Reader’s Choice: Double-Edged

Double-Edged

by Roshna Rusiniya

“Mom, what is sugar rush?”

The curiosity of a seven year-old has no barriers.

“It’s when you act so excited after eating so much sugar.”

“Is that why you are always unhappy? Because you don’t eat sugar?”

Unhappy? Really?Am I?

“I don’t eat sugar because I don’t like it.”

I gave my soft stomach a pat and sighed exasperatedly. I have the so-called mommy belly. Not fat, but not flat either. And the stretch marks? It’s a nightmare!

I envy those who can afford a personal cook, a trainer and the endless figure correction surgeries. But as a struggling actress, the only luxury I could afford was the small house where we are living now, without the mortgage. My father used to tell me that I need to get a real job. But acting is the only thing I know and the only thing I have always wanted. I don’t have a college degree. Other than the odd jobs here and there I never had any other career too.

I remembered my conversation with the agent yesterday: “Noorie. You were great. I am sure you will get the role.”

“But… It’s been more than two weeks now and don’t you think it’s way too long?”

“You have to take it easy. Maybe they are still auditioning people for other roles.”

“Is it possible for you to call them up and ask if…”

“No. No, Noorie. I cannot do that. It’s against the company policy. I am sorry.”

After the call was finished, I sat there thinking about what I would do if I don’t get the role. Should I check with my mom’s friend if her offer is still open? Why would she offer me the job of a receptionist in her salon when I don’t have any experience? Out of pity for a single mom, maybe.

Just then, my phone rang. Seeing Mili’s name flashing, I answered with an overenthusiastic ‘Hello’.

“Hey! Noorie. It’s me. How are you? And how is little Sera?”

“Later Mili! Tell me what happened. The wait is killing me!”

“OK! I have good news… and then… some bad news.”

“Good and bad? What does that mean?”

“They were impressed with your performance. But unfortunately they want someone younger to play the heroine’ sister. However the heroine’s aunt’s role is yours if you want it.”

“Tell me more.”

“A fifty-year-old lady with some mystery around her. But…”

“I am still listening…”

“They want you to gain around twenty kilos for the role.”

“What?”

My head is spinning already.

“Noorie, listen. You are in your late thirties, and you are a mom. The industry is infamous for it’s sexist and ageist attitude. You know what I mean, don’t you?

“Is the weight part negotiable?”

Silence.

“Mom! You are eating ice cream? I thought you don’t like anything sweet!”

“I guess it’s time for some excitement in my life darling…”

“Forever?”

“Hopefully… not!”

Roshna Rusiniya is a homemaker and an aspiring writer. She is originally from India, but currently resides in Qatar.

Our Reader said:

I was glad to see some wry humour amongst the pieces I read: this tale about a woman struggling as an actress – as well as with her weight – was a lively, clever twist on the theme!

Reader’s Choice: Birthday Buns for the Class

Birthday Buns for the Class

by Georgina Richardson

Their greedy fingers pinch like crabs dancing on the plate. Their hands claw, as they try, in a frenzy, both to grab something for themselves and to brush each other aside at the same time. As always, they all want the ones with the pink icing. I tell one boy that the white icing is the best, but assure another that yellow is the tastiest. I tell a girl who complains there are only green ones left, that they’re all the same.

I remind the class, as ever, not to eat them until they’re outside – to ask their parents first. Then, as usual, I ignore the fact that at least two-thirds of them are already nibbling. The buns are so tiny to start with that there will be nothing left but paper by the time I send the children outside.

I feel bad for the ones who sit there obediently while their classmates devour their portion. I almost feel more annoyed at their acceptance than I do with the ones who show no regard for what I say. I want to ignite something in them.

Rarely, there’s a child who doesn’t want a bun or a piece of cake. They’ll shake their head or politely decline. Then I’ll worry about the childhood they’re having – one where even when their parents aren’t present they say no to a freely given sweet treat.

There’s one left for me today. Sometimes when a parent sends cake in, I eat some during the lunch break. It’s my reward for having to spend the time I don’t have cutting a cake that’s meant to serve ten into twenty-three pieces. It’s always a relief when they send buns and all I need to do is open the packet and hand them out.

When they’ve all left, there are crumbs all over the carpet, as well as little squashed up bun cases and a few smushed bits of icing. The cleaner will grumble again.

