Reader’s Choice

Telling it like it is

by Mike Evis

The wind blowing through the darkening streets was bitter, penetrating right into Robert’s bones.  At least the rain had stopped now, but it had persisted most of the day.  For a moment the image of sitting in front of a warm fire came to his mind, and he fought against it. It was a pleasure he could scarce imagine now, and he felt an ugly jealousy rise within, when he thought of all the people who would go home and be warm tonight.

Glancing at the threadbare hat by his feet, he avoided looking at the shop window behind in case he saw his reflection.  Today had been a bad day.  A pound coin, two twenty pences, and a scattering of pennies. Fat lot of use.  Wet days like today were never any good, people just scurried past, keen to get shelter.  And the overhang from the building did little to stop the rain driving in, blown at forty five degrees, soaking his blankets.  There wasn’t even enough to buy a coffee, let alone the drink he needed to deaden his nerves and memories.

Sitting with his back to the brightly lit department store, he could ignore the enticing images of a life he would never have, but he couldn’t block out the continual thoughts of regret, of a life he could have lived, that he’d thrown away, all because of one impulsive act.  But no – that was wrong – it wasn’t that sudden.  It was something he’d brooded over, whilst sitting at his anonymous desk in that grey building over long months until he reached boiling point and made his resolution.  From now on he would tell it as it was.

He smiled then  – briefly – to think of the young man he’d been, a full head of hair, all his own teeth – and his health too – ah, the youthful nativity.  And again he was condemned to remember.

In the featureless grey of the sterile meeting room, far removed from windows and natural light, in the middle of the presentation he blurted out ‘This is complete bullshit!’  Everyone looked up, frozen in surprise.  Even Chris, his smooth snakelike manager stopped in mid flow before swiftly resuming.

‘These new procedures will ensure a smooth transition to a new work paradigm-‘ he calmly pronounced.

‘You just want to screw us.  You want us working longer hours for less pay.  You spout a load of meaningless words-‘

Chris looked irritated.

‘I’m sorry you feel this way-‘

‘I’ve had enough.  You don’t respect us workers at all.’

He looked round for support, but the others sat there, their eyes looking at the table, or at their feet.

‘We should take this offline,’ said Chris.  ‘Let’s go to my office.’

It was over quicker than he expected.  Soft words masked the hardness beneath – ‘we need people to share our journey’ ‘you need to freed from your present role’ ‘your goals diverge from the company’s path’ – and before he knew it, he was out.

He remembered that distant, heady feeling of freedom, walking out into the car park.  There were plenty of other jobs to be found – except when he started looking there weren’t.  The stories differed – the economic situation was bad, his skills weren’t what they were looking for…  Gradually he stopped looking, then, bit by bit, he’d lost everything.  All because he had to tell it like it was on a day long ago.

Mike Evis is a member of Didcot Writers Group. He has had stories published in various anthologies.

 

Reader’s Choice

New Year

by Pauline Massey

At work there was a bully.  She was sharp of tongue and chose her targets well.  Janet was one of them.

‘How’s the cat then, Janet?  I suppose you spent another riveting weekend alone with Tommy?’

‘Actually, he’s fine, thanks, Trish.  Don’t suppose you fancy coming round next weekend, do you, to share a bottle of wine and comfort me in my loneliness?’

This was it then, the resolution in action.  Janet had been timid all her life and put upon.  She was shadowy, lurked in corners.  But, on the brink of the new year, she had made a resolution.  She wasn’t going to stand for it any longer.  She would change.

‘Err, no thanks.  I see my boyfriend at the weekend, Janet.’

‘Of course you do, but surely you could make an exception?  After all, you’re not tied at the hip, are you?’

Colleagues in the office raised their heads.  They had never heard Janet fire back at Trish before.  It was taken as given that Janet was a little old lady who would soon be retiring.  Not that she hadn’t been retiring all her life.

‘Your little girl is very shy,’ the teachers had told Janet’s mother at a school meeting many years ago.  ‘Why is she so afraid?’

Afraid.  But no longer.  This new year was going to be different.  Janet had two years to go before she left work for good.  She was practising, for when life became truly hers.  She didn’t mind being shy, but she minded being put upon.  And she had suffered that for too long, especially from Trish, the sparky twenty-eight year old who sat opposite her in the office.

‘You haven’t met my Tommy, have you?  He’s a really handsome cat.  I got him from a rescue centre.  What time will you come round to my place?’

Janet’s colleagues watched and waited.  They could see Trish struggling for an answer.  This was something different for the new year.  What could have happened to make Janet change over the Christmas holidays?

‘I can provide the wine, but perhaps you would be kind enough to bring something to eat.  Is that all right?’

Trish opened her mouth and closed it again.  She scraped her chair back from the desk and stalked off to the Ladies.  The rest of the room watched her go.  Once the door was closed they cheered.

‘Good on you, Janet.  Trish is lost for words.’

Karen leaned across and whispered, ‘What’s happened?  You seem sort of … different?’

Janet smiled.  ‘I’m experimenting,’ she told Karen, who was a good friend and did come round for wine and nibbles occasionally.

‘Experimenting?’

‘Yes.  I’ve always been the same way.  Not made a fuss.’

‘We love you, Janet, you know that.  Being shy is nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘Yes, but being bullied is something else.  Trish may be subtle about it, but it’s bullying nonetheless.’

When Trish came back into the room she said to Janet, ‘I’ll be round at eight.’

Pauline Massey first started writing in earnest whilst caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease. Now she doesn’t want to stop!

Reader’s Choice

Monsoon Turbulence

by Fabiyas MV

Waves leap over his roof again.
Coconut sentinels lose their heads.
His breakwater breaks, but he won’t
flee to the monsoon refugee camp.

