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FlAsH Fiction Contest 2023

 

We’re into the third year of the annual writing contest and this year Foil Arms and Hog returned with a video plug and merch prizes for the winners.  I introduced two new categories: a bi-lingual poem award and a memorial prize in honor of Lorilie Atkinson, a FAHn who we lost last year and who had won twice in previous contests.  Both of these awards came with their own guidelines and requirements above and beyond what was already expected from the general submissions.  The writers who received these awards rose to the occasion and produced truly beautiful pieces.  As well, Ilona (itjes_drawings) agreed to be involved this year to provide the FAHn to FAHn prize for the named winner of Lorilie's award. I'm truly grateful for her support. 

 

With two new judges on board, Sue Cole and Martina Straetz, we rallied the FAHns across the world with creative announcements and lots of encouragement to submit.  We received 40 pieces of writing: 23 short stories and 17 poems, 4 of which were in the bi-lingual category.   I have to say that without Sue and Martina's involvement I do not believe we would have every reached the number of submissions that we did.  They are simply wonderful! 

 

Judging was tough and a real challenge this year as the quality of writing was truly superb and the range of stories, characters, and subject matter, vast.  Poems dealt with personal explorations and a love for FAH, meet & greets, Thursdays, Mrs. Geraghty, various sketches and even FAH’s doomdah.  Short stories explored the characters of Stephen & Gerald, Tiernan Callahan, and Bittle’s sister, Bertha, as she went on a gluten free trek.  Writers tackled such subjects as trips to Dunbooey (or Dunboring as Oisín calls it), taking FAH on a space odyssey, and the Snob encountering 18th century composers, just to name a few.  

 

Still, Barry, Anne and Oisín remain the most popular FAH characters to write about and we received 10 short stories, all of which in some aspect compelled us to see this popular trio in a new light.  So, suffice to say that it was hard for us to finally come up with a set of winners.

 

A huge “thank you” to Foil Arms and Hog for, once again, supporting this contest and the writing aspirations of FAHns!  As well, I’m grateful to everyone who took that brave step of submitting their work to be read and judged. This is never an easy thing to do, but the number of submissions this year shows me that this contest is well worth it. There is just an unbelievable amount of creative people in this fahndom community and I’m so happy to be able to offer a way to showcase their writing! 

Special Categories

Lorilie Atkinson Memorial Award: Jenny Winter

Statement of Inspiration: I was inspired to write this as receiving a Patreon notification is always the highlight of my day! I'm often at work when the notification sounds so I have to decide if I can wait to watch it later (answer: no) and then where I can go to watch it. I never risk watching it at my desk and laughing uncontrollably like an idiot, so I try to find somewhere quiet. Whenever I receive a notification though, I'm sure everyone deliberately floods to all the quiet places! It's super fun while I'm heading somewhere to think what the post will be about. There have been some amazing posts, but there's always one that goes down particularly well, which I reference at the end of the poem! I'm 99% sure this is universal for us all as fahns, so I'm hoping you enjoy the poem!

Note: This special award was given to Jenny Winter because the judges felt that she reflected the same joy, delight and wonder that Lorilie captured in her own writing, especially in her poem, "An Open Letter to the Makers of Sudocrem." And that like Lorilie, Jenny offered readers a universal feeling of community and love for FAH. 

That Patreon Ping

 

It arrives with a flash or a buzz or a ping,

and you know what it means, this wonderful thing.

 

It's a Patreon post, so it's now up to you:

watch it here at your desk, or hide out in the loo?

 

Maybe some outtakes or news of a tour?

A presale, some photos or maybe all four? 

 

I'm up from my desk, work left far behind.

Extra bits, merch, a neat hard drive find?

 

I'm dodging my boss as I run down the stair.

A show link, some improv, or things that they wear?

 

The toilets are queued up, I'll nip to the Hall.

Maybe we'll watch for a hanger to fall?

 

Still too busy, I must have some space.

A song about hair or a tour of a place?

 

Hundreds of coins rolling into a box?

Where can I find a door that just locks?

 

Maybe I should have glanced at the preview?

Could it be a return of the emu?

 

The canteen is busy, I'm starting to rage.

A poll, a podcast, or something backstage?

 

The staff room is empty, enough of my stressing.

A time lapse, a diary, cool lighting, or messing?

 

The moment is here, no more need to daydream.

Oh yes, it's amazing, a brand-new live stream!

