First prize: Helen McMahon
Second prize: Toni Minoza
Third prize: Tim Roberts
Liz Nugent, author of Unravelling Oliver
FIRST PRIZE: Only Water by Helen McMahon
Judge’s comments: This beautifully written piece illustrates how every day, we have the opportunity to make a more equal society, but we allow our prejudices to get in the way. The narrator gives the homeless character a nobility and grace which make his/her avoidance of him all the more poignant.
By Helen McMahon
You, crying, your mouth wide open, a silent howl. Like a child, in shock, the moment after a fall, before the hurt comes.
You sit in a shuttered doorway on the busy side street, the lower half of your body swaddled in a sleeping bag, filthy and ripped. Then the sound comes, the wail—a high, thin sound, unmanly. It catches me off-guard. I look at you. I hesitate. Then, though fearful, I cross the street to you. I kneel down in front of you. You do not see me. I say: are you okay? You do not answer. I reach across and put my palm on your cheek. I say: you poor man.
Slowly, you come from that place of grief, focus on my face. I take your hand. I say: come with me. I lead you down the street, taking you by the arm. You shuffle like an old man though you are young. In defiance of the manager’s hard looks, I sit you at a table in a coffee shop. I buy a pot of tea. You are surprisingly fussy about it. You insist, though your hands shake, on pouring your own milk. I say: what happened to you? You tell me your story, of banal cruelties, ordinary devastations. I hold your hand, stroking your wrist, unafraid of the sores that lurk beneath the grimy cuff of your jumper. Under my gaze, you become human again, become again the self you were before the streets broke you and made you both ugly and invisible.
In reality, I do none of these things. I am afraid. You are an alcoholic, or a junkie, maybe. Unpredictable, possibly violent. I see you cry. I walk on. I harden my heart. Your tears, the tears of a stranger, are only water.
SECOND PRIZE: Cold Water by Toni Minoza
Judge’s comments: Cold Water clearly demonstrates the inequality of the sexes as experienced for the first time by a young girl. We feel her excitement and pride as her achievements build to the short sharp shock of the ending.
By Toni Minoza
A white shirt bearing a Karatedo logo on my left hand and a dull gold medal on my right, I giddily skipped towards my Papa. I wore my proud heart on my sleeve as it was my silent mission to please the main masculine figure of my life. I was proud for I bested all the other university students who joined the Physical Education Karatedo sparring competition. All those hours I spent accompanying my brother to his Karate practices paid off. Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Sochin, Meikyo—I memorized them all. I was meant to win that competition. The miraculous and mysterious aspects of martial arts are the essence of Karatedo. Well, I embodied those. I did.
Papa received the fruits of my labor. “Good job!” he said.
“Mission accomplished,” whispered my heart.
Lunchtime came. We all sat down in our usual seats, sharing the limited but scrumptious food Mama prepared. I was excited for our usual family chit chat as I knew I’d be the star of the hour. I recounted the recently succeeded competition to the group—as if I was throwing punches and kicks again.
“I looked fierce! I had the tiger look!” This made my brother give out a happy giggle. He might have thought it was lame but I know he was happy for me. Besides, he served as my trainer.
All my life, I was taught to win. I was taught to achieve. I was taught to be on top. So, I grew up competitive and obviously one with a type-A personality. But it wasn’t the medals or the accolades that made me happy. Papa being proud of me was what mattered most.
Then, just like cold water poured on a sleeping child, Papa said, “You can’t do Karatedo anymore, it’s a male sport.”
THIRD PRIZE: Fifty/Fifty by Tim Roberts
Judge’s comments: A contemporary story, this tells the story of a broken relationship through the division of belongings. Without asking for sympathy for either party, nevertheless the reader feels the grief of the narrator.
By Tim Roberts
Before Cassie moved out it was agreed that we’d try to split our things equally. It took us a week to divide everything—a day for every year we’d spent collecting it. Each evening, after work we’d sit and eat, in silence, then go through our list of things and decide who took what. It was easy.
My friend, Jake, suggested that not having kids made it simpler. He joked about seeing his ex-wife more after the divorce, mostly to argue over when he could see the boys. Cassie and I didn’t have that problem. Our bond was built on things that could be on eBay tomorrow.
