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Short story competition: Fate Perhaps by Jill Anabona Smith (3rd place)

PUBLISHED: 10:58 18 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:57 18 March 2016

Jill Smith

Jill Smith

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Kent Life’s very first Short Story Competition attracted a wealth of entries and selecting the best of the best was a difficult task but we have them here for you to read

You’ve never heard of the Isle of Thanet?

Think of the outline of England and the bit pointing out into the North Sea – there, in the bottom right hand corner of Kent – that’s Thanet.

But, you protest, an island is land surrounded by sea. If you Google it, close-up, Thanet might be rather remote but is nevertheless firmly

connected to the mainland; the very end of the line literally, that the Victorians built to lure wealthy visitors here. Zoom in further, however, and you’ll see that where the sea has receded, the Isle is still isolated but now by oceans of cauliflower fields, fields so wet on this late

December afternoon that the sea might as well have never gone away.

At the Isle’s heart these days, too recent for maps to show it, lies a great lagoon of car roofs, the drenched horizon broken here and there by the raised tailgate of a 4x4, like surf on a reef.

As dusk fell, colours blended into the steely monochrome of the night ocean and far across the car park, Tesco Extra twinkled through the squalls like the lights on a distant shore as the Rotarians’ sleigh boomed out carols.

In this remote corner, though, it was very dark.

“Can I help?”

The man’s voice made Maureen jump as she bent to unlock the car door.

“No thank you. I can manage.”

Aware of the dangers of seasonal muggers, she gripped the keys more tightly. One heard stories of men watching, following women who’d obviously forgotten where they’d parked.

“Only …”

“I said I can manage thank you.”

She used the voice that made the boys mucking about in the library – her library – fall silent.

“It’s just … That’s my car, you see.”

Horrified, she whirled round to see the dark-haired, neat man duck just in time to dodge the spokes of her umbrella. She turned back to the car sending another slew of water over him.

Oh it was the same model all right, but the jumble of clothes spilling from the back seat – now she peered through the rain streaming down the window – was definitely not hers.

“I’m terribly sorry.”

Hoping the twilight was hiding her scarlet face, she jumped back tripping on the kerb and wet shopping, brolly and keys all slipped from her grasp. Tins tumbled, clanging and banging down the car door and splashing into the puddles at her feet.

“Oh!”

“Nice house,” he said admiringly while she dealt with the double lock as they sheltered from the rain slewing horizontally off the Channel behind them.

With him in it too, Maureen’s porch seemed suddenly smaller. Beside them, in the drive, her car stood innocently where it had been all afternoon.

“The view must be quite something in the summer. The harbour … always something to see.”

He held the door for Maureen then insisted on carrying in the runaway shopping.

“Bit big for just me. The people from London snap them up, spend fortunes on them. But you get used to the view. I hardly notice it most days, to be honest.”

She pushed her way into the hall over the free paper and stacked the dripping brolly on the coat-stand, colouring slightly at the fib. Even now, she knew, there’d be lonely figures down on the East Pier, waterproofed from head to toe, numbly skewering wriggling worms onto their hooks. She could see their lights from her bedroom. They were there in all weathers, hooded in winter, bare-torsoed in summer.

“I suppose …,” she began. “No, silly of me. It was so kind of you to give me a lift. You’ll have to be getting off now. Won’t be a tick, I must give you my insurance details. Your bodywork …,’ she began, then stopped hurriedly.

“My bodywork is fine,” he smiled. “And I’m in no hurry at all.”

How strong a man must be, to hold all that weight so effortlessly …

“Do put all that down. Please. You’re soaked. They rolled everywhere, didn’t they? A cup of tea, perhaps? The least I can do. And I made mince pies this morning. Heaven only knows when I thought I was going to eat them all. Stupid of me. Completely forgot I’d got the free bus to Tesco’s. And when I got there, with Whiskas on special offer, I loaded up without thinking.”

Oh Maureen, stop prattling – men hate that.

“Easily done, I’m sure,” he replied gently. “But I’m very partial to a home-made mince pie.”

He followed her into the kitchen.

“So you’re here on your own then?”

“Just me and the cat,” she said, warming the pot.

This was going to be easier than he’d thought.

‘It just didn’t work out,’ head down, his voice was a husky whisper. ‘I thought we were happy. But she … well, she found someone else.”

Someone else, thought Maureen. How

profligate some women manage to be.

He shrugged and drained his cup.

“Obviously I couldn’t stay there. Threw my stuff into the car and drove all day – never been to this corner of England before. The Isle of Thanet it said. That’s it, I thought. Sounds like the perfect sort of place for an escape. Was running out of petrol when I saw Tesco’s. Filled up, realised I hadn’t eaten since – well, yesterday actually – went in for coffee and a pee-paper. And when I came out, there you were,” he grinned. “So wet I thought a mermaid was trying to get into my car.”

And Maureen gave a little shiver of delight at the idea of herself as such an exotic creature.

“You haven’t caught cold have you?” He was all concern.

