Sara Hills June 2024 First Prize

A Cock Among the Bathers

by Sara Hills

Tomorrow at the Tate Modern, while she’s studying Cézanne’s bathers, Jake will take off his pants. Jake, who’s old enough to know that public indecency’s a crime, old enough, sure — but still young enough to be stupid, reckless because he thinks he’s in love, thinks he can win her over if he makes a scene. And before she can grab his arm and say Jake, stop! he’ll have already left his smalls on the wooden floor, and he’ll stand full buck with arms outstretched, trying to achieve, well… bathing, she’ll guess, like one of Cézanne’s malformed women, oyster-white with willowed backs and tree-trunked hips, except Jake’s not a woman — he’s told her as much, said she can’t keep crying her heartbreaks, oppressing him with her problems unless she’s willing to see him as more. And of course she knows he’s a man, it’s his performance schtick she can’t take — his spotlighting, pushing, trying too hard — like tomorrow, at the Tate, when he’ll slip from his smalls before gobble-eyed children and gasping mothers with eye-covering hands, before men muttering Mate, you can’t! and What in God’s name! and Jake’s grin, his pearlescent grin! and his outstretched arms and his fur-tufted ass, cleft as a Cézannesque peach, and the Sir! Sir! from the gallery attendants and the neon security-ites with their walkie-talkies and Jake’s eyes pleading, pleading for her to see it as more than a scene, as a shared story, an anecdote for later, when they can say Remember the time at the Tate? like it’s enough of a something, and though he’ll be singing as they drag him away, tufted cleft in retreat, something falsetto or operatic about love, about water, second chances and firsts, the heat of her hand still echoing on his arm, despite herself, goddammit, she’ll laugh.

About the Author

Sara Hills is the author of TThe Evolution of Birds (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021), winner of the 2022 Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection. She has won or placed in the Smokelong Mikey, 2023, QuietManDave Prize for flash nonfiction, the Retreat West quarterly prize, National Flash Fiction Day’s micro competition, Bath Flash Fiction Award, and The Welkin Prize. Sara’s work has been selected for the Wigleaf Top 50, The Best Small Fictions, and the BIFFY 50, as well as nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfictions, and Best of the Net.

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