We agreed on most things and assured each other at every step: That’s fair, right?
We had to be imaginative sometimes: Cassie took the cutlery; I kept the TV in the bedroom. She took the sofa; I got the dog.
On Thursday she told me that Steve had a van that he could borrow to pick up her things. She told me he’d come by Saturday morning. I shrugged and told her that worked for me as I’d be out playing squash.
I arrived home on Saturday afternoon with one bag of shopping. I loaded up the fridge that I’d sacrificed for the two-cup coffee machine. I paced through the house—it looked about half full. Cassie’s engagement ring was on the bedroom windowsill; it had never come up in our negotiations. In the drawer of her bedside cabinet, she’d left a ring pull from a beer can—I’d had it engraved with the words For Cassie. All My Love Always after one of our first dates. In the interest of fairness, I threw them both away.
I suppose, for both of us, these things had no value.
WALKING DOWN THE STREET WHILE LOOKING GAY
By A. C.
She left the office and locked the door behind her. She began walking home to her apartment and on her way she saw a man with a clipboard on the street and wanted to dodge him. She’d spent the day writing to interfaith organizations and wanted a break from social issues but felt an obligation, like the weight of her mother’s voice, compelling her to see if the man needed a signature for a ballot measure. So she let him walk up to her.
“Hi, I’m Doug,” he said.
“Hi, I’m Liz.”
“I’m out on the streets right now to talk about ketamine. Do you know about ketamine?”
“Um … I think it’s a veterinary drug,” she said, remembering something she’d seen in an episode of The X-Files when she was a kid.
“Yes, it is. I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to talk to people about using clean needles when they use it,” he said.
There was a long pause.
“So … are you looking for money or … ?”
“No, I’m just talking to people about it.”
There was another long pause. And then she understood.
“Do you think I’m on drugs?!”
He said nothing.
“I’ve never used drugs in my whole life!”
He nervously began to excuse himself and get swallowed up by the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk.
“What the hell?” she said to herself, then continued walking home.
She stopped in front of a store with dark glass windows and looked herself over: clean clothes, clean hair, freshly cut short. And then she understood. She wore black boots, black combat pants, a loose-fitting gray T-shirt, an olive green work shirt over that, and very short brown hair. She looked like a lesbian, so clearly she must be on drugs.
Unequal in Their Eyes
By Scott David Brown
I was a young kid when I experienced bullying for the first time. It was rough, to say the least. Those experiences affect me to this day. Kids can be cruel, often out of their own fears and insecurities. It was no different for me. All it takes is one mistake, show weakness just once, and they pounce like a cat hunting for prey. My best friend, balancing a rock on his neck, lost control of it and it struck another kid’s foot. That was all it took for my friend to be shunned and soon we both became outcasts.
What was my crime? Loyalty. I had my chance to save myself, to be “cool”, but I didn’t take it. What was my punishment? Fear and five years of bullying. I had some tricks up my sleeve. I was a fast runner, I could move like a cheetah. My bullies couldn’t catch me. They wanted to break me, and oh how they tried. They called me names, threatened me, chased me around the school, and they failed.
I made it through. I always had hope, but I didn’t realize that I took over for them. I bullied myself.
It took years before I learned what I was doing.
I hated myself, thought I was worthless, and believed their lies. How could I do that to myself? With time, I made great progress. I learned to love myself. I realized that I had the wrong idea about who I was, all because of bullies.
I was not equal in their eyes. I have not experienced sexism or racism. However, I know what it’s like to be seen as: “other”. Maybe perfect equality is unobtainable, but we can strive for something close enough.
We deserve it!
A Slice of Heaven
By Tannystha Goswami
The prize sat there, a basketful of mangoes wrapped in newspaper. Winner takes it all. Children locked in battle positions. Perspiration trickling down, hands sweaty. A silent spectator followed the action from the sidelines. Wide-eyed she watched the match.
“Let it go Raju,” she finally pleaded.
“Shut up you thief!” someone shouted back at her.