Bi-Lingual Poetry Award: Gabsie

Statement of Inspiration: I decided to write about Tomato, one of Foil's recurring characters, because I am in awe of his tenacity in fighting for his right to party. He could have given up the first time, at the Vegetable's Party, yet he came back for more rejection at the Fruit's Party, until he got what he wanted, only to be refused once again. But he will wake up tomorrow, put his beret and his best smile on and try some more. The language I chose is Italian, which I think suits his more fiery and over-dramatic reactions. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his determination and positive attitude; actually he gets some bad press, so that’s why this is for him. 

Essere o non essere (un frutto?)

 

He strolls towards Coconut, cautious yet smoothly.

He is there for the party. Oh yes, absolutely.

“Son qui per la gran festa di tutti quanti i frutti,        

Sian snelli e alti e belli o grassi e bassi e brutti.”       

 

The lanky lad knows he will put up a fight.

Only regular ones. Sorry mate, not tonight.

“Qui passa solo frutta, non è ammessa la verdura;

Dai, dammi un documento, ma mi pare proprio dura.”

 

All sorts of dull fruits are allowed in, no check. 

Breadfruit? Bread?? BREAD??? What the heck?

“‘Tu non sei una verdura’, han sbottato all’altra festa.

Mentre adesso tu sostieni che lo sono. Ho mal di testa!”

 

It’s a conspiracy against him! How can he win?

He threatens to strip and the bouncer gives in.

Lieto fine? Mica tanto. Prugna parla e assai lo annoia.

“Le susine son sublimi, cotte, crude e in salamoia.”

 

He is a fruit, so he is. There’s no more need to frown.

Yet one at the party still puts his foot down.

“Ci facciamo macedonia, che grandissima goduria!

Tutti quanti ma non TU,” lo rimbrotta secco Anguria.

 

Se mi sento fuori luogo penso al Rosso col baschetto

Che ci prova e mai si abbatte. E’ per lui questo sonetto.

 

Author's note: I used the word sonetto, knowing full well this is not what it is, but it rhymed so beautifully. I couldn’t resist.

 

English Translation:

To be or not to be (a fruit?)

 

He strolls towards Coconut, cautious yet smoothly.

He is there for the party. Oh yes, absolutely.

“I am here for the big party for all the fruits 

Whether thin, tall and beautiful or fat, short and ugly.”

 

The lanky lad knows he will put up a fight.

Only regular ones. Sorry mate, not tonight.

“Only fruits can go in, no vegetables allowed.

Just give me some ID, but it’s unlikely [you’ll get in].”

 

All sorts of dull fruits are allowed in, no check. 

Breadfruit? Bread?? BREAD??? What the heck?

“‘You are not a vegetable,’ they told me at the other party

Now you are saying that I am. What a headache!”

 

It’s a conspiracy against him! How can he win?

He threatens to strip and the bouncer gives in.

Happy ending? Not really. Prunes bores him to death.

“Plums are sublime, boiled, raw or in brine.”

 

He is a fruit, so he is. There’s no more need to frown.

Yet one at the party still puts his foot down.

“Let’s all make a fruit salad, it will be sheer bliss!

Everyone but YOU,” Watermelon reproaches him dryly.

 

If  I feel out of place I think of the red lad with the beret,

He tries and never gives up. This sonnet is for him.

FlAsH Fiction Poetry Winners

 

1st Place: Squirrels for Short

Statement of Inspiration: A while back, I had a FAHn theory about the sketches Start-Ups Vol 1 and Why You’ll Never Buy a House in Ireland being in the same universe. This also led me to linking Renting in the City and Kidnap Victims Return Home, and I unofficially renamed the latter “Irish Housemates Break Free From the Rental Market”. Caitríona O’Brien suggested it sounded like a FAH song (It’s Hard to Break Free from a Union), and even wrote a couple of verses, and I loved that idea so much I just carried on, writing more verses/stanzas in a style similar to that of the song. Though to be fair, I did have to drop a stanza to be within the line limit for this competition, and I never actually attempted to write a Really Fast Bit.

It's Hard To Break Free From Renting

 

In a room the size of a postage stamp

It’s always dark and continually damp

I sleep in a drawer that says “Here lies Champ”

It’s hard to break free from renting

 

My student debt is far too deep

Repayments make me want to weep

And the Luas Tannoy won’t let me sleep

It’s hard to break free from renting

 

In a town with space in high demand

The landlord has cut off my hand

My housemate smiles and just says “You’re grand!”

