The winners of our Winter Creative Writing competition will be printed in the January issue of Impact Magazine (Issue 214) but to whet your appetite until then, here is a short story from our runner-up, Eleanor Robinson.
“Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening”- Virginia Woolf
She hadn’t brought a coat. It was hung safe and warm on the downstairs banister of her home. Home: the place she had been so desperate to leave behind a mere four hours earlier, now called to her, her bed called. Another evening of cheap vodka and the gradual build-up of expectation. Make-up daubed on with anxious anticipation of the people she could meet tonight. Hair carefully tousled into eye-catching perfection. The top pulled down. The skirt hoisted. And no coat. And now, after the face off that was a confrontation of fantasy with reality, the clash of spilled beer and drunken leer, the three drinks too many. A desire to dance, to socialise, to feel desire had been spent. So to the streets she had returned. Friendless this time. Coatless.
Another fucking Friday wasted in an overheated taxi cab. Smoking too much and not earning enough money. They always tried it, these young people, always complained at the expense. Never crossed their minds that he’d rather be anywhere else than in and amongst these fucking shitfaced morons. ‘Twelve quid mate? Twelve quid! I’ll give you five’. Like it was a negotiation. Did they barter the price of a Stella Artois? He doubted it. No, these randy fucking bastards paid what it took to get them to a prize state of wankered. They sold off their souls for a shot and a baseline; the small change in a back pocket was all they left for him. Christmas Eve: peak twat season.
The tube station would have been better. Warmer. But it was difficult to take a dog into the underground, made you twice as likely to get noticed. That wasn’t something he needed tonight. Why were half the population out the night before Christmas? Why volunteer yourself to the gutter? If he had a choice, if he had a family, if… Well. A heavy sigh turned to steam the moment it passed his lips. He should have taken up that mate on a hostel. He would have done had it not been for the dog, it’s difficult to take a dog anywhere.
Too much traffic. That was something guaranteed on a night like this one. Red lights. Time fleeting by. Frosted fingers stabbed vaguely at buttons, turning up the heating, turning on the radio, turning off the engine. Maybe she should just accept fate. There would be another flight, probably. What was another four hundred quid when it came to spending Christmas with your family? Some things didn’t have a price limit-that was her way of thinking anyway. That was the reason she was in this traffic jam: an early Christmas service, a late flight home. God was another invaluable feature of her life. On the back seat presents and mince pies sat patiently next to a battered suitcase. Through the windscreen on the other side of the street bouncers used their arms to hold back the queues of people stuffing themselves into nightclubs. A man vomited onto his shoes. Her eyes flicked to the safety lock on each door for reassurance; she would get there.
A red head rose from a nearby dustbin. Ears pricked, jaw chewing absentmindedly on a half-eaten meatball sub. It could hear something. A whisper. The coarse fur frame froze as something wet touched it. Threading in between the rowdiness of the road, the catcalls from passers-by, was a kind of loud silence. The moonlight had mellowed. It needed to move, to slip back. Unsure of where the others were, uneasy of the crowds, it slinked between two parked cars and was gone.
It had started to snow. Small insignificant droplets at first, almost slush, the kind that doesn’t lie. But as it laced its way into the curls of the girl stood negotiating with a taxi driver, it thickened. Enough to force him to turn his windscreen- fucking- wipers on. The ground became a thin white carpet, a damp layer that soaked through the sleeping bag of a homeless man and blurring the print of a newspaper upon which a grizzly faithful dog dozed beside him. It brushed white perfection over puke -laden paving and turned to a greyish sludge under the wheels of a car that skidded slightly in an eagerness to get out of the city. It coated rough, disturbed mounds of earth under which a knowing fox slept on quietly, surrounded by her young. Tomorrow some would wake up and feel a necessary rush of excitement. It had snowed for Christmas day. Then there were those who already knew.