Lucy Vickery

Prose poem

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In Competition No. 2866 you were invited to pick a well-known poem and write a short story with the same title using the poem’s opening and closing lines to begin and end the piece. I liked Mike Morrison’s use of the first line of Eliot’s ‘Whispers of Immortality’ as a springboard into an intriguing snapshot of the lexicographer Noah Webster. Equally impressive was Josh Ekroy’s imagining of an alternative and far from uneventful life for Mr Bleaney, who is reincarnated as a ruthless terrorist. Other star performers were Max Ross, Sid Field, John O’Byrne and Ashani Lewis. The winners earn £25 each. G.M. Davis takes £30.

‘My old flame, my wife!’

I’d untied the knot in Reno five years before, so he was only half-right as well as half-cut.

Neither was any surprise with Hank. But I was on my own at the JFK taxi stand and when he suggested it I couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to share a cab.

First stop, a bar for martinis. With four hours’ drinking time before his meeting at the World Trade Center, he wasn’t going to waste it in studious preparation. So we drank and took some alcohol-enhanced trips down memory lane and parted before the bad stuff surfaced.

Next day I was driving to Boston when the radio brought the news. God knows Hank could be an asshole, but to lose him that way … my control evaporated. Blindly weeping, I pulled in to the side of the road.

G.M. Davis/‘The Old Flame’

I met a traveller from an ‘Antiqueland’, one of those trendy new boutiques selling allegedly ancient and magical items. Their stock apparently comes from somewhere out east, but the Dan Brown-style mysteriousness is pure marketing hype. Anyway, this guy, Ozzie Manders was his name, I think, was from the Basingstoke branch, distributing so-called Egyptian relics. He told me he’d done Egyptology at university so this was the only work he could get. He claimed he didn’t know where the stuff came from, but reckoned the hieroglyphs looked authentic. ‘Like this flute,’ he said. ‘It says it can lay waste all the places of the world.’ So I had to pick it up and blow it. Everything went quiet, really weird in a Notting Hill pub — then I noticed the place was empty, so I looked out of the window and saw the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Brian Murdoch/‘Ozymandias’

Yes, I remember Adlestrop from university. One of those hippie types, you know, all kaftans, free love and Ravi Shankar. Dropped out to found an anarcho-syndicalist health-food co-operative, growing organic mung beans and alfalfa, and so forth. Anyway, the venture proved so successful that he soon found himself in a position to sell excess produce to local shops and restaurants. Eventually, of course, he just opened his own shop where he offered ethnic crafts and clothing in addition to the muesli, vegan samosas and what have you. Then came the small press, the independent record label, the film production house, the airline, the chain of casinos, the chemical factories, the battery farms, the fracking operations, the arms dealing, you name it. Now he owns most of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Rob Stuart/‘Adlestrop’

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea, not in a beautiful pea-green boat, but in a nondescript drab grey one, at night. Given the nickname because of his large, ugly, protruding eyes, the Owl was actually Antonio Carpasio (Tony the Carp) and his mission was to dispatch the Pussycat to a permanent resting place; a finis with the finny creatures of the deep. The Pussycat was a meek accountant who’d been quietly cooking the books for the crime syndicate, but who unfortunately was siphoning off a sizeable stash to his own private account. Now his wrists were handcuffed behind his back and he wore enormous cement boots. The Owl muttered ‘Toodle-oo’, gave the Pussycat a nonchalant shove, and he vanished in a splash, while the droplets of salty spray rose, and, for a moment, they danced by the light of the moon.

Mae Scanlan/‘The Owl and the Pussycat’

The sea is calm tonight. There were always more volunteers on fine evenings — the atmosphere lighter, jolly even. Emma from WI handed out jacket potatoes in tinfoil with Lisa from Women’s Refuge. Dave, who’d been in the Reserves and could get by in Arabic, checked first-aid kits with Bill from Rotary. It had been a no-brainer really, after the town meeting. The Home Office’s presentation on ‘Porous Coast’ and the new, not-very-fast-track-if-you-ask-us Categorisation Process left them all a bit stunned. Eichmann meets Kafka in the style of a fridge-freezer instruction manual.

At least this way, whatever happened after, they would get help for immediate pain: a warm bed to recover, some certitude. People to shed some light on the bureaucratic nightmare to come. A few even stayed as lodgers and found work in the town. Peace at last from where they’d fled, where ignorant armies clash by night.

Pamela Dow/‘Dover Beach’

Pike. Three inches long, perfect at 1:50 scale. My Fairfax’s Regiment of Foot ready once more for Naseby. I play with only half a mind for the tactics, the roll of the dice or the details of gear. I’m a dreamer. Those miniature soldiers seem more solid than the dismaying fantasy figures of modern, virtual humanity. So, I imagined my pikeman joshing the musketeers, calling them sooty-faced weaklings who cower behind the real soldiers. I pictured the jostling, heard the shouting, smelt the powder and felt the slow terror of men at ‘push of pike’. I saw a man go down, gasping, then lunge at his neighbour, pleading breathlessly for help. Then he gazed at me, expectantly. I understood; he knew that he had died, and was waiting to discover what would happen next. It was a young face to be so scarred that rose slowly towards me, watching.

Frank Upton/‘Pike’

No 2869: Spooner verse

You are invited to submit a poem on any theme as it might have been written by the Revd William Archibald Spooner. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 8 October.