Excerpts from

 

SENTINEL CHAMPIONS

The Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competitions Magazine

 

 

#8, November 2011

 

Winners and Highly Commended works from the

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story Competitions (April 2011)

 

 

Edited by

Nnorom Azuonye

 

Judged & Selected by

Andy Willoughby (Poems)

Jude Dibia (Short Stories)

 

SPM Publications

London


 

Foreword

 

I am very pleased indeed to welcome you to another beautiful issue of Sentinel Champions magazine. If you have been on this journey with us, if you have regularly read the champions series, you will agree with us that #8 features some excellent poetry and truly remarkable, memorable short stories. I will mention some of my favourites below.

The judges; Andy Willoughby (poems) and Jude Dibia (short stories) did a great job in selecting the winners and commended works in this issue. There is also one poem from our January 2011 poetry competition; ‘14th December 2008’ by Claire Pankhurst which was supposed to have appeared in #7 but was left out. Appearing in #8 and being the last creative read in this issue it appears deliberate that it should be seen at this time of the year, just before Christmas 2011, as 14th of December 2008 could easily be 14th or another day in December 2011 – one of those days we all have when everything stops or goes into slow motion and we review the madness of the season while all the natural elements around us carry on with life without a care.

Stories that tease my emotions, or those that leave me wondering what their dénouements had actually been are those that stay with me for years.

I found Colouring Matthew by Bruce Harris especially tender and sad. At the end of the story I found myself making notes for ‘Versifying Friendships’ – a short story I may never write about friends who approach me to capture their lives in poetry as Matthew was captured in a portrait on canvas by his best friend at the twilight of his life. An outstanding achievement by Harris that may yield itself to cinematic treatment someday, I predict.

There is also the sliding doorish ‘If’ – a surprisingly enigmatic short story by Ina Claire Gabler. A soaring examination of filial relationships, parallel lives and the place of the things we hold dear. This story is cleverly woven around an irreplaceable and very expensive violin forgotten on a train. Any great loss there, afterall, given its source?

Eileen Hoon’s ‘Mrs. Mackenzie’s Secret’ is a compelling story about walls built around the heart and delayed release of grief in a touching even if some might say, somewhat contrived sisterhood of sorrow. This story won the first prize and I can see why, but I suspect that Hoon may revisit it and re-imagine the end.

Special thanks to Andrew Blackman for ‘Are We There Yet?’ – a seering portrait from a disembodied consciousness of one part of a suicide pact. Reading this, I can’t help wondering, what exactly do people feel or see or know when they are making the final journey? Crisp.

The poets here gave Andy Willoughby a tough judging time and I can see why. Ellie Evans achieves great work in ‘The Living Business of a Badger’ a title that may attract some animal lovers until they realise the relationship Evans presents us with has nothing to do with Mustelidae. Outstanding.

Frankly, I wish we had no page limits to this magazine, so that I may dwell more on the other fantastic poems and stories in its pages. But if you are reading this, then you are in danger of encountering some truly remarkable pieces of writing that you surely will return to from time to time.

 

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas to you and your family. All of us at Sentinel Poetry Movement wish you a prosperous and creatively abundant 2012.

 

Creatively yours

 

Nnorom Azuonye

 


 

 

Mrs. Mackenzie’s Secret

By Eileen Hoon

 

Mrs. Mackenzie tweaked back her white, nylon net curtains and studied the removal van standing outside the bungalow next door. Not quite Pickfords, she thought, but passably respectable. The removal men in their clean, brown overalls seemed business-like, brisk and efficient. Mrs. Mackenzie approved of that. However, Mrs. Mackenzie's principal interest lay in the contents of the van.  The quality and style of the furnishings she noted.  The number of packing cases she registered. But her eyes, from behind their mildly ornate spectacles, were searching for a cot, a toy box, the plethora of items that might indicate to Mrs. Mackenzie's horror, the presence of children.

When Mrs. Mackenzie had first heard that the couple moving in next door were in their thirties, she had been irate.  This was a retirement area.  Bungalows were not suitable for families.  They belonged on the nice, purpose-built estate at the other end of the village, with all the appropriate facilities. Her friends agreed.  Now as Mrs. Mackenzie made her own mental inventory, she began to relax.  No children.  No signs of children.  She turned away from the window to make herself a cup of tea.

It was generally acknowledged that Mrs. Mackenzie disliked children.  Those who knew her best had no idea why this should be, and indeed Mrs. Mackenzie herself would never discuss it.  The subject was one to be avoided, a part of herself that was buried under many years of history, a part of herself that had, with effort, moved from pain to anger, a part of herself that was already dead…

 


 

 

Are we there yet?

By Andrew Blackman

 

The pain, intense a moment ago, has disappeared.  Orange shapes dance on her eyelids, familiar yet unnamable.

‘Are we there yet?’

‘Not yet, darling.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I can still feel your hand.  It’s cold, and sweating a little.’