I close the door and sit down at my desk, breathing a sigh of relief. My head pounds with the onset of another tension headache. My mouth feels dry. I haven’t stopped all afternoon. I stare at the little bun waiting for me. I know it’s only one of those very cheap supermarket packets. It will taste of nothing except sweetness with a hint of egg. I’m always drawn to pink just as the children are. I visit the toilet first and wash my hands. I learned very early on that I am not immune to the many germs carried by the unhygienic hands of small children.

When I finally eat the thing, it’s anticlimactic just as I knew it would be. It’s gone too soon, before it even had a chance to be anything other than what it was. I throw the paper in the bin and get on with the huge pile of marking.

Georgina Richardson is a teacher. She lives in Yorkshire with her husband and children. 

Our Reader said:

This story vied for top place for me, and is clearly written by a polished, adept writer. Some wonderful imagery sets the scene in the opening lines, and I was left wondering about the protagonist for some time afterwards.

Reader’s Choice: Sugar and Spice

Sugar and Spice

by Ian Marshall

Peals of laughter rang out from table six, filling the Raj Tandoori Restaurant and providing it with an atmosphere usually lacking on Monday evenings. Sitting two together either side of the rectangular wooden table, the four women in their early forties looked like they had known each other all their lives. The chat only stopped for giggling and the occasional mouthful of food.

Raj Patel, the balding, portly owner of this fine establishment loved seeing this foursome. They always brought vitality to the place. Every three months or so he’d get a phone call from one of them making a reservation for a table, even though it was never needed: Mondays were the slowest night of the week and on this evening, there were only four tables in use.

They were an eclectic bunch. Two were married, one newly divorced who was back on the dating scene and the fourth was in a long-term same-sex relationship. One was a piano teacher, another was an actress, who spent a lot of her ‘resting time’ serving in her parents’ newsagents. The mum with teenage kids was now back in employment and revelled in her new job title of Accounts Payable Clerk (A to F). That was A for Aardvark and F for something whispered which brought about another explosion of cackling. The group had a ready-made ‘designated driver’; as a commercial pilot she rarely drank alcohol and that night was on Pepsi.

She was being mercilessly teased about her sugar intake and how she would end up with Type 2 diabetes even though she was, by far, the slimmest of the four. More merriment ensued. The conversation moved on to health worries. High cholesterol, trans fats and sodium are discussed as they tuck into Butter Chicken. Locally grown organic non-GMO food is chewed over while complaining about the amount of coriander in the chicken curry. Cue more laughter. They have been making the same complaint for over a decade, probably two, but the chefs seem to disagree, and the owner feigns surprise that they should criticize the quality of his food.

What links the four of them, binds them inextricably together, was never mentioned. There’s no need. That was their past, almost their secret. The were discovered singing at The Jericho Tavern in Oxford. At just seventeen years old they were promoted as the new big thing. The strapline on their concert posters highlighted their ‘original melodic songs’ and ‘intricate harmonies reminiscent of The Beach Boys’.

Their first single made number seventy-six in the charts. They were due to appear on Top of The Pops the week it was cancelled because of an electricians’ strike. Before the Spice Girls, before All Saints, they were Sugar Rush. They never made it.

Ian Marshall: Old and cold – inspired while waiting for the boiler repair man.

Our Reader said:

I enjoyed the relationships and characterisation of this cleverly titled story, which managed to develop credible characters, with empathy, in relatively a few lines.

Reader’s Choice: Golden

Golden

by Karla Linn Merrifield

It seems the humming birds
have departed for points south;
only desultory bees nuzzle
the feeder.  Its blushing sugar
water will sustain at least
the last of the honey makers
also making a quieter buzz
as autumn settles into the land
beside the inland sea and first
frost is a few nights away.
I pause,
stare, not yet chilled, not having
been startled awake.  Then I begin
to swirl like an apian dervish
in her slowly whirling sweet and viscid
dance of the season.

Karla Linn Merrifield’s newest of 14 books is her full-length Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. 

Our Reader said:

I was taken back to read and re-read this luscious poem several times. Lines such as: ‘to swirl like an apian dervish’, ‘sweet and viscid dance’ made this unique and powerful.

Reader’s Choice Winner: Flower Princesses Really Aren’t as Lovely as They Seem

Flower Princesses Really Aren’t as Lovely as They Seem

by A.E. Stoffers

The imprint of identical, pale teeth flash against her eyelids each time she closes her eyes; her body involuntarily shivers at the memory of crooked, knobbed hands sharpening their owner’s teeth with a file, drawing each pearl to a razor-sharp end; her mind rolls over the same three ideas as it always does, waiting for her life to begin again.

