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Enjoy excerpts from our four finalists:



WAITING FOR THE ENVELOPE 

by Deborah Huff-Horwood



She’s fussing with bottles in the cupboard to your right. Just go, your brain fumes, dragon-steam blasting silent from your nostrils. She straightens, notices you’ve not moved; ‘hrrumphs’ and is gone to clean something, somewhere. You haul out the clothes, pressing them into you so you can stagger to the clothes basket on the counter a metre away, go back for more. She’s back with another directive, to check the upper lip of the barrel in case a sock has stuck.


You mutter a clench-voiced, ‘I know.’ And you do, you’ve been doing this for years, but she always needs to direct. She holds the back door open for you, like it’s a favour, but you’re loathe to say thanks.


You’re waiting, and pegging.


You set up a rhythm: reach, select, fetch a peg, position the garment, peg. ‘Reach, select, fetch, position, peg; reach, select, fetch, position, peg.’ Over and over, though some things are bigger, your father’s 

T-shirts for instance, and to follow the beat you stretch some words. ‘Position’ isn’t a good word to stretch though, so you swap to ‘ar-aaa-nge till the garment is hanging As She Would Wish, which means: the pegs sit on seams so they won’t leave marks/ side seams are pulled straight / socks hang by their toes… yadda yadda; you’re not even going to use pegs when you’re grown up. 


Then you race inside. 


‘Where’s the basket?’



***



IN SEARCH OF MURAKAMI 




by Alicia Sometimes 




The man with the dinosaur hoodie grins and takes me by the hand that is holding Murakami. He notices the title and says he has an exact copy.


We drink green tea in a warm kissaten. He talks about running and allegorical misunderstandings. Sometimes, when the mood is just right, I could imagine spending the rest of my life with this stranger before me who starts whispering, ‘Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?’ This line, at this moment means absolutely everything. I slide my hand around the rim of the cup in a clockwise motion just to make sound. As time passes and we sip our tea, I realise all these feelings are as fleeting as crumbling cake. We both know both our stories will diverge.


He says, ‘You must come back to Japan’. I know I will, but not back to him. I wave and say goodbye. I know I will carry his kindness with me for some time.


The smell of ramen is punctuating every step back to the station. I just make the next train and sit down beside a young girl with a large umbrella who looks at the floor the minute I get out my pen. I write that I am a pendulum moving back and forth, slicing through time. 


No past, no future, only now, never pushing further than where I began.



***



THE PERILS OF PUNCTUALITY



by Sharmila Shankarkumar



Mrs. Patel’s cleaning lady, Rosa, cleans their apartment every Wednesday. Her hours are 8 am to 12 pm, but she rarely makes it on time due to the unpredictable nature of the subway. She takes the D train from Brooklyn. 


Tired of hearing about her lack of punctuality, this particular Wednesday, she gets to the Atlantic avenue station early. The train pulls in just as she alights on the station, and due to this unusual confluence of events, she arrives at Mrs. Patel’s house at 7.50 am.


Inspired by the beauty of the begonias, Mrs. Patel has now become a frequent shopper at Home Depot and purchases an entire line of flower pots that grace the balcony ledge. Azaleas, peace lilies, birds of paradise, anthuriums. These are the new weapons of mass destruction. She tells Rosa that the first line of attack today is the dust on the ledge between pots. Perhaps ‘attack’ is a poor choice of words. All she means is the task at hand, the thing to focus on, the bit of dirt that is renting space in her brain. She is a fanatic when it comes to cleaning.


But the gods may hear ‘attack’ and decide to have a bit of fun. We still have no proof of what they laugh at, or what they’re entertained by. But we see accidents, wars, destruction and the like, so we can conclude that falling objects make the cut.



***


PERSONAL EFFECTS 


by Alexis Wolfe


I’m aware his possessions are due to be returned to a MrsE Curzon (Spouse) tomorrow. Our Crisis team has a 2pm home visit scheduled. My assigned time to make final checks is now down to twelve minutes and then I will need to move on to another passenger. My final passenger only has four items, so I probably have a little extra time for Mr. Curzon.


​I read the note again, pondering how the correspondent managed to be in possession of a hot pink pen. Surely not the typical writing instrument found on the bedside table of a 4-star hotel.  


   ​What happens in Paris stays in Paris! Loved every second, minute, hour. 


The warehouse clock ticks on, louder than usual, the only sound in this huge spacious cavern. Surely there’s no dilemma here, I tell myself. This note should simply be returned to its rightful place. But my hands resist instructions from my brain to replace the paper immediately and move on. I feel my face reddening and fan myself slowly with the letter. Could I lose it? I can’t help thinking about Mrs. E Curzon and the second shock she might be faced with, on discovering this letter. 


   ​What happens in Paris stays in Paris! Loved every second, minute, hour.  


Time tocks on relentlessly. An immediate decision required. Carefully looking around, I note our manager is also absent. No doubt one of his frequent cigarette breaks. I fold the notepaper and stride purposefully towards the office area, where twin photocopiers stand sentry either side of an industrial shredder.