Topic: Write On Kawerau Short Story Competition 2017/2018

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Write On Kawerau is a writers group that began in 2017 and meets weekly in the Kawerau District Library every Wednesday at 11am. In December 2017/January 2018, they ran a writing competition and the winning short stories are listed below.

Summer Short Story Competition 2017/2018

The Kawerau District Library and Write On Kawerau is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Write On Kawerau Summer Short Story Competition are:

1st Ruth Plank for Teddy
2nd Whaiora Patrick for Self Harm: Addiction can be conquered
3rd John Capener for Waiting for the bus 

The winning entries can be viewed below and the competition closed at 5pm on 31st January 2018.

Summer Short Story Competition

Kawerau District Library is proud to sponsor a summer short story competition in association with its writers group, Write on Kawerau. The winners are:

Teddy by Ruth Plank (First Place)

Towards the end of Summer 1945, Teddy returned from his War Service, a broken man with a broken heart. Like many others he had seen what no young man, or woman, of any age, should see. Even after months of being back with his family, he struggled with everyday life. The ‘before’ Teddy was a man full of fun, laughing, playing and telling stories that he made up in a random manner. A handsome man, dark eyes, heavy brows, a nose that was slightly too large, reflecting his Jewish heritage. His best feature was his smile; he was always smiling, life was good. He was something of a ‘Ladies Man’ often with a different girl on his arm, hanging on to, not only his arm, but to his every word. Teddy was ‘called up’ into War Service and sent off to fight ‘for God and Country’ as were many young men. The ‘after’ Teddy lived with his parents who did their best to help him heal from his emotional and physical wounds that took a toll on the family. During the first few months of his return he became almost reclusive, rarely going out, eating little and sleeping most of the day. Teddy never slept during the night because of his nightmares. The moment his eyes closed he saw, and heard it all again – gunfire flashing, bombs exploding, injured friends lying and dying right beside him while trying, desperately to keep himself safe.  Gradually he began, little by little to recover. Twelve months passed, Autumn, Winter, Spring watched as he became, almost, the man he had once been. Yes, he laughed a little less, yes, he told jokes a little less often and yes, his eyes began to reflect his smile – just a little more. Bit by bit Teddy mended though his heart was still heavy with memories that stayed with him.

At the beginning of Spring, Teddy ventured out, going for short walks, which became longer as the weeks passed. Revelling in the warmth, he realised that he felt much better and was able to wander further afield. Eventually he donned his ‘demobbed suit’ and walked to the shopping centre intending to buy a pair of decent shoes. The shoe shop was where it had always been; Teddy smiled to himself as he noticed that how little things had changed in the small town. Gathering his courage, moving to the shop window, he peered in before gently opening the door. As the bell above the door tinkled, he became aware of the young lady standing behind the counter. Teddy stood stock-still, staring at her; she was a most beautiful girl and he was fascinated from the very start. Somehow he persuaded his feet propel him towards her as she showed pearly-white teeth in a wide smile. She had the most amazing hair; one would call her a redhead but it was more of a copper colour, with gingery lights. Shoulder length and curly it shined like shot silk with thin tendrils falling around her face like feathers of fire. Teddy was quite mesmerised but not enough to appear rude when she spoke to him.

 ‘May I help you, Sir, she asked?  His long forgotten sense of humour got the better of Teddy. ‘Well actually’ he answered, ‘I wondered if you sell shoes made from elephant hide?’  The young lady stared at Teddy without a blink of an eye, nor a twitch of the lips.

‘I’m afraid I can’t help you there, Sir. But we do stock a very popular Oxford style made from genuine leather. Very comfortable I’m told, Sir; would you be interested at looking at some of those?’

Teddy smiled directly at this vision, agreeing that he would like to try on a pair of Oxford shoes.

 ‘I’m sure’, he remarked, ‘that they will be more comfortable that these appalling shoes the Army handed out along with this just as appalling Demob suit.’

So began the love story of Teddy and Doris, the glorious red-headed salesgirl in the shoe shop. He purchased a pair of smart, brown, Oxford shoes and on the following days returned, often, to the shop ostensibly to buy more shoelaces. The shoelaces he placed in a box hidden beneath his bed lest his mother should wonder about them and think her son had gone quite mad!

Eventually, as many love stories go, Teddy asked the divine Doris to accompany him to see a film at the local cinema. The cinema in most towns was the place where, in the darkness and in the row furthest at the back, young lovers kissed for the first time – and many times afterwards! And it was no different for Teddy and Doris. Teddy, probably, was never able to tell anyone what the film was about; neither could Doris!