It’s hard to break free from renting

 

Mount Merrion, Dalkey and Sandycove

Foxrock and Temple and Palmerston Road

Sandymount, Clyde Road and Park Avenue

Will always be out of the price range for you

 

Clondalkin, Finglas, Ballyfermot

Jobstown and places the wealthy forget

Darndale, Mountjoy, Blanchardstown too

Are the only options available to you

 

Be sceptical of those who promise to fulfil dreams

Location and value is often not as it seems

Don’t fall for those dastardly developer schemes

They’ll never let you break free from renting

2nd Place: Jen Jen Wren

Statement of Inspiration: This poem is a true reflection of my experience with spoilers re: the Hogwash show, with many aspects of the show genuinely being spoiled before I had the chance to see it, and then reflecting on my own efforts to keep my social media and Thursday comments spoiler-free, despite bubbling over with praise and love for the show. The poem itself is an ode to Foil Arms and Hog's comedic genius and ability to make us all laugh at the most unexpected things. Please note: this poem IS about Hogwash. But the way it is written does not give anything away. It is an anti-ode to spoilers, after all.

I Really Hate a Spoiler

I really hate a spoiler

For a show I’m yet to see.

Like a photo of 3 clowns with (redacted);

Or flying (redacted) on the balcony.

 

A photo of 3 men on stage

With (redacted) being played,

Which usually wouldn’t be so bad

But the (redacted) gave it away.

 

A reference to new (redacted) (redacted);

The mention of (redacted) with (redacted);

A brand new sketch about a (redacted)

That gets you right in the feels.

 

But then I saw the show…

 

And Oh! I loved the (redacted);

Though it gave me quite a fright!

And the (redacted) about the (redacted);

(I heard its different every night!).

 

The joke about the returning (redacted),

Filled with puns galore;

The (redacted) about the (redacted) 

That leaves you gasping on the floor.

 

I loved when (redacted) smirked (redacted),

And when (redacted)’s response was (redacted),

And now I, myself, post photos of 

(redacted) (redacted) (redacted). 

3rd Place: Dilemmasaurus

Statement of Inspiration: The Lads have talked about how ridiculous they felt when they made Vegetables Throw a Party, but not only did they create a classic sketch, they created an iconic character in Tomato. I love poor Tomato, Foil so finely balances his pathos and neediness. This poem came to me title first - as a parody of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, though the similarity ends there. It has always struck me how many attendees at the Vegetable party straddle both camps, depending whether the guest list was drawn up by a chef or a botanist. And so, the seed of an idea was planted, took root and bore fruit… Or bore vegetables, if you ask a chef.

Tomato's Not the Only Fruit

 

Tomato’s not the only fruit

Whose eyes were opened wide,

To learn a little botany

And take a look inside

 

Poor Aubergine discovered that,

Although he disagreed

With his sexy reputation,

He is truly full of seed

 

The Peppers took it rather well,

On learning as a lot

That they were really fruit at heart,

They argued ‘we’re still hot’

 

Or Cucumber, who reasoned that

‘Though salads are iconic

I’m as at home on either side’

And embraced gin and tonic

 

Courgette, his distant cousin, too

Was sanguine when he read

That though he’s great in roasted veg

He also makes sweet bread

 

But spare a thought for Rhubarb who,

Brought into disrepute,

Found out he is a vegetable

And never was a fruit

Honorable Mention in Poetry [here]

FlAsH Fiction Short Story Winners

1st Place: Rosemary

Statement of Inspiration: I was inspired to write about Tiernan calling bingo in the process of attempting to write something based on the prompt provided last year of Tiernan presenting Eurovision. I needed Tiernan to say something a bit strange at one point so I had him say a bingo call about one of the song numbers and then it hit me, Tiernan calling bingo could be a good sketch too! Once I started to think about it I realised it was a good situation for him because it was a realistic presentation setting like a wedding or funeral where you have to give a speech. There is an audience to react to him like in the funeral sketch and the bingo ball numbers with their associated phrases are a great jumping off point.

A Newsreader Calls Bingo

 

A sea of grey heads bob over wooden tables. On the slightly raised stage at the far end of the room a man with a dog collar in a simple jumper and cords tries to get their attention. He clasps his hands together and leans forward as he interrupts the chatter almost apologetically, “Hello there, you’re all very welcome along to our Tuesday afternoon bingo session. This week as a special treat after the sad loss of Dominic, to really lift our spirits we’re going to have a guest bingo caller! You might remember him from seeing him reading the news on the television, it’s Tiernan Callaghan.”

       “Good evening, I’m Tiernan Callaghan, it’s five minutes to six.”

       “Is it time for the news?”

       “Is it time for tea?”

       “We’ve only just had lunch, you daft bat!”

       “What happened to Pointless?”

       “This is pointless!”