The little girl pursed her lips. She was used to being called names. Some taunted her for her cleft lip, others mocked her poverty. Her father being arrested for stealing served as the latest addition. Everyone said, “Poor fellow. He works all day long. But all the money is eaten away by that deformed daughter of his! She is an abomination of nature!”
Everyone blamed her for her father’s sin; they said she was the reason he was forced to steal. She was also used to the repeated thrashings inflicted by her mother. “Why don’t you die!” her mother would curse.
Some felt sorry for her and said polite words as an effort to compensate God’s undoing.
Pari was used to it all, indifference, insults and pity.
The fight didn’t last long. In the end a bruised arm was worth the juicy prize. Head held high with victory, Raju snatched the basket from his opponents.
“Pari, let’s go someplace else,” he said.
They sat down under a tree. She knew Raju didn’t fight for the mangoes; he could buy all the mangoes he wanted. He had fought to defend her. The world had labeled her a ‘deformation’. But Raju always treated her as an equal. Her crooked lip or social background made no difference to him. He neither sympathized nor demeaned her. In his presence she could be herself.
The feast commenced. The basket didn’t last long. They sat there, messy, sticky and in heaven.
By Caroline Hurley
“Your twin’s in again. Bed 9.” Terry’s colleagues waited for his rueful smile of recognition.
Monitors wired up to critically ill patients around them beeped and flashed. Terry’s head throbbed from the previous night’s excesses. Since he’d started taking thyroid medication for a metabolism run riot, alcohol affected him more quickly than before. Still, he always drank one more than he should. He lived for socialising with his mates down the pub. Anyway, after breakfast at the hospital canteen and the comforts of an orderly ward environment, he knew he’d recover fast. He valued his job as an intensive care nurse specialist.
“Poor Ebbo,” he said. “Third overdose in a year.” Though emaciated by comparison, the shaggy beige hair and long jaw Ebbo Finnigan had in common with Terry created a startling resemblance between them. For a while, this frequent confusion freaked Terry out. Walking to and from work months ago, Terry had been badly shaken when confronted by junkies.
Ignoring personal space etiquette, often semi-conscious, they lumbered onto his path. “Story, bud? Any score?” Since realising their error, they good-humouredly saluted him. “Aw right, Ebbo’s twin?” they’d say, laughing.
From a deprived family in a deprived area, Ebbo had been largely homeless since teenage years. The staff felt guilty around him. He was so sweet, so grateful for a clean bed in safe warm quarters. He marvelled at all the technical equipment. He accepted the gastro-nasal tube feeding and other inconveniences without complaint. He obediently swallowed pills. By the second night, he was asking for extra sleeping tablets. He called Terry, ‘bro’.
Terry thought Ebbo’s strategy for accessing relief cost everyone too much, but knew it wasn’t that simple. Though they looked like twins, a non-identical chasm divided past levels of investment in their well-being. Present differences said it all.
By Alan Morris
I am nothing, less than nothing, to be sure, the dead have no rights. Before my abuse’d body was even cold, they took my teeth, see I’m willing to share, I expect they will enjoy my pox. Little pleasure had I, in the procuring of it.
They took my clothes, even the embroidered waistcoat, the coat that cost a whole half crown, not even a shroud, to keep me warm. All they, the living, clothed me in was coarse sawdust, a fine outfit to meet my maker.
They have my teeth, they left me rage and before my sinews rot, a certain strength, a strength born of dark desperation.
I want my teeth, I want to be whole, I want to be complete to meet my God, but they have denied me this.
I had a winning smile all the while, they said, my smile could melt all hearts. Now all is left is this skeletal gap, this gape, my fingers scrape, grope above my head.
Enclosed in this cheap deal box, a shallow scrape an excuse for a grave, a dog could dig me up.
I will rise up, take my revenge, and drag the living to their rest; there we can find equality in the grave.
I know where they keep the pliers.
Footnote: After the battle of Waterloo many dead soldiers’ teeth were pulled and made into dentures; many were suffering from syphilis.
Race is Just Not Important to me
By Barry North
“Race is just not important to me.”
“Of course, you have never been denied access to a public drinking fountain or been forced to sit in the back of the bus because of it.”
“That’s true … but still, race is just not important to me.”
