Lincoln Creative Writing Competition
As usual in Term 2, we held a Creative Writing Competition for the residents. Our judge this year was Lincoln alumnus Garry Disher, whose crime novels, adult fiction and YA fiction have won prizes internationally for many years. Despite living on the Mornington Peninsula, Garry was happy to judge the contest remotely, and sent through some useful feedback for the entrants.
The prizes were awarded as follows:
First Prize – Evie Young for her short story “Waves” (reproduced below)
Second Prize – Evie Young for her poem “Modern Love”
Third Prize – Piers Martin for his poem “Screen Dreams”
“Okay, but where are we actually going?” I’m laughing, eyes trained firmly on the half view of Damon’s face that I have. He glances at me, dazzles me with a lopsided smile, and shrugs. “Ugh. I hate you.”
He has the indecency to laugh.
I put on music, the kind that I know he has little time for – I’m hoping that I can irritate him into an answer. Still, he just smiles knowingly and signs along. Even to the songs that Taylor Swift released when I was nine years old, the ones that played over and over in the golden sun of my childhood room. I had no idea he knew the words.
Finally, I give in and play something he’s actually admitted to liking. It’s quiet in the car now, without the sound of my shocking karaoke and his tuneless harmonies, and I almost regret it. The singing was a shield, protecting me from embarrassing myself. From spooking him like the horses I learned to ride as a child, except you can’t hold onto a person as desperately as you can cling to a saddle. Or if you can, I never learned the trick of it.
I have no idea what to say. We’re well beyond the level of inane details, like what I study and why his jaw clicks – have been for months. Still, I haven’t figured out quite what to replace them with. What if we disagree, and we have to spend the whole car ride in the shared and deeply uncomfortable knowledge that we’re not right for each other after all?
Still I desperately want to speak, break the silence. I can feel the pressure of the silence pressing down on my skin, cracking it like glass. The little fissures settle in my tongue, slicing at my teeth, my cheeks, and forcing me to speak.
“So – when did you learn all the words to country-style Taylor Swift?”
“When my sister played it constantly for like a year. She was inescapable.”
“Something like it.” His voice has an edge of mild amusement to it. “When did you learn them?”
“When I played it constantly for like a year. My Dad bought me a CD player because it had an alarm in it so that I could get myself up when the baby came, and that was the only CD I had to go with it for ages.”
“Rough for the brother that was already there.”
“You have no idea.”
“How old was he, do you reckon?” Damon’s eyes flicker off the road to mine for an instant, and they’re filled with genuine interest.
So I talk about them, for a little while. My brothers. About how they’re irritating as anything, and how I taught the youngest one when he was a year or two old to wink across the dinner table and got us both into endless trouble for it. I tell him about how I get roped into playing their dumb video games (One brother is 15 now and taught me more about Fortnite than I’d ever hoped to know), and that we do puzzles splayed with pictures of vintage cars together on the weekends, when our parents decree they’ve had too much screen time. I speak in fits and starts, but Damon nods encouragingly throughout.
He slowly starts to interject with stories of his own. He tells me about how his younger sister drew a mural of their family together on his wall when he was 6 and she was 3, and how much trouble they both found themselves in when their parents found it. I can tell there’s more to the story, something he’s considering telling me. I imagine him turning the moment over in his mind, wearing it smooth.
He takes in a deep breath, but doesn’t speak yet. We wait together, listening to the soft hum of the music and the hush of unspoken words, and I wonder if he will chose to speak at all. Finally, he tells me that the drawing’s still there, hidden under a poster that he tacks up when he leaves for uni. Even though he’s still staring at the road, I watch his eyes soften slightly.
Listening to him speak about his childhood is strange. Like an offering of himself in some small way. I wish I could trust him enough to properly do the same. To show him the quiet part of me, the part that I never properly managed to armour, and know that he would not rip through it with the sharp edges of his teeth. Maybe one day I will, when our silences don’t make my heart hammer against my chest as though it’s trying to scream to him in Morse code.