The organiser turns the handle to spin the red wire cage full of colourful balls. They rattle as they bounce around until one breaks free and runs to the end of the wire chute. The organiser hands it to Tiernan.

       “Alright, eyes down, thumbs up!” Tiernan does a thumbs up.

       “It’s just- nevermind.”

       “First this lunchtime, Ate Nothing, 80. This newsreader has not had breakfast.”

       “Oh, can I get you a biscuit, Tiernan?’’ The organiser darts off and returns with a plate of biscuits.

       “Our top story, Rishi’s Den, Number 10 refuses to comment on claims he’s bedded in for the winter.” He’s handed another ball. “This just in, buckle my shoe, 32.” He turns expectantly to the organiser who frowns back. Tiernan points at his shoe.

The organiser’s face clears. “Ah, it’s just a bingo expression.”

Tiernan points at his shoe again. The organiser reluctantly comes forward, once alongside Tiernan he looks up at him questioningly again, Tiernan nods and he crouches down.

      “These are lace ups!”

      “News just in, Old Ireland, 17,” Tiernan’s voice becomes rich and full, “old as time, land of our forefathers, full of historic castles and landscapes, meets new Ireland, ready for city breaks and to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with you. Visit Ireland.”

The crowd blinks up at him. “We are in Ireland!” someone calls.

       “Now we cross to our nature correspondent, David O’Brien.”

A curly haired man in a blue shirt and chinos is crouched on the floor next to a table of four old people. “Thank you Tiernan,” he whispers into the microphone he’s holding. “I have been living among these elderly residents for almost 10 minutes now. They have accepted me as one of their sons. So far I have been told I’ve grown, told I’ve changed, asked when I’m getting married, asked when I’m giving them grandkids, asked why I don’t visit more often, been given a Werther's Original and asked to fix the TV.”

The little old lady next to him turns to him glassy eyed. “Who are you?”

The balding man with a combover sitting across from her suddenly points at him. “You’re not my son!”

David freezes under their gaze for a second then turns and runs away.

       “Thank you, David. Make Them Wait, 58.’ Tiernan stands still and stares into the middle distance.

The players turn to look at each other.

The organiser approaches tentatively. “Um, Tiernan? Tiernan? The bingo?”

       “And we’re back!” Tiernan announces. “This just in,” the organiser hands him another ball wearily. “Old Age Pension, 65.”

      “You wish!”

      “This just in, Two Little Ducks, 22, have been sighted on a nearby body of water.”

Heads perk up.

       “No, no,” the organiser steps forward quickly, “there’s no ducks on the pond, they all flew south for the winter, remember?”

       “Awww,” sighs the crowd.

       “Unconfirmed sightings. Habitat loss means many of our native birds are disappearing-”

      “Next ball!”

      “This just in, Time For Tea, 83.”

The sound of chairs scraping fills the room as all the players get up and shuffle towards the tea caddy at the back of the room.

      “No, it’s just the bingo phrase!” says the organiser coming forward in consternation.

      “It is time for tea though,” replies one little old lady.

      “Meanwhile, in local news,” says Tiernan once everyone has got their tea. “Stuck In A Tree, 53, a cat was rescued earlier today before promptly climbing the tree again. The owner, Anne O’Connor was mystified but stated she had lost a cat before. Her neighbours could not be reached for comment.”

      “Do we know them?” asks someone.

      “Health news now, Two Fat Ladies, 88. The obesity crisis means a growing number of people are overweight-”

The crowd shift in their chairs and someone nudges a plate of biscuits out of view.

       “Particularly among the elderly.” 

      “It’s the rich food they give us here!” calls one man as the woman next to him tips a plate of biscuits into her handbag.

      “Some breaking news now, Lads On Tour, 24.”

      “Oi oi! Lads lads lads!” cheers a group of older men in matching dark blue shirts.

      “Ooh, whizzboppers!” exclaims the priest.

      “I remember whizzboppers!”

      “In my day they were called gobstoppers.”

      “In my day if you bopped your whizz, that was it! You were out!” rages one man.

       “I haven’t bopped my whizz in a long time,” says another old man mournfully.

      “This just in, All The Threes, 33.”

      “Sherwood Forest!”

      “Other forests are available. Newsreader disputes claim three sounds like tree after years of vocal training. Now, Selfie Time, Number 9.” Tiernan takes out his phone and holds it up. The organiser leans in hoping to get into the picture but Tiernan holds the phone straight in front of him maintaining a serious expression, takes a picture then puts it away again.

       “Bingo!”

A mutter of discontent ripples around the room.

