Category Archives: Anton Chekhov Award 2019

Something Like Drowning by Gaynor Jones – 3rd Place

Anton Chekhov Award for Very Short Fiction 2019 – Third Place

We always planned to take my Barbie, the one with the match-burned hair, and toss her into the silo. We bent her arms, shrimp-pink and puckered from the hiss-press-melt of our games, high above her head, a contorted synchronised swimmer. We wondered if she would go down slowly, feet en pointe, one hand up, like the dumb robot in the fire at the end of that movie my brother watched over and over that year.

 We’d been warned about the silo. We knew how easy it would be to slip in, how it would be like drowning in sand. We knew the grain would fill our bodies, and we liked the sound of it, the obscene idea of things entering us.

We grew up with dangers we barely even registered. Mangled limbs, infected bites, chemical burns were part of our childhood the way others experienced scuffed knees and sore throats. But the silo scared the adults. And so it scared us too.

We taught ourselves to take other risks. We threw bricks onto frozen canals, watched cracks scitter-scatter the ice like arteries and dared our feet to follow. We waded welly-deep in rivers and cuddled baby frogs, only to blow them up later with thin metal straws.

We were told not to name the animals but we did. We were told to stay away from the sheds but we didn’t. We held each other tight as we listened to death and we crept in the sheds, after. We dipped our toes in the red stains soaping away underneath the hooks and we cried. When you showed me the red stains in your underwear, we wept again. We did not want to grow up.

But.

You showed me how to slowly climb the hay bales so that our underwear flashed to anyone underneath for just long enough and you rolled our skirts at the waist to let nettles and wolf whistles lay claim to our legs and you compared our body hair to hay and the bumps on our chests to fallen apples and you were always in the lead. You taught me to make a kissing fist with a gap for my tongue and I wondered how much easier it would be to practise on you. You brought us cider from your father’s store and you lay down, your bare legs making a V patch in the grass where I wanted to dissolve and you pointed at aeroplanes and you talked about Spain and bikinis and boys becoming men.

You suggested the pact. You wanted it to happen. You wanted it to happen to us together.

I brought cinder toffee to the bonfire, watched old outhouses and faded fence panels burn under the Guy. I kept my sticky-sweet breath to myself and watched as the man put his arm around your shoulder. I watched him lead you away and I watched him lead you back. I watched the stilted way you walked across the grass and I watched your eyes, unwilling to focus on mine. I crossed my legs at the knee and batted away hands like summer flies.

I told my mother.

I did not know, I did not know, I did not know. I swear to you, I did not know she would tell yours.

I cried when your family moved away.

I got your letters. I read them and it was like a knife / hadn’t / sliced / something / between us.

Remember the frogs?

Remember the ice?

Remember the silo?

I turned the matches on myself and bathed and dressed the Barbie before removing her head.

I wrote you one reply.

I remember the grass between your legs, your fingers on my waistband, the shame and the bonfire burning in your eyes.

I tore the letter into pieces and shoved it down into the doll’s open neck. I carried it up the metal steps. As my father yelled my name, I let go of the Barbie. She took the last scraps of us to drown in the grain.

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Gaynor Jones is an award winning fiction writer based in Manchester, UK. She won the 2018
Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the Northern Soul Awards. In 2019 she won the 12th round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net. She is currently developing her first novella-in-flash
www.jonzeywriter.com

More Than Sex by Carmen Marcus

Anton Chekhov Award for Very Short Fiction 2019 – Second Prize

More Than Sex

by Carmen Thompson

Good hurt. Wake up in well danced bones hurt. Wake up in last night’s clothes hurt. Wake up in your clothes. I wear the pieces of you that you never use so that we are always the same though I am always a season behind you. I take off your skirt, the one with the missing button. The mirror in here takes up a whole wall, it could almost be your side of our room – but the woman pulling a t-shirt over her head is just me trespassing.  This hurt is not good hurt. I put on the papery gown, and climb onto the narrow bed.

Dr Jones prods my back. Dr Jones is so ruddy and happy. Every time he speaks I can taste his childhood; the outdoors of it; the mud and wellies, the sticks and dogs of it. You’d definitely flirt with him. “Are you pregnant?” I laugh. You got all of the desire, like it was something expensive Mum couldn’t afford for both of us. You hit fourteen and every boy we’d ever thrown stones at was buzzing around you wanting more scars. “I don’t really do sex.” You say “liar”. Dr Jones doesn’t believe me either.