“Oh no,” she reassured. “It’s just … well, it’s silly of me, but … perhaps it was fate? Like me making all these mince pies? Have another? “

She shrugged her shoulders as he accepted. Just silly.

“I tell you one thing,” he munched appreciatively, careful to make sure any crumbs landed squarely on the china plate. “Their teacakes aren’t a patch on your cooking.

“And anyway you weren’t so much a mermaid as a modern-day Grace Darling, rescuing a drowning stranger.”

For a moment, Maureen couldn’t speak, so overwhelmed was she by the sheer romance of it all. She gulped.

“So. Where are you heading next?”

He shrugged: “No idea, to be honest. I think I passed a Travelodge near the car park?”

“But it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow. You’d be all alone there. That’s too awful.”

She stood and took the cups and saucers to the sink.

“I don’t suppose …”

“What?”

His head on one side, he smiled again and all the fairy lights in the world flashed and twinkled in Maureen’s rather drab kitchen.

She swallowed. Now or never. It was, after all, a Christian act at Christmas.

“Well … there’s plenty of room here. You know, just for a night – day or two. Until you get sorted out.”

The rain was still slapping against the big bay window as Maureen sat up in bed, hands clasped round her knees, tutting at the draught moving the curtains. She’d have to get the man back to see to them again.

This nightie really wasn’t the sort of thing she’d usually go for but it had been reduced in the

pre-Christmas sales. The marketing team had probably thought it would be snapped up by a man for whom time was running out to find a present for Her Indoors, hurrying up the

escalator wild-eyed and grabbing the crimson satin without further thought because after all, she’d probably change it on Boxing Day.

But it had been Maureen, idling past the rail, glancing down from time to time into the café below, who’d unhooked it carefully and watched it slither bloodily into her trolley on top of the cat food. She turns her head at the squeak of the bedroom door’s handle slowly moving, just the way it does in films…

The hours she’s spent at this room’s window have taught her you need patience, and the right gear, to be a successful angler wherever you fish.

A Seasonal Special, toasted teacake and a hot drink for only £1.50, was unusual bait, but then the supermarket’s steamy café was no ordinary fishing ground. Lowering the sheet a little, Maureen reels in her catch.

This is going to be easier than she’d thought.

Jill Anabona Smith

Tell us a bit about you

Funnily enough I was born in a nursing home around the corner from where I live now in Broadstairs, but the journey from there to here has included working and living in most of Kent and London.

Early retirement was a chance to try the things I’d never had time for – and writing was the one that I enjoyed the most. And “retirement” isn’t at all how you imagine it’s going to be. It should be renamed reinvention.

For the first time in my life I started a small business (making wedding cakes) and with a new standard parti poodle puppy and writing, I’ve never been busier.

Thanet is such a special place; the quality

of ‘Turner’s light’ illuminates all the human traits and it’s the writer’s job to gather them up into stories.

When did you first start writing?

I enrolled at AdEd Creative Classes where the tutor was inspirational. Funding meant the classes were no longer possible so we began IsleWriters with the aim of continuing to write and hopefully pass on what we’d learned.

They say writers are often only children without siblings and so they store all the little things others share with their brothers and sisters. I’d say that certainly, although some of the group’s best stories come from a member who had four brothers and six sons of her own, so I guess it’s just about finding the time to write!

Have you had any of your work published?

I’ve been lucky enough to win some other fiction competitions, to sell a couple of stories to magazines and each year, IsleWriters publishes at least one anthology. These are themed – wartime, animals, even Dickens – and sold in support of local charities. We know they’re often sent as presents and it’s great to think of our work being read around the world.

My first novel Holes in the Curtain interested a literary agent but my style was described as ‘elegant’, meaning I think in today’s market not likely to sell! I’m halfway through my second, Double Take.

Do you belong to a writers’ group?

IsleWriters meet on the third Wednesday of every month at 2pm at Broadstairs Library and our year incorporates workshop days and local initiatives like Margate Town Team’s The Word Lit fest and the Ageless Thanet open day. We’ve staged exhibitions and keep everyone up-to-date with our Facebook page.

We write to pass on family history, rid

ourselves of demons and spin yarns generally. As well as examining topics like free-writing and self-publishing, each month there’s a suggested theme or members can bring whatever they’re working on.

Constructive feedback is vital (you can always ignore it but often someone else sees something you’ve missed). Putting everything down on paper is therapeutic and once characters take over, stories can go in any direction!

Who is your favourite author?

Hilary Mantel for bringing Henry VIII’s court to life – I can’t wait for The Mirror and the Light – and at the other end of the scale, Jane Gardam’s wonderfully observant short stories which focus on the small things.

What attracted you to enter the Kent Life competition?

I’m always encouraging colleagues to enter competitions and this one called to me because of the chance to shine a spotlight on Kent, a mysteriously underrated county.

Like many people though I’m torn between wanting to shout about its many attributes – peaceful beaches and unhurried pace of life – and keeping them all to myself.

_____

Read the other winning stories here

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