Below is the winning entry from the 2012 open short story competition. You can view the full list of competition results.
Web editor's note: Apologies for the lack of correct formatting. Something went wrong during conversion from the original source material.
First Prize Winner
A Gift from the Horse Chestnut Tree by Veronica Bright
There's not much Davy's teacher can tell Kylie that she doesn't know already. It's parents' evening, just before half term, timed to reassure the adults that their child is settling well. Kylie sits outside the classroom with Davy on one side, and little Molly with her parents on the other. They have their wriggly baby with them too. "He's a bit of a Mummy's boy at this time of day," the mother says. It takes Kylie a moment to realise she isn't having a dig at Davy. She gives a weak smile. She's seen them at the swings. Molly is always so confident, running up the steps of the twisty slide, coming down yelping with joy, sitting, lying, even head first sometimes. Kylie wonders what it would be like to have a partner to share everything with. Some-one to teach Davy how to play football. Perhaps that would help him to join in with the others more; not be so timid. She sits, slightly hunched, and Davy snuggles up beside her. The door of Miss Walker's classroom opens, a family leaves, and Molly skips in ahead of her parents, almost dancing. The baby jigs up and down in his mother's arms. Kylie watches them with a sense of hopelessness. "Us next," she says. Kylie has spent all day remembering her own school days: struggling to concentrate, hopeless at maths. She never had an A for anything, never won a prize of any kind. She knows she isn't much of a looker either; Conky, that girl kept calling her, because of her nose. And she didn't really have scurvy like someone said. She remembers being rubbish at games. She hated PE, the changing rooms, the kit that hung off her thin frame, the heartiness of the netball team. Shivering on a frosty day. She knew Nan had tried hard with her. She'd been a rough and ready, get-on-out-there-and-do-it, don't-be-a-wimp, type of person. Loving, in her own way. Not some-one Kylie felt she could confide in, though. Till she had to. And of course her Nan stood by her. After all, it had happened before, to Kylie's Mum, hadn't it? History always repeats itself, Nan had said, folding her arms. Someone sits down heavily in the seat beside her, an older woman Kylie recognises from the park. Davy peeps round at her, then snuggles into his mother's side again. "I hope she's not going to take all night," says the woman. "I've got more to do than sit here all evening." There's nothing Kylie can say to that. She feels the woman's eyes upon her. "You his sister?" "No. His Mum." The woman swears, and Kylie blushes. "How old were you when you had him?" she asks rudely. "Fourteen." The woman gives a deep bellow of laughter, along with a nudge that sends the flimsy girl almost shunting Davy off his seat. Now it's Davy's turn for the woman's inspection. "Nice a nice little chap though, isn't he?" The woman leans forward a bit. "You know my Harry?" Davy nods. "Speak up Davy. The lady's talking to you." "I know Harry," he says obediently. "Is he a good boy at school?" Kylie feels Davy's hand gripping her arm. She knows he's not sure what to say to this rather frightening lady. He flicks his eyes at her, and away again, away from the big face awaiting his answer. "Forget it, kid." Harry's Gran leans back, arms folded mightily under her bosom, bracing herself for the forthcoming encounter with "this Miss Walker" as she calls her. Molly's family emerges from their interview. The little girl's still dancing. They are all smiling. Kylie guessed they would be. "Come on Davy," she says quietly. "Good luck," booms Harry's Gran, "and don't be in there all night." Miss Walker smiles at Kylie and Davy as they come into her room. She offers them chairs; Davy presses himself into his mother's side. Kylie sees the teacher every morning. She has to peel Davy away from her side, tears running down his cheeks. "Well," the teacher begins. She hesitates. "Davy is always well behaved. He's a gentle boy." She pauses. "He settles very quickly after you've left him. I know I've told you that before. You really mustn't worry about him." Kylie thinks this is like telling her she mustn't breathe, so she says