Reader’s Choice: The Organ Donor

The Organ Donor

by Gary R. Hoffman

“Unfortunately, there is no mistake,” Rhonda said, closing the file“Dan is not the biological father of your son Eric.”


“The tests don’t lie, Adina. Dan is not Eric’s biological father. He’s not only not the best donor, he would be one of the worst. There’s is no compatibility between them at all.”

Adina covered her face with her hands and began cryingAfter a few seconds,she managed to say, “I guess this just confirms what I’ve always suspected.

“I’m sorry, Adina.”

Adina pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped her eyes. “You can’t tell Dan about this. It‘ll kill him.”

“Okay, I can probably make up some story about why he can’t be the donor, but that doesn’t give us a kidney. Yours are weak, so we can’t use one of them. What we really need is the biological father. He‘s Eric’s best chance of living. We need to test his kidneys. One of Eric’s kidneys has shut down completely,and the other is failing. If you want to save his life, we need to contact his biological father. He’ll be able to give Eric the gift of life.

“I can’t do that,” Adina said, and started to cry again.

“If you want to save your son, you have to.” She paused. “Is Eric the product of an affair?

Oh, God. Yes. onenight fling. Something that never should have happened. Dan went hunting for the weekend, and the man’s wife was out of town.”

“Do you know where the father is now?”

“Yes,” Adina muttered.

“Look, forget that you’re talking to me as a friend. Try to think of me as just your doctor. Will you give me a name so I can contact this man? It doesn’t matter who gets hurt here. Eric comes first.

“This is going to ruin so many things,” Adina sobbed.

“I’m sorry,” Rhonda said, “but you do realize everything you tell me is confidential, right?”

“Yes, I know.” Adina looked up with pleading in her eyes. “Remember this is the only way I can save my sonEric’s father is… Walt. Your husband.

Gary R. Hoffman: twenty-five years as a teacher. Twenty-seven years as author of almost five hundred short stories.

Our Reader said:

Nice dialogue and a not so nice ending! Would love to see this expand to find out what happens next.


Reader’s Choice: The Gift

The Gift

by Elizabeth Cohn

She gazed into the mirror, could she do this, could she visualize? She had gotten up early to give herself this gift of time. A few minutes without someone needing something from her.

She swallowed and looked again. I see why they say this is hard. The face reflected back was neither young nor old, neither wrinkled nor taunt, neither firm nor saggy, it was a face on the tipping point of something. She knew it was the face of exhaustion, of desperation, of quiet resolution, of determination to finish but always getting lost. She was never on the path she felt she wanted to be on – but she was always on a path, and she always finished. Suddenly, she saw a light and the hallway door squeaked open – ‘Mama,’ she heard, and back to reality she went.

Later that day she ran into her mentor who asked how her focusing was going.  She looked at the floor, suddenly sheepish.  Not well?  No, not well at all.

The next morning found her in front of the mirror again. A little early, in a hopeful attempt to have these ten minutes to herself. She looked down and read the paper with the words her mentor had told her to say so that she could begin focusing on herself: I am gifted. I am strong. I am not like others. I am me. I can do things I once thought I could not do. I can do new things. I can do old things without problem. I can do whatever is asked of me. Yes, yes I can.

‘Repeat this everyday?’ she remembered asking incredulously.

‘Yes,’ her mentor answered. ‘For one month. Tell yourself -no remind yourself- of you.’

Again, she looked questionably at her mentor.

Her mentor stared back. ‘Does it cost anything?’

‘No,’ she sighed.

‘Does it harm you?’


‘Do you have to do it in public?’

She shook her head.

‘Is it true?’

A reluctant yes.

‘Then, what is the problem?’

The woman met the mentor’s eye. ‘What if it works?’

The mentor stared back at her, searching for something only she could see. Yes, what if it does? What if? What if? Life is not lived in what if. Life is lived. The mentor stared hard at the woman – and finally nodded.

Her mentor reached out and grabbed her chin, tilting it all around to look at her from each angle. ‘My dear, you have a choice, you can live in “what if” or you can live your life. Both are choices. Both may give you similar things.  But only one will let you be you.’

The woman stared hard at the mirror at the girl who stared back. She knew this was a pivotal moment in her life and that she had to make a choice. She knew which one she should make was obvious but it was so hard. She listened for a squeak to make the decision for her but none came. So she looked again at the mirror and began softly, ‘I am gifted.’

Elizabeth Cohn: a writer who lives in the Midwest.

Our Reader said:

A grounded and human approach to a very difficult topic.

Reader’s Choice: Mjozi


by Kelly Punton

I had that dream again last night. The one with the blood-stained tree. A magnificent Mjozi that looked like the hand of God had picked it up clean out of the ground and dipped it into red paint and planted it upon the sandy shores.

The Mjozi is Swahili. It’s a walnut tree. I’ve never set foot on African soil. But yet, for some strange reason, I’ve started to pick up Swahili in my dreams. Just words, but they tinge my brain and, when I awake, I find myself spelling them out in a morning daze, writing them down in a notebook that sits on my bedside table. I wake up with these words swilling around my head, spelling them as the cereal drops into my breakfast bowl, repeating them over and over while I brush my teeth.


I have fourteen words now. The words I keep to myself. I did mention it to my brother after it happened a few times.

‘Gareth, do you know any other languages?’ I asked. He was rummaging the fridge for sandwich contents.

‘Not unless you count my French GCSE. I scraped a D,’ he replied, with his head half in, half out of the fridge.

‘I’ve started to pick up some words in Swahili. Is that strange?’

‘Why do you want to learn Swahili?’

‘I’m not learning them. They’re in my dreams.’

‘So how do you know it’s Swahili, and it’s not just your subconscious making up words?’

‘I write them down and I’ve googled them. They’re always Swahili words.’