Alice tries to relax.  She doesn’t want to ruin things. She tries to make her eyes see more than the orange shapes, and for a brief moment an image of their old nicotine-stained bedroom ceiling appears ghostlike. She can even see the old fan whirring, tickling the cheap lace lampshade, but then it fades to nothing.  She squeezes Bill’s hand, or tries to, but where her hand should be is just air. He must have felt her, though, because he says, ‘It’s okay, honey.  It’s okay.’

A moment later she feels something rough scrape across her forehead. Instinctively she cries out, but then she hears Bill saying, ‘It’s okay honey. It’s okay.’ It must have been his hand, but it didn’t feel like his at all.  Bill’s hands were always so smooth: one of the perks of management, he would boast with a suave smile.  She loved his hands more than anything else.  She would watch him writing letters, just to see the way his long, elegant fingers made the fountain pen a natural extension of his body.  When he played the piano, his fingers would skate across the keys like a delicate insect dancing nimbly on the surface of a pond.  And at night, it was his touch that she craved more than anything else.  She let him do more, of course, and it was nice, but she would have been quite happy just having those soft hands skate lightly across her skin until the sun rose.

They haven’t done that sort of thing for a long time, of course.  Something big happened, and their lives changed.  She tries to access it, but her mind won’t give her anything more than fragments: impressions of white and green, the stench of bedsores stuck to scratchy sheets.  Perhaps it’s just as well that the details remain beyond her.  It must have been quite bad for them to be where they are now.  And here, right now, now that the pain has gone, it’s quite nice just lying, feeling nothing, seeing nothing but the orange shapes now starting to fade into darkness.  She knows that she and Bill can’t stay here much longer, but she wishes they could.  It’s nice, lying on the bed holding hands with Bill, even if she can’t feel his hand or hers, or even the bed beneath her back... 

 


 

 

If

By Ina Claire Gabler

 

If the pretty woman hadn’t sat next to him on the train, he wouldn’t be stricken on the platform, his hand empty where the case should be. He composes himself surprisingly well as he pinpoints what led to this disaster: her voice mesmerized him; she awakened his desire only to hurt him with a cordial good-bye when his stop came at Penn Station. It wasn’t his fault; he’s been lonely. And now the violin, once destined for a Sotheby auction, is up for grabs on the rack above a train seat whose number he has forgotten.           

            If it were anything else - even his handmade acoustic guitar, his only treasure - his dreadful ache would pass in time. At least his mother’s recent death spares him from her derision, and from her cruel silence.

            If only Samantha weren’t like their mother. Peering down the empty track, he imagines the train returning to him as if it were alive, with feeling and the love of virtue, delivering his famous mother’s Stradivarius and restoring the one hope for redeeming his future somehow. Samantha. The thought of her traps him where he’s standing on the platform, ashamed of his childish fear of her when he’s just turned forty-seven. She’ll moan deep in her throat like their mother did when she got dead angry: You lost two-and-a-half million dollars.

            If she’d let go of grudges, they might be able to solve the problem together. He hears himself forced to admit he forgot to renew their mother’s costly insurance (why didn’t he drive with the violin safe in the car?), and something vile slithers down his back beneath his coat, his shirt, his undershirt. Just how do you expect to pay me my share, Douglas? Her simmering rage would undo him. 

            If he could retrieve the violin, he’d win her respect for taking charge of the situation. He’ll find someone official…

 


 

ELLIE EVANS

 

The Living Business of a Badger

 

I

 

A perfunctory coupling

because my temperature said so

(a second baby is a good idea).

 

How easily you grew and came,

your fontanelle

smelling like a kitten, your back

 

the size and shape

of the duck I cooked

two weeks later.

 

Your hands damp limpets,

ears like furled sprouts

or calamares.

 

Each day we woke

to the clash of rattles

strung across your cot

 

and later, to the clack of plastic

as you knelt on the lino

raking over the Lego.

 


 

BRUCE GARDNER

 

Death in Inverness

 

I woke to gathered clouds this day

and saw stark death had come by night -

the old man in the corner, splayed,

robbed of his speech, his sounds and sight.

 

He was my best friend: long since we

made boys’ flights to river-lands;

we laughed at leaping salmon’s light,

bent pins held, useless, in our hands.

 

History passed us, like some bus

whose banner headlines tantalise

with worldly visions we could not -

would not - behold with common eyes.

 

So, in decline, we bent with age:

first his - then my - wife faded fast.

We sing our threadbare threnody

in blue-veined frailty, cold at last.

 

But, now he’s gone, I lie so still,

Life broken, inadvertently:

my brother’s dead, who never had,

in life, such dignity.

 


 

Having a Cigarette

By Anne Wilson

 

Mother says, ‘they say having a cigarette is bad for you now, but it wasn’t always. It wasn’t bad for you when we started smoking in the forties, but now doctors have made it bad for you, like best butter and other things’.

My mother grew up in a grim north-east town. Cobbled streets with small wooden hatches set into back-yard walls for sacks of coal from the nearby colliery to be emptied through. A black landslide in the coal-house leaching a film of coal dust through damp back-yard air; settling across the hard wooden seat in the outdoor lavatory, on torn-up squares of newspaper hanging from a hook; everything cold as iron.