People and the press stand amid
the lightning from cameras. Their
rapture is with the waves rising
high to touch the rain clouds.

They’re on a spree in the sea spray.
They’re far-sighted, for they can’t
see this fisherman sitting like a crow-
pheasant in the remains of his yard.

He’s no pension, but only tension.
Yet he’ll neither mutter nor murmur.
Now he curls as a prawn on a wet
sack inside his half-eaten hut.

If the sea doesn’t swallow him tonight,
he’ll wake up early, pick up his net,
and set out to catch sardine, mackerel,
pink perch, tuna and the like, for them.

This poem was first published The Literary Hatchet (Pear Tree Press).

Fabiyas MV is a writer from Orumanayur village in Kerala, India. He is the author of Kanoli Kaleidoscope (PunksWritePoemsPress, US), Eternal Fragments (erbacce press,UK), and Moonlight And Solitude (Raspberry Books, India).

 

Reader’s Choice Winner for January

Alhamdulillah

by Alex Sinclair-Lack

Breathe deeply, people are looking at you. Keep that foot still. Riyadh is 11 kilometres away. You’ve come this far, you’re not turning around. What if he isn’t who he says he is? It happens, you know? It happens all the time. Zealots are waiting around every corner in this city. In the rooms of these ungodly towers. In the markets and the mosques. In the opulence and the dust. In these pristine train carriages and lavish stations. No. Quiet this voice of doubt. It is the cry of a lesser man, a man content with loneliness and shadows. Live, live while life is yours. Nobody here knows who you are. How could they?

What if someone followed him? What if he is with the Mutaween? The self-declared Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. What if he has been made cruel by hatred of his nature? Why does god make men unfit to live? Stay alert Hamzeh. Look around. A man and his covered wife or daughter. A young student reading a foreign novel. Sand from someone’s shoe spread on the carriage floor. A stray packet of tissues on the seat opposite. The city streets rippling in the midday heat. Two bearded men boarding the train, their eyes red and callous.

The larger of the two men wiped his broad nose on his thawb. His wiry companion’s nostrils flared as they spoke in hushed tones.

They’re coming this way. They’re coming for you.

The broad man’s eyes widened as he darted towards the seat. ‘Alhamdulillah!’ they bellowed, as they pounced on the pack of tissues, ‘all thanks be to God’. Both sickly men fell into an uncontrollable laughter.

Al-Zadd Market. Brown waistcoat, white shirt. Gold glasses. What will be the colour of his soul? This is your stop.

This can’t be right. Why meet in a place of endless eyes? So many stalls, so many windows. This can’t be right. Brown waistcoat, white shirt. Gold glasses. I can’t do this. This is wrong. Leave. Hide. A coffee shop. Sit, be calm. Think.

Black coffee, scented with cardamom and citrus, just like home. Some things resist the winds of wealth and time. Have you really given up? All those nights when sleep was nowhere close, all to surrender your will at the final hour. He’s not here. Maybe he didn’t come. Maybe you avoided a trap. It’s for the best.

‘Hamzah.’

A warm hand fell upon Hamzah’s back. A gentle pair of eyes looked down at him through thin gold frames. He rose to shake the man’s hand, ‘Khaled?’, Khaled smiled and nodded, but did not release his grip. He cannot be ignorant of the danger that faces us. Khaled’s eyes followed Hamzeh’s to their enjoined hands. He let go and sat down at the table. An almost imperceptible nod signalled the ordering of a coffee. Once again, Khaled took Hamzeh’s hand.

‘In a country such as ours, it is easier to hide in the light than in the shadows.’

The lines around his eyes paint a life of trouble and laughter. His back is straight, his demeanour composed, thoughtful.

Alhamdulillah.

Alex Sinclair-Lack is a travel-writer from the dark depths of Cornwall. He’s working his way through more exotic lands. 

Our Reader said:

I love the way this piece is written, exposing the anxiety and paranoia of the protagonist as they face the introduction and resolution of threat. The setting and surroundings are intricately but concisely described in a way that places the reader with the character on their journey. The story is neatly finished in a way that means it could work well as part of a larger piece or stand alone as a short story.

January’s Reader

Before we share January’s Reader’s Choices we want to introduce our Reader for the month’s competition entries:

Abbeh's cat.jpgAbbeh Jones is a Didcot writer
who enjoys reading thrillers and horrors,
and is currently working on their first novel.

Of the winning story in January, Alhamdulillah, by Alex Sinclair-Lack, Abbeh said:

I love the way this piece is written, exposing the anxiety and paranoia of the protagonist as they face the introduction and resolution of threat. The setting and surroundings are intricately but concisely described in a way that places the reader with the character on their journey. The story is neatly finished in a way that means it could work well as part of a larger piece or stand alone as a short story.

Thank you to Abbeh for taking the time to read all the entries and for being our first Reader.

If you would be interested in being a Reader in a later month please email didcotwriters@gmail.com.

January’s Competition Winners

We had an excellent response to our inaugural monthly competition, with 34 entries submitted!

Our Reader has now read all the pieces (which was done completely anonymously), and we are ready to announce the winners! Since we had so many high quality entries we have decided to publish a total of four Reader’s Choice pieces, one of which was the overall winner of the competition. These will be published on this page over the next couple of weeks – Follow this blog to receive them straight to your inbox (there should be a link in the bottom right hand corner, or click ‘manage subscriptions’ when signed in).

The winner for January’s themed competition, resolution is:
Alhamdulillah, by Alex Sinclair-Lack

The three other pieces selected as Reader’s Choice are:
Monsoon Turbulance, by Fabiyas MV
New Year, by Pauline Massey
Telling it like it is, by Mike Evis

Congratulations to all!