Reader’s Choice: The Wild One

The Wild One

by Charles Osborne

My name is Alexa Andreadis. I was born in Anogia, Crete.

After spending my formative years in London, I was drawn back, like the goddess Persephone, to my native Crete. I was heading up the gravelled mountain road on a souped-up Lefas-Ducati motorbike I had borrowed from my uncle in Heraklion. The mountainside was a colourful blur of chamomile, poppy, anemone, iris, and gladioli. I was a girl in black leather; a female Marlon Brando. The wind in my hair.

The engine roared between my legs. The Ducati pulsated. I revved the engine extra hard for the steep incline.  Up ahead, shadowy shapes blocked the road.

Mountain grit and rocks accompanied me in a whirl of dust and debris as I sailed over the edge. Legs, tight against the hot metal, throbbed. I gripped the handlebars tightly. I needed all my strength to keep the bike steady. As I floated down, like mythologic Diktynna, I could see, in the distance, neat rows of olive trees. Nearer, were tidy fields of vegetables. And directly below, a watery marsh. As I neared the ground astride the bike, still miraculously upright, feeding egrets, herons and spoonbills scattered in a flurry of white.

An ancient flat-bottomed boat neared. I was unceremoniously dragged from the muddy morass by huge men in brightly-patterned skirts and blouses. They spoke a language I did not understand. They seemed from another world; another time. My motorbike was hauled up by a rickety wooden crane mounted on one end of the boat. My rescuers stared at it in disbelief. I was laid against a stack of newly cut reeds. One of the men stared at me intently. He had clear blue-grey eyes. Around his wrists were gold bracelets. And around his neck was a solid patterned gold chain. He looked amazing; like an important leader or even a god. I was smitten.

I opened my eyes; I told my story. I was surrounded by medical staff. In the centre was a man who introduced himself as Doctor Galanis; he had the most amazing clear blue-grey eyes.

Doctor Galanis said I had been heavily sedated and that it was not unusual for patients under sedation to have vivid dreams. I had numerous cuts, lacerations and, grit-burns, together with a collapsed lung, three cracked ribs, and a broken pelvis. I was lucky to be alive. A mountain shepherd had witnessed the incident and called for help. Apparently, I had got frustrated with the shepherd’s goats blocking the road, had ridden back, turned the motorbike around, roared back up the slope at speed and, according to the shepherd, tried to accelerate up and over the goats as if, as he put it, I was Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

In my dreams I always wanted to marry a doctor, a doctor with clear grey-blue eyes. I never did. My dreams collapsed.

I was fined 100 euros for killing a goat.

Charles Osborne has had poetry and prose published in several small press publications.

Our Reader Said

I loved this romp of a piece, amazing how so much was fitted in, and it made me laugh.

Reader’s Choice: Spring

Spring

by Isabelle Dupuy

The blinds had been pulled down on one window but left half way up on the other. An entire rectangle of glass looked out into the darkness until a hint of dawn illuminated two trees. She woke up sore in her head and in her heart. Resigned, she sat up to go to the bathroom.

That’s when she saw the exposed window. The first thing she noticed was how neatly the blind had been pulled up. The frame looked even on all sides yet the blind hid the sash lock so that the window became a picture. Even the light was too sandy, too grey to penetrate inside the room but that delicacy gave a texture to what she could see so that the view looked contained and deep at the same time. The first tree, a solemn and smooth plane tree stretched its shaven branches out and up above the scope of her vision, like a flat-chested woman crying out for the sun. Behind it there was a young tree, she didn’t know what it was but it was covered with green fluttering life. The restlessness of its leaves and its thin branches meant there was wind out there, it blew out the sandy grey, and a stroke of blue appeared just above the green tree. What an amazing view. She wondered why she had never noticed it before.

She often woke up too early but then she’d sink deep into herself, searching an imaginary diary for all the things she hadn’t done, the people she hadn’t called, the work, always the work that could be more, better, easier. But no, it couldn’t be easier because she’d be exhausted by 2pm, and the only thing she’d be able to think about is sleep and how bad would it look if she just lay her head on her desk for ten minutes? Would anyone care? Does anyone care? She was just another anxious overwhelmed woman, unable to reconstruct alone her sense of security, of peace.

Or rather, she didn’t allow herself any rest, any peace. She was shipwrecked on an island with grey trees and had to struggle day and night not to be dissolved by the winter drizzle.

