Award Twenty One

Rachel Blake June 2022 First Prize


by Rachel Blake

She waited for the neighbours to leave for work or driving out along the twisty roads by Minnehaha Falls to a lay-by with wooden chips where girls were dragged, sat in the car, bent her head down into the coat on her lap and screamed. It was never long enough, lips never wide enough to peel the skin from the bones where it itched her skull. The car wasn’t soundproof, it would raise an alarm. People were everywhere, except when you needed them. She’d tried roller coasters, pitching her voice with others down rattling tracks, flung into the side feeling beaten, left, and a kind woman, a mother, asking afterwards: are you alright? Beside railroad tracks when the train shuttled past, screaming with the screeching wheels, the electrical breath hot in her tangled hair, but people were in the windows, perhaps, where she couldn’t see. You could cry anywhere, and tears were there somewhere, but how to get to them, smothered in her plastic wrap voice, eyes of glass and waxwork teeth. She walked through galleries, but art was for the artists, grew the scream if it wasn’t yours, added to it. She painted root-like flesh, faces with smeared, watercolour features, a glance out of the corner of an eye, a smirk and, on the other side of the paper—trees, shifting in patterns of light. She wanted to lie on the ground and stare into those leaves and scream into that light. But they were gone and she couldn’t look, didn’t want to know—not until she could find somewhere private to bleed.

About the Author

Rachel Blake was born in New Delhi, raised in Minneapolis, and has lived in San Francisco, Paris, New Orleans, most recently in the UK and is now in transit to New York. She is always looking for adventure and has worked as a dance teacher and therapist. Her undergraduate degree was in Women’s Studies, and she has an MSW from NYU. One of her short stories was published in Open City, and she has recently completed a novel. She lives with her husband and twelve year old son.

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Madeline Byrne June 2022 Second Prize


by Madeline Byrne

Juliet cleans houses. The wealthy, high-ceilinged kind. She navigates hallways whose walls have absorbed the smell of absinthe, the spritz of champagne, the spell of lovemaking. She changes bedsheets and breathes in clouds of perfume, so potent, they pass through walls like full-bodied ghosts. There’s music, too. The walls take it in, every spin of the vinyl, every child’s violin lesson. Every woman who stumbles home after the opera, drunk and singing and making her lover laugh, cringe.

When Juliet cleans, she leaves a little part of herself behind. She is nowhere and everywhere at once; a payslip in the housekeeper’s tray, a strand of hair in the coat closet that causes her employer’s mistress to worry. Invisible cells of skin in the dustpan. When she walks the city at night, she becomes no one. A traceless blue shadow, an outline.

There was a time when she would walk halfway home before waving for the bus. Listen to the ebbs and exchanges that leaked over café terraces, the notes of heightened, private conversations drifting out of upper windows like the hems of curtains. It had been a time before Michel, before the subdued city. Now, it was a place where one fell into two of four sorts. The visible and the invisible, the dancers and the ones who turned their ear away from the music, toward the wireless with its shifting dials and talk of war.

When Juliet gets home, she watches her son sleeping. She lights a cigarette. Outside, a lone, late-night musician attempts to penetrate the night with the keys of a piano. Inside, the radio murmurs ceaselessly, filling the walls with voices.

About the Author

Madeline Byrne is an emerging writer based in Brisbane, Australia. A former bookseller, she now works as marketing assistant for the little-but-fierce university press, UQP. Madeline lives on the river with her husband and their British Shorthair, Obi. .

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Abigail Williams June 2022 Third Prize

Don’t mistake me for your crabapple

by Abigail Williams

You are in the garden, kneeling among scarlet lupin spears. Savage, you stab the soil with your fork, weed out green tips with dark delight. I find myself lacing the edges of the lawn, shifting from one damp paver to the next. I am ornamental. Like your crabapple which refuses to blossom, I am in the wrong place.

‘Sam’s doing well at school,’ I offer. I hand these pearls, these claims to you, and I feel like my daughter presenting pieces of gravel in the pink crook of her palm, watching me intensely to check I understand their value. You hold the words for long enough to please me, before tipping them out of your ears. It is dangerous to show interest in the grandchildren. I might ask you for something. You fend me off with a long pole.

‘Carol and Jon had theirs again. A whole week.’ You look at me as if I sent them. ‘Carol was exhausted.’

I remember when you planted the lupins. And the hellebores on the shady side. The dahlias and the bee balm. You carved a new shape for the lawn, and you make dad crop it to lush stubs: US marine-green. Your garden is curated. You weigh it daily, your roving eye bleak and calculating. Do the plants feel themselves suspended in your balance, I wonder? Do they sense the threat of the fork, the severing of their clinging arms?

