In Competition No. 3096 you were invited to submit a short story that ends ‘I feel like a half-eaten gorgonzola.’
Thanks to reader Mark O’Connor, who suggested that this observation which, in case you were wondering, comes from a letter written by Lytton Strachey to his elder brother James on 27 July 1908, might be incorporated into a challenge.
It turned out to be a tricky one: despite valiant — and often ingenious — attempts to incorporate the given phrase without the edges showing, there was an inevitable element of stiltedness and contrivance. Medusa and Emile Zola enjoyed starring roles in many entries — some more successful than others.
Honourable mentions go to unlucky losers Jonathan Hughes-Morgan, Harriet Elvin, Hugh King, Phil Stapleton and Josephine Boyle. The prizewinners, printed below, are rewarded with £30 each.
I was sad to hear that John Whitworth, a regular presence in these pages over the decades, has died. His funny, clever and well-made poems will be much missed.
I learnt how to fly before I could drive. For complicated family reasons I’d spend school summer holidays with Aunt Bea. She’d ferried Spitfires during the war and now flew her own light aircraft whenever she could. ‘Leave your troubles on the ground, boy. By the time you come back to earth you’ll have them in proportion.’ She wouldn’t let me take off or land — ‘your parents put me in loco’. But I was allowed to handle the controls in the air. ‘Shift her around a bit, lad — you’re not pushing a pram down the street.’ And she taught me her cockpit drill. (‘Not kosher WRAF, but it suits me.’) Check instruments, then fuel, landing-gear, ailerons and hatch-exit. (‘Nothing worse than getting stuck inside.’) ‘Finally, report to the smelly cheese in ground control. So, I,F,L, A, H-E, and G. Best remembered as, “I Feel Like A Half-Eaten Gorgonzola.”’
It was the worst of times. A Europe-wide work-to-rule meant support duties assigned willy-nilly; the only qualification seemed a functioning heartbeat. So we agreed to accept substitutes.
We’d discussed approach and appropriate tone, settling for what our advisers labelled ‘light-touch/jokey’. I glimpsed the translators shuffling in: surely that one was watering the flower beds earlier? Wasn’t that the security man from downstairs? But perhaps they multitasked, with skills we hadn’t appreciated.
Handshakes and pleasantries over, I began with my prepared joke: ‘I would like to talk to the big cheese — or the deputy.’
Their officials stared back. One removed his earpiece, shook it and peered into it in disbelief. Had I misjudged?
They went into a huddle. Withdrew. Time passed. Then a suited negotiator appeared, clutching the transcript. ‘Please?’ he asked. The translators had done their best but the result would finish my career. ‘I feel like a half-eaten gorgonzola.’
Flaubert became more expansive as we opened another bottle with the cheese. ‘So, Emile,’ he smiled, ‘another novel through the press already, eh? I don’t know how you do it, my dear fellow.’
‘It’s really quite simple, Gustave: I begin my story, proceed to the middle, and when I reach the end, voilà, I send it to my publisher, and he takes care of the rest.’
‘Yes, yes, the story’s all very well. But what about style? I barely finished half a page today. I will agonise for hours over an ambiguous phrase here, an extraneous comma there. You know, when Perseus struck off Medusa’s head, those hideous writhing serpents still lived on, and began to consume the flesh of her face. That is how the tentacles of my manuscript enmesh and assail me. Yes,’ he sighed, reaching for a grape, ‘I feel like a piece of half-eaten gorgon, Zola.’
Who was I? I knew I existed but only as something nascent, warm and fluid, freed from the confines of where I was formed. I experienced being transported, then poured into something that seemed like a permanent home. Still embryonic, half-formed, half-aware, I settled motionless, waiting for further development. Pure as a newborn babe to begin with, contamination entered my heart. I had a sense of being corrupted, polluted, infected with unwholesome toxins and troubled by slowly congealing lumps. As my liquidity dwindled, what fluid I had was whisked away and alien rods were inserted into my innards. A long wait followed until, as a fully formed substance afflicted with varicose veins, I was placed on a table where, cut to the quick with knives, I finally learned who I was. And how do I feel? I feel like a half-eaten Gorgonzola.
She oozes into my office like baked brie welling voluptuously from its rind. Her lips are the glossy red of a wax-wrapped edam, and the curves under her clinging dress move with that appealing combination of softness and firmness you encounter when you palpate a properly ripened camembert at room temperature. In the grip of male impulses as robust as aged gouda, I feel the stirrings of a hunger no mere ploughman’s lunch could satisfy.
‘I’m Chloe Chichester of Chichester’s Champion Cheeses,’ she informs me in a voice as smooth and warm as a gruyère-emmental blend in a fondue pot. ‘You worked for my father on that counterfeit feta case. You thought you shut down the Greek gang, but they struck last night. Father’s dead, and I’m holding you accountable.’
She produces a small gun from her handbag and aims it at my heart. I feel like a half-eaten gorgonzola.
No. 3099: animal magic
You are invited to dream up an imaginary animal that is a hybrid of two existing ones and write a poem about it. Please email (wherever possible) entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 15 May.