She propped herself a bit higher on her pillow. She didn’t try to turn on the light or to get up. She let that stroke of blue into her eyes, and she went ‘mmm’ as she felt the colour turn to hope in her mind. She never knew beauty could heal.

Morning came suddenly. He tugged at the duvet. He had turned away from her. She hesitated and moved closer so her lips could touch his skin. She slid her knees to nestle behind his. He groaned but he didn’t move. She then put her arm over the wall of his naked back. He took her hand and hugged it against his heart. That was the thing with him: even half asleep, he never ever pushed her away. One day she’d find it normal.

For now it still felt like a miracle.

Isabelle Dupuy: I am an Haitian immigrant who’s been living in London for twenty years. My first novel Living the Dream is coming out in November with Jacaranda Press

Our Reader said:

A thoughtful, descriptive insight into coming into consciousness from sleep, and of not taking love for granted.

Reader’s Choice: Sam’s Spot

Sam’s Spot

by David Lewis Pogson

I hope that you don’t mind me writing to you. We met years ago. Your brother Sam was my friend. You would have been five years old when I last saw you at your parents’ house. Sam and I were eighteen then. We’d gone through school together. I remember your curly hair and your bright blue eyes, exactly like his. You must have grown up to look like him.

Sam and I caught the school bus together. We’d sit at the back so we could smoke and copy each other’s homework. We’d talk about girls, at least until he met Deborah and fell in love.

Do you know how he met her?  He sat behind her in the cinema and started chatting to her before the film started. Afterwards he walked her home. Then I saw less of him. I didn’t complain. It was obvious that they were suited to each other. She worked at a hairdressers that we passed on the walk from the bus terminus. He’d dash across the road to see her, give her a quick kiss and fix up his next date. I’d wait for him with our mates on the other side, whistling and shouting to embarrass him. He’d just laugh. He was happy.

I mentioned his hair. It was always that unruly mass of curls. Not even Deborah could do anything with it.  His crash helmet didn’t help. Once he’d bought his motorbike, so he could visit Deborah at nights, we both suffered from hairstyle failure. He made me wear Deborah’s helmet whenever I rode behind him to school. Sometimes on a Saturday night he’d drop me at the Disco Bar on his way to see her. We thought we were so cool on a motorbike, Sam wearing a suit and tie under his leathers, me with my jacket buttoned and collar up, trousers tucked into my socks and that crash helmet crushing my hair. He laughed when Deborah complained about the smear of Brylcreem around the inside rim. We thought we were cool but in reality we couldn’t have looked it.

I pass the little churchyard as I drive to work. His spot catches the sun sometimes. I stopped and saw your flowers. I always make a point of going during every World Cup tournament. Sam just missed the 1966 final. He’d have loved that game. I tell him what’s happening. He knows about Beckham’s injury and the great win over Argentina in this year’s tournament.  He’d have cursed that lucky Ronaldinho goal that eliminated England.

Nineteen was too young. And drowning whilst trying to save someone else’s life… well that was terrible. He should have come home from University instead of going on that summer canoeing course.

Anyway, that’s why I’m writing – to say that we still miss him too. Deborah sends her love. We often talk about Sam, especially now that our family has grown up and left and we have more time to sit and think.

David Lewis Pogson is a fiction writer for ACES ‘The Terrier’ magazine, and winner of the Cumbria Local History Federation Prize, Freerange Theatre Playframe, and MicrcosmsFic competitions.

Our Reader said:

With understated poignancy, this piece gently portrayed the grief felt when a young person is taken from us too soon.

 

Reader’s Choice: Finding the Light in the Dark

Finding the Light in the Dark

by Jan Brown

Me disappeared the moment the consultant gently proffered his diagnosis, mapping the year ahead. It wasn’t cowardice but sheer pragmatism: I needed qualities I didn’t possess to get through painful practicalities and imagined horrors, overwhelming discomforts and fears. This instinctive reaction made life bearable: cancer wasn’t happening to Me; it was happening to a woman I barely recognised, who’s preserved my sanity and my dignity.

I found myself using the full version of the name my parents bestowed on me, one I never liked and abandoned for a diminutive long ago. Precious possessions were laid aside so, in my cancer-free future, I could revert to things just as they’d been, untainted by clinics and cannulae and consultants. Off came my engagement ring, the gold chain my parents gave me, my favourite perfume. They await that moment when I regain my former life.