In the warmth of the second Summer of Teddy’s return to normality, he and his stunning redhead were married much to the delight and pleasure of his family. They moved into a small flat above one of the shops in the town, living happily there for many years; Teddy’s heart was truly mended, thanks to the love and care that Doris bestowed upon him. In due course Doris came across Teddy’s secret box; she was astonished at the number of shoelaces in the box as there were so many. Smiling, she looked through them, remembering the day when he visited the shoe-shop for the first time asking if she sold shoes made from elephant hide!  Recalling the days when he bought all those laces she took one final look at them before replacing the lid and carefully setting the box back beneath the bed. Teddy’s secret was as safe as the love between his redheaded wife and himself. Out of their love, a baby girl was born; she inherited her mother’s copper coloured hair and her father’s sense of humour; they named her Annette and she was my cousin! 

Self harm; addiction can be conquered by Whaiora Patrick (Second Place)

It happened one summer. The breeze whistling through the trees, the sun nibbling at her feet. She knew that this feeling would only be temporary, yet she aimed to embrace every second of it. It was only a week ago when she noticed what was really going on. That her life was no fairy tale. That there’s no existence of a real Prince Charming nor a happy ending. Instead it was filled with monsters and troublesome demons.

Addiction. A demon no one deserves to encounter.

Addiction can cause people to become obsessed to a certain habit or practice. Janine* felt captivated though to begin with. As she described to me why she did it, I began to realise how addicting it must have been. One statement I recalled her making was how her skin would tingle each time she made the blade kiss her wrists. I was confused at first. Here sat an intelligent young woman, with a part time job at a retail store, studying a Diploma in Business, all nicely dressed. Her make up was perfectly lined, and even her hair was tied neatly in a single ponytail. However, that glare of hers. The amount of sadness and blackness in her eyes, told a different story. Her stare matched her pain, her emotional pain.

Not many people would classify self-harm as an addiction, but after meeting Janine, I would have to differ. She explained to me her love life. Twisted, the first world that came to mind. Control, lack of freedom and trust, repulsive monsters that dominated her relationship. She thought she was in love, that it was her duty to make her partner happy. She lost herself. She forgot that her job was to make herself happy first. No one should have to feel obliged to improve another individual’s life. His demons are no one else’s demons but his own. Each argument she encountered with him caused her to put the blame upon herself. She began to think she was a bad person. Worthless. A word that circled her mind almost every day.

Her friends. If you could call them that. She attached herself to them as acceptance was what her soul wanted. The problem though was the things she would tell me about them. As a child, I grew up to know that a friend, in fact a best friend was someone for you to lean on, someone who respected you as you to them, someone who accepts you for who you are baggage and all. But as she continued to tell me of her friends I felt appalled. As the tears rolled down her eyes, Janine explained how they belittled her to wear make up to be more attractive, to do this and to do that just to fit in. As I handed her the tissue box, and as she wiped away the tears along with her eye shadow, I could then see how dark her eyes really were. Her eyes were heavy with misery. Her lips were dry under her bright pink lipstick. Her face filled with so much unhappiness.

Three years. She told me she first encountered self-harm three years ago. It started off small, only once in a blue moon. But as she grew older and found it harder to deal with the stresses of life, her habit became more dangerous. In one year, she was admitted to hospital four times. Each of those times were a silent cry for help. No one acted on it though. No one offered to help. The stigma self-harm and suicide has in New Zealand is atrocious. Why is it that the media only tell stories of suicide victims? Why do families claim to be there for there loved ones AFTER they’ve done something to themselves? Don’t get me wrong, shifting the blame onto people is not what the objective here. If anything, a solution needs to be established.

A walk along the beach was what Janine requested. Not just any beach. A more secluded and quiet area, for her to think. She explained how her thoughts beforehand would always jump around and crash into one another. But as she laid in the warm sand, she processed each thought one by one until her mind became clearer. She looked over to me and asked why did I become a youth worker. I told her it was never really my dream, but it became my passion. She looked confused, so I continued to explain that I too had been where she was right now. That dark road and I use to be best pals. Self-harm was also my release every single day until one day it nearly took my life. As I woke up in a hospital bed, I knew something had to change. I knew I had to take charge, I had to overcome my personal demons even if it had to be on my own. And I did just that. Four years later I sit here on this sandy beach with another young lady, full of potential. I told her it does get easier, it’s not perfect there will be a few hiccups here and there, but as each day goes by it does get a little better.

Positivity and vision.

