Get Writing 14 Competition Winners
The winning entries were:
1 An uncut life - Liz Wattley
2 The cafe - Gill Holland
3 Christmas letter - Camilla
An uncut life By Liz Wattley 1998 words
Alice checked her watch and stood looking around at room twenty, the last room of the morning. Just this room to do, she thought, then the laundry, and then she’d need to hurry back to look after Nathan or her mother would grumble. Room twenty was messy; its occupants had left in a hurry. A faint odour of scent lingered in the air, and clothes were strewn over the armchair in the corner. High-heeled, black suede shoes lay where they’d been kicked off the night before. Alice slipped off her flat pumps and padded over to where the shoes lay to try them on. They were a little tight, and she wobbled as she walked over to look in the mirror, but she liked the way they made her legs look longer and slimmer. She looked at the clothes on the chair, and thought that if she had such nice things, she would never leave them thrown so carelessly on a chair. She replaced the shoes neatly where she’d found them and went into the bathroom to begin cleaning.
As she buffed and polished the fittings, she wondered whether she should again approach Mr Wilkins, the hotel manager, about moving to a job on the front desk. He’d been sympathetic enough when she’d first asked him, and had conceded that she was over-qualified to work in housekeeping, but, he’d gone on to say, it was such a shame that she hadn’t completed her degree. She’d hated the way he’d then smiled, superciliously nodding at her with his eyebrows slightly
lifted, as though to say what a silly girl she’d been to go and get pregnant in her final year. A very high standard of grooming was required of desk staff, he’d said, and she could see, as he cast a disparaging eye over her, that, in his eyes she didn’t meet that standard. She’d felt humiliated, and didn’t know whether she could bear to try again.
As she moved on to remake the bed, she envied the couple that were staying in the room. She’d seen them laughing, teasing each other, as they rushed to breakfast unaware of her lurking by the cleaning trolley, waiting to get in to clean their room. They were a few years older than she, probably London people, wealthy too, she thought as she retrieved an ivory coloured, silk nightdress from the tangle of bedclothes. As she pulled back the bedding, her fingers brushed something tiny and hard, and there, glinting at the bottom of the bed, lay what looked like a solitaire diamond earring. Alice tutted, picked it up and put it on the bedside table as she continued to make the bed. Eventually she found the butterfly to go with it. Relieved that it hadn’t fallen to the floor, Alice put the back onto the stem of the earring and held it in her hand, watching the diamond sparkle in the sunlight. It was clear, colourless, and she remembered reading somewhere that only the purest diamonds had that quality. She peered closely at the stem, finding the carat marks etched into the gold. She thought it was a genuine diamond, but of course, she couldn’t be sure. The room felt suddenly stuffy and airless, and, slipping the earring into her apron pocket, Alice went to
open a window and leaned out slightly, feeling the cool air soothing her hot cheeks. She thought for a few minutes about what to do with the earring. If she left it on the bedside table, it could be easily knocked off, and lost once more. She thought that perhaps it would be safer to give it to Mr Wilkins and he could return it to the couple, but she wasn’t sure that she trusted Mr Wilkins, and she would never know whether or not he had returned it.
Glancing at her watch, Alice realised it was later than she’d thought. Maddie would be looking for her to sort through the laundry before they walked back down to the village. She hurriedly closed the window and vacuumed the carpet before leaving the room. She decided to ask Maddie what to do about the earring. Maddie would probably laugh at her and tell her not to always complicate things, she’d tell her to ask Mrs Trelawney, the housekeeper, what to do. In fact, asking Mrs Trelawney was the obvious answer, but Alice thought she would mention it to Maddie all the same.
But, as Alice and her friend checked off the laundry, Alice found that she didn’t want to mention the earring. She listened distractedly to Maddie’s chatter while wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t found the earring; it could so easily have fallen to the floor and been hoovered up. In fact, she thought, that
could so easily have happened. The couple would be able to claim its value on their insurance, she thought, so it wouldn’t be a great financial loss to them. She felt the earring in her pocket; the textured surface of the diamond and the slender, pointed stem. She wondered if the woman had noticed yet that the earring was missing. They had been in a hurry that morning, rushing to get to breakfast on time, and then she supposed, they’d gone straight out, not wanting to waste the day. They’d probably driven to Padstow or Rock for lunch, they hadn’t been dressed for walking and she didn’t think they were the type. They would return to the hotel and ask Mr Wilkins about the earring and he would ask Alice, but he would know how easily an earring could be lost. Also, Alice thought, the earring could have been lost outside the hotel. It was a mild but blustery day; one where you could feel warm in a sheltered spot and cool in an exposed one, and just pulling on or off a sweater could easily dislodge an earring. If the woman hadn’t noticed the earring was missing before she left the hotel, she couldn’t be sure where she had lost it.
