In Competition 2816 you were invited to submit a short story with an ingenious twist at the end.
I was inspired to set this challenge after coming across O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’ and then rereading Maupassant’s quietly devastating ‘The Necklace’. The moral of Bill Greenwell’s tale — dishonesty pays — struck me as a neat counterpoint to Maupassant.
The winners earn £25 each. G.M. Davis takes the bonus fiver.
I answered the knock and was struck dumb. It was 20 years since we’d lived together. I’d undergone sea changes, but she was no different: the pleated pink minidress, the rhinestone gladiator sandals, glamour slap à la Joan Collins.
Too late to invent an excuse: I had to let her in. ‘Got any gak?’ she asked, twirling through the front door.
‘No, Rita. I’m clean now, you understand? I work and pay my taxes. I’ve played golf with friends of Kenny Dalglish.’
‘Ooh, ’ave the bloody vicar round to tea, do you? Give us some voddy, then.’
Soon I was the captive audience for a familiar tale of girls’ nights out and ratbag men, beginning with raucous chuckles and ending in tears. She departed with a fat cheque.
I was a fool for her still, as I always had been. But it’s damned hard to say no to mother.
Pregnant! Yes, it’s official. Her body is changing, hormones dancing riotously to the rhythm of this nugget of life growing inside her. She turns away from her untouched breakfast. Why is she not ecstatic? The truth is, she had imagined the father would share her joy, but her news is accepted with indifference. He has donated his DNA — a life-changing event for her: for him, no more than a physical exercise. Since then he has ignored her. Hard to cope with when she can’t avoid seeing the scumbag every day.
Pull yourself together, she tells herself. You have visitors arriving any minute. Put on a bright face. She hears a movement at the door. It’s Jack, of course. Jack is a good man. He cares. Looks after her. Glancing towards her unwanted meal, he whispers, ‘Finish your bamboo, Tian Tian. You’re eating for two now!’
One evening, over a few drinks, my old friend Len showed me his toolkit. I was a locksmith by trade, but business was slack, and I couldn’t afford to replace my antiquated tools. Len, on the other hand, was thriving as what he called ‘a redistributor of wealth’ — in other words, a burglar.
‘Michael,’ he said, ‘When I snuff it, I want you to have these.’
I was touched. Reverently, I lifted the gleaming instruments from their case, and felt how perfectly they sat in my hand.
The next day, the police knocked on my door to tell me that Len had been found dead of a heart attack in front of an empty safe. I was deeply shocked.
‘We believe he had an accomplice. Did you by any chance participate in the crime, sir?’
‘Of course not!’
‘Then could you explain, sir, why the tools are covered with your fingerprints?’
The only time Ida stole a wallet, it contained £15, and a photograph, creased and blurred, of a woman. It was on a pew in the church she cleaned, not very religiously, on Mondays. Fifteen pounds was a lot, the temptation great. She hid it in an obscure zip pocket in her second-hand jacket, and applied the polish firmly.
She didn’t notice the priest and the parishioner, a salesman, arrive. ‘Here or hereabouts,’ said the parishioner. ‘Ida,’ said the reverend, ‘have you found a wallet?’ She stood, and the wallet dropped through her lining.
‘Thank God,’ said the salesman. He removed the photograph and, hesitating, thrust the wallet back. ‘Keep any money. The photograph’s all I have left of my sister; she died in Friday’s house fire. She threw the wallet to safety but was overcome by fumes.’
Ida found the lottery ticket later, in a secret zip compartment.
Agnes was on the bus, going to see her pal. She loved the buzz on a bus. Office girls on their mobiles, men dozing after a night shift, babies in their fancy pushchairs, even the rowdy schoolchildren. It made her feel good to be alive. She liked watching how people reacted when seeing themselves on the CCTV screen. A touch of the hair; a tweak of a tie; a cheeky tongue-poke from a teenager. Agnes, too, often sneaked a glance to see if she looked OK. Today, just before her stop, she would check that her hat was on straight.
Agnes moved her head from side to side but could not locate her image among the passengers. Strange. Never mind. She pressed the bell once, twice. But the bus continued on its way.
Her pal and a representative from the bus company were present at the funeral the following Tuesday.
Tomorrow would be a busy day, the doctors at nine and the boiler man at eleven. But having been warned in her horoscope of impending doom by misadventure, Ivy was only concerned with today and keeping safe. If she ventured out she might trip and fall or step in front of a bus. And so she decided to heed the warning and stay indoors all day where nothing could harm her. The morning dragged but she passed the time watching Jeremy Kyle and This Morning. After lunch and an afternoon nap it was time for tea and, eventually, bedtime arrived. Pleased with herself for cheating fate, she turned up the heating, snuggled down and was soon fast asleep. The boiler man raised the alarm next day and agreed with the police that, although an overdue service and faulty boiler had probably seen her off, there were worse ways to go.
No. 2819 buttoned up or open neck
You are invited to write a poem either in free verse mocking rhymed, metrical verse or in conventional verse mocking free verse. Please email entries, of up to 16 lines, to email@example.com by midday on 9 October.
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