Think of a vision and don’t let it go. My vision was to inspire self-harmers, to support those who are trying to overcome their addiction and to at least save one life. As I looked into her eyes, for the first time I saw a glint of shimmer. A glisten of happiness. And at that very moment she spoke and said, “my vision is to help myself live a long and happy life, here on Earth!”

* Based on a true story. Names have been changed.

Waiting for the bus by John Capener (Third Place)                                  

“The bus should be along on time sir, in about 15 minutes” said the young lady behind the grill at the bus depot.

“That’s what we hoped” the man said as he turned to join his wife who had moved away to a bench in the shade of a wall by the main passenger entrance  away  from the summer sun to smoke a cigarette.

Sitting down beside her he picked up a newspaper that someone had left behind and read up on the latest war news.

There they sat, waiting for the bus that was going to bring back there little girl, the mother in anticipation, the father seeing the whole exercise as a fathers duty to look after his children, nothing more, nothing less.

“Bloody Japs” he muttered to no one in particular from behind the newspaper “what can be done to stop them, if the Yanks don’t make up their minds we could be fighting them on our beaches.”

“well dear I’m sure that the government has a plan to look after us” his wife said, not too convincingly .

   The journey to the bus depot had been a bit of a mission in itself since they didn’t own a car and had to go cap in hand to the farm owner that the father worked for to see if they could borrow his.

” just to the depot, sir, just like when we dropped her off. We wouldn’t  be wanting to go any further.” he said shifting from one foot to the other. “Would it also be alright if Gloria”, who was the farmer’s daughter,” could look after my other children as well”?   It was because their  daughter had to go to hospital  for a tonsillectomy in the provincial capital that they had to put her on the bus, since they couldn’t afford more than the fare for any more than the child.

“Certainly there was really no need to ask” the farmer said, wanting to get the matter over with to spare his best worker anymore embarrassment.

As they waited, the father with his face buried in the newspaper, his wife taking long drags on her cigarette and blowing even longer thoughtful puffs of smoke into the clear summer air. Exhaling yet another cloud she said, not looking at him but loud  enough for him to stop reading “I still can’t help wondering though why we haven’t heard anything, surely they read our local doctors notes that would have had our contact details on them”?

“Don’t fuss woman. The hospital is probably short staffed, what with the war on and all” her husband replied with a hint of irritation in his voice. With that she held her thoughts to herself as she knew that he was probably getting impatient as he was never good at sitting around, especially when there was no one to talk farming or agriculture to.

 Once again her thoughts returned to the original visit to the doctor “I’m sorry Mr and Mrs Graham,” he had said, “but I’m afraid there is really nothing else for it, your little girl would be better off having those tonsils removed” and, turning to the child sitting on the examining room table “ you, my little one, will get a large bowl of ice cream from the nice nurses in hospital for being so brave.” 

At that the little girl gave a wan smile and winced as she swallowed. Turning back to the parents the doctor  assured them “it was quite common for children to travel to hospital by bus, as she won’t be on her own, there will be some other children who no doubt will have an adult travelling with them who can  keep an eye on her, this is  just how it is nowadays   what with the  petrol shortages and all,”  placing a reassuring hand on the mothers shoulder adding,  “don’t worry, I’ll make all the arrangements, nothing to fear.”

So it was arranged, she was to be taken to hospital  in a reverse manner of her return, first by car, to the depot, and then on a bus to hospital.

That was a fortnight ago, and as arranged by their doctor with the hospital, their daughter would be discharged and sent home along with all the other children in the group.

“Here it comes” said the father, rising from the bench seat and stretching his legs, he could see the dust cloud following the bus as it made its ponderous way along the road. Eventually it pulled up with a hiss and a sigh of its brakes.

At first there was excitement from the mother and father as one by one, the passengers started disembarking, then puzzlement as the bus started to get emptier and emptier, “surely there was an adult to look after her, why wasn’t she getting off the bus with one of them”? The mother wondered out loud.

“Are you Mr and Mrs Graham”?  they turned and looked into the face of a young policeman.

“we are” said the father. “What’s this about”?

 “ I’m constable Brown, will you both follow me to the manager’s office please” he said, “Please take a seat” the policeman said and when they had, “ It is my sad duty to inform you that your daughter died in hospital. I’m informed by the medical staff that there was an outbreak of Diphtheria which your daughter contracted” he read, his head bowed to his notebook as if he couldn’t meet their eyes , and his voice  now barely a whisper, “Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your little girl”.  With that he closed his note book and returned it to his tunic pocket and stood there, unsure what to do next.

The mother who had remained stoical and numb crumpled to the floor sobbing and between sobs saying over and over“, my little girl, my little girl, she was only seven.”  

THE END

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