“Come along girls, you should have finished this long ago.”
Mrs Trelawney bustled into the laundry room. Alice looked up at Mrs Trelawney’s broad, honest face and wanted to tell her about the earring. She
would enjoy the discussion the three of them would have about it, about whether it was a genuine diamond and if so, how much it might be worth. They would undoubtedly be somewhat critical of the guests in room twenty, how wealthy people could be careless with their possessions. Alice would tell them about the tangled nightdress still left in the bed, and Mrs Trelawney would tut, but would stop the discussion there, she didn’t like to be too gossipy. But Alice said nothing, and let the conversation move on to baby Nathan and the flat that she and Danny had seen in Wadebridge, and the difficulty of saving for a deposit. They talked about Danny’s job with the fire service and his volunteering with the coastguard and she could see that Mrs Trelawney thought Danny a fine chap and that Alice was lucky to have him. Alice reassured herself that it wouldn’t be too late, even the following day, to mention the earring. She imagined herself saying ‘Oh my goodness, I completely forgot to say…’ and thought that it would be reasonable for that to have happened.
Maddie suggested getting the bus into Wadebridge to have a sandwich and a coffee, and Alice agreed, although she knew that her mother would be annoyed. She sent her a text to say that they were short staffed at work and she would be delayed. The earring was now wrapped in tissue, nestling in her jacket pocket. If she went into Wadebridge, she could take it to the jeweller, just to find out how much it was worth, and then return it in the morning, feigning forgetfulness in the way that she’d imagined. She now felt she needed to know the worth of the
earring, and that if she returned it without knowing, she would always wonder about it.
They sat in a café eating flabby ham sandwiches and drinking milky coffee while Maddie talked endlessly about one of Danny’s friends who she was keen on. Alice knew that Maddie was disappointed that she wasn’t being more responsive in the conversation, but she thought the friend liked another girl, and she didn’t want to disappoint Maddie. She was also keen to find an excuse to escape from Maddie so that she could get to the jewellers before they closed. She wished that she could confide in Maddie, so that they could go to the jewellers together, but she thought that Maddie wouldn’t understand why she had taken the earring from the hotel.
As they emerged from the café, it was starting to rain and there was a chill in the air.
“I’ve got a bit of shopping to do,” Alice said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Don’t be daft,” said Maddie. “I’ll come along, I’m always happy to shop. Seems silly for me to go back on the bus on my own, I think we’ve missed the ten past anyway.”
Alice could tell that Maddie thought she was behaving strangely, she would never normally suggest they return separately from Wadebridge.
“Are you ok?” asked Maddie. “You seem a bit fed up today. Is everything ok with Danny? You must be desperate to get into your own flat, I know what your mum’s like.”
Alice mumbled something about Nathan disrupting her sleep and feeling tired. They wandered through Boots, where Alice bought shampoo and toothpaste that she didn’t really need. They passed the jewellers and she stopped to look in the window to see if she could see the prices of the diamond earrings, but Maddie started to make jokes about engagement rings. Marriage to someone like Danny was the summit of Maddie’s ambition, thought Alice resentfully, turning away and starting to walk up the street towards the bus stop. Her friend had never asked her whether she intended to complete her degree. Even Danny had only paid lip service to the idea; maybe a correspondence course when Nathan was older, he’d said. He’d been delighted that she was pregnant, and Alice supposed that she should be grateful for that. She kicked a stone along the pavement, tears suddenly pricking at her eyes. She could sense Maddie rushing up behind her, and knew that she would be upset with her for walking off like that. She apologised, but Maddie was annoyed and wanted Alice to explain, which she
couldn’t. They sat together on the bus but Alice got her book out to avoid further conversation.
Back in the village the rain had stopped and the two women stood awkwardly at the top of the hill. It was easy enough for Alice to make an excuse to return to the hotel, Maddie, still angry, only nodded in response. The hotel was quiet and Maddie chatted briefly to Carla at reception, telling her that she’d come back because she’d left the book she was reading in the housekeeping room. The key to room twenty was still on its hook.
