Finding Muna / Static

Today’s Waterstones, coffee-imbibed, writer does the café thing draftage.

Have finally got over a little bit of inertia with the novel. Deadlines help. The Waterstones in Newcastle has such a lovely café – like things are a little bit different and fresh and cute. All highly important instruments to have to hand when writing.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been doing lately. The novel (still can’t decide on the name is coming to a close, returning to an opening, an echoing refrain maybe). I possibly don’t want to finish it, which is my excuse for the 4 year wait on the second novel. It’ll be a while longer yet, too. Argh!

****************************************************************************

I play Einaudi’s Nuvole Bianchi into the night – he composes such simple and beautiful pieces. Any hack could play them. They’re the soundtrack to every suburban aspiration. I bend into the arpeggios and wonder what romance is, the music seems to know, and why I still need David to want me. Why him? What does it, what would it, even prove?

*

My wife is sitting across from another man in a very cool coffee shop that she’s just a bit too old for. But Clare has that thing about her, the little web of complexity that makes it okay. Whatever.

I know this guy too. Fucker.

The effort of getting here was immense and it intrigued me, in the same way a problem would at work. A knot of tests and results to order and get passed. What’s he want from her?

I see the middle age slough from Clare as she’s sat in front of this dude. That toughening of the face just half a stone does to a woman. And there’s the illusion of girlishness again. I can just see it; like a prism of light refracting through glass. Poppy is in the back of the car being good. Poppy is always good. Poppy is a straightforward loving child. She’s like me. And that’s probably why I hate her. Who wants to look at themselves and be repulsed every damn day? She’s chewing her hair. Maybe I would always love Muna more because she was so extraordinary, so curious and thoughtful. It was a borrowed glow and we both knew it had all really come from Clare anyway.

They’ve gone to the fucking seaside. Like it’s a holiday.

The wipers claw and stop, claw and stop.

‘When – when -’ Poppy is sucking her hair, she spits it out and pats it like a cat. ‘When can we build hamcastles, daddy?’

‘Sandcastles, Poppy. I was only joking.’

A beat.

‘When – When can sancastles, daddy?’

I rub my knee. Stuffing it into a car and sitting in it for hours is doubtfully what the physio would recommend (when you shattered it jumping off a bridge, you dick).

‘It’s raining.’

‘But – but – so why are – want to play hamcastles.’

I rolled my eyes. The journalist is handing Clare some material. She leans in a little too close. There is a look; I remember that look. Maybe she just likes to complicate things, yeah? Maybe she just likes men she can’t have (fucking idiot). I think of all the non-affairs I’ve had over the years. The bit of fun. The don’t counts cos I don’t feel owt. There are always slippery young women looking up with big eyes and playing their roles. All I want is for my wife to look at me like that again. Like I counted for something.

‘Daddy!’

‘Jesus, Poppy! Shut – up.’

She frowns at me before the sobs shake her little chest. I unclip and grab her from the back. She is instantly quiet – that good girl thing that Clare likes so much. For me I’m thinking, no football-injuries here. She’s not milking it, just happy.

Just happy, what’s that like.

I flick another glance to my wife and the man who is supposedly going to help us, finally, discover what happened to our dead child. Praise be, hallelujah, man. What a fucking caht-up line. He’s got up in a flourish to get her sugar. He’s got that floppy, sweet glasses schtick that women like. You know, corduroy jacket. Blazer. Whatever. I loved that about her. The sugar thing. No weird sweetener complan only beige foods on Thursdays eating disorder bullshit that you have to navigate with so many women. And that’s the thing that ticks me off most; him liking the same things about her. That can’t be right. The repetition. It being a thing between them. Or something.

Something is hot and loud in my gut.

‘Let’s go and play hamcastles, Poppy.’

