Open 2015: Short Story Winner

Below is the winning entry from the open short story competition, judged by Simon Whaley.

To see a full list of the results, click here.

First Prize: The Fortune Teller's Words by Michelle Pilkington

I was fourteen years' old when the fortune teller on the pier told me that my life would be forever changed by the colour green.

"In a good way or bad?" I asked her.

Her stack of silver bracelets jangled and as she shrugged and waved her hands.

As we swapped stories outside, we realised we'd all been told a different colour, blue for Bea, orange for Susie, green for me and black for Ellie. It was Ellie's we found the funniest given her recent embrace of all things Goth in her attempt to impress a boy she liked.

On our way home, Ellie rode into a black car and knocked out her two front teeth and we developed a heightened sense of awe and respect for the old fortune teller's.

I remember we went to see her again the night before we all left home to go to university. We weren't sure she'd be still there, if she was alive even, but she was. She told me again about how green would affect my life but when I asked the others, they said she hadn't mentioned colour to them. Bea couldn't even remember being told about a colour the first time we went.

"It's all hocus pocus anyway, Esme, don't take it to heart," she told me.

Certainly, Bea didn't think to credit the fortune teller when she joined the leading advertising agency Bleu after graduation. Nor did Susie pause to contemplate the wisdom of the orange undertones of her bi-monthly fake tan. Ellie did once tell me she wondered if black had brought her love. She then giggled and said it was more likely the actual dress she had spent half her grandmother's inheritance on that caught the eye of her future husband.

As for me, even when I looked for connections, green just didn't seem interested in me. Not for twelve whole years that is until my father died. I remember standing in my bedroom searching through my wardrobe for a suitable outfit for his funeral. As I surveyed the selection, my hand swept along the dress that I had worn to the lunch where my father had had his heart attack. The fortune teller's words came rushed into my mind on a wave of hot blood that almost caused me to faint.

The dress was green.

My parents were scientists and so my mother had little time for superstitions, choosing to blame his cardiac arrest on over indulgence in smoking and fine dining and under indulgence in exercise.

Still, she held me as I sobbed and begged to be given the chance to relive that day in non-descript grey or even incur his wrath and dress in denim.

She gently held my chin in her hand, "You've got his eyes," she said, "how can any of this be your fault?"

And then she wept.

I threw the dress away the next day.

Five years later, I chose my father's birthday for my wedding day. My mother-in-law was a florist and asked if she could arrange the flowers. In the shadow of stories from friends of guerrilla warfare from vicious mother-in-laws, I gratefully delegated.

"Everyone keeps saying it's the best wedding they've ever been to!" my new husband told me as we danced into the early hours.

The next day as we slowly woke, I spied my bouquet, lying on the drawers. I leapt out of bed and pulled back the curtains.

"Are those roses green?" I demanded of my hung-over and squinting husband.

They were, but only just, my mother-in-law admitted over lunch. The cream ones hadn't opened and these were the closest in colour. It was only a tinge, she reassured me.

"Even green flowers can't spoil our wedding," Jamie said as he kissed me.

Yet in the barren, childless years that followed, I often thought back to that bouquet.

I did get pregnant once. It lasted for eleven weeks. Long enough for swollen breasts and a thickening of my waist. Long enough to make plans, work out the due date and plan future birthdays. Long enough to feel bereaved at the loss.

I had felt a little pain and found a slight trace of blood and took the GPs advice to pop to the hospital, just in case.

The midwife gave me a green gown to wear.

"When did you say your last period was?" she asked, her voice was high, I remember, like a trained soprano.

The sac was empty.

The insipid mint of the gown turned to a dark moss as our tears fell.

One negative pregnancy test after another led us to the leafy waiting rooms of various IVF clinics.

"Why does everything have to be so bloody green?" I asked the student nurse once.

"To help you relax, hon," she said.

"I wish they'd just put us in a stark empty room," I told my husband as we waited for the results of our fourth and final attempt.

"I don't think you're incapable of having a baby because of a bloody potted plant," Jamie said as we left.

The social worker we were assigned for the adoption process was as cheerful as the bright coral and orange clothing she wore. She'd had her colours done, she told me, by a friend of hers at Weight Watchers. Apparently she'd been a mermaid in a previous life and so she had to avoid earthy colours like browns and greens. I liked Delilah immediately.

Throughout the process, as we were stripped bare and rinsed through with the most probing of questions, Delilah unwittingly protected me from my chlorophobia with her reams of pink notepaper, casually embellished with red ink and held together like a patchwork quilt with yellow post it notes.

Eighteen months later, she told us about three possible children. A baby from an alcoholic mother, a toddler from a mother with severe disabilities and an abused child who had been taken into care. We were next on the list.

We didn't get a single one.

After the meeting, my husband suggested going out for dinner. I chose the Italian restaurant where he had proposed. I didn't notice the emerald apron cladded waiting staff, at least not on the way in.

I ordered champagne. He drank a large glass of water.

As I dived into the antipasti platter, he told me he couldn't do it. He couldn't take a damaged child and pretend it was his. He couldn't pretend to love it just because I did. It wasn't the way you were supposed to have children, he said, at least, it wasn't the way he wanted to have children.

I saw him again a couple of years later, with her, walking arm in arm, laughing and smiling, as he pushed a green pram with a mewling baby nestled inside. He got to have a baby his way after all.

The irony of seeking help for feeling blue didn't pass me by unnoticed. As I sat in the waiting room, a picture of a little child peered down from a noticeboard. I took out my phone and copied the details for single parents seeking to foster and adopt.

That was 15 months ago. After another gruelling marathon of examinations where I've been prodded me like a prized cow at market to test my worth, I am here today waiting to meet her.

I've had a passport size black and white picture of her for three days now.

Her hair is straight and falls from a side parting, offering a barrier to safely observe the world from. Her eyes are large, I guess all children's are, but these are like ponds before the sun has risen and delivered its daily sparkle.

Her name is written on the back. I can't bring myself to say it out loud, in case it is caught on a gust of wind and she is taken away.

I've seen it everywhere today, the colour green. It dangled from the trees in the park, rustling like a warning. The grass swayed, as if readying itself to catch me if I fall. Even here in the office I can see a splodge of mould nestled into the right angle of the secondary glazed window.

I tell Delilah about the mould. She asks me to repeat what I say then shrugs. That's budget cuts for you, she tells me.

"I know," I say, "Except its green. It's my unlucky colour."

She pats my arm and she uses her sad smile, the one where her mouth stretches almost the width of her face, then turns down slightly to expose enormous dimples on each cheek.

"It's God's chosen colour," she says.

"It's not good for mermaids," I answer.

A man steps into the corridor and calls my name and beckons me into a room.

I see her on the floor playing with a doll's house, busily arranging the furniture.

"Hello Chloe," I say. "My name is Esme."

She picks up a few dolls and begins to place them around the miniature table.

I crouch down next to her and help her seat the guests.

She looks up at me and I smile, primed as I was by Delilah, hoping she doesn't see the beads of sweat on my top lip.

Chloe frowns. "You have green eyes," she says.

I gently take hold of her chin in my hand. "That's right," I say.

"Just like me," she says

"That's right," I say again, and at last I understand what the old fortune teller meant.

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Author: Kevin Machin Date: January 29, 2016 3:54 pm
Categories: Results Tags: winners
Responses: 0 – open Article: 4348 – published
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