The new me was barely recognisable. An inveterate Googler, she opted for as few questions and as little knowledge as possible and respected the judgment of the specialists. She refused to search the internet, knowing that would only fuel disabling fear and doubts. Of what use is amateur knowledge when you’ve put yourself in the hands of experts? Trust never came naturally to Me. Now I trust implicitly.

The new me is angry, not at the disease, the faulty gene or the hormones, but at a world that encourages us to equate cancer with death. I didn’t consider death but I became a-woman-with-cancer, her every mood and every behaviour observed, analysed and advised on by well-intentioned friends more fearful than I. I determined to change this attitude. The little indignities no one warns you about became a source of entertainment and enlightenment. Message: it’s OK to laugh.

No one can prepare you for the phantom nipple sensation following mastectomy. The chemo trout pout is a sight to behold – free of charge and reversible. The torturous cold cap only protect your head from chemo-induced hair loss and wigs itch and slip so I’m content with my almost-transparent buzz-cut. Yet I’m devastated by the loss of my eye-lashes – and who’d have thought nasal hair was essential? I’ve joined the ranks of sniffing, snotty toddlers with no mum to tut and wipe my nose to make me respectable.

There’s no logic. Despised leg hair holds fast. Why? I’m bald as a coot above, alopecia front to back, pre-pubescent. The gravity that started wreaking havoc years ago is apparently ubiquitous: I see things I never expected to see again with one glance down. Women’s plumbing isn’t the best design but body hair has a role. Now, rivulets of pee choose random circuitous routes across my buttocks, free of control.

Radiotherapy looms. I’m cancer-free, chock-a-block full of poisons and immensely proud of myself. But I’m yearning to reclaim my body. I need my world to make sense again. Me will slip back, I hope to co-exist with the stand-in I don’t want to lose – because she turned this wimp into a warrior.

Jan Brown is rarely lost for words. She’s excited to get back to writing flash fiction now chemo-brain is loosening its hold.

Her story ‘An Unforgivable Act of Generosity’ was Reader’s Choice in the summer 2018 competition and can be read here, as well as being published in print in the music-themed anthology Compositions.

Our Reader said:

An insight into breast cancer, which highlighted all the unexpected results of the treatment in a frank way.

Reader’s Choice: And She Lives Happily Ever After

And She Lives Happily Ever After

by Jody Kish

A battle takes place every day within the shadows of my mind.

It is a silent struggle against good and evil that unless you really know my story, you will be unaware of its presence. And that’s okay. No one can really understand it by the mere sight of me – even my family.

I have a nemesis that occasionally wants to taunt me with its evil games. It will even go so far as to launch silent attacks that penetrate from within; slowly slithering down into my very being.

Its tendentious appetite for chaos is clear, and I refuse to participate.

But it’s always there. Waiting for an inopportune moment to launch an attack.

Look at me. You will see an average person; not give my appearance a second thought. You won’t see the hidden scars that are buried deep within. You won’t hear my tales of the struggles I endure on a daily basis. And that’s alright. I will fight this until my very last breath. It has played me unfairly for over thirty years and I am burdened with its wickedness forever.

It viciously disrupts nerve signals of the myelin in my brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. It’s more of an irritation, really, that occasionally hinders my thoughts, mobility, and strength. And you would think that’s enough, but the doctors tell me I have over a dozen black holes in my brain. It sounds pretty serious, right? And it is.

I could be frightened by its presence. I should be.

But I’m not.

Like a valiant knight, I wear an impenetrable armour that must be polished daily. It’s called fortitude when confronted with obstacles – transforming apprehension into kick-ass confidence!

I have learned what makes me strong. My armour has grown quite thick.

You may ask how is it that I can deal with its onslaught so well? It hasn’t always been easy. After having it for so long, I refuse to play the game.

It’s as simple as that.

Can you believe it even has the audacity to try and steal my sight? Needless to say, my vision is compromised from the evilness it revels in. But I refuse to let it defeat my spirit, instead I counter it by  fulfilling another passion of mine – writing.

I may not be as talented at writing as I once was, (frustratingly, I forget the simplest rules of grammar and punctuation –  maybe lost in one of the black holes?) but writing has become a great outlet for me. What a wonderful way to express my thoughts and wage a war against a relentless nemesis and its curmudgeon-like demeanour.

Regardless of how I feel about its existence, it has become part of me. How uninteresting I would be without it.