Upstairs, Alice took one of the master keys from housekeeping and let herself into room twenty. She took the earring from her pocket and laid it in the middle of the dressing table, on a piece of white hotel stationery, so that it would show up. She took her book from her bag, and hurried back down the stairs, waving the book to Carla as she passed reception. She glanced at her watch and grimaced. Her mother would be waiting.
The cafe by Gill Holland
The author has refused permission to publish the entry.
Christmas Letter By Camilla Chester
Tuesday 21 December 2010
Surprised? After all, it is not your usual Christmas round-robin. Almost four years to the day and suddenly a letter from me. I know I am, surprised that is, but I have just heard something on the radio that has forced me to put pen to paper and write to you, despite everything that has happened.
They were talking about Afghanistan. I didn’t know this, but apparently all the soldiers write a letter to their nearest and dearest just in case they die. If they get home safely the soldiers burn all their letters together in a big bonfire. It was the thought of all those unsaid words going up in flames; all that emotion expressed; the real feelings the service men and women have for their loved ones, all lost to the breeze. The thought churned around in my head and eventually made me stop wrapping Ethan’s Thomas the Tank engine presents and do this very difficult thing instead.
Before I start getting into it all, I need you to know that I haven’t opened any of the letters you have sent me and I delete any emails, voice mails and texts as soon as I know they’re from you. Even when Daniel has tried to talk to me about it I have cut him off. I may open the letters someday, but right now I have to get this down and sent to you before something changes my mind. So this is me, uninfluenced, writing straight out, the way I see it.
I can see you by the way, not literally, but I know where you are. You are stood on the doormat, probably wearing your Laura Ashley apron, the print with the children in the snow. I remember that I bought you the matching peg bag and ironing board cover for your Christmas present that year. I forgot what you bought me; I left it there, along with you and our relationship. I have thought of you though, quite often, especially on your birthday and even more so at this time of year.
I can see you still stood there, mouth open, hands shaking and your marigolds dropped onto the doormat in disbelief, I know you haven’t been able to sit down yet. I know that I can’t have left it too late; there is no ‘too late’ when you’re a mother. I definitely wouldn’t have understood that until I had Ethan.
I know exactly how long it has been since we spoke. Ethan was born only two months after and when you have a child it is like having a living, breathing clock that grows each day; using time itself like a fuel. And no, not even the birth of your grandson made me want to come to you. The hurt has been so deep I can’t even begin to tell you.
I guess you’ll need to know what has changed and the only way that I can explain it is that although the anger is still there, the rage is less. I watch Ethan change a little bit each day and as he grows my rage towards you softens.
It will be hard for you to picture where I am, as you have not seen the flat. I’m sitting at our kitchen table, surrounded by smiling Rudolf Christmas wrapping paper and Sellotape. I look four years older, but otherwise the same, except that I have let my hair grow long and it is darker. I can see into the shared garden from where I am sitting. It is covered with snow - so much this year! I love it and I know you do too. I remember lots about what you love and don’t love.
Can you remember that day, before Daniel was born when I had to go to the hospital because of the infections? I try not to remember why I got them and all the questions at the hospital or how you looked away and dropped my hand as if I disgusted you. Instead I try to think of the snowball fight we had on the way home. We stopped outside the hospital and built a snowman, only the snow wasn’t sticking together enough, so instead you threw the snow at me and started laughing. We ended up rolling around and giggling so much. Do you remember Mum? I do, I remember. I felt forgiven, even though I’d done nothing wrong.
I have put a nut feeder out for the birds. I thought Ethan would enjoy watching them, but of course it is the squirrels that come and make us howl with laughter. They are so funny, making death defying jumps and flicking their tails, knocking the snow over themselves. There are two, fat as puddings, that come all the time and steal the nuts. Ethan has tried explaining to them that they are really for the birds, but they won’t listen. The robins do pick at the bits that drop and there is the odd fat, smartly dressed woodpigeon too.
‘He is ready for a party Mummy,’ Ethan always says.
He is so cute Mum. He is the joy of everything. I know Daniel has shown you pictures, but to hear him, to hold him and smell the life in him. Oh, he is just a piece of love. He reminds me of Daniel and offers me the same - unconditional love.
