The Dublin Review of Books is pleased to announce the winners of its 2011 Flash Fiction Competition. First prize goes to Nuala Ní Chonchúir for her story “The Egg Pyramid”. Second is Percy Herbert with “Daisy” and third Eunice Yeates with “May”.
The Egg Pyramid
There are things you can do when your husband sleeps with your sister. You can sit in your studio and imagine them together, the toad and the mouse. Him moving over her. Her on top of him. You can hear dark skin slap against honey skin; you can hear moans. But he is your toad and she is your mouse – your Diego and your Cristina – so you drown those thoughts because they bring more tears than a blood-letting.
But there are things you can do. You can take the pins from your hair and unweave the plaits. Then you can use a scissors to hack off the lengths. You can scatter the strands on the floor and on your yellow chair, where they lie like snakes. The dogs and monkeys – who still love you – can watch. You can forgo silver rings and turquoise beads. You can dress like a man, in a baggy grey suit and maroon shirt. You can hang your Tijuana dresses in the closet and shut the door on their gaiety.
What else can you do? Well, you can imagine his seed nestling in your sister’s womb and blossoming. You can witness a baby – a boy, let’s say – making a hard melon of her belly. You have never had a ripe stomach. Three times that might have happened for you; three times you bled your baby out before anyone knew that you too could give life. You can look at your sister’s children and ask yourself if they have features that belong to your husband – drooping eyes, full lips, cruelty.
You can count up the seven years you have lived together and you can see that there are plenty of itches to be scratched on both sides. You know that Diego’s urge to scratch burns more than yours; his need is eternal. You can leave your house and take a flat in the heart of Mexico, to create a space for your husband to sulk into and for your sister to wonder in. You can fly to New York then hurry home again, because Diego pulls on you the way mother moon pulls on the sea.
Your husband is an accident that happened to you but he is also your north and south. And, because you love him more than your own skin, you can try to accept and you can try to forgive. You can shrug off the pain that pinches like a body brace and throw laughter bombs out into the world to blow up the hurt that remains.
But, when your sister sleeps with your husband, it is like balancing a pyramid of eggs on a glass platter on the top of your head. You dare not move much for fear of what might happen. The best thing that you can do is to take your brush in one hand, your palette in the other, and sit at your easel and paint. Yes, you can paint.
Daisy they called her, because of the flower on the hair band she wore. Her name was Georgina, but the boys didn’t care. To them, she was Daisy.
“Get her, Mike!” said the tallest, Dan. Mike ran after her, across the grass, towards me. She screamed as she ran; fell to her knees as if she knew she would be caught.
“Hold her down,” Dan said. All the boys wore the same – dark grey shorts to their knees, light blue short-sleeved shirts.
Mike had her by the wrists; his chubby, freckled hands clasped her pale flesh, making her skin red. He didn’t smile, just held her, eyes down, away from her bare legs. I looked at her face – bright green eyes, soft blonde hair; pigtails. She should be scared. I was scared, but she was smiling.
Dan knelt next to her, two others behind him, peering over his shoulders.
“Now we’ve got you,” he said. Why was she smiling?
Dan reached for the hem of her dress – white and pale-blue checks. The same dress every girl wore, except they weren’t all scuffed green at the back. He pulled at it but she wriggled, twisted her knees together. Still smiling.
“Hold her legs!”
She kicked and fought, but giggled. Small hands clasped thin ankles; white flowered socks under brown sandals. Light hairs on her legs, showing themselves in the sunlight. The boys were in a circle around her, waiting for their prize. I moved closer, curious, but worried. I looked for a teacher but couldn’t see one. Dan looked up.
“You coming for a look or what?” he said. I started to reply but couldn’t; didn’t know what to say. I twisted my fingers around the stick I was holding; picked at its bark. He turned away, back to Daisy.
Dan’s hands scuffled with her twisting dress, moving it up her thighs. Arms and legs wriggling, desperate. Still smiling. Plain white pants, the tops of the insides of her legs. Dan’s fingers kept going, clawing the elastic. Her legs kicked, her head squirmed back; her eyes found me, standing just outside the arena. Her arena. She smiled.
“Go on Dan,” one of the boys said. They had let go of her legs, held her wrists only in a cursory pinch. She stopped struggling, resigned; looked at Dan. Daring him. Dan pulled, pants to knees, Daisy revealed. The boys stood back. Looking; not looking. Daisy smiling.
They jogged back towards the concrete. She sat on the ground, arranging her dress and underwear. I wanted to ask if she was okay, but I just stood still, picking at my stick.
She got up and pushed her dress down, then looked at me. I turned away, started back towards the trees.
“Pervert!” she said behind me. I turned and watched her running back to the playground, then knelt on the ground and started killing ants with my stick.
My name is June. Don’t ask me if I was born in June because I wasn’t. May 21st, 1961, is when I came into this world and if you want to know why they didn’t call me May, I’ll tell you.
My sunny name had been picked out and settled upon, ready and waiting for me. But I arrived early, more of a shock than a surprise. We arrived early, I should say. I had a twin who died at birth. As you see, I lived. My unfortunate parents; I imagine they were so demented with grief and loss that they had no spirit to find a new name for me. I was not told what they planned to call my sister; we never spoke about her. Possibly they hadn’t even known there were two babies.
My name has needled me all my life, a sharp reminder that I showed up before I was welcome and killed my twin in the process. Not that they ever said that to me, nor anything like it. They were nice people; quiet, kind, old enough when they had me – us – but a sadness was always in them. It’s also in me. Anyway, they’ve been dead some years now. One went very soon after the other. Was that to teach me a lesson? You’re not supposed to survive your other half. Not for long anyway, it’s bad manners.
So there’s just me. A middle-aged orphan; an incomplete person; a twin who’s never known a sibling except, I suppose, in utero. But don’t ask me any new age questions about that. Yes, of course I know that I’m a Gemini. The Twins. Ironic. A cosmic joke, just like my given name.
Apparently I came out first, tiny and fierce. My sister was not strong. For thirty weeks, perhaps I took more than my share of nutrients; maybe I bullied her out of the way to have the best spot for myself; I might have elbowed past her to reach the birth channel first. I don’t know.
I’ve been the librarian at a secondary school for girls, a convent school, for almost thirty years. I don’t like the students, nor the nuns, nor the books. But I don’t let on. I’ll retire early, not wealthy, not impoverished.
There was a suitor once but it was a sorry business and aren’t I as well out of all that?
I’m scared of little except being infirm and helpless while hateful strangers manhandle me for a fee. I may orchestrate my own end yet; I think about that often. Indeed I may.