Stay quiet.

Stay hidden.

She’ll come.

She squats in a muddy alcove behind a waterfall. Eating nothing except pillow moss endless day after endless night, her attenuated skin stretches across her body in a way that reveals each bone like a fossil in the dirt. Bloodshot eyes look through the cascade of water to the valley beyond, always watching. Each pulse of her heart is magnified by the sugar rushing through her veins, keeping her alive, feeding her hunger for revenge.

She’ll come.

Years ago, she frolicked in that valley, unabashedly chasing her brother in circles, squealing with glee. Their greedy hands uprooted as many daisies as they could reach, and their filthy feet crushed spongy ferns as they danced around the clearing, pretending to be the Flower King and Queen.

Of course, nobody bothered to tell her that rulers could be overthrown.

As such, she and her brother graciously welcomed a beautiful, white-gloved stranger into their kingdom, offering to make her the Flower Princess, making it official with a crown.

“Every Flower King and Queen needs a castle,” her sultry voice invaded their ears and put them at ease. “Follow me, children.”

She and her brother eagerly followed the Flower Princess back to their promised castle. Her heart rushed with adrenaline and happiness at the sight of the gingerbread doors, candy cane windows, and chocolate bricks.

Bile rises in her throat, but the memories continue to poison her mind.

Images of dirty cages.

The sickly sweet scent of sugar.

Her brother’s body.

A red velvet cake.

Something salty leaks into her mouth, and she realizes her eyes are leaking. Angrily pushing the water off her face, she reaches for another bite of moss. Her desperate fingers grasp bare stone, and she looks away from the water for the first time since she last saw her brother.

Gone.

The moss was gone.

Her mind flashes through a dozen scenarios as her heartbeat quickens. She can feel herself growing weaker–the sugar that once intensified her focus is now draining away.

Right when she reaches the edge of panic, the water itself turns into liquid sugar, pouring from the sky like a blessing from above. She takes large gulps, consuming as much as she can, thanking whoever is up there.

Then, stilted, whimsical laughter echoes through the valley.

The Flower Queen finds herself trapped under the water, feeling every wave crush her bones until they are white grains indistinguishable from the sand at the bottom of the river.

The Flower Princess’s sharpened teeth smile at her from above the water. She throws a clump of crystalized sugar-moss at the Flower Queen.

A.E. Stoffers is an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying English and Spanish.

Our Reader said:

This brutal modern fairy tale is not something I would usually read, but I was captivated by the skilful prose from the outset. Heady, and an attack on all senses, this was masterfully done.

Our Reader for October (sugar rush)

Our Reader in October was Dreena Collins. Dreena got in touch with us early in 2019, and had to wait until Autumn to judge our competition because we had so many people wanting to be Reader for us! If you’d like a turn, email didcotwriters@gmail.com and we’ll let you know when the next slot is.

Thanks to Dreena, who read through all the entries within a day of receiving them! The winning pieces, and Dreena’s reasons for her choices, will be published on this site on Mondays and Fridays for the next couple of weeks. Follow the site to receive them direct to your inbox. And don’t forget to enter our current competition if you want a chance at seeing your work published next month!

headshot dreena.JPEG

Dreena Collins was born in Jersey, where she works in Education. She has been shortlisted and long-listed in a number of writing competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Awards, and the Bridport Prize. Dreena’s work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and on-line, and she has two published short story collections. Her hobbies include eating spicy food, unintentionally waking at 4.30 am, and falling over. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Competition winners for October (sugar rush)

The winners for our competition themed Sugar Rush, which closed at the end of October, are –

Winner: Flower Princesses Really Aren’t as Lovely as they Seem, by A.E. Stoffers

Reader’s Choices:
Golden, by Karla Linn Merrifield
Sugar and Spice, by Ian Marshall
Birthday Buns for the Class, by Georgina Richardson
Double-Edged, by Roshna Rusiniya

The winning pieces will be published online at didcotwriters.wordpress.com over the coming weeks on Mondays and Fridays, alongside the author bios and the Reader’s reasons for each choice. Follow the site (enter your email in the box in the bottom right hand corner) to receive them straight to your inbox as they are published.

Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone who sent in work, and to our Reader for their time – we love seeing how you interpret the theme each month. I’ll be back in touch in December to announce the new theme and the winners of ‘shiver’.