Poor Daniel, I didn’t realise how soft he is until this happened between us. He is still at a loss. I remember how his face contorted with pain, fear and all those tears, as we yelled at each other across the bread sauce and crackers.
Do you remember how it started? I do. It was over carrots; I kept turning them off, you kept turning them on. We went from carrots to him in the space of an hour. Fits and starts; time to finish cooking and sit down for our Christmas dinner, the three of us, you me and Daniel. It was only then that we got down to what it really was all about - him.
I wanted to storm out, but I was too full of baby and got stuck between the table and the chair. I upturned it and marched for my coat. Daniel ran after me, pleading at me and I shoved him, really hard. I felt bad about that, but he just wasn’t helping. I realise now that it is our fault that Daniel has no backbone. I can see how, as his big sister, I did everything for him. He didn’t even have to talk until he was nearly three and once you could be a mother to him again you over compensated, for the lost time I guess. The kid never had a chance. See? Even now, he is nearly 30 and I still call him a kid.
Course he has been stuck between us, hasn’t he, poor Daniel. I know you’ve tried Mum, to say your piece, but you were so hateful and to say what you did – it is almost unforgivable.
The squirrel is back. I wonder why they hang upside down like that; surely the blood goes straight to their head. I’m trying not to think about him. That is why it is easier to watch the squirrel. To think about him puts me in a place I don’t want to be. I’m grown and in control now, but I was an eight-year old girl and he was my father. I stand by what I said that Christmas; he had to die, otherwise he would have never gone away. He might have done something to my baby brother, little baby Daniel and what could he have done to my Ethan? Now look Mum I’m crying remembering how you spat those hateful words at me.
‘He died because of you Elizabeth,’ you said, ‘you may as well have pushed him. He was your father and all he tried to do was love you and you hated him for it.’
‘I hated him because of what he did to me Mum, he used too…’ but I couldn’t say the words and I looked down at my plate instead, staring at the little crosses on the bottom of the brussels.
‘Liar,’ you spat back at me, ‘liar. You killed him. It was because of you that he is dead and every day I wish it were you and not him.’
That was when I jumped up and screamed back at you, ‘well I’m glad he is dead. You’re right – I would’ve killed him, given half the chance I would’ve pushed the rotten bastard off the multi-story myself.’
‘I’m going and you will never see me or the baby again.’
I drove home so fast and I was white hot with rage, shaking all over. I lay down on my sofa and sobbed. The baby inside me twisted and turned until I settled and soothed him, promising that I was okay and not to worry. I haven’t cried since Mum, not until now; I didn’t want to hurt Ethan again. I’m letting myself cry and think back to after he died. I was so glad, because he couldn’t get at me anymore, but you - you were inconsolable. A total mess; unable to care for your children who needed you. Who had to do it all? Me. I was eight years old Mum. All those tears, all that grief over what – he was a monster.
It was all so long ago yet it is still there, like an ugly, frightening shadow that looms over me in the darkness and stops me sleeping. I know he is gone, but the memory of him lingers. A hateful memory that I have to carry like deadweight until the day I die.
But then there was Daniel - such a lovely little smiling thing; wriggling and dribbling over us both through those first years. He was what we had in common; he was what pulled you back into the land of the living. My adorable baby brother; he was my saviour and yours too Mum. Thing is as much as he is your son, I am your daughter. I am as important as Daniel and now I have my own son too.
It is time to get Ethan from Tinytots now, so I’m going to fold this letter up and post it on the way. I wonder if it will come in time for Christmas, they’re saying that the post is still getting through despite all the chaos from the snow, so maybe it will, I hope so.
I can still see you. I know you’re crying now and that reading this has made you walk from the hall into the lounge and allow your body to fall onto the sofa. I can see the poinsettia and the Christmas tree behind you; the smattering of holly tastefully displayed over the pictures. I can smell the cinnamon biscuits and mince pies that you are baking for the neighbours and the spice in the air from the fruited mulled wine as it heats gently on the stove. I can see the polished brass-framed mirror and the vacuumed rug all done well in time for Christmas.
Perhaps I’ll not worry if this letter gets there or not, and come by on the day to see if we can’t make a better Christmas memory. Would you like that Mum? Are you ready to believe me now? If you are, I’m ready to forgive you.
Elizabeth, your daughter.