nothing. "Now, Davy, what do you like about school?" Davy considers. "Tell the teacher," says Kylie "Playtime and home-time," says the small boy. Miss Walker takes a deep breath. "He's having a lot of difficulty with his reading. Do you practise at home?" "We've done a bit." "He really doesn't know his letters. It would help to practise every day." "He gets very tired. By the evening he's worn out. He… he doesn't want to read. He says it's too hard." "It is hard, Davy," says Miss Walker, "but I want you to try. Will you do that please?" Davy nods and says yes. He wants to please Miss Walker, he really does. "Let's show Mummy your books, shall we?" Kylie smiles and nods, trying to soothe Davy's apprehension. Her face changes as they turn the pages. It's with sorrow that she sees the spindly letters that required so much effort. They seem to have spread themselves out into a series of squashed meaningless shapes; several look like frying pans; and that one is definitely like a dead tadpole. Davy's drawings aren't much better. His rocket's banana'd across the sky, and the moon is like a blob of boiled cabbage. He looks away, ashamed. "I believe Davy might need extra help," says Miss Walker. "If it's all right with you, I'll set the ball rolling." Kylie swallows. Davy looks from his mother to his teacher, and back again. Miss Walker tells them what it will entail. She makes it sound all right. "A helpful adult working alongside Davy three or four hours a week might make all the difference," she says. Kylie stares at her, willing it to be true. "I've typed some notes out for you," she says. Kylie looks at her in a frightened kind of way. "It's all right," says Miss Walker gently. "It's a list, quite short, of ways you can help." She offers the paper to the girl. Kylie reacts as if she's been asked to hold a snake. She feels Miss Walker's eyes upon her. Davy takes her hand. "I'll do my best," she promises. "Good." "Is… is Davy good at anything?" asks Kylie. "Everyone is good at something," says Miss Walker. She sounds rather brisk. Kylie thinks their ten minutes must be up. She doesn't want to be a nuisance. "He will blossom given time, I'm sure," says the teacher. "Well, thank you," says Kylie. She stands up. "Thank you both for coming along. See you tomorrow, Davy. Don't forget, now. Practise that reading every day." The two go out together, holding hands, a pair of little grey shadows. Kylie leads Davy past Harry's Gran, who is heaving herself up. They go out through the school door, and back home across the park. Kylie wishes her Nan was still alive. She'd been a bit bossy, but she was always on Kylie's side, always saw a way out of troubles, said every cloud has a silver lining. Of course Kylie knows she isn't alone in the world. She has her son, this clingy little boy who relies on her for so many things. Kylie thinks about her Nan. She used to be there when Davy woke up at night, screaming after a nightmare. Now there isn't anyone else to sing him back to sleep. When he tumbles and falls, bangs his head, scrapes his elbow, it is entirely up to Kylie to make everything better. Davy was slow to walk and slow to talk, but Kylie didn't mind. Not really. Not much. She will do her best to help him learn to read. But the occasions she's tried in the past have always shown up her own inadequacies. That's the trouble. Kylie knows all about struggling to learn, to make sense of all those curls and lines and squiggles; and all the rest of it. They cross the park, the thin girl and the small boy, the world big and threatening around them. When they reach the horse chestnut tree, Davy slips his hand out of his mother's, stoops to pick up a conker. It lies in his hand, smooth and shiny and unspoilt. Davy strokes it gently. Then he holds it out. "It's a present for you," he says. A small moment, but special. Like Davy. Kylie smiles, bites her lip. "Thank you," she says. There's not much Davy's teacher can tell Kylie about her son, that she doesn't know already.
|Author:||Pam Fish||Date:||December 6, 2012 11:52 pm|
|Responses:||3 – open||Article:||1977 – published|
|Very helpful comments from judge. I read them an…||11-Dec-12||Ann White||Comment||Approved||9808|
|Will there be extracts of the winning stories pu…||11-Dec-12||Oliver||Comment||Approved||9794|
|Hello Oliver - Yes the first prize winner will b…||11-Dec-12||Pam Fish||Comment||Approved||9795|