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Read the winning Flash Short Stories, judged by Nessa O'Mahony, in the 2012 Dromineer Literary Festival Writing Competition

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Nessa O'Mahony judged the Flash Short Story Competition, and read all of the entries.  
At the prize giving, Nessa

said that to write a complete story in six hundred words, is one of the greatest challenges for a writer. She said that when judging stories, she is looking for some element of surprise, of difference, that catches her attention and then holds it to the last word.  These are the stories that managed to achieve that.

Flash Short Story
1st Place
by Cammy Harley (Cork)
2nd Place
Killing Time
by Marie Gethins (Cork)
3rd Place
Cold Comfort
by Margaret Butler (Dublin)
Highly Commended Flash Short Stories

Fear Not by Kieran Lyons (Galway)
Streets of your town by Marie T. Robinson (Dublin)
Revenge by Joan Morrissey (Dublin)
I used to ask him often, often, if he loved me. 
I remember the cycle well –asking and receiving - as if in penance, seeking absolution.  I would be wanting to ask the question days beforehand but too frightened.  Never certain if I was scared that my asking would annoy him or if I was scared of what the answer might be.  I think I was most afraid of not getting an answer at all - of enduring another long, uncertain silence. So, in the lead-up to asking, I would wash dishes, sweep the floor and scan his face – discreetly, always discreetly.  I watched for a moment where he seemed affable, available.  In that moment then, and when he was neither reading, nor plugging his pipe; I would ask.  And the answer, if it came, was always the same.
 ‘I’m here aren’t I?’    
And I would stoop, satisfied at least, of a reply.
Then came a day I was dusting the sills and discovered my brittle reflection in the pane. I looked hard at it - the sad woman peered back at me with a mixture of curiosity and pity. We watched each other for a time – courteous, but direct.
That is the day the chasm was forged.  I made a covenant that I would not speak again.  I would say nothing at all again, unless directly addressed.  I needed to prove that if I didn’t take the initiative to converse, there would be nothing.  I would no longer make enquires as to how his day went. I would no longer ask him anything nor engage him in idle conversation.  I wondered how long it would take him to notice the silence, if he ever would.
The first Friday of my experiment, although I had not spoken for almost a week, things still went on as normal.  He came into the room reeking of smoke and spirits.  He sat heavily on the bed and fumbled his laces.  He reached over, belched, pulled up my nightdress.  He straddled me for a while, stiffened and rolled off. He didn’t even insult me.  There were no words.
At first I felt that I had proven an important point - that without my instigating communication, there was none.   But it became a long and lonely discovery that pained me to the quick.  I grieved for the marriage lost as one would grieve a stillborn; quietly and with a certain degree of guilt. Our bland meals were taken in stifling silence – chewing and the odd clatter of cutlery the only sounds to betray the existence of life in the house. 
Months passed and he would sigh heavily, roll his eyes and stab at conjugation. Still, he said nothing. He did not address me and me, in stubborn defiance, clung to the covenant – clung to silence – desperate to prove a point.
I knew I could cross the divide, speak with him, ask him if he turned a profit at the market.  But, I did not wish to cross the chasm; I was becoming friends with just me.
I often feel him lately, discreetly, always discreetly, scanning my face as I knead the dough on the rough table or as I chop carrots for the pot.  I cannot help but hope the question will follow. I have rehearsed the caustic ‘I’m here aren’t I?’ countless times. I know the delivery, the sarcasm, the non-committal shrug of the shoulders that will accompany it as I watch it dawn on his face that things have come full circle. My soul smiles in the pane.
© Cammy Harley
Cammy Harley is a freelance journalist and feature writer. She lives on a smallholding near Bantry in West Cork with her six children. She is the author of ‘West Cork and Kerry for Kids’ (Somerville press) and co-author of ‘A History of Caheragh Parish’ (Inspire Print) and is currently working on a non-fiction book. Wedlock is her first successful piece of fiction writing.
Killing Time
St Jude’s Clinic has the customary smells: cleaning products, antiseptic, vomit and sweat with a nicotine pulse when the doors slide open. It’s a pungent mix. At the beginning I thought it would overwhelm me, but it’s as familiar now as Bastie’s sweet baby scent. Even after all the chemicals they’ve pumped into him, he still has it. If I nuzzle my nose against his scalp I can catch a trace. In that instant I see him as he was three years ago – tiny and new. Now he lies limp across Mark’s lap, eyes blinking up at the ceiling, waiting his turn.

            A couple rushes in, causing a brief stir in the ash-faced waiting room. The father cradles a rag-doll girl against his chest, while the mother pounds the reception glass, her wedding band slicing the air with a sharp ting. “Please…please…our daughter needs to be seen now. It’s leukaemia. Her fever spiked. Please!” The receptionist is calm and efficient. Her well-practiced banter soothes. Moments later the couple takes seats like the rest of us, agitation indicating they’ve just started their journey. 

            I can’t watch. Rubbing Bastie’s matchstick arm, I whisper sugary nothings in his shell ear, touch his static cheek. I turn to Mark. “I’m going out for some air. Call me?” He nods. I wish away his weary smile and the purple half moons beneath his blue eyes. They used to sparkle when he laughed, but are cool, distant, controlled. A torso taut from his strict fitness regimen, Mark’s muscle mass increased as Bastie’s withered. 