On a final note, as I compose this narrative for you, I unfortunately suffer another assault from my enemy, multiple sclerosis. I don my heavy armour, and you guessed it: I keep writing, but with a vengeance.

Jody Kish: Learning everyday from the many obstacles faced in her life, Jody continues to surprise the ones around her; even herself.

Jody’s work has been Reader’s Choice twice before, for her stories ‘I Wanted to Tell her’ and ‘Remains’.

Our Reader said:

This brought into focus the reality of living with a severe health condition, unimaginable to many of us, and of persevering as a writer under extraordinary pressures.

 

Winner: All About Me – Able Seaman Herbie

All About Me – Able Seaman ‘Herbie’

by Ian Hembrow

By the time they dug me out of that foul and freezing mud, I’d lain underground for 11 days. The German shell that buried me had killed all six of my mates, and turned our machine gun into a twisted torque of contorted metal. But somehow I’d survived.

‘Herbie’ everyone called me, but my real name was Howard – and I’d volunteered to do my bit in the fight against the Kaiser. Some said I was, as the saying went: ‘Somerset born, Somerset bred; strong in the arm and thick in the ’ead.’ But I knew what I was doing when I joined up as Navy Reservist at the start of the war. No one told me I’d end up fighting in France with the infantry though – I was a sailor!

The 16 months I spent away from the family farm, training, shipped to Calais on a misty morning in January 1917, and then convalescing from my injuries in Liverpool, was the only time I ever left the county I called home.

I wish I could say I was wounded in some heroic advance, but it wasn’t like that. By the time my Battalion got to the front, the Battle of the Somme had ground to a terrible icy stalemate – the dead of both sides still lying where they’d fallen in the previous summer’s slaughter, decaying in the dreadful tangle of wire and shell holes in No Man’s Land. We were sailors, but the days of naval skirmishes were over – this was now a war of attrition waged through the slog and suffering of thousands upon thousands of young men like me. So we fought – and died – as make-do soldiers.

I was trained as a horse-shoer, but never touched a horse from the moment I arrived in France. Instead, I formed part of a seven-man Lewis Gun team – an ugly and unwieldy weapon fed by heavy, plate-sized round magazines on the top. It was hard enough to fire the thing on the training ground, but in the filth of the frontline, with shrapnel and high-explosive bursting all around us and our hands numb from the cold, it was next to impossible.

Seven men for one gun – a First Gunner, loader (me) and five chaps to carry ammunition and spares. We sat shivering in a shell hole out in front of our own trenches to watch for enemy patrols, with just a single, soggy tarpaulin pulled over us to keep out the worst of the wind, rain and snow.

They said you never hear the shell that hits you coming, and so it was for me. One moment I was with my pals, and the next thing I knew was waking up at the Casualty Clearing Station two weeks later, with most of my fingers and toes frostbitten and gone.

A century later, for my grandchildren (who I barely met) and two great-grandsons (who I never met), this is pretty much all they know about me.

But they’re proud I did my bit.

Ian Hembrow: I’m an accidental writer. After years training people in business writing, I’ve turned to biographies and the occasional creative piece.

Our Reader said:

I felt that this had the perfect balance between the historical and the personal; a fitting tribute.

 

 

 

Our Reader for April

For our April theme, All About Me, our Reader was Rachel Waters – this post is all about her!

Like all the Readers this year, Rachel returned her choices in record-breaking time! Thank you for her time reading and considering each piece in this month’s competition.

Rachel Waters.jpg

Rachel Waters read English Language and Literature at The University of Manchester and now enjoys writing poems and stories in her spare time. She is a member of a local book group. She works at an after school club. She is married to artist, Grant Waters, and they have two children.

If you would be interested in being a Reader in another month (you don’t have to be a part of Didcot Writers), email Alice at didcotwriters@gmail.com to say why you’d be interested.

Winners for April – All about me

Our Reader has now finished reading all the entries and has selected one winner and five other choices, as follows:

Winner:
Able Seaman ‘Herbie’ , All about me, by Ian Hembrow

Choices (in alphabetical order):
And She Lives Happily Ever After, by Jody Kish
Finding the Light in the Dark, by Jan Brown
Sam’s Spot, by David Lewis Pogson
Spring, by Isabelle Dupuy
The Wild One, by Charles Osborne

Congratulations to all! Make sure you ‘Follow’ the site at didcotwriters.wordpress.com to receive the winning pieces into your inbox as they are published.

May’s competition theme is ‘springtime’, I look forward to seeing your entries.