Category Archives: Anton Chekhov Award 2018

Claire Guyton

Anastasia, My Broken Bird

 

If she had not been the sort of princess who, as a child, liked to trip her servants, would she have come to this moment? In this blackened room crowded by fabric and limbs and hair and moans, her face half-buried in the dirt floor, asking her lungs for just one more breath? Would she know the taste of gun smoke, of plaster dust, of her mother’s blood?

She should not, after all, have climbed that tree and refused to budge. She’d tasted her own blood, then, her mouth kissing a scraped hand as she perched on a branch and pretended to be a sparrow. Her cold eye followed the figures on the ground; just there her mother (always her mother), by the cart of apples a sister, crouched along a low hedge two gardeners. She licked the blood and then spread her wings, steadied herself.

Birds do not come down from that tree like a good girl because birds do not care about girls or goodness. They sing, birds.

If she had not hidden rocks in the snowballs she flung at her cousins, if she had stepped lightly in satin slippers, if she had respected shadow…? No, she never feared the dark when she was a child. Why should she? Even as a small girl she understood that whatever happens by night can happen by day. Anyway, she liked to walk in shadow, to whisper. The better to catch and not be caught.

The better, when the moon is in its shroud, to slip through a door unseen, slide along the wall, disappear into a river-bottom night.

This night, no. Whites, Reds, civil war. This is not the stuff of girls, my Nastye, there is nothing in the etiquette books about where, in the presence of White or Red, you should place your feet. Do you imagine, broken bird, that you brought Mother Russia to her knees because once, in a princess temper, you put your foot out to catch a ratty shoe?

The branch was shaped like a bowl and she poured herself into it. Above, the weight of the ice-blue sky pressed. Something marched along the horizon. Was it coming this way? Down, now, her mother called. Down, Nastye, doll. Like a good girl come down.

Let it begin.

*Anastasia Romanov died in 1918 in a sub-basement, where the entire Romanov family of Tsar Nicholas II was murdered by the “Red” Bolsheviks as the “White” Army advanced. For decades rumors persisted that she had escaped, but DNA testing of remains in 2007 proved no family member survived.

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Claire Guyton is a Maine writer and editor. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including Crazyhorse, Mid-American Review, River Styx, Vestal Review, and Atticus Review. Claire has been a Maine Arts Commission Literary Fellow, and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find links to her work at claireguyton.com or say hi at Facebook or on Twitter @ClaireGuytonME.

 

Elisabeth Ingram Wallace- 2nd Place

She Said Her Favourite Colour Was Haddock

 

Haddock is not a colour I said, but she talked about rainbows and I saw them too. A colour you can catch and throw back in.

I’ll just slit you up in bed she said, and we laughed at the thought of hot blood gushing down my fat belly till I died.

She called me Lovebud, and played Monster Mash on her iPhone while she washed my privates.

I didn’t know who she was, outside of my hospital room, or why her skin would kindle green with veins and catch fire if the curtains were open.

Keep everything shut I said.

We’re not dead yet, she said. We need light.

I’m not a geranium, I said. Light or no light. And I’m going to die one day, anyway.

Cool, she said, me too.

Me too.

That’s something to hold on to. A truth so sharp it cuts. So slippery it breaths, something with scales and eyes and a heart.

Don’t wear such tight T-shirts, I said. Just to be on the safe side. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t smile. Don’t not smile. Don’t fall in love. Don’t get married.

She stripped me to the buff, pointed to the scars, and I told her the story of each small one.

She cleaned and bandaged the ghost of it.

I was a graveyard smash.

I’m not really a Goth, she said. She said she only wore black lipstick so men would leave her alone on public transport.

That’s how it starts, I said. You are me, twenty years ago. Just with worse make-up.

She curled her palm into the concave of my cut out spaces. Said a scar is a ghost you can hold in your hand.

