Dear readers… we’re pleased to present the winning entry for the Mid May Competition. We were impressed to have received any entries at all, having given you such ridiculous entry requirements, but you’ve surpassed yourselves again, producing work of real quality from a silly starting point.
A runner-up will be posted on Sunday, but firstly congrats to Angela Readman, who wins a copy of Nik Perring’s new collection, Not So Perfect, and our general respect. Well done!
The End Of Spring
by Angela Readman
‘Ya areet Gilbert?’ she said. The girl was called Isobel on the register, but only her Ma had called her that. Now she was just ‘Tizzy,’ always running somewhere with no socks on her feet or bows in her hair. The boy was called Gilbert. He never suited ‘Bertie”. He nodded at Tizzy, eyes wet. One word and the dam would break under the weight of held back tears. Tizzy seemed to know this. She calmly walked in circles, taking the ribbon back around the boy tied to the pole. A more cunning boy could have ran, a stronger boy may have snapped the ribbons round his wrists. Once he was free, Gilbert walked beside Tizzy. She twisted long strands of her hair and sucked the tips.
‘Divn’t do that,’ he said. They sat on the embankment. He waited for her to ask why the lads strapped him to the Maypole, but she didn’t. They sat so long the sun lowered behind the hills around Chester le Street, a spill of rusted gold.
‘I was dancin’,’ Gilbert said. ‘I thought no one was around.’
He waited for her to laugh, to call him what they did. She thoughtfully chewed her hair. Gilbert knew he wasn’t like other lads, though didn’t know why. He’d seen morris dancers round the Maypole yesterday. Before the maypole’s colours were stored away for another year, Gilbert waited till it was clear, took one of his father’s handkerchiefs out of his pocket and had a few minutes just dancing, weaving in and out of the air round the pole, ribbon twisting, the air rushing to greet his face.
‘Like this?’ Tizzy said. She jumped up and began dancing round Gilbert as if he were the pole and her hand held an invisible thread tied to him. Gilbert joined in. Together they danced around something that wasn’t there until they fell on the ground, dizzy and pink.
‘Won’t you get wrong fer not being hyem?’ Gilbert asked. He knew it was just Tizzy and her Da. Gilbert often saw him stagger home long after the street lamps were lit. Everyone knew the lass was alone.
‘Nah, divn’t fret,’ Tizzy said. Just as it was almost dry, she took a few strands of hair and placed them between her lips.
‘Here, let me,’ Gilbert said. He knew proper lads didn’t know this, how to take hair and soothe it into a plait. Gilbert had watched his mother comb out his sisters tangles enough times to see how it was done. He once asked his mother if he could try.
‘Get a load of him, the little hairdresser!’ his Ma laughed. His sisters partings were straighter than when she did their hair. While the other boys at scouts made shank knots , Gilbert took three ropes and imagined it was hair.
He stood behind Tizzy now and combed his fingers through. The hair felt silky as new blades of grass. He pulled the hair back from the sides of her head and created sections to begin his plait. In, round, swap hands, down, just like dancing round a maypole. Gilbert knew, like the first time he’d seen his mother do her hair, like when he saw the morris dancers, he knew he could do this. Use a plait to stop Tizzy biting her hair. His fingers brushed the back of Tizzy’s neck.
Tizzy winced, curled like a snail retreating to its shell. Gilbert gasped.
‘Divn’t…’ Tizzy said.
Gilbert stood staring at the back of Tizzy’s neck. She was crouched with her back to him, head drawn to her shoulders. Gilbert stared at the back of her neck. It was grubby, but over the dirt was bright pink, smooth V, the shape of the front of an iron fresh from the grate. Tizzy’s cheeks burned with shame almost as hot as the scar.
‘I scorched his best shirt,’ she said.
Gilbert didn’t know what to say. He had less words for what he felt than how he was different to the other boys. Some of those words he’d heard spat out. They were words he’d never say. But this was something else. He felt it was different to the lads on his street getting whacked with a slipper when they mouthed off. His Ma would say ‘we’ll get no thanks for sticking our nose in.’ His Da would say his father’s belt never did him any harm.
The way Tizzy cringed made him frightened. When the teacher called ‘Isobel Jennings?’ and no one said ‘Aye Miss’ his heart seemed to beat for two. He remembered the exact moment he decided that without the right words all he could do was stand closer to the back of Tizzy’s head and begin to plait.