of the car.
I carefully reached for his arm then when I found it I climbed out.  We walked slowly to the school’s entrance.  I could hear the other children talking but there were so many conversations I couldn’t really make out what they were saying.  The bell rang loudly then I heard the doors open. Peter and I walked into the school and up the corridor, we stopped just outside my classroom.  My coat peg was the last one so I felt my way down them one, two, three, four, five and six which was me.  I took off my coat hung it on my peg then turned back to Peter for guidance.  He lead me into the class room and positioned me behind my desk.

“I’ll pick you up later Anna, bye” he said before leaving.
I pull out my chair and sit down waiting for the other pupils to arrive.  There are six pupils and two teachers in my class.  The other five children are autistic and don’t speak very well if at all so it is hard to communicate with them.  We were however, all aged six and eager to learn all about the world we lived in.  The classroom started to become noisy as the teachers came in with the other pupils.
“Good morning Anna” said Miss Roberts her voice being not so loud as my other teacher.
“Good morning Miss Roberts” I reply.
She came over to me and squeezes my shoulders so I can feel her presence, I smell soap.  I place my hand on hers and notice it feels soft.  The other children begin to sit down but I can also hear running on the tiled floor.
“James you need to sit down now as we need to take the register” says Mrs Joy my other teacher.
James says nothing as he can’t speak and I still hear him running up and down not really understanding why.  Miss Roberts decides to take the register anyway.  I then hear the classroom door open and get an instant hit of the smell of petrol.
“I am looking for Anna” the voice said.
I put my hand up and feel heavy feet coming towards me.  I feel unsure.
“Good morning Anna” said the voice, “I am Doctor Williams and I have come to your school today so I can teach you all about colours.  I teach a lot of blind children so the school has asked me here specially to teach you.”
I left a pang of excitement and suddenly had a lot of faith in this loud rough voice.  Doctor Williams helped me get up from my chair then took me down the hall to an empty class room.  We stopped next to some tables and a chair and I sat down. I had heard about colours of course but I didn’t know what they were.
“Anna do you know what colours are?” he asked.
“No” I replied.
“Ok right, when you eat your tongue tastes different things like sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  Do you know all these tastes?” he asked.
“Yes I know about different tastes.  Is colour another type of taste?”  I enquire.
“No,” he replies and I am sure there was a little chuckle.
“With colour your eyes are like your tongue, light bounces off each object in different ways giving that object its own unique colour.”
I thought he must be mad “I’m blind Doctor Williams how can my eyes see the different types of light?”
“No Anna” he said “I am going to teach you colour by feeling it, tasting it and smelling it” his voice sound excited.

The Doctor then handed me a soft object.  It was half the size of my hand and I squashed it between my fingers, it felt nice.
“It feels nice and soft” I told him.
“Good” he said “this is cotton wool and it represents white which is the colour of milk.
I knew what milk was I had it on my cereal every day further more I knew its colour, this was fun.

Next he handed me a lump of coal, it felt hard and bitty.  He told me this feeling was black the colour of my hair.  I wanted to feel more.  Water became blue; grass became green; strawberries became red; lemons became yellow; tree bark became brown; oranges became orange; my lips became pink and lastly lavender became purple.
“There are more colours to explore” he told me “but to start with we need to stick to the basics.”
The basics were just fine with me.  I had an alive feeling almost like I could actually see for the very first time.  I randomly started pointing at things while the Doctor gave me my colour object.

I pointed at my shoes “tree bark” said the doctor.   I pointed at my dress “lemons and grass” he told me.  My mind was a whir as I pointed and pointed loving the answers.  For the rest of the day Doctor Williams and I walked around the school as I touched and pointed at everything.

As I said in the beginning I might be blind but I am very very happy.

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