It’s happening again now, and I can feel my cheeks reddening. Sentences flicker through my brain half formed. But I can’t settle on any of them, none of them are right, and the more I brush away the worse the replacements seem to get. Suddenly I’m forced to focus on my breathing more than anything else, because if I keep on going like this he’ll hear me start to hyperventilate. I wish I didn’t care quite so much what he thinks of me. I wish I could panic in peace.
The clicking of his indicator flutters over the music, giving me something to focus on until we pull off of the highway. We’ve slowed right down – it feels like we’re crawling – but I still can’t make anything out of the window except fields. They’re covered in frost already. I’m about to comment on it, even though I know it’s a weak conversation starter, barely worth of the ‘really?’ it’ll receive, when suddenly Damon’s left hand is palm up on my right knee.
I take it. At the very least it’ll stop me from giving myself away by fidgeting.
“We’re nearly there now, promise.”
“Hmm, I could’ve sworn you promised me that like half an hour ago.”
“And you were dumb enough to believe me?” But he squeezes my hand gently, and the words have no sting.
In the end, Damon has to bribe me to get out of the warmth of the car. He promises me the two things I can never say no to – borrowing his jacket, and hot chocolate, kept warm in thermoses. If I’m being totally honest, even then I nearly refuse to budge. I’m sure that if I sat in his passenger seat with enough determination he would give in and let me have them both anyway, but he went to all this effort. I can see in his eyes that he thinks I’ll love it out there, and so I finally open the door.
The air’s so cold it bites immediately, whisking away the warm air sitting close to my skin and replacing it with needles. My eyes start to water and my lungs reflexively expand as though they can’t believe they’re expected to deal with this ice as air. I’m inclined to agree. Still, Damon’s already around from the other side of the car and handing me a jacket. As soon as it’s on, he takes my hand and leads me away.
“Have you brought me here to murder me?”
“Brilliant. My mother will be thrilled.”
We laugh, but then reach the top of the hill he’s been half dragging me up. Suddenly I can see past the scrub, to the beach. It’s dark, too dark to pick out more than the whites of the breaking waves, but I can hear them. They rumble, but it’s soft. Gentle. Above, the stars burn steadily and the moon’s little more than a sliver. The sand shimmers slightly near the water, as though it’s made of fallen star dust.
“I – “
“You were saying how much you miss the sea, how much you miss being near it, so I figured I’d bring you here. I haven’t been in ages, so…” He shrugs slightly beside me, as though he didn’t just drive for more than an hour and half, because I’d mentioned something offhand a week ago, as though tonight is no big deal.
I don’t speak, I still haven’t found the words. I haven’t seen the sea like this since I was 15, and my best friend’s family moved away from the beach-side town we both grew up in. Suddenly, late night walks on the beach in the dark like this had become not only forbidden but impossible. I wrap my arm around his waist, press myself against him. Now that I’m paying attention, I can smell the sharp salt under the bitterness of the cold, through Damon’s cologne.
We end up taking our thermoses to the sand, the last patch that we think is dry before the water. We’re side by side, and I’m breathing too fast – he’s somehow managing to seem nonchalant, although I can’t believe he feels that way, not anymore.
I’m finally brave enough to look and find out. Something in his smile, almost dazed, as though he can’t hide it anymore, makes me feel safe. It’s the same kind of amazed smile he gave me right before we kissed for the second time, flushed from dancing and waiting for our drinks.
I wonder if he’s as nervous as I am. I smile back. How could I not?
We drink the hot chocolate, complaining at first about burnt lips and tongues (which of course, are dutifully kissed better), and breathing in the steam as though it’s an elixir, until finally we fall silent and just listen to the water. This silence is soft and gentle, a balm, and I curl my head onto his chest, finally warm. His heartbeat echoes the waves.