RUNNER-UP: John Herbert
‘This,’ the Head Man said, ‘is Devaux. Higgins, see to it that you look after him, lest you incur my displeasure.’ He glared at me with his one good eye before sweeping out. I felt the ghost of my last flogging clear up my back.
The servant deposited the desk next to mine, along with the pale creature who accompanied it. I slid my primer to the middle and jabbed at where we were, stealing a glance at his fine suiting and the gold pen he pulled from a pocket.
O’Callaghan threw paper at him and said to the class, ‘As you were. Mr Malloy,’ rounding on the boy at the front, hunched over his books. ‘Don’t think that distraction will save you. Continue.’
As Malloy stammered through his lines and my own turn neared, I watched Devaux’s pen produce a fine copperplate, a complete translation of the passage. He pushed it with one thin finger to the centre of the desk where I might hide it from view.
‘Higgins, you preternatural disappointment, what have you to offer?’ I made sure to pause for thought, to mask the crib and feign a struggle. ‘Surprisingly competent,’ was all I got in return. ‘And you? Devaux is it?’
Devaux’s deep voice was shocking, emanating from so meagre a frame. He continued until O’Callaghan slammed a hand upon his desk. ‘Vanity is a sin, Devaux,’ he said and stalked back to his board.
‘So, sir, is wrath,’ Devaux replied, his thin neck bowed.
RUNNER-UP: Louise Swingler
The desk was out of kilter with the pattern of the existing desks in the classroom. Three rows, desks paired down each row. Identical, simple desks; a square of plywood on a cantilever support – looking, side-on, like a collapsing square bracket.
The new desk shouted John Lewis or Heals. The servant removed the masking tape and the drawers flew in and out; airborne on perfectly engineered runners.
It was placed at the front of the middle row. Two boys had to move their desks to the back, near where the musical instruments were stored.
They wheeled him to the desk in a wheeled chair, too beautiful to be called a wheelchair; minimal, lime green and trendy orange, wheels making no sound. The boy was as slender as wheat, translucent, almost – his neck white and hairless, slightly crookedly rising from narrow shoulders as if he had the habit of cringing.
The servant plugged thin, elegant wires into the tiny person. The desk top tipped up, revealing a wide screen that seemed to hover, on which the teacher’s words appeared as he spoke them.
When it was time to play their solos, many of them stumbled on notes they already knew, or lost their places. Then, when at last it was his turn, four slim triangular speakers rose up from each corner of the new desk. It was as if water had risen on wings when the boy began, his head quivering with the melody as it filled the room.
WINNER: Kathy Stevens
At St. Matthew’s Academy for Problem Boys
We all knew who he was, of course; most of us had seen the movie that week, sneaking out one by one from the dorms after last rounds. Some had seen it twice, it was that good. Even my mother, who was the most out-of-touch person I knew, had said she’d read all about the movie, and him, in the paper. He was all over the papers. For good reasons and bad.
He looked at the desk, set apart from ours and bigger, sneered, and plonked himself down in one lazy movement. His escorts left.
“Enough,” said the master, “Face front.” We glanced at the blackboard but the moment he returned to his scrawled sums we turned to stare, as one, at our new classmate.
I tore a page from my exercise book and wrote a note: Nice to meet you, I liked your movie. I folded it into an elaborate paper plane which I launched as the old master pottered on with his algebra.
My note landed squarely on the actor’s desk.
He opened it, read it, and, scanning the room, looked for its origin. I raised my hand and he nodded. He bent over the scrap and added his reply. Scrunched it into a ball and chucked it at me.
My breath coming quick and short as I opened the movie star’s note, I read: fuck off loser.
I knew then, without a doubt, that we were going to be the very best of friends.
Congratulations, John, Louise and Kathy! And thanks to everyone for all your brilliant stories.
Happy weekends, happy writing!