Honestly, I think I’ve forgotten why it seemed so important.  I’ve forgotten so much about him, why I wanted him and only remember now that you really didn’t want me to cut my hair like yours. I’m sorry. I really wanted to. There are so many things I want now more than sex. I made a list for you.

Don’t hate me.

Don’t laugh at me.

  1. I want dancing more than sex. I want you to bring the dance floor back to our room in the fumes of Blue Curaçao and dance with you.
  2. I want Shakespeare more than sex. Yeah. I know. I’m the swot. It’s not like that. I want to open the little doors of  footnotes into Hades and other places that are easier to believe in when you’ve hurt someone you love.
  3. I want clothes more than sex. I want your indigo jeans, your glass beads, your top with tie-dyed angel sleeves. I want to know why, even though we are the same, I can’t wear blue the way you do.
  4. I want walking more than sex. I want to climb the dune slacks with you, double back along the pig-path where you let the calves suck your fingers, to the woods, our long skirts catching needles, yew and pine. As far as it takes for you to stop not talking to me.
  5. I want to listen to birds more than sex. I want to hear the radio whistle of a starling on a warm, snowless Christmas Day before we open our presents, you know, before the disappointment sinks in.
  6. I want to drink more than sex. I want to get so drunk that you’re spinning too.
  7. I want snow more than sex. I want the snow cats that linger in wall shadows when all of the other snow has gone. The way I’d wait for you to come home.
  8. I want baths more than sex. I want an early morning bath, the lemon-sugar sun through the window pane on the water and the ‘it’s all okay’ feeling of you still sleeping. Do you still sleep much more than I do?
  9. I want music more than sex. I want that stupid song – the one we sang on ‘spent our busfare on chips’ walk-homes – to always be starting in my head so that when I walk home on my own I’m only walking behind you.

 “Have you kept a record of the pain?”  His office is full of pictures of his healthy brothers. We would have thrown stones at them. They would have cried.

“Is it a dull or stabbing pain?” “The floor is made of knives.” “Pardon?”

Stabbing stabbing stabbing.

“Lets take a look at your legs?”

Dr Jones looks like he wants to cry and I haven’t thrown anything. Promise. His ruddy cheeks go pale. I am the bad snow.

“Did you do this to yourself?”

I used to believe, because you used to tell me, that if I hurt you then something bad would happen to me. If I hurt you it was the same as hurting myself.

I know you’ll be really angry with me for getting my haircut the same as yours, if it’s still the same. You might have changed. But I want you to know. There’s no way someone couldn’t tell us apart now.

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Carmen Marcus is a writer and performance poet from Saltburn on the wild North East coast. As the daughter of a Yorkshire fisherman and Irish chef her writing brings together the practical and the magical. Her debut novel How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. She was selected as a BBC Verb New Voice for her poetry project The Book of Godless Verse. She is an activist for underrepresented voices in writing and founded The Writer’s Plan to support emerging Writers.
You can find out more at
Nowriterleftbehind.wordpress.com

And follow her @Kalamene

Urineworts by Bruce Meyer

Anton Chekhov Award for Very Short Fiction 2019 – First Prize

Urineworts

Bruce Meyer

When we were living in the mining community, a place that is now a ghost town with nothing left to show for everyone’s hard work except curb cuts for the long-lost driveways and a pine tree that has grown up between the arms of a carousel clothesline, I was told to stay away from the ditches.

The ditches had been cut out from the granite by the same jack-hammer men who carved our basements from the granite. The ditches were meant to carry away snow and rain run-off. Farther down the block from our house, there was a patch of stone that resembled the pages of a book, a series of layers where the quartz butted up against the feldspar and the feldspar was overlaid with schist.

            We used to stop our bikes in front of that patch of stone. On our street, the only street in town, there wasn’t much else to notice except the minehead at the end. Our fathers dug for uranium, yellow cake, as it was called. They all died of lung cancer. They all smoked, and every man was radioactive to his dying day. We begged our mothers to send us to summer camp. We’d seen kids on television paddling canoes and swimming in roped-off areas protected by floats. We tried to argue our case one Wednesday afternoon as the women gathered for their weekly bridge club. They were bored, too. One of the women, her lips overpasted with bright red lipstick and her hair curlers covered in a kerchief looked up from her hand as a cigarette dangled a long droopy pip of ash and said, “Kids, you live in summer camp. Go off and play in the woods and leave us alone.”