‘Maybe you’re haunted by some voodoo witch in Kenya.’ He was pushing down on his sandwich now, leaving finger marks in the white bread.

I look through my notebook. Mkate. Wimbo. Matunda. Wingu. Uchaf. Tamu. They are always like this. Mostly one word and simple in meaning. Bread. Song. Cloud.
Dirty. Sweet.

I can’t make any sense of it. Perhaps there is a story, I know I could make one up if I must but there is no clear narrative. It seems worse to even try to solve it away. The beauty is in the unknown. The dreams and the words do not frighten me, they only interrupt my waking. In that way, I don’t want to share them with others who might try and explain them, rationalise them. It is my corner of exotic.

I sometimes worry that these words are, deep down, a mother tongue of my subconscious and they are going to burst out in a science classroom or in a coffee shop. Then I really will be frightened, with no explanation. The fifteen-year-old white girl from York who speaks Swahili words and no one knows why. No stroke. No holiday. No explanation. Msaliti. Traitor.

I can only hope my dreams stay private, that my Swahili words are locked in the dream world. I am the Mjozi tree, tinged, longing to be planted on a secret horizon, far away from the forest.

Kelly Punton is a teacher and writer from East Midlands. She writes magical realism exploring the extraordinary within everyday life.

Our Reader said:

Strange and surreal in the best possible way.

Christmas bonus! audio recording

As a special Christmas bonus, Esme Bates, whose poem won our November competition on the theme of ‘gift’, has recorded her poem ‘Twas the Devices.

Click here (and then click play) to have a listen.

You can read Esme’s poem here.

Thank you to Esme for reading the poem for us, and season’s greetings to you all!

Reader’s Choice Winner: ’Twas the Devices

’Twas the Devices

by Esme Bates

’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the home,

The devices at Natasha’s were charged but buffering and giving a moan,

You see, her iPad was on – the screen glaringly bright,

(Natasha had hopes that additional electrical devices/apps would arrive that night.)

She was logged on, her current apps were loaded,

And clouds full to bursting (almost exploded);

Whilst, it could be argued, adding a Christmassy glow to the scene,

The lights on her iPad, suddenly, epileptic-like, flashed red, white and green!

(Unlike anything she had ever, ever seen!)

When out on the drive there arose such a clip-clop clatter,

Natasha anxiously ran to see what was the matter,

Away to the door she flew like a flash,

Forgetting her door key in her Christmassy dash.

She stood in the driveway and looked all about,

When the door slammed behind her, she was locked out!

Then, on the drive, what should appear?

But a real Lapland-style sleigh and eight real reindeer;

And a real, little old man who, with scarcely a pause,

Chuckled: “My name is Santa, my last name is Claus.”

Her iPad was startled, confused by the name,

Then it buzzed as it heard the old fellow exclaim:

“This is Dancer and Dasher and Prancer and Vixen,

And Cupid and Comet and Donner and Blitzen.”

With all these odd names, it was puzzled anew;

It hummed, buffered and froze on view.

It had searched on Google, trying to “think”;

Then went simply went black – it was on the blink!

Unable to do its electronic job,

The iPad said in a voice that was almost a sob:

“Your eyes – how they twinkle – your dimples so merry,

Your cheeks red like roses, your nose like Nanny’s cheeky sherry,

Your smile – all these things I’ve been programmed to know,

But your name Santa and your address (devices can’t lie),

Are things that I simply just cannot identify.

You’ve a jolly old face and a little round belly,

That shakes when you laugh like a bowlful of jelly;

My camera can see you, but still I insist,

Since you’re address is not in my program, you cannot exist!”

Old Santa just chuckled a merry “ho, ho,”

And sat down to type out a quick Facebook or so.

The keyboard clackclattered, its tap sharp and clean,

As Santa fed his new status into the machine:

“Put down your device!

It really is your evil vice!

Don’t forget to list sporty toys

(Bats, balls, hula hoops and other joys!)

That are healthy and good for girls and the most annoying of boys,

Plus games to play around your dining room table,

That you can enjoy with dear old Auntie Mabel:

Cards, Backgammon and Biiiingoooo!”

Then he Tweeted on the machine, saying “Merry Christmas” –

BUT with an emoji shrug, Then boldly pulled out the family’s wifi plug!

Esme Bates trained at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and is passionate about work to be performed.

Our Reader said:

This is a fantastic festive poem. A well timed piece that was both funny and thought-provoking. It flowed nicely, had great rhymes and was good to read both aloud and in my head. I would like to see a tipsy performance by the author at any Christmas party!

Our Reader for November

Our Reader for November’s competition, themed ‘gift’, was Lucas Smith.

Image result for people around christmas tree

Lucas Smith is a long-standing member of Didcot Writers, and writes poetry and short stories.

About the winning piece, ’Twas the Devices, by Esme Bates, our Reader said:

This is a fantastic festive poem. A well timed piece that was both funny and thought-provoking. It flowed nicely, had great rhymes and was good to read both aloud and in my head. I would like to see a tipsy performance by the author at any Christmas party!

Competition winners for November (‘gift’)

Thank you to all those who submitted work to our November competition, themed ‘gift’. The stories have now been read, and the winners are:

Reader’s Choice Winner:
‘Twas the Devices, by Esme Bates

Other Choices:
Mjozi, by Kelly Punton
Gift, by Elizabeth Cohn
The Organ Donor, by Gary R. Hoffman

Congratulations to all!

Make sure you ‘follow’ this site to receive the winning pieces straight into your inbox. And if you’d like to receive an email each month letting you know the themes for our competitions, please get in touch.

You still have until the end of the year to enter our December competition, themed ‘boundaries‘, and don’t forget about our new print anthology, which will open for submissions in January. The theme and title for that is ‘First Contact‘.