    Standing up, I kiss the top of Mark’s head before shuffling towards the sliding glass doors. I walk out into the haze, joining the group pacing the footpath. A disconnected community of languid pulls and slow exhales. Cancer sticks glinting in the murky gloom. I take deep breaths, sucking it in before lighting up my own torch, drawing the warmth into my lungs. Lengthening the now, shortening the someday. I hadn’t touched them for years. Finding me smoking outside a few months ago Mark said, “Why?” I laughed and said, “Why not?” My phone dings. Mark texts it’s Bastie’s turn. Time to leave the cloud.

            The oncologist is kind, each word a domino, enunciated before it topples. “I’m afraid Sebastian has not responded to treatment and is moving into his final phase.” “We can make him comfortable.” “Many families find hospice care a good option, but home support is available.” Mark and I nod dry-eyed, more empty than stoic. The doctor caresses Bastie’s billiard ball head. “You’re a tough little guy aren’t you Sebastian?” Bastie’s eyelids flutter before he retreats, returning to lands only he explores.

   I stuff the pamphlets into a pocket, clutching the pain relief prescriptions. They crumple in my grip. While Mark is in the chemist, I watch Bastie sleeping in his car seat. His small chest rises and falls - a clock’s second hand ticking away. My throat tightens and I wipe my eyes, regaining control before Mark returns. A glance and he knows. Squeezing my hand, he starts the engine and pulls out into the desolate street. As we near a petrol station, Mark veers and turns in, striding into the shop without a word. He gets back into the driver’s seat, tossing a pack onto the dash. “That’s not my brand,” I say. He stares straight ahead. “I know, it’s mine.”
© Marie Gethins
Marie Gethins
was raised in Oakland, California. Awarded B.A.’s in English Literature and Dramatic Art/Dance from U.C. Berkeley, she went on to study Technical Writing at Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, winning two awards for excellence. A medical writer for more than 20 years, she began writing fiction in spring 2011. Her work has been featured in Writer’s Abroad anthology Foreign Flavours and will be in the upcoming Boyne Berries anthology Spring 2013. Marie completed the Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course in March 2012 and is currently seeking publication of her resulting New Adult manuscript. She lives in Cork, Ireland.
Cold Comfort
Snow had fallen overnight.  It continued throughout the morning but didn’t stick.  Sadie was put out by it.  Not that she had to go out anywhere.  At eighty five she went out very little.  No, this sudden cold snap meant that Esther, from next door, would be calling in to check up on her.  She’d have some excuse, like dropping in the paper, but the purpose of the visit would be clear - to make sure that Sadie hadn’t popped her clogs overnight.  Afterwards she would phone Sadie’s daughter Anna who would probably call in later. She came most evenings or sent one of the grandchildren.  It irritated Sadie that no one waited for an invitation these days.  Her family thought that they could drop in anytime.  Sometimes you just didn’t want company.
     Sadie knew that Anna had given Esther a key which so far she had not used.  She always rang the bell and Sadie took delight in taking longer and longer to answer the door.  She usually counted to twenty, then it went up to thirty and today when Sadie saw her coming up the path, she counted a full forty seconds before shuffling down the hall.  She imagined Esther’s dilemma- how long should she wait before using the key?  When Sadie opened the door she was sure she saw Esther hurriedly put something in her pocket.  Next time she would count to sixty.
     “Morning Sadie.  Thought you might like the paper and a bit of a left over casserole.  I’ll just put it in the kitchen for you.”
     Typical, thought Sadie, as Esther swept past her.  Just barge in. Next she’ll be wanting tea and sure enough she was already filling the kettle by the time Sadie followed her into the kitchen. 
     “That’s one cold day,” Esther said.  “Are you warm enough?”
     Of course she was warm enough.   The central heating was on and she was wearing her woollen cardigan, the one with the huge pockets which she wore on her hospital visits.  It could easily accommodate the heavy glass paper weights which fooled the nurses into thinking she wasn’t losing weight.  If they thought you weren’t eating they’d have social workers around poking their nose into your affairs.  Bad enough having nosy neighbours.
     Esther was rabbiting on about the icy roads and how the car wouldn’t start and how her sons had to walk to school.  Good enough for them thought Sadie.  Two big strapping lads who were completely spoilt.  One of them even wore an earring!  Easy to see where he was headed.  Esther’s voice droned on and Sadie could feel her eyelids closing.  She forced herself to keep them open.  Mustn’t drop off.  Very important to look alert and in control otherwise they thought you were going gaga.  So she tried to look interested, nodding her head every now and then. Eventually Esther rose to go.
“I’ll just wash out these cups,” she said and was already filling the sink before Sadie could stop her.
“Now don’t forget if you need anything just ring.”
     Sadie heaved a sigh of relief when the door closed.  Save me from Good Samaritans she thought.  She went back into the kitchen and looked at the casserole.  The usual muck.  She scraped it into the bin.  A lightly boiled egg would be much nicer.  She took the newspaper and sat in her favourite chair.  She reckoned she had about four hours ahead of her, four hours of reading, dozing, watching television and doing anything else she damn well liked before the next Good Samaritan appeared.
© Margaret Butler        
Margaret Butler was born in Dublin and studied English and History at UCD.  She retired from her job as a secondary school Principal five years ago and is currently doing a degree in psychology with the Open University.    She has been writing on and off for many years and has attended creative writing courses in the Irish Writers’ Centre.  In 2006 she had a short story published in ‘All Good Things Begin,’ a collection of new Irish writing edited by Yvonne Cullen.  Writers whose work she admires include Alice Munro and William Trevor.