            One day a boy named Jerry whose father gotten crushed not long after than in a cave-in and who disappeared from the neighborhood, hollered that he had a porcupine trapped on his front lawn. His chained dog was snarling at it. Any other kid would have dragged his dog inside but Jerry found it strategic. He stood waving his arms at the spiny creature, and between the dog and the gang of us who showed up, we tried to trap the poor quilled animal. Instead of the thing just giving up, it ran straight for the ditch and dove in head first. Just like that. It splashed about in the water, but porkies aren’t made for swimming and after a few minutes it grew still and floated with its face down in the green murk of street run-off.

            Someone said something along the lines of “Now look what you’ve done,” and we were all suddenly frightened and ashamed, as if we’d killed someone’s little brother. The animal just floated there. It wasn’t pretending. We had trapped it and left it no way out. Another guy suggested we get a shovel and haul it out because the quills were valuable and we could strip the bark off a birch in the bush and make baskets for our mothers, but no one wanted to touch the creature. We got on our bikes and rode away and sat smoking some cigarettes we’d swiped at the edge of a cedar clump where the street ended.

            Our fathers didn’t know where the smell came from several days later. That talked on their front lawns, cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths and their hands in their pockets between puffs. They’d stand that way for hours, one saying something and the others listening and nodding then going silent until after a long pause someone would say something else. They looked defeated. But the smell. That gave them something to talk about until it, too, deserted them.

            The next spring the melt lifted the water level in the connected ditches so the run-off lapped at the lawn, and when the small flood subsided, in what was merely a foot of water rather than three of four, yellow flowers bloomed. They floated on the surface, bright and spring-like, and when one of our dads caught us pissing in the ditch because we didn’t want to break our activity and go inside or go in the woods he shouted that we were only adding to the problem, that we were making urine worts and they were a sign of putrid water. I’d seen the growing in the slug murk along the highway. But there weren’t a sign of boys taking a leak or even of the tea-leaf suspension of spring that had nowhere to go, but the porcupine speaking to us from the depth where his body settled, and he was saying he’d become a hundred wonderful small lives and each one was bright as the sun.

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Bruce Meyer is author or editor of sixty-four books of poetry, short fiction, flash fiction, non-fiction, and literary journalism. His most recent book of fiction is A Feast of Brief Hopes (Guernica Editions, 2018), and his next book of flash fiction, Down in the Ground (Guernica 2020) will appear next year. He was a finalist for the Tom Gallon Prize, the Bath Short Story Prize, the Mogford Prize, the Carter V. Cooper Prize, and the London Independent Short Story Prize. He lives in Barrie, Ontario.

Anton Chekhov Prize For Very Short Fiction, 2019

Results from Judge, Angela Readman

Winner: “Urineworts” by Bruce Meyer

2nd Place: “More Than Sex” by Carmen Marcus

3rd Place: “Something Like Drowning” by Gaynor Jones


Judge’s Report by Angela Readman

The winning stories all stood out for not wasting a word. They were beautifully done, and all felt unique. “Urineworts” impressed me instantly. It’s rare to see such scope in a very short story, but the sense of place and a whole community is incredible. This story breathes. I could not only see the lives of the people who live in this place, I could smell it. I felt their aches. The story had such a powerful ending I had to go back and read it again immediately. It was that beautiful and sad. Simply breath taking.

“More than Sex” was another story that hit me hard from the off. It starts in the middle like a continued thought and drags you along at a runaway pace. The writing is stunning. It’s the sort of story you read and find yourself saying, yes, yes! out loud in places, ‘I want Shakespeare more than sex…I want to listen to birds more than sex…’ This was a character like no one else, yet one we can all relate to.

What struck me about “Something like Drowning” was how incredibly well structured it is. It’s wonderfully vivid and startling at the beginning, daring the reader to come on this journey. It almost felt dangerous to follow these characters, so much seemed at stake, yet it was impossible to look away. I had no idea what would happen, yet the writing is so strong I knew was in safe hands. The story delivered.

Short Listed Stories, 2019

Balancing Elizabeth

Blind Maggie

For Lily

My Buddhist

The Sum of the Parts

The Rosary

The Repossessing

Hurts so Good

Suck it Up