And this kid that’s somehow mine sucks up all the breath in the car and is staring up at me with big eyes, checking. I’ve barely said much to her since she was born except, don’t do that, not now Pops, daddy has a headache, Clare can you do this? I don’t know her favourite books, I can’t remember reading to her in the way I would with Muna who always had questions questions. And yet here she is, with all her hair frothy as surf, boggly blue eyes that are sometimes crazy but are now still and looking at me with pure hope and – okay I’ve seen this on young women around the office but you know, obviously, in a different way – with absolute adulation. Because of hamcastles?

‘Really, daddy? Even in the rain?’

It’s odd but I’m grinning and that feels – well it just feels. As opposed to all the blankness.

I swing the car around, draw an ever-increasing gap between my wife and the man who is supposedly going to help us find Mina.

Yeah. Like fuck.

*

(section from Poppy)

*

*

There is a theory that physicists have, of the universe and its expansion. How it will eventually collapse in on itself. Apparently, they’ve found dark energy to suggest that this might already be happening.

David has just announced this as I let myself in. I hate his voice these days. The assuredness he had when we met that made me raise an eyebrow, to appraise him, all this has been weakened like a bike chain that must be replaced. Now I just catch myself thinking, too often – cock. Where’s your 60 mile cycles now? Cock. Get out of the house. Fix yourself. But he’s been couched in the darkness by the French doors, the blinds drawn, the garden’s shadow leaking in, since what we’re calling an accident, it would seem.

‘Hello to you too,’ I mutter, hitching upstairs.

‘You what?’

‘Dying for the loo!’

My stamped footsteps. My hand on the small bathroom door, as if he was going to try and push it open. As if he ever moved. That quick slick of heat across my forehead. Is this how you felt, David? when you were doing this to me? Anger spills and grins inside me; darkens the lick of lust as I remember what I’ve done today. I remember that thing I did today. I remember what I let someone do today. I remember what I invited – today, in that place that is David’s and mine, that should not be violated. I used to be so black and white, so this is good, this is bad. So moralistic. But there has been so much pain, who really cares anymore, what does it matter? And this memory – it is delicious flickering sunshine over closed eyelids.

Even now, I want to tell David what we’ve discovered from the phone records. He will always be the person I want to share the news with. He should know what we have found out about Muna.

I snag tissue. What was he on about anyway, universe folding in on itself? I think of space in the only way I can – black, confusing, saturated with maths and mystery. And if the world collapsed, would it all just gather and trigger and begin again? So, could Muna begin again?

*

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Well because she’s at nursery. I’m due to pick her up in 45 minutes.’

‘I’m sorry, you mean Poppy? What do you mean she’s not there? How can she not be there? But I’m picking her up, so. I’m sorry, I – ’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

‘Yes, yes I’ll come right now. We’re coming.’

*

When we’re sat in a police station, the second time in our lives, yet 14 years apart, with another missing daughter, I think of David’s announcement.

There is a theory that physicists have, of the universe and its expansion. How it will eventually collapse in on itself. Apparently, they’ve found dark energy to suggest that this might already be happening.

It’s as if he knew.
*

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University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award 2016 – longlist

Phew! As you can see we have a very very long long-list for the adults. It was incredibly difficult distilling all of the entries into these groups. If you don’t see your name below, please don’t be put off. Remember, all readers will have different perspectives. You may have written an incredible story but perhaps the ending didn’t quite hit the right note. There were some stories here that I thought, if only you’d done that… and given such a strong field there were stories that we reluctantly put to one side for such reasons. So a ‘no’ is really a case for a redraft,a rethink and a re-submission. As is the case with all writing.

Thanks to everyone who participated. It’s been a pleasure and congratulations to those on the long-list.

The shortlist will be out at the end of August.

