This week, we’ll be posting one short story a day from this year’s Toulmin Prize competition. The Toulmin Prize is open to amateur writers over the age of 16.
The stories entered have a north east focus, and can be written in Doric or English, or a mixture of the two. Throughout the course of the week, four commended stories and the overall winner of the Toulmin Prize will be posted.
Below is a piece written by Rae Cowie, the first runner-up!
I didn’t have room. Not with my sandwiches and packet of fruit gums, bag of Salt ‘N’ Shake and bottle of orange squash.
The new jersey was all thick and scratchy. Knitted with sickly green Aran wool. Night after night Mam’s needles kept clicking. Every now and then, she would measure it against my back. She sewed it up, the chunky needle flying back and forth, back and forth as she watched Coronation Street.
Sunbeams were bouncing off the pavements. It would weigh me down.
But nobody argued with Mam.
I stuffed the woolly mass into the plastic carrier bag, on top of my picnic, and set off with my pal. We traipsed downhill, beneath heavy stone viaducts, past the circle of caravans that came in the summer with waltzers and sticky candyfloss. We nipped over the golf course, across sandy links with the whole day stretched ahead of us, bright as the glistening rollers rumbling ashore.
We picked our way steadily between briny rock-pools, slipping sometimes, causing a salty trail to rim our leather sandals. That would be another telling off. I licked my fingertips, bending to rub at the worst of it.
We tore off our sandals, letting them dangle in our grasp, as chilly waves sucked on our anklebones.
High above, gulls squawked for attention in the overhang of the cliffs, as we clambered over boulders until we made it to Jenny’s Well.
Someone had traced her name in beach pebbles; letters stuck roughly in cement. Not that it mattered. Nobody remembered much about Jenny. Some said maidens, all dressed in white, used to come on May Day to drink from the well to ensure good health. Maybe Jenny was one of those? But we doubted it. It didn’t sound like the kind of thing folk round here would do.
We preferred creepy stories of the mad woman who lived in a nearby cave or of the poor travelling girl who died and was buried there. Tales guaranteed to make us shiver.
The water ran clear and fresh as we cupped our hands, dipping our heads, making a wish as we drank.
We tucked our picnics amongst the rocks and stripped off to our swimsuits, screeching at the sky as the sea clasped first our calves, then our thighs, then our waists, until we could wait no more for it to swallow us. We took short, sharp strokes that matched our breath, until our stomachs reminded us it was lunchtime.
I munched on limp ham and swigged at warm squash. I knew I wasn’t to leave litter, so stuffed the ball of tinfoil and greasy crisp packet back into the carrier.
Heat from the rocks seeped through our towels, warming our backs as we whispered about boys.
It was the chill in the air that warned us we should think of home. Supper, maybe a plate of macaroni or pie and beans, would be waiting on the table sharp at five.
I’d be in for another row.
The sun slid behind clouds and I remembered the knitted jersey. I tugged it free from the bag, staring at Mam’s intricate handiwork. She’d taught me how to do some of it, dainty moss stitch, as well as cable stitch winding like fisherman’s ropes.
What was left of my drink had leaked across the front of it.
I dunked the dainty moss and winding cable stitches beneath the flow of the well, scrubbing them as best I could. The wet wool weighed as heavy as my heart when I hauled it up onto a clean boulder, the cloying damp smell of it turning my stomach.
If I held it in shadow, maybe Mam wouldn’t notice the stain.
My tongue clamped hard to the roof of my mouth, dry as the seaweed littering the top of the shoreline, near the spiky grass.
I squeezed at the jersey until my knuckles grew white. Then my pal had a go, just to be sure. Then I thought it might dry with my body heat. So I pulled it over my head, brushing aside the fact that now it almost touched my knees. But wool shrank when it was washed. My jersey just needed time.
So we dandered back across the rocks and the sands and the golf course, past the show caravans with their flashing lights. The jersey clung to my thighs as we dragged our feet uphill, until the smell from the chippers became too much and we stopped to eat some that turned dense and claggy in my mouth. I rummaged in my plastic bag, unscrewing the bottle top, guzzling the remaining dribble of squash.
Once she’d finished with the chips, my pal made for home. But my jersey was still soaking.
Then I remembered Mam hangs jerseys out to dry.
There was a swing set beside the chippers. So I gripped the rusty chains, kicking high as I could, then higher still, swinging on and on until the sea turned peach. Darker pink near the horizon. Past the viaducts and the pulsing blink of the waltzers, dark shadows of the cliffs began stretching like fingers out over the sands. It was too dark to see Jenny’s Well. And still I kicked, back and forth, back and forth.
I knew by the way the car door slammed that it was Mam. I didn’t need to hear her roar.
I tucked in my chin and flung myself back, forcing the swing to creak as the salty toes of my sandals reached for the first of the evening’s stars.