The Dublin Review of Books is pleased to announce the winners of the first drb Flash Fiction Competition and to thank the authors of the 167 stories submitted from around the world. The prize for the winning story is €1,000.
The winner is Sheilagh Foley for her story Stage Fright. The two runners up are Brigid O’Connor for Girls Can’t Fish and Penny Jones for A Note on the Borrowing of your Home. Special thanks to our judges: James Ryan and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne.
I had rehearsed my opening line out loud for the fifth and final time. The shaking in my left hand had spread to my right and my entire body was reverberating in sympathy. The balls of sweat tore down my face, pooling in the corner of my eyeballs before nose-diving and coming to rest on the drenched moustache of my upper lip. The moustache, of course, was fake, as was the dark wig. My trembling hand completed the final touch, sunglasses in place. My ten-year-old daughter called it “dress up”; I called it survival.
I had being doing this type of gig for thirty years. I wasn’t supposed to make a career out of it, that happened by accident. I was young, the money was quick and easy, it was all under the table, no taxes, no questions. I did try and get out of it once, took a nine to five job, shuffling paper. Sammy ‘the voice’ De Coursey got me back in the game, “the thrill, the glamour, the women … the danger…”, he talked a good talk.
When I was young it was a different story, nerves were something old ladies suffered from, I was cock of the walk. I looked around the dingy white van I was sitting in now, and remembered the glory days when we’d turn up to venues in flash cars. But they were all gone now, as well as Sammy there was Philly “the hair” Maloney (bald as a coot), and Terry “the tool” Hatchet, none of the old crew were around anymore. Some had gone to the big house in the sky, some bought their big house and retired, others just ended up in the big house.
I had tried everything to stop the trembling and the sweating and the palpitations. I saw psychotherapists, hypnotherapists, even went to a physiotherapist once. It was always the same, I’d be upfront about my career and the pressure that came with it, it intimidated them, they’d start trembling themselves, “star struck” the wife called it. At the wife’s insistence I tried acupuncture – unmitigated disaster. It was like Chinese torture, for every needle he stuck in me I had to give the guy a slap!
Clearing my throat and wiping the dribbling sweat from my brow, I got out of the car. Reaching into my pocket I held tight to my prop, kids sometimes carried security blankets or toys with them for comfort, this was mine. It was my last hurrah, the gig I promised my wife I would retire on. I channelled my nerves into energy as I climbed the steps. There was a hum of quiet activity as the small crowd waited. The door swung shut dimming the lights, the show was about to begin. I raised my hand gripping my security tight and roared my opening line …
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a robbery.”
Girls Can’t Fish
Girls can’t fish, they said.
The boys and the men huddled together, loading the Ford Anglia on a wet summer’s morning, the day damp and misty and full of promise.
It’s pouring out, I thought, as I filled the checked flask full of hot, sweet tea.
They’ll get soaked, I thought gleefully, as I sliced large chunks of warm bread for their wrapped, wax-papered lunches.
“It’s a perfect day for fishing,” my father said, rubbing his hands together with excitement.
He spent another ten minutes removing his hand-tied fishing flies from the family bath, where they had been test-driven for three days.
“A bit of dirt won’t do you any harm,” he had said that morning, as I viewed the artificial flies lying mournfully in the bath.
I put my sponge bag back in my room and sprayed myself with eau de cologne instead.
“Girls can’t fish,” the boys and men said, when they were forced to bring me on a fishing trip one grey, wet Sunday.
They stuck me on the window side, knowing I’d spend the journey untying my plaits from the catch on the window. I didn’t care. Instead, I smiled and watched the rain trail down the window.
“Perfect fishing weather,” I thought.
On the outskirts of Kells, Co Meath, on a lonely stretch of weed-choked river, I caught a fish.
“That’s a sea trout,” my father said, “they are a difficult fish to catch, they have to swim a long way here from the sea.”
He looked at me suspiciously and with a strange awe, like I suddenly had all the answers to all the questions in the universe.
The boys couldn’t quite compliment me, their body language negative, eyes down, empty nets for the entire world to see.
“Girls can’t kill fish,” the boys said, handing me a mallet.
A note on the borrowing of your home
Dear Mrs O’Riordan,
I write to you respectfully with news of your home. I send this note also on the understanding that you are suffering from dementia and have neither the ability to read it, nor the family members to open it on your behalf and alter the current state of affairs.
Your garden is flourishing. I have taken seeds from the neighbours and planted some trees with bright red flowers. I have scraped back the moss which was making the path slippery.
The inside of your house is also well cared for. We have put up an antique Sri Lankan painting, belonging to a short-term resident who has now gone, but who left the artwork with us for safe keeping.
Although you are old and belong to a conservative generation, I know you are open-minded, as I’ve read all the books on your shelves. I liked Jeanette Winterson very much – and also The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.
Anyhow, since you were taken to the nursing home, I saw your house was empty, so I moved in. I’ve installed new locks, as the old ones meant I had to climb in and out through the windows.
I’ve opened a sort of transit shelter for the city’s dispossessed – the refugees, the transsexuals, the homeless. People, dare I say it, like you and me.
I hope they are treating you well in your nursing home. I understand these can be depressing and frightening places, but perhaps you have wonderful companions, real and imagined, and the hands of gentle nurses to tend you. I hope so.
Thank you for sharing your home.