SCARS - 2nd Prize - Lynda Mason
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Second prize was awarded to Lynda Mason for her darkly funny and incredibly moving piece, NINE CIRCLES:
by Lynda Mason
6.30pm, Berwick Apartments, London
Classic FM plays softly in Flat Number One. Marcia is trying out a new recipe; a glossy cookbook propped in front of her on the kitchen counter. Bending down to peer through the sticky glass of the oven door, she smiles uncertainly. The view from within is dim and unearthly – but it does seem to look like the enticing photo that accompanies the text and certainly a savoury smell is filling the air.
She decides to pour herself a glass of chilled Sancerre and then closes her eyes for a few glorious moments. The evening sunlight coats her closed eyelids in honey and gold.
Suddenly, a rhythmic tapping is heard. A sharp metallic noise jars and shudders through the peace and quiet. Exactly like the sound of a walking stick hitting a bed frame in fact.
“MUM!”, Marcia shouts.
“Stop that. Please!”
The banging continues. It gets louder; the pace more frenzied. This is a new habit, one of many distressing developments over the past year.
“One day”, she whispers to herself. “One day, I am going to kill her”
Over in Flat Two, Peter dreams of penguins.
His alarm is set. At 2am, the fluorescent numbers will flash and blaze with a sickly green fire, just as a hideous buzzing begins. The tone of this alarm clock is the kind of horrible noise any human being would want to put a stop to immediately and it is the exact reason Peter bought such a cheap and nasty item in the first place.
At 2.05am he will rise and get ready to start his early shift at the 24 hour Tesco on Ennis Road.
For now, he is floating dreamily in an Arctic sea amongst a million wriggling penguins.
Alex sits in Flat Three thinking about how much she hates Zoom. Auditions via Zoom feel even worse to her somehow, more stilted and unnatural even than those awkward family quizzes or stuttering work calls.
She has read all of her lines into the air and talked enthusiastically about the play.
Now, there is an awful hanging silence. Alex desperately tries to look bright, engaged and alert. To appear talented and appealing when all she really wants to do is flatten down those wayward strands of hair she can see in the little thumbnail image of her on-screen.
She would quite like to check whether the spot she has also just seen is really as big as it appears to be. She would love to snap her laptop shut and give up. But she knows that she cannot. These tormented moments represent both her fears and her desires, her shadow-life. The life that might just be about to start.
A cough rings out, harsh and tinny in the quiet of the room.
The director stares out of the screen. He is bald and slim and he wears a revolting khaki ribbed sweater. Currently, he is also wearing a pained expression.
Alex’s heart cracks, just a little. One more tiny, hairline fracture to add to all the others.
“How many times”, she thinks, as her face contorts into a smile. “How many times can I put myself through this?”
Graham resides at Flat Four. This is the time of day that he prefers to work on his novel. It is called Starling and is a vast family saga over four decades.
In Graham’s head, this work is a sweeping and magnificent piece of art. On the page however, it consistently turns into what can only be called a steaming pile of horse manure. He knows this. All those poetic, majestic sentences he crafts so lovingly, it is as if the words in those sentences get up and dance merrily about before dropping down in any old place on the page. The result being absolute howling drivel.
He grimaces. Whoever says writing is easy, well he thinks, those people are pieces of shit. His mind immediately picks out several prolific authors he finds particularly annoying. Their success, the voluptuosity of their talent infuriates him. His mood darkens and sours like bad wine.
When his cat Eris swishes past, she also looks singularly unimpressed with Graham’s progress. With a vast leap she lands on the windowsill, her tail swaying from side to side like a drunken man walking along a canal.
In one quick, vicious movement Graham throws his heavy notebook at her.
Ghazal and Saeed have lived in Flat Five for three months and two days and still the rooms are full of boxes. Saeed will unpack a box one day only to find it defiantly repacked the next.
“This was meant to be temporary!”, Ghazal screams at him almost every night.
“I HATE it here!”
Their arguments never end and never vary. The same refrain repeats over and over, like a mournful tune that refuses to die.
Saeed will never understand his wife. Surely this place is a million times better than where they have come from. A million times safer, warmer? This is an actual home where they can start again, build a family, be happy.
But Ghazal only wails and throw things. She eats her dinner in stony silence and phones her sister. Only much, much later will she begin to cry.
On the top floor, in Flat Seven, Maureen is online. A silver surfer she believes it is called and she can never decide if she resents that phrase or rather likes the spryness of it. It gives what she is doing a certain flair she feels.
Currently, she is viewing the profile of a man who calls himself Bobbythebrush55. Bobby has uploaded a photograph of himself that is conveniently vague. In it, he stands quite far away from the camera and he is also slightly out of focus. Maureen tilts her head and squints. Perhaps through the prism of a new blur, this photographic blur might magically clear and sharpen.
This idea does not work. So she enlarges the image as much as is possible on the screen, before reaching into a drawer to retrieve her magnifying glass, the one with the handy LED light.
The seconds hang in the air and then creep away shamefaced.
Maureen sighs. Bobbythebrush55 appears to be almost toothless. He has an unidentifiable, but quite large stain on his grey jacket.
Most disconcerting of all of course, is the long, limp penis that hangs out of his trousers like an apology.
“Marvellous”, says Maureen out loud. “And another one bites the dust”
Jas and Karen lie on the bed in Flat Eight. They are holding hands. Karen has left the TV on by mistake and they can both hear the jaunty opening bars of their favourite quiz show ringing around the empty living room.
“It will be nothing”, Karen declares in a determined tone. Her voice is firm and her mouth sets into a line as unbending as the horizon.
She holds Jas’s hand tighter, then tighter again. Their fingers are not so much laced together as embedded in each other. Looking at the two women, nobody could tell where one hand ended and the next hand began.
“I know”, Jas nods. “Yes”
“Really, it’s good that they're being thorough”
“Oh yes”. repeats Jas.
She wriggles her feet. It feels like a good way to disguise the fact she is trembling. Out of nowhere she suddenly thinks to herself, “I’m wearing odd socks!”
“That’s meant to be lucky”, she says abruptly.
Beside her, Karen starts. “What is?”
Jas jiggles her feet again. “Wearing odd socks”
They both stare up at the ceiling.
“Lucky, yes”, Karen says and her voice is flat and weighted, like a stone.
In Flat Nine, the apartment the residents call The Attic, Debo is lying in the hallway.
Their letterbox rattles. Swiftly, a white envelope floats down, coming to rest on their red shirt like a huge snowflake. It is soft and light, like a feathered kiss.
Debo has been dead for three days now. They will never read the letter.
They will never eat the vegetarian lasagne in the kitchen, hardened on the plate and greening with mould.
Juno Dawson’s book on the bedside table will remain unfinished, forever cut short at page 137.
It will be two more days before Debo is found. Their sister Kara will let herself in. When Kara enters the room, she will gasp and moan. She will call an ambulance and pace. Up and down, down and up. She will not know what to do with her hands.
Finally, unthinkingly Kara will lift the envelope from her sibling’s chest. She will read the words inside and put her hand to her heart.
Later, she will find a drawer full of identical white envelopes, with identical letters nestling inside them like pearls.
Block capitals. Hand drawn swastikas. Bad spelling. The letters shout, despite the silence.
GO HOME WEERDO! BLACK BOY DRESSING AS A GIRL.
THIS IS A NICE NEIGHBORHOOD. YOUR NOT WELCOME HERE.
Copyright. Lynda Mason.
Lynda lives in Birmingham, UK and this is the second short story she has ever written. Inspired by the loneliness of lockdowns, she decided to write about the hidden lives and stories that are all around us. She is currently writing a Young Adult novel.