RUNNER-UP: Laura Riley
Do I have my keys?
Yes, of course I do. I already checked. Twice. OK, nothing wrong with a final check. Yep, there they are.
Oh no the coffee machine… The warmer is still on. It’s on a timer Sarah, it will turn itself off eventually. Don’t worry about it. Oh no, wait. Am I thinking about the old machine? Maybe I should check the manual. Do I have time? Yes, it’s only 3 o’clock. I don’t have to be there for two hours. Where did I put the manual. Here it is. OK, great, it will turn itself off after thirty minutes.
Wait, that can’t be right. I had coffee over an hour ago. Why is it still on? I should just turn it off. OK, it’s off. The pot’s dirty now. Should I clean up? No, it’ll still be here when I get back. It’ll be fine.
What if it goes really well and he wants to come back here though? What if he’s really into cleanliness? What an awful first impression to make. No, I should clean the whole kitchen. It should sparkle.
What time is it now? Twenty past four. I said I’d be there at five. I’m running out of time. I can’t be late. How would that look? He’d know then. He’d realise how messy my life is. How could we move on from there? No, I can’t go out today. There’s not enough time. I’ll just cancel. Maybe tomorrow.
I’ll be ready tomorrow.
WINNER: Nathalie Kernot
The Salmon Run
The window bites cold at her fingers as she holds them to it, a long, still wave. He has reached the crossing, penguin-huddled with men in jeans, dark coats, peeking scrubs of hair. The sky a burnt blue, the sun violent on parked cars and windows and the pale faces of strangers, the grimy pavement bleached brilliant white under their feat. Her breath mists the glass, changes the weather. When it fades, he is on the other side of the street.
She is taking less with her than she expected. Her clothes, her makeup, some photographs, a hollow nest of space at the top of the bag. The inside of it still warm, this morning, when she put her chilled hand in to check. Its leather fine and smooth, an old cheek under her palm.
The rest of the house is dark behind her, the soft cushion of their things. A rug she doesn’t like. The chair he favours in the evenings, shying from her hand as it reaches to touch his hair. His piano, untouched. It presses her close to the window, lets her turn to watch him nearing the corner.
He will call her mother, first. He will be alright.
He is too far to see properly, now, a little minnow, a silver flash in the sun. Maybe looking back at the house, maybe watching for her with his marble eyes, unchanged since he was first in her arms, slick and hot and newly born.
Congratulations, Laura – and an extra big congratulations to Nathalie, for being our winner two weeks in a row! Outstanding.
See you all next week, you wonderful bunch of fiction fiends. May your weekends be word-filled.