When they are tiny, you are tender. You patrol the borders with your slug scissors. You blanket buds when frost threatens like a mother wrapping winter’s child in a warm towel. But they are like me. Their petals will brown. Their bloom will fade. They will need you too much.

Always the shadow of your fork stripes our shoulders.

About the Author

Abigail Williams (@scribblingabby) lives and writes in Devon. She spent twenty years as a Marketing Director in Leeds, and is now wrestling with her Creative Writing MA dissertation at the University of Exeter. She won the Cranked Anvil Short Story Competition in February 2022, and the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition in March. She was longlisted in the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize in spring 2022. Abby has been published in the journal Riptide and the anthology, More Gallimaufry.

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Sudha Balagopal June 2022 Highly Commended

On Our Daughter’s Wedding Day

by Sudha Balagopal

I don’t miss wearing bright colors―red, orange, purple―or jasmine in my hair. I don’t miss the elaborate maroon bindis on my forehead. I don’t even miss the taali you knotted around my neck at our marriage ceremony―the one the priest commanded me to remove after death claimed you.

I do miss being a part of the religious pujas from which I must keep my distance as if I’m tainted, as if I’m contagious, as if my cursed ill-fortune can spread.

And, I miss you.

I miss you with an ache in my body’s cradle, where our daughter grew for nine months. I miss you because I cannot shower our child with love on this, her special day. I miss you because I’m told I shouldn’t stand on the mandapam where she’ll place her hand in her groom’s, where she’ll take the saptapadi―the seven steps of marriage―where her groom will tie her taali.

I miss you because if you were here, I wouldn’t be expected to watch our daughter’s nuptials from afar, shredding a moist, muslin handkerchief. I miss you because I’m instructed to stay tucked away, like a pariah, while your brother will take your place at the ceremony and his wife mine―as proxies for you and me.

I miss you, so I heave uneven breaths, then toss the handkerchief in the bin. I miss you, so I adjust the pleats of my sari. I miss you, so I straighten my spine, walk up to the mandapam. I miss you so I stand next to our daughter and her groom, offer them our blessings, yours and mine.

About the Author

Sudha Balagopal is honored to have her fiction in many fine literary journals including Smokelong Quarterly, Split Lip and CRAFT. Her highly commended novella in flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. Her work is forthcoming in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022.

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Olwen Wilson June 2022 Highly Commended

The Shape of the Situation in Apartment 23C on a Sunday in September

by Olwen Wilson

Sick of soup-stained shirts, unending heartburn, and his wife’s attentive new friend from down the hall, the Horizontal Man decides to attempt standing up. He declares this to the Parallel Woman while reclining on their contorted couch, and out of earshot of their Upside-Down Child. She doesn’t ask why. She hasn’t asked him anything at all since that tall, hot-liquid-loving neighbour moved in.

“I’ll get the Vertical Vixen to help!” the Parallel Woman says through her gummy-grin.

“No! Not her! Ask the Spiralling Boy in 17D,” the Horizontal Man shouts.

His wife’s cheeks blush pink as she flees from his side. Then red when she knocks their Allen-key-assembled coffee table with her knee.

He hears her send the Upside-Down Child to fetch his foe from the Perpendicular Widow’s old apartment. She adds a lunch invitation as thanks before pushing their child toward 23E.

The click of the stove coming to life tells him his wife’s serving soup for their midday meal. He notices his antacids toppled on the table in front of him, beyond his reach.

When the Vertical Vixen arrives, the Horizontal Man can’t get up from the couch to greet her, nor does he want to. The Parallel Woman’s fawning over the Vertical Vixen’s towering frame reminds him of why he does.

Neither of them offers him any help in getting to his feet. Not even when he won’t contain his grunts and groans while scooching himself higher on the cushions.

They’re too busy swapping stew recipes.

Too busy complimenting the other’s smile.

Too busy declaring their undying love for the world above his view.

All he can do is stare at them sideways as his Upside-Down Child joins them to form a new trio.

About the Author

Olwen Wilson is a writer from Canada whose enthusiasm for finding joy in ordinary moments is contagious. She loves to be surrounded by loud laughter, unread books, paint and pens, cuddly cats, warm blankets, and birds singing outside her window. Her first published story, More Sludge Than Pink Popsicle Sticks, is in the Flash Fiction Festival Four anthology. Find Olwen online at and only occasionally on Twitter @Olwen_Allwen

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