Flannel, blue jeans scrounged from the hamper, cowboy boots, caked dirt. Maybe he’ll spit on the papers on the dining table. The two girls sneak looks from the hall. His pulsing jaw, her crossed arms in summer sleeves. You, he says, won't take my children. A smile crawls from one sister and scuttles between them.
Like this, he said, grubbing in fecund dirt for a worm, mud fingers streaked with blood, pushing the pronged hook through the soft live length.
The judge leans across his pulpit, black choir robe like church. Mister, if you can't take responsibility—
Out in the dim corridor, baby blue three-piece suit -- the boots don’t go -- grinding jaw. Give me the damn papers.
What you do is sit still, line light in listening fingers, water bubbly over silver rocks. Fish! Your heart leaping again and again. You wait and wait.
Elbows on the restaurant table, he looks them in the eye. Foam slides down his glass. Something urine-colored. He swings an arm like waving hello, jabs an index finger at the glass. Turns back, says, he’s a good man, something something stable home, security. Your step-father he calls him -- has paid for them, they understand. He sucks foam off his mustache with a pink bottom lip.
You slide the blade, white belly up, scales against a palm, red insides worming out. And nothing ever tasted so good. Crackling trout crisping in butter in the iron skillet, full of bones, campfire smoke, cold night air, autumnal sky.
The Short List for the Anam Cara Short Fiction Competition
The 2012 Winner of the Anam Cara Short Fiction Competition
The latest Anam Cara writing competition was announced in Poets and Writers Magazine and on their web site (http://www.pw.org/content/anam_cara_writer_s_and_artist_s_retreat). It was a short fiction competition, the prize for which is a workshop retreat or a 10-day residential retreat at Anam Cara. Entries were to be no longer than 500 words and as yet unpublished, in print or online. The deadline for submissions was Bloomsday, 16 June 2012, and the winning writer and story announced today, 1 August 2012
Many thanks to all those who entered. The quality of the submissions was very high, making the judging difficult and the selection of the long and short lists and the winner a lengthy and painstaking process. In recognition of the superb level of writing, the names and homeplaces of the authors on both the Short and Long Lists, as well as the winner, are included below. Many thanks, also, to Vanessa Gebbie* for taking on this daunting task.
The winning story is:
Matters of the Mountain by Leo Cullen from Monkstown, Co. Dublin, Ireland
That I had an accident on a hill within sight of the mountain. That my car tried to mount the hard shoulder but had to surrender to it, lurched then toppled over and as it did so the driver door flew open and I fell out in such a way that when the car had settled on its side it had fallen on top of me. I’m not making this up; I’m not making anything of it, just that it happened. And that I had gone into a coma and that shock had left me and that the car’s engine was still running, while down the hill a half a dozen houses down my wife making our bed was worrying vaguely; our boy and girl were in their cots asleep, the younger of whom in the morning would be practising his upright stand for the rising sun, and the elder one who would not be practising her next stage of development – the art of speech – having chosen to remain mute, as every day on wings of surrender I’d whispered in the seabed of her ear: ‘Wait till you come into your Force and then you’ll talk.’
I’m not making anything of it but I know that at that time always on my way home from work, whether having taken drink or not, whether having received rebuke from my horse trainer employer or received praise, whether having stolen hay for my own backyard dream horse or having failed to, I always looked over at the mountain, distant some days, some days near, always I looked, as I came over the hill and turned the bend before which this evening my car had taken its own course and thrown me out, and always it was as if the mountain offered me greeting, or I offered it prayer.
And of Danny Fitzgerald, pedalling up the hill on his racer and thinking that once he’d got to the top he would freewheel down the other side, his trousers flapping, and not that instead he would see a capsized car and then my head wedged between car and ground so that the car could not lie flat on its side, and that he would throw his bike in the ditch and tilt the car somehow with one hand and with the other pull my body out by my hair, lengthwise like he might deliver a calf - how it slides through its mother’s fluids into life and light to begin its days in a frolic beneath the gaze of a mountain that is also otherwise engaged with releasing streams for making rivers, I’m not making anything of that either.