      “There has been a disturbance at a bingo event in Dublin this afternoon. We cross to our correspondent on the ground, Colin Whitaker.”

Colin is running through the tables in a dark green combat helmet and stab vest. “Thank you, Tiernan, I am approaching the scene now.” He runs onto the carpeted area at the back of the room and across to a tall grey-haired lady in a high-backed armchair. Falling to his knees, he asks, “Can you explain what’s going on here?” before sticking his microphone in her face.

The sour-faced old lady in the rich green dress with the white lace collar and the purple anorak replies, ‘‘I just don’t like bingo.”

A great roar of boos goes up and they are pelted with bingo sheets and pens, followed by biscuits, glasses and finally false teeth.

      “I’m coming under fire! Back to you Tiernan!”

      “Thank you, Colin.”

      “Now, now, Mrs. Geraghty, you know you’re not allowed to shout bingo if you’re not playing,” says the priest jollily.

      “Go to hell!”

      “You’ll be the one-” He snaps before composing himself. “Ahem. Anyway, back to the bingo.”

      “Now, Tickle Me, 63.”

The organiser steps forward gamely.

Tiernan turns and holds up a finger. “No! Not this time!”

The organiser hesitates then steps back before sheepishly handing him another ball.

       “This just in, Torquay in Devon, 87. An establishment in this area did not meet the trading standards of this newsreader. Complaints levelled against the establishment included farty towels.”

       “I’ve had some of those!”

       “Some breaking news now, Goodbye Teens, 19. Police are continuing to search for three teenagers-”

The old people’s eyes widen.

      “They’ll be fine.” The priest steps in front of Tiernan and waves his arms placatingly. “The Lord will be looking out for them.”

       “A local dogwalker reported finding-”

      “Next ball!” he almost yells.

      “In culinary news, Chicken Vindaloo, 52. The number of hours this newsreader spent on the toilet after-”

      “Right, thank you Tiernan.”

      “And finally, Red Raw, 64. The state of this newsreader’s-”

      “Thank you, Tiernan!” he shouts.

Tiernan shuffles imaginary papers and pretends to talk to him.

The organiser hustles him offstage knocking over the bingo cage.

 

      “Our next guest bingo caller is former horse racing commentator Richard Barry. We’ve had to borrow a tombola turner for this.” He spins the octagonal box and opens the little door in the top of it to hand a ball to Richard.

      “It’s 34,” he reaches immediately for another ball. The organiser is startled but hands him another. “From 14,” he reaches for another, “from 73,” and another, “but now 82,” and another, “then 90.”

The organiser chances a glance around the room. Some players are staring at their score sheets in paralysed horror, some are still putting their glasses on or peering at the sheet looking for the first number, others are stamping furiously and seemingly randomly.

The organiser struggles to keep his eyes on the balls he is passing. “And it’s 13, from 25, now 63-”

      “Bingo!”

      “Yes!” the organiser steps forward quickly and points into the crowd, “Mrs. Geraghty’s got it! Well, that’s all the bingo we’ve got time for today.” He quickly ushers Richard offstage.

2nd Place: Jenny Crookes

Statement of Inspiration: When I look at some FAH characters, I find myself wondering why they are the way they are. Tiernan is one of those characters. Just being a newsreader wouldn't explain his manner of speech, so what is the explanation? When I started to think about it, I wondered, could it be a coping mechanism? Delving into that, lead to this story. As someone who battles with anxiety in social situations, some of the difficulties Tiernan struggles with in this story with are mine. However, the solution he comes up with is uniquely Tiernan!

Finding His Voice 

 

“I’m just so worried about him, Shauna. It’s been difficult enough up to now, how will he manage as he gets older? How will he get through secondary school? Or hold down a job?”

 

Distracted momentarily from counting his football cards, Tiernan peered out from beneath the tablecloth of the dining table, and watched through a gap in the door as his Auntie Shauna placed an arm around his mother where they sat together in the living room.

 

He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, he knew listening in on other people’s conversations was wrong, and he tried hard to do things right, and follow the rules. However hearing his name mentioned had caught his attention. And surely it wouldn’t be wrong to listen if they were talking about him, would it? He frowned. Figuring out how he was supposed to behave was so hard sometimes. 

The sound of his aunt’s voice drew his attention back to the living room, and, although feeling slightly guilty, he continued to listen.

 

“I know it’s hard love, but try not to worry yourself. He’s such a lovely, respectful boy. And so smart! Just look at how well he does with his schoolwork! He’s only young yet, I’m sure it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of. And if not, well, we’re all here to support him, and you. We’ll work it out, I promise.”