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Elisabeth Ingram Wallace lives in Scotland, and is a Senior Editor for the Best British and Irish Flash Fiction 2018-2019Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, Flash Frontier, and the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthologies. Her stories have won the TSS Publishing Flash Fiction Competition and Writing the Future 2017. Elisabeth is a Scottish Book Trust ‘New Writers Award’ winner, and recipient of a Dewar Arts Award. You can find her on Twitter @ingram_wallace
elisabethingramwallace.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Readman, Winner

Ten Months with Octopus

  1. Even when severed from the body, the limbs of an octopus can function on their own. I clean outside the tanks at Sea Land and catch the display, rubber squidgy screaming over wet glass. The couple nearby have pink streaks in their hair like they shared something last night. They snap a photo and kiss still clutching their phones.
  2. The street I had to move to has a kid who keeps dragging an inflatable squid across the lawn. It’s sunny and his parents are estranged. When his father collects him, his mother picks lint off his shirt and withdraws fast. Standing by the paddling pool, she doesn’t wave at the VW pulling away. Her hands are clasped behind her back.
  3. The oranges are so cheap all July the market sells them in nets. I carry some home, fruit squeezing through mesh, juice bleeding like macerated sunshine on my legs. The fruit bowl got smashed, I forgot that. I lay the oranges out like a clock on the table and picture someone peeling one long strip of lingering rind.
  4. Houdini the Octopus has left the building. They imagine he squeezed through a drain & will find himself at the ocean like a surfer who thinks he left his keys in the door. I say this aloud, turning towards the cushion as if it may find this funny. I switch a programme about wallpaper to something about homeowners and self-defence.
  5. I find a shirt one Friday and freeze. It’s fluff flecked, squeezed into ball behind the cushions. I should have left the couch in the old flat. Later, I find a leather belt poking out like a tongue. I lay the pair out and sit beside them when I answer the phone. My sister’s pregnant again and worried about her blood pressure. I tell her everything will be fine, fiddling with the belt, winding it around my ankle until my foot turns blue.
  6. Only losers spend Halloween as themselves. I put on a sequinned skirt and slit it to the hip for a party at work. If pushed, I’ll say I’m a mermaid. No one asks. Everyone’s a sea creature of some description, even the IT guys. I get stuck talking to one dressed as an office worker, other than for a rubber fish mask he pulls out of his pocket occasionally as evidence he tried. I’m pretty, for someone with such a sad face, he claims. He smiles, and I tell him to put the fish mask on again.
  7. I shag him, though I refuse to move on from shit. I drag memories around everywhere and crouch under them for minutes at a time. There’s a chance this makes me seem enigmatic. We’ve just seen The Shape of Water and, curled on the couch, somehow my socked feet have squirmed their way under the guy’s legs, found their hot weight. During, he holds my left breast, just one, like he daren’t want too much. I look at him and wish he still had the fish mask. He asks what I’m thinking. I inform him an octopus has three hearts.
  8. I agree to see him on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts. It’s too soon for much. I get him a Manatea to perch on his cup making fruit infusions with its tail. It looks like a walrus who had its teeth smashed in while everyone was in bed. Honestly, I only like the name, a manatee united with tea. There should be more words that include things, like widow- a combo of marriage and death. There’s no equivalent for girlfriends. Girls called Diedra write died every day. There’s no meaning for the rest of their name.
  9. I let fish face stay over in January. During the night, my legs weave through his, a sleeping arm drapes him like bindweed. He binds back, we drift into wakefulness like that, intertwined. I start a fight over breakfast about politics, global warming, cuttlefish. The words are black ink squirting into the air. In the cloud they leave behind, I can scuttle away, slam a door, wrap that stinking shirt I found in the couch around me and breathe.
  10. It’s been a while, but he calls, apologies for his opinions on fishing rights, bacon, and not getting dressed as soon as he’s awake. I peer through the door, open a crack and look at him- a slither of dork in black cords and a Houdini shirt. He’s holding out a plant growing from a sea urchin, for my bathroom, it looks kind of bare. It needs no water, he claims, only air. I light a cigarette and tell him I’ll probably kill it anyway. It will keel over without me doing a thing. His morning breath alone could do it, I say, fingers on the lock closing the space between us, before they loop open the chain.

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Angela Readman’s stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Competition and The National Flash Fiction Day Competition. Her collection Don’t Try This at Home won The Rubery Book Award and was shortlisted in The Edge Hill. Her poem The Book of Tides won The Mslexia Poetry Competition and was followed by a Nine Arches collection of the same title. Something like Breathing, her novel, was published by And Other Stories in January 2019.