(technical-formal-jargonry: Please note, due to the sheer volume of submissions we cannot comment on work on an individual basis, as much as we would like to)

 

Overs

Taking Control – Tony Oswick

A Child of Dust – Sandra Morgan

A Clump of Nsenene – Farah Ahmed

A Fate that’s Fallen – Hannah Smith

A Kiss – Maeve Henry

A Random Act of Kindness – Robert Bage

A Short Timeline of Enemies and Friends – Shirley Day

A Technical Hitch – Felicity King

A Thirst for Freedom – Anne O’Connor

After the Butcher – Rob Walton

All the Young Dudes – Glenda Young

Anyone Can Explode – Pia Ghosh-Roy

Aubergine – Jennifer Harvey

Available Data – Natalie Poyser

Big Bones – Harriett Springbett

Blackbirds and Broccoli – Joanne Bales

Blackie Boy – Janet H Swinney

Box Boy – Martin Nathan

Bottled Up – Richard Lakin

Can you Smell Chips, Mam? – Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Clean Slate – Hilary Slade

Clem – Pam Plumb

Collar’d – Helen Bridgett

Daddy – Ann Butler-Rowland

Dead Man Walking – Kristien Potgieter

Dear Me – Rob Keeley

Death Calls – Stephanie Gallon

Der Zug – Samuel Marlow-Stevens

The Diary of Amil Nazaar – JRJ Richmond

Difficult Feet – Paul Attmere

Embarrassment of Riches – Dan Brotzel

Epilogues – Dave Wakeley

Everybody Wants Baby Girls – Kate Jefford

Feathers – Fiona Ritchie-Walker

From Hull to the Hooghly – Sally Jubb

Grandmother’s Footsteps – Julie Hayman

Hero – RV Jones

His Dead Wife – Frances Gapper

Iris Nilson – I Once Remember a Story

In Chamonix – Sally Jubb

Intimations – Padraic Walsh

The Architect – James Hodgson

Killing Coldplay – Marc Owen Jones

Lust for Life – DRD Bruton

Magical Mood Swings – Dan Brotzel

The Moor – Mark Hillsdon

Matador – Melanie Whipman

Mermaids – Catherine Edmunds

Morpheus’ World – Maria Fotiadou

Morphine – Ann Butler Rowlands

My father was a lighthouse keeper – Martin Nathan

No Good Deed – James Whitman

Not Because we Will – Evan Guildford-Blake

On the Seventh Day – Lynne Voyce

On this Day – Aaron Wright

Paul Newman Eyes – KL Jefford

Plane-spotting – Dan Brotzel

Pun and Mrs Why – Cath Nichols

Resolutions – Simon Holloway

Rita’s Decision – Lisa Reily

Second Sight – Heather Parry

Silent Retreat – Alan McCormick

Someone Else’s Shoes – Lyndsey Darcy

Sonnets of the Broken Girl – David R Ford

Four Runny Fried Eggs – Anne Colledge

Simmer on the Ward – Rebecca Burns

Milan’s Box – Karen Alderman

Performance – Viccy Adams

The Hills of Ffostrasol – Alex Barr

The Lost Boys Club – Stephen Howard

The Luna Council – Lynn Voyce

The Neverborn – Ray Hopkins

The Night I Killed a Man – Sarah Evans

The Romance of Scorpions – Katherine Orton

The Songs of Selby Twigg – Kathy Hoyle

The Woman who Shrank in the Wash – Glenda Young

The Last Firework – Philippa Holloway

Thin Air – Ingrid Jendrzejewski

This Time – Elizabeth Ottoson

To be a pill, grim – Dan Brotzel

Tombstoning – Emily Bullock

Twenty-Seven Masks – Laura Steven

Two Sentences of Turkish – Shirley Muir

Victim Impact – Marilyn Appleby

 

Unders

A glimpse through Blue Grass – Ruby Eastwood

The Tiny Big Difference – Helena Sinai

Ensnared – Leah Palmer

Fighting for Freedom – Abby Moore

I Cried a River for You – Shannon Pack

The Beauties of War – Claudia Jeffers

If Only – Nupur Doshi

Memories – Sianna Hughes

Red Knight – Savinay Pavneet Sood

Returning – Josie Astin

Speechless – Emily Tubbs

Crimson Downpour – Amelia Chadwick

The Unusual Princess Story – Rowan Mathilda

The Witherhorn – Harry Anderson

Two Lives as One – Jenny Hurnell

Vanilla – Amber Slade

Letter from a Brother – Lu Jia Lee

One Last Time – Megan Hill