 

“But he won’t talk Shauna!”

 

His aunt rubbed his mother’s back, “I know love, I know. But the doctors say there’s no reason why he can’t, maybe he just needs time?”

 

“He’s 10 years old, surely that’s enough time? I keep wondering, what if it’s something I did wrong? He was a quiet toddler, but he did used to babble a little while he was playing. And, as he got a bit older, we’d hear him reading words out loud to himself. He wouldn’t talk directly to us, but we thought that he'd get more confident with his speech with time. Then, when he went to school, he just, stopped. Even when he was playing on his own, he wouldn’t speak. Maybe I should have taught him at home? If I'd taken more care, and looked after him a bit more, maybe..... maybe things would be different.”

 

Auntie Shauna shook her head, and took hold of his mother’s hands. “Now you listen to me, you are an amazing mum, and you’ve done nothing wrong! I won’t have you sitting around thinking that. Everyone is different, and children develop at their own pace, that’s all there is to it.” 

 

The sudden sound of thumping coming from above interrupted the two women’s conversation, quickly followed by an outburst of shouting, and a long wail of “Muuuuummmmmm!” They both looked to the ceiling with a sigh, before rolling their eyes at one another, and making their way quickly out of the room.

 

Sitting quietly, Tiernan listened to the two sets of footsteps going up the stairs, and the sounds of an escalating argument drifting back down them, before crawling out from under the table, and moving to sit on the now empty sofa to think. It was hardly the first time he’d heard this topic being discussed, and usually not as nicely as his mother and Auntie Shauna had been. Doctors and teachers would often talk about him when he was sitting right there. As if the fact he didn’t speak somehow meant he also couldn’t hear. Classmates would do the same, except those who preferred to target their insults directly at him. He’d been hearing theories, and diagnoses, about why he didn’t talk for as long as he could remember, yet no-one had really taken the time to ask him the reason. It wasn’t, as the doctors insisted, that he chose not to. It wasn’t, as the bullies taunted, that he was too stupid to. His love of reading had gifted him a good vocabulary, and he longed to be able to express what he was thinking verbally. He just didn’t know how.

 

Tiernan had always found being around people difficult. There was so much to process when someone was talking to you - do you look at their eyes, or their mouth? He found it easier to follow what someone was saying if he was watching their lips, but people seemed to expect you to make eye contact. Then, people didn’t always say what they actually meant. So you needed to watch them, and look for clues as to when they were being serious, and when they were joking. And it was so hard to work out when it was your turn to say something in a conversation. Tiernan would often think of something he could add, but the other person was still talking, so he couldn’t interrupt. Then, by the time there was a pause, what he had been going to say didn’t make sense anymore, and he was faced with having to think of something else. With his brain racing both to try and follow the conversation, and read the people around him, Tiernan easily became overwhelmed, and so found himself unable to turn his thoughts into words. 

If only he had a way to put his words into some sort of order, he thought, as he sat staring, unseeing, at the TVin front of him. How much easier that would make things.

 

After staring blankly ahead for a while, slowly his brain began to tune into what the TV was showing, and he found himself watching the news. Although Tiernan had been in the room before when the news was on, this was the first time he'd ever really paid attention, and he found himself fascinated. There was an order to it. A format in the way that the newsreader spoke, and the words he used. It was a straightforward, to the point, statement of facts, that made sense to Tiernan like no other form of speech ever had. Mesmerised, he leaned forward, and began taking note of the phrases and speech patterns used, committing them to memory. Excitement built inside of him as he thought about all the times he had struggled for words, and imagined himself instead as the newsreader. Calmly commenting on the world around him, stating the facts. 

This made sense. This was something he could use.

 

His concentration was broken as his mother re-entered the room, running one hand through her hair, as she grabbed the remote to mute the TV with the other.

 

"Honestly, your younger brother and cousin will be the death of me," she sighed, "Why can't they behave themselves for once, like you do, eh love?" She ruffled his hair with a smile, and he smiled back, still fizzing with excitement inside. 

 

"Would you give me a hand with dinner, sweetheart? After all that commotion, it'll be late if I don't crack on." 

Nodding, he followed her through to the kitchen to set about getting out plates and cutlery, all the time going over the phrases he'd just learnt, thinking how he could use them to let his words be heard. 

 

Dinner in the Callaghan household that evening proceeded like any other. Right up until the moment when Tiernan's mother asked him if he would like anymore bolognese, and, looking her straight in the eye, he replied, "Top stories this evening. Mother of Callaghan family, 26 Willow Crescent, makes excellent spaghetti bolognese. Father, age 34, is reported as saying it's the best he's ever tasted. This newsreader agrees, and would very much like a second helping."