Gritty pavements, spotted with phlegm coughed up by miners and their families. Gobbets of phlegm were everywhere, even on the red double decker buses; no-one noticed. Rag-and-bone men drove blinkered horses over the cobbles; miners relied on pit-ponies and canaries. Gaunt Lowrie-esque figures went about their business; men in drab clothing, wives in floral pinafores. 

In the evenings, home fires burned and the air smelled faintly of gas from softly hissing wall lights and gas rings for heating water for cooking. Heavy chenille drapes guarded doorways and windows from night-time fog. ‘Real pea-soupers’, Mother says.

Most adults shared a powerful addiction, nearly everyone smoked.

Hollywood stars of the day posed, flirted, fell in love, always wreathed in drifting, eddying cigarette smoke. ‘Having a cigarette’ was part of a new era, a glamorous lifestyle to which all could aspire…

 


 

Colouring Matthew

By Bruce Harris

 

A casual lunch, one of our occasional get-togethers, and my old friend Matthew surprised me, which didn’t happen very often.

“You’ve never actually drawn me, have you?”

I took this to be the kind of gentle banter we still indulged in, even in our mid-fifties.

“God, Matthew, I know only too well what you look like. Why on earth would I want to draw you?”

He smiled dutifully but tensely; something else was happening here.

“Do you really want me to draw you?”

“I think I would enjoy it”, he said, but again, words and face didn't quite match up. “It occurred to me the other day when I was talking to Richard Preston, who’s done one or two of your exhibitions, I believe” He suddenly said, “has he ever done a sketch of you, Paul Curzon the portrait man, because it would go beautifully with your university wild life thing? You know, we’re doing an exhibition on endangered species and Richard’s advising us.”

“Oh, I see. Well, yes, of course, Matthew, why not?”

A mere week later, he sat for me, and by this time, certain puzzling developments had unsettled me about the whole business. I thought he meant some vague time in the future when we could both fit it in, but two phone calls seemed to indicate an odd sense of urgency about it and I even bunked a couple of people down the waiting list to make room for him. Then I met up with Richard Preston in a different context and it became dear enough that he'd had no such conversation with Matthew. But I went ahead with it anyway, figuring he’d let me know if and when it suited him.

He sat very well, and I expected no less. Being still, quiet and thoughtful does not present problems for Matthew Harrington. I’d known him since we started infant school together, bawling and grizzling when our mummies had gone until we caught each other's eyes and realised what burkes we were making of ourselves. We had a sexual thing between about thirteen and fifteen, as more boys do than admit to, and it was really good fun, to be honest; we kind of taught each other all the relevant details before launching ourselves into the big wide relationship world. His gayness continued, mine didn’t…

 


 

The Mackwater Seam

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

The man who drew the map of Mackwater was having a bad day. He was about to rule a line from west to east along the axis of Harper Road, which sat close to the centre of the area depicted. It was his intention to add, below this line, in a spirit of ironic detachment, the words, niggers & white trash, and above it, respectable middle class people, but instead, in a fit of pique, he spun the ruler through ninety degrees and drew the line north south. He then rose to his feet, cursed inaudibly, and left the offices of the Mackwater Clarion for good and all.

A later hand, to explain the line, added the words, Mackwater West to the left of it, and East Mackwater, to the right. Forty two hundred copies of this map, or thereabout, had been sold by the time this story started, which was, I suppose,

sufficient.

Charles Harrison lived next door to his brother-in-law on the north side of Harper road. The semi-detached houses were well maintained, large and in a post-colonial style. Through them, on the map of Mackwater, as issued by the local paper,  ran a broad line, that if it had to be shown upon the ground, in true scale, would have reached well into the living space on either side of the party wall. None of this was known to either the Harrisons, or to their relatives and neighbours, the Rileys.

It was Christmas time and tensions were running high in both households. A shared festive meal was being planned. The Harrisons were providing the bird, and the Rileys, the accompaniments. Charles Harrison looked out across the road, to the far side, where the trailers of Martha and Joe Bisley, sprawled like the legs of a comfortable drunk…

 


 

RICHARD HALPERIN

 

The Animals All Knew, Without Saying

 

Quiet in a quiet house is a good thing.

Panic at quiet in a quiet house is a

Leaper - to the mouth, hand leaping to the mouth

To stuff the panic back. 

 

Quiet in a quiet house is a heart pounding,

Is the doppelganger in the mirror, is

The other Tristan, Iseult nowhere where

She should be which is why the house is quiet.

 

It’s Christmas Eve. Snow outside falls softly.

Negative ions are good things, Science says,

Negative ions are good things. My ears pop

As if I’m in a plane, and I am in the eye

 

Of quiet.  The ear adjusts, like a cowed dog.

So quiet the house, the chair, the heart, the hour,

The world an anvil, I an anvil, waiting for

Christ the Hammerer.

 

 

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