“Of course, you have never been a child, wanting to swim in the big, beautiful, and public pool, but couldn’t, because of it.”
“That’s true . . . but, please try to understand, race is just not important to me.”
“Of course, you have never had to listen to your dear, sweet grandmother, totally embarrassed, as though she had something to be ashamed of, tell about how she was so accustomed to discrimination in the early sixties, that when she entered a grocery store one day and saw a white only sign taped to the toilet tissue section, she did not realize it meant they were out of pastel colors, but instead asked the astonished white clerk if she could buy one.”
“That’s true . . . but, as cruel as I know it must sound to you, I still have to tell you, race is just not important to me.”
“Of course, that’s easy for you to say.”
“Thank you for not adding the but.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for the little refresher course in modern black history. With things the way they are right now, I needed it. And thank you, in particular, for sharing with me that story about your grandmother. I know that has to hurt every time you think about it.”
“You’re welcome. Thanks for listening. And you’re right; it does hurt.”
“Can I shake your hand before I leave?”
“Sure. Take care brother.”
“You too, my man.”
By David J. Wing
They’d been talking about it for so long. Equality this, fairness that. Policing global rights was an unenviable task and became a trial to all.
In the end, it was simply outlawed.
‘Equality’ was deleted from the dictionary, removed from search engines and tabooed across the world. By definition parity, impartiality and egalitarianism would no longer be required either. Life would go on as it always had, but the playground would now rely upon wits and strength, opportunity and once in a while, luck.
You could call this the apocalypse; it’d be an accurate interpretation.
You could call it a reckoning, a judgment or plain and simply: Monday.
In nations young and old battles wrought, buildings fell and history took a turn backwards. What once was seen to be a future of destiny was now a promise of nothing. Politics and borders found sanctuary in obsolescence, while days twisted ever on.
Equality: it’s for the birds. A term derived to strike complacency and contentment into the hearts of men and women.
Now you must stand. Now you must act.
Alexandra Ashmead, Teaching Equality
Terry Barr, Equal Opportunity
Sarah Barry, Shattered Dreams
Sanchari Biswas, Rain and Equality
Faye Boland, Upwardly Mobile
Andre Bowser, South African Dumpass
Erin Campagna, What Doesn’t Exist
Songhyeon Chae, Poison
Ros Collins, A Solution of Bleach
Tiernan Cormier, Gleichheit in an Instance Past
Annie Dawid, The Doctor Who Examined Her
Eoin Devereux, Mahon Street
Richard Durisen, John and Jane Doe Versus God
Benjamin Dine, Hibiki and Yun
Robin Wyatt Dunn, HR
Erica X Eisen, The Prophecy of Objects
Kim Arvin Faner, Chivalry is Resurrected
Julia Filacchione, Equality
Anna Fitzpatrick, Equality
Richa Gupta, An Aesthetic Vision
Jade Hayden, 62.1%
Monique Hayes, Scales
Layla Hehir, Baby Steps
Henry Heitmann, But the Water Was Free
Justin Hoo, I Was Here First
Camillus John, Spitting at Vincent Browne
Oonah V Joslin, Arachno-Anarchists
Tric Kearney, The Cost of Living
Ross Key, The Beautiful Moment
Nadine Koerner, Equality
Kevin Leavy, Gene Pool
John S Lewis, The Last Card
Myra Litton, Better Late Than Never
Chad Lutz, Marking My Territory
Alison McBain, Thou Shalt
Carol McGill, Not What You Thought
Deirdre McGrath, Passenger 19
Aaron Moskalik, Stigma
Leah Mueller, Midwestern Royalty
SK Naus, The Sequel to Equal
Mel Neet, Reservations
Nieve Nichol, Tribe Story
Teresa Oldham, Two Little Indians, 1968
JB Pravda, A Global ‘Man-o-gram’
Lisa Reynolds, Waking up to a Marriage Proposal
LF Roth, Yes—But Then Again No
Patricia Storey, Kelly & Co
Sarah Talty, Surviving the Night
Adam Trodd, The Mouths of Babes
Lori Weiman, Just Below the Surface
Agata Zema, My Home