Pokrass Prize Winners, July 2023

Thank you to everyone who entered the Pokrass Prize, prompt set and stories judged by Meg Pokrass It was exciting to announce the three 2023 winners at the festival. Big congratulations to first prize, James Montgomery, and two runners-up, Anika Carpenter and Patricia Q. Bidar. Their stories are published below, along with Meg’s comments, and they will be included in our sixth festival anthology.

Our big thanks to Meg for providing the prompt and for judging. She asked entrants to write a story that focused on a particular span of time in a character’s life. It could be 10 minutes or 10 years. 300 words max including four of the following words. plain, cosmetic, hear, pin, simple, convict, lunchtime, hair
There was a photo too, which some writers used to inspire them.

Thanks to all the festival particpants who entered. Meg wrote this after reading the selection:

The Flash Fiction Festival is a such a unique gathering that attracts many of the most gifted writers of the flash form, and the strength of these entries was no surprise. Suffice it to say that it was challenging to choose one winner and two Finalists when so many pieces were rich in imagination, originality and charm. Because of its tiny word count and experimental quality, flash fiction offers us the freedom to make each piece our very own— encourages us to be bold, inventors. Finding ones very own way of telling a story that nobody else can tell is crucial to not only grabbing a readers’ attention, but to holding it there. After lingering over these entries for some time, finally the top three emerged.

First prize, ‘Susie was a Scrunchie’ by James Montgomery

Meg says: This story is a marvel of lightly surreal writing. I admire how the author creates an emotional landscape from an object, the scrunchie, and the way the writer shows us how (in the narrator’s mind) the object is holding a rival character’s life together. The first-person narration is darkly humorous and also disturbing, and the final line won me over with its poetic punch.

Susie Was a Scrunchie

More rough than ruff, a rain cloud with a topknot of hair, forever following us around. The girls and I used to say, ain’t no way to twist that one pretty.

I spot her outside after Wednesday’s lunchtime cut and blow-dry, talking poor Lauren Drake’s ear off. Even now, years on, she can’t take a simple hint.

On Saturdays at The Lucky Strike, we’d be sucking strawberry milkshakes and arranged like tenpins, waiting for the boys to come and send us flying, when she’d appear. Of course, back then, scrunchies were in. But ours were velvet, boutique. Try as she might, hers couldn’t draw together a deadbeat daddy, a pill-happy mom, a neighborhood our folks warned against.

That scrunchie was always pulled so gosh darn tight, face stretched and strained into a smile. Underneath, we could see she was frayed, all split ends, no volume, just dryness and frizz.

Still, she smiled.

To kill time, we’d whip our ponies, tug and knot till the desired tension was achieved, then take off, lickety-split.

Yet she sprang back every time, like an unwanted curl or kink. Still smiling. Elasticated, I guess.

Of course, how we treated her has crossed my mind, in the privacy of my own home. I’ll be tying back my hair to remove some overpriced cosmetics, and there she is.

But even now, with her lowlights and highlights and softly ruching smile, she can’t fool me. And I’d like nothing more than to walk on over and yank that scrunchie out, and watch whatever it’s been holding together fall free.

image by designecologist

Runner-up, ‘When You’re Repeatedly Told to Stop’ by Anika Carpenter

Meg says. This is a ghostly and masterful piece that I can’t unstick from my heart. It is a personal-feeling story of unique companionship and bravery set against the sad reality of hatred and judgementalism. Hard to believe how much this writer accomplished with such a short word count. A rare and beautiful story.

When You’re Repeatedly Told to Stop

There are thirteen stop signs along their regular route. Jimmy yells ‘Break! Break, you delinquent bastard!’ every time they approach one. In response, Christopher yanks Jimmy’s wheelchair to a theatrical halt, and they wait on the pavement for a moment. Grinning. They check for curtain twitches, and odd looks from new neighbours. Folk who don’t know them yet.

Sometimes there are near collisions; a kid on an oversized bike, or a jogger with hair swept back, and air buds in and a ‘watch it ol’ timers!’ Once it was a couple of women with a border collie on a too-long lead. Jimmy returned the mutt’s barking. Reasoning that, ‘Someone’s got to tell it to keep those damn humans in line!’ As Christopher wheeled him away, he pretended he could make out what the dog’s startled owner was saying, aped her long Ohio vowels, ‘Shocking display, Martha. His pitch was way off. Sounded more like a Jack Russell.’

Five years Jimmy and Christopher have been taking the same route, passing the same respectable cars, the same conservative lawns, the same stubbornly predictable trees. Compelled to stop and yell, occasionally bark, and often, laugh so hard the plain fabric of Christopher’s jacket creases into tightly woven mountain ranges.

Every lunchtime they pitch up at The Blue Door café, where Christopher makes the same promises; ‘Course, if you go first. Sure, I’ll wear both our rainbow pins and park your trusty wheels beside me while I drink my crappy coffee. Yes, I’ll keep parading the ol’ chariot round the neighbourhood.’ It was necessary they agreed, and who knows, wheeling that chair around, empty except for the