RUNNER-UP: Jennifer Harvey
Tom dashes down the pier and I sprint after him.
‘Last one in’s a wimp!’ he cries.
I’m the faster runner, but he has a head start and I can only watch as he launches himself, arms akimbo, then hangs in the air like a bird, before hitting the water with a wild, triumphant whoop.
Earlier, we had watched the swans take off from the lake, the low thrum of their wings, strangely menacing, and at odds with the comical slap of their webbed feet as they gathered speed over the water.
Tom had stood so still as he watched them, awestruck. He’d never seen a swan take off before. Knew only their elegant, gliding forms. Those long necks.
But I know differently. I know that swans, for all their grace and beauty are not to be messed with. Neither am I.
So I do not jump. I dive into the water. Eyes open, arms straight, no splash as I enter. Just a slow, clean slide, deep into the green.
From below I look up and see Tom’s legs above me. I watch him hover and turn in circles. He is looking for me, wondering where I jumped. If I jumped.
And I rise, slowly. Creeping towards him, a pale arm reaching out to tug at his leg.
When I surface he is splashing. Frightened.
‘Damn it Addy!’
And I laugh and pull away.
‘Wimp!’ I cry.
And in the distance there’s a honk. The swans agreeing with me.
WINNER: Nathalie Kernot
The After Summer
He feels it at once, the thick muscled slap of the water, its pulsing tongue, its lips closing over his head. It’s dark and green and the cold a quick slice all along the edges of his skin. He kicks out unevenly, swimming as deep as he can until the swelling urgency is too much and he has to let go, whistles upright, breaks the surface. The seam of water at his chest is the coldest part, now, the breeze above it gentle and warm.
His cousin is closer to the dock, smaller than he is, paddling with little paw-hands, streams of her hair sectioning her face. It’s late, the sky melting yellow in the west, the green of the water reaching to meet it. The grown-ups stand like herons on the shore, fishing for lost shoes and bottles and sunglasses in the grass. He can see his father’s sister, her husband, his grandmother folded up small in her chair, maybe asleep, maybe watching him through the soft folds of skin around her eyes, the makeup that bleeds into her wrinkles. He waves, in case.
The water around him is almost still, now, so that he can see the doubled sky, the wobbling edges of cloud. His family, smaller and smaller in the growing dark. His father is watching him, eyes in shadow, one hand clasped over the little egg-cup chair his mother always sat in.
Congratulations, Jennifer and Nathalie! And thanks to everyone.
See you next week!