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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Willis

SCARS - Highly Commended Category

Here are our three 'Highly Commended' category winners. It's a distinctly female winning line-up, ranging from completely new writers to well-known authors which put a huge smile on our faces as this is what MONO. strives to be; a beautiful, quirky melting pot of writers of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences.

These pieces are superbly written, impactful, and not for the faint-hearted... we invite you to journey with us as we publish the winning pieces...

THE DROUGHT - Nelly Shulman


BAPTISM - Theresa Kong

*TRIGGER WARNING* - themes of sexual abuse/assault may be present in any of these pieces.


by Nelly Shulman

The drought descended onto the city. Every morning she woke up to the sun glaring over the roofs. She watered the plants thrice daily, and the wrought-iron railings burned her palms. The copper watering tin reflected her distorted face. Standing on a balcony, she contemplated a walk along the canal. The bushes, ripened with sour blackberries, flanked the footpath. The single raspberry bush, the secret of the children, reddened its yield.

The ball hit the walls, berries stained their fingers. Girls skipped the rope. Children came together for the red rover or hide-and-seek, shrieking, “Ready or not, here I come.”

Kids scattered around the courtyard, the drops of ice cream stained the cobblestones.

They bought ice cream in the ugly shack of corrugated steel and dusty glass. The tiny store marked the path to the canal, being the last remnant of the civilization before the jungle obscuring the ancient waterway.

Kids built the crude rafts from fallen trees. Some even reached the distant point where the canal flowed into a river. Here in the old industrial district, the former factories stood in disrepair. The thick carpet of undergrowth covered empty plant yards. Green patches of creeper climbed on the ochre bricks. Moss hid the rusty machinery. Broken windows let the birds into the vast expanses of former depots. Children climbed the tram skeletons, scouted the wastelands for the souvenirs of the lost empire. The enameled tram sign hung on the wall of her apartment. The route did not change, and the number of the service remained the same. The trams now came from the new depot, busying along the nearby street.

Inside the carriage, it was boiling in summer and freezingly desolate in winter. In December, the sun did not visit the low northern skyline. She disembarked at the school stop. The tracks crossed the narrow canal where the carriage climbed the shabby stone bridge. The metro station lay ahead.

She went to school along the cemetery wall, listening to the voices of the factory locomotives. The remains of the old memorials were still visible on the deserted graveyard. During the war, the trucks carried here the cargo of corpses, put in the wet ground of the seaside. The western wind carried an aroma of seaweed, sometimes bringing the fine sand from the flat shore, reachable by the raft. The cobweb of canals ended up on a beach, next to the flocks of gulls. After the shore trip, the clothing held the pungent whiff of the green mass, littered with shells.

Usually, she walked in the more civilized park, but today was different. Dilapidated depots and shipyards became gentrified. The ugly pavilion was torn down. Gone were the rainbow cones, filled with juices, and the steel blender, spitting the frothy foam of the milkshake. The new cafe served seaweed ice cream, almond flour pastries with chia seed filling. The tram line became the heritage route, equipped by carriages of days bygone, with cracked red leatherette seats and wooden interior. In the past, the ticket lady accompanied the tram. A woman touted a canvas bag full of paper rolls of tickets and loose change. She yearned for one of those coins in the shop when her coppers did not add to the requisite sum. The glasses of cloudy apple juice or even the sharp tomato with a sprinkling of gray salt were a poor substitute for the shake foam.

The current tram ran along the heritage track, stopping at the cemetery with the new memorial to the war victims, continuing to the metro station. The former workers’ dwellings received a coat of paint and railings on the balconies. The canal glistened in the morning sun beyond the red brick of former factories. She hoped it would succumb next to the gentrification. She heard about a future granite embankment, bike paths, boat trips, and a park. The banks were overgrown with nettles and brambles. The blackberry bushes yielded a bountiful crop, although she had never seen anyone collecting them.

In the past, her fingers were stained red, and insects buzzed over the brown waters of the canal. Mosquitoes were especially relentless. She tried not to scratch the bites, waiting for the itch to subdue. If you wait, any pain will subdue. Anything in life will disappear, leaving barely perceptible traces, but the drought could unearth them, and she had to take care of it. The visit to the canal required an accessory, an old spade. It went in the wicker basket, under the old string shopper with the cracked leather handles.

At the weekend, the farmers market gathered at the square. She intended to pick up cherry plums on her way to the canal. The fruit was in season, dark red or greenish-yellow, tart and juicy. She never collected berries from the bushes along the canal, eating them straight from the palm of her hand, feeling the hot August sun on her sweaty face. She had never taken anything home from the canal, only leaving things there which sometimes had to be revisited. The street was yet deserted. The farmers’ market was unraveling. The spade was safely hidden under the string bag she used for marketing.

The heritage tram rolled along the tracks. She spent many frozen and windy minutes waiting for the warm uterine darkness of the morning carriage. The dawn passengers filled the tram with the mixture of tobacco residue and sweat of unwashed clothing.

In winter, she was safe, protected by the heavy coat, the woolen school skirt, leggings, and boots the weight of leg irons. She could not imagine anyone wanting to peel off her the single layer.