Tall Tales, Short Stories writing competition – Winner: Lisa Elliot
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Lisa completed Fiona Vigo Marshall’s short story ‘The Street of Baths’:
The real Jaume, as real as he can be, has passed into the next room.
I wonder, can he hear me? Surely not. He always had a way of throwing his head back in mock despair, before the benign flash of teeth betrayed that he was happy to see you.
Venturing after him, I find the old man lying in a white bed. This room is more attractive: carvings in the headboard depict leaves and flowers.Terracotta, ceramic, wrought iron, red tiles, pale yellow stucco walls.
“Dispensi,” I say. A memory of my mother lift sits head up –she’s telling stories about her brother, and life before they were packed off to France. The chipped green door, which I glance at now, like a worn, old face, would never budge.Her body pressed against it, banging with closed fists.
Jaume’s words reeling in Catalan bring me back. “I heard from the priest that you were here again.”
“Not for long,”
“Well, I’m off now anyway, for good.” He retrieves a bottle top, arm quivering, and turns it contemplatively, “I wished to see her first, though. That’s why I’ve been waiting.”He means my mother.
I apologise, “I couldn’t find anyone closer to her than me.”
I’m her spit-image; in the stories I used to imagine myself in her place. Once this brought me to tears, when there was a black-out, hints of smoke, screaming, my mother crying, “He was always an idiot who had to make everyone laugh. It was obvious he’d die like that.”
Jaume’s breath can be heard making its way through lakes of tar in his lungs. I hate the sight of him. The skin is translucent veins are pulsing, purple blood. Not the Jaume of my memories, my mother’s stories, or the portrait. Wine in a bottle left open for too long.
“Promise to keep this apartment?” He pleads, “It’s the only place she knows to find me. We were here as children.”
I nod, although, like him, I have no control over the force that drags my feet along anymore. Understanding, he starts, “You must stay.” Thin, blanched hands seize me, “She will come back.”
My mother said the game had involved a stone Jaume had picked before they left Barcelona. When it struck him, neither hard nor fast, merely in the right spot, his body had collapsed instantly, like a burst balloon.
My brief kiss on his forehead sucks moisture from my lips. His grip loosens, I leave, blowing out candles so I can’t see, down abundant white stairs.
The namesake of the cathedral, Eulalia of Barcelona, was a virgin whose unclothed body was exposed in public. An unseasonable snowfall miraculously covered her, until maddened Romans forced her into a barrel stuck with knives and rolled her away.
Am I like the Romans? Have I killed my uncle, blessed with two lives?
Tremouring, I notice a new letter in one of the pigeon-holes, stained black, without words. I know it orders me to stay.
Tall Tales, Short Stories writing competition – Winner: Lisa Elliot, aged 17
Fiona Vigo Marshall gave this feedback:
What a delight to see two such engaged and sensitive responses to ‘The Street of Baths’ [see also Highly Commended entry Mileh Ahote]. I was impressed and touched by the way both stories seem to pick up on nuances and undertones in the original story, and to conjure the atmosphere of Barcelona and its heritage. The Catalan snatches of dialogue give a convincing touch of authenticity to each, with both pieces hinting at war and its underlying effects, while the background description is presented in two contrasting individual styles – one spare and condensed, the other more expansive. Fascinating to see two such different writers each developing a voice.
Lisa Elliott’s understated and evocative piece covers a lot of ground in a short space, with concise and simple language used to effect. Great use of dialogue to convey a subtle and convincing portrait of the dynamic between narrator, mother and uncle. I liked the use of allusion and suggestion to hint at areas where the story might continue beyond the page. Maybe Lisa could explore authors with a strong narrative voice to build on her strengths, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Raymond Carver, Katherine Mansfield and Muriel Spark. Well done, Lisa!
Tall Tales, Short Stories celebrates 20 years of the V.S. Pritchett Prize, the great range of the short story form, and what is possible when we use other writers as inspiration. Our anthology contains the first 500 words of winning entries to the Prize and of stories from judges over the past 20 years. Our Tall Tales, Short Stories competition asked those aged 14-18 to finish one of the stories with a new ending of their own.