 

As his family sat round the table in silence, staring at him in shock, Tiernan beamed. He'd found his voice.

3rd Place: Emma W. 

Statement of Inspiration: I was finishing off a story about McCrudden McCrudden and re-reading entries from previous years for inspiration and realised two stories (which are great!) describe Barry’s mum as awful. I couldn’t have Barry that unloved. The family you make are important (sometimes more so), but I didn’t want Barry neglected at home. I was thinking about suburbia and not actually knowing what’s happening next door. Barry’s mum is shite was too simple. I wanted Barry’s family to be struggling a bit more, in contrast to the easy life we see in the Flanagan household. Again, that doesn’t mean that’s all there is for Oisín or Anne either. I just wanted more complexity, something FAH do so well. I love what FAH do because of the characters they create out of nothing and the complexity, ambiguity and feeling they (or we) attach to them. FAH have sparked my creativity, I thought it was about time I actually did something with that. So on the last day I wrote this story. ‘Why do you have to leave everything to the last minute?’ I dunno Anne, I wish I could tell you. Things are complicated sometimes. McCrudden McCrudden’s left in limbo for now.

Barry’s Birthday

 

Oisín frantically mashed the buttons of the PlayStation controller, ‘Come on come on!’ as colour drained from the screen.

            ‘Died,’ said Barry, chucking the controller onto Oisín’s bed. Oisín had hit the power button, only to turn it back on a second later.

            ‘You want to play player one, Bar?’

            ‘Nah,’ sighed Barry, the familiar split screen flashing in front of them. Used to player two, thought Barry. He’d started letting his younger brother Ciaran be player one, or even Aoife now they were both a bit older. Kept them quiet for a while.

            The comforting noise of shouts and gunshots echoed as their thumbs bounced about in the semi-darkness, their faces illuminated in sporadic flashes.

‘You doing anything for your birthday?’ Oisín asked the screen.

No, thought Barry.

‘Yeah,’ he replied.

‘Oh!’ Oisín hid his surprise abysmally. ‘Oh. Yeah?’ he inquired, as casually as he could. 

‘Dunno,’ Barry told the TV. Probably nothing, Mam’s working, ‘might have to wait a little while this year, pet’. It’s fine, it’s fine. Can wait ‘til Christmas. No probs. No problemo. 

Oisín quietly glanced at Barry, hesitating. Please don’t, Oísh. He pulled back the curtain a bit, trying to force lightness into his voice ‘You … going to see your dad?’ The glow trailed off into the darkness. 

‘No.’ No. ‘He’s going to call.’ Like he was going to last year. ‘And he’s sending meee… new PlayStation, phone, runners, cash,’ Barry hastily added. Money. That would be something.  

Oisín turned back to the screen that Barry’s eyes hadn’t left. ‘Cash’ hung in the air like a shroud, stifling them both. The gunshots from the speakers rang out, slow, muffled bullets. Shouts from their characters were distant and stilted in the quiet room.

It’s fine, it’s fine. Say something. It’s fine. Barry could feel his school shirt sticking to his back as the void of silence expanded between them. He shivered.

‘There’s some level three armour over here if you need it Bar.’

‘Yeah’. Thanks Oisín.

‘What about…,’ Oisín ventured, proposing to the screen, ‘We go to that new burger place in town?’

Yeah!? Barry almost said out loud. ‘Can’t.’ is what he actually said. ‘Mam, money, things to do.’

‘Come on! Mum’ll take us.’ Oisín hadn’t wanted to emphasis the ‘my’, dropping it entirely. Not my mum, themum. The universal mum. 

My arse she will.

‘Nah Oisín. It’s fine.’

‘I already asked her. She said she would,’ Oisín replied with the forced confidence of a fraud. 

‘Ha!’ My eye she would, as Mrs F would say. Then, quietly, searching: ‘You’ve asked her?’

‘Well, I’m gonna ask her’ Oisín replied with less confidence. ‘She’ll say it’s fine.’ 

Shite.

‘It’s a birthday tea Barry! She can’t say no.’

‘A birthday tea?’ Barry smirked then laughed. ‘We’re not five Oisín!’

Oisín glanced at Barry, rolled his eyes and added in as casual a tone as he could to hide his embarrassment, ‘uuuh, you know what I mean Barry.’

She’ll say no…

‘Do they do nuggets?’

‘Yeah, I think so.’