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Here Vanessa comments on the competition and the winning story:
Reading every entry for this competition was a great privilege. Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat is a wonderful place; I have taken my own work there several times a year since 2005, and it has become extremely important to my writing journey. Ten whole days here is a very special prize indeed, the sort of experience that could change the life of a writer.
So what was I looking for? Originality, confidence, excellent writing, a good story, well told – those are the usual things that judges say. But how do judges know when they have those things in front of them? Actually, I think that’s easy. Look what happens. Even though they have a pile of a hundred stories at their elbow and are very aware of the responsibility of the task in hand, suddenly, half way through the pile, they read a story, and realize that for a few moments, they forgot to make notes. They were so taken with the story that they disappeared into the experience so completely that they forgot they were reading, let alone judging. And believe me, for a story to do this to you in these circumstances, the craft has to be very, very good.
“Matters of the Mountain” stood out as a potential winner right from the start. I certainly forgot I was reading when I first read it – I was simply “inside” the story. Look at the style, the voice, the confidence. The punchy opening sentence – or non-sentence – begging so many questions. The playfulness that pulls the reader into complicity: “I’m not making any of this up...”
I loved the way this story unfolded. Absolutely straight as a die – the narrator insisting that he is not “making anything of it, just that it happened.” Looming over the narrative is the mountain of the title, which does not make its appearance in the text until almost two-thirds of the way through the story and which seems to preside over all happenings – a kind of deity. Thematically, this is a weighty piece, but it is delivered with the lightest of touches. The ending few lines will remain with me for a long time.
I made this story work very hard. It had some good competition at the long- and short-list stages, but it sat there quietly, shining its way through to the top. Many congratulations to the winning writer. I bow to your skills and hope ten days at Anam Cara will be your inspiration to produce more work as good as this.
* * * * *
The Short List
Out of the Ashes - Ethel Rohan, San Francisco, California, USA
Last of the Lemmings -- Colin Watts, Liverpool, England
Matters of the Mountain -- Leo Cullen, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, Ireland
At The Grey Monk Cafe -- Michelle Valois, Western Massachusetts, USA
Robert Lowell and I -- Shane O'Reilly, Dublin, Ireland
Leather -- Alison Wells, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
The Long List
Tramps Like Us – Pauline Burgess, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Out of the Ashes – Ethel Rohan, San Francisco, California, USA
Python – Maureen McCoy, Ithaca, New York, USA
The Grizzly Fight – Maureen McCoy, Ithaca, New York, USA
Last of the Lemmings – Colin Watts, Liverpool, England
Matters of the Mountain – Leo Cullen, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, Ireland
The Books, They Cry – Elzabeth Murray, Dublin, Ireland
For Dear Life – Sue Guiney, London, England
At The Grey Monk Café – Michelle Valois, Western Massachusetts, USA
Moving Day – Jane Harrington, Buena Vista, Virginia, USA
Abandonment – Robin Favello, West Haven, Connecticut, USA
Robert Lowell and I – Shane O’Reilly, Dublin, Ireland
Arrayed in Purple – Alison Wells, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Leather – Alison Wells, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Numerology – Melanie Bishop, Prescott, Arizona, USA
Museum of Memories – Nora Nadjarian, Nicosia, Cyprus
* * * * *
*Judge’s biography: Vanessa Gebbie’s novel The Coward’s Tale (Bloomsbury UK and USA) was selected as a UK Financial Times Book of the Year and Guardian readers’ Book of the Year.
She is an award-winning short storyist and author of two collections: Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning (Salt Modern Fiction). She is contributing editor of Short Circuit -- Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt). Her fifth book in as many years is forthcoming later in 2012.
Vanessa's stories have been commissioned by literary journals, the British Council, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, and are widely anthologised. She teaches writing on a freelance basis. www.vanessagebbie.com.