Barry thought it was maybe worth at least asking, since there was the potential for nuggets. And anyway Aoife had been on at him for a toy from that place for ages. They’d manage without him for an hour or two.  

                                                                                                                                              *********

Oisín went into the living room, where his mum was reading the newspaper. He checked to make sure Barry lurked just in her eyeline. He knew she wouldn’t be able to refuse when Barry was right there. A trap, which Oisín was reluctant to set, but he was feeling audacious. It was for Barry after all. He gulped down his trepidation and ventured a ‘Mum?’, which came out a bit more fractured than he’d have liked.

‘Hmm? What is it. Oisín love?’ Anne looked up and caught the looming figure in the background. She assumed Oisín would be asking – using the term asking very loosely – if Barry could stay for dinner. Well, there were always emergency nuggets in the deep-freeze, just in case: in case of Barry. Still, she straightened up, took off her glasses with an air of annoyance and asked again with a slightly firmer tone.

Oisín galloped through his prepared spiel: ‘It’s Barry’s birthday tomorrow, so can we go out to that burger place in town? You’d just need to drop us off and…’

‘I’ll stop you there mister,’ Anne held up her hand. ‘That new place? It costs an arm and a leg Oisín. Do you think I’m made of money! We are not a family that eat ‘fast food’ in ‘burger chains’. Christ!’

Oisín tried to interject, but Anne continued: ‘Drop you off!? What do you think I am – a taxi service? Carrier mule? Dial-a-cab? Your personal chauffeur?’

 ‘We’re old enough to go by ourselves Mum,’ Oisín managed to pipe up. 

‘You’ll be old enough to go by yourself when you are paying for it yourself Oisín. And when that happens I expect you to be treating me!

Oisín didn’t know how to respond as the hush flooded the room. Barry, in the background, looked down at the floor embarrassed. Don’t think about it. Shouldn’t have asked. It’s not fine

 ‘We’ll go to that nice local family restaurant we always go to for your birthday, Oisín. It’s very reasonable. They do a lovely lasagne and I have a voucher,’ concluded Anne, with a sigh.

For a moment Oisín was going to argue, caught his tongue, thought better of it. ‘Ok, great!’ he said half triumphantly. 

Anne stood up, signalling that it was settled, there was nothing more to discuss.

‘…Mrs Flanagan’, mumbled Barry. 

Appearing short tempered, with a roll of her eyes as she exhaled: ‘What is it Barry?’

‘T’anks.’

Anne yielded a little, rigidity relaxed. She tried to look cross still, a little harsh in her tone, a little angry in her eyes. She moved towards the living room door, ushering Barry in front of her as she went. 

‘Come on now Barry, it’s time for you to go.’ She didn’t say home. ‘Be ready for twenty past five tomorrow. I don’t want to see you back before then. And don’t be late. If you’re late we won’t be going.’ Anne spread her hands in a gesture that solidified this point as she shook her head. She opened the front door.

‘Bye Oisín,’ Barry bellowed back down the hall.

Anne looked as if she’d just been deafened. 

From the living room doorway Oisín shouted his goodbye and quickly turned back into the room, suddenly realising what he’d done. He stood up to his mum. But for a friend, for Barry. But should he have asked her like that? She was usually reasonable, sometimes. He was a bit confused, both waiting for his reprimand, but half proud of himself too.

As Barry stepped out of the house Anne briefly added ‘See you tomorrow, Barry love’ and closed the door, locked it and put the chain on for good measure. 

Anne went back through to the living room and sat down next to Oisín, who was avoiding her gaze. ‘Oisín Robert Flanagan, don’t you ever pull a stunt like that again. I wasn’t born yesterday!’ She looked at Oisín sternly, waiting for a reply. No response. She continued, ‘A birthday tea! And will we be doing that for everyone on this street now! Jesus Christ!’

Oisín, now less confident in his conviction, looked at his hands awkwardly. ‘I know, Mum… It’s just for Barry, so…’. After another pause Oisín ventured to lift his head and they briefly made eye contact. He could see that behind the scolding there was something else. There was a twinkle in her eye. Oisín wondered if she was… smiling, under the frown? 

‘Come here to me, pet,’ Anne stretched out her arms, one behind Oisín, one in front and wrapped them round him. Oisín leaned towards her. An embrace. Anne put a quiet kiss to his hair.

‘Uhhh, Mum,’ replied Oisín, gently, his voice feigning annoyance. His pretence to pull away from her or break the embrace was just that – an imitation – and his eyes were smiling too.

A birthday tea. Like I’m five. Deadly. 

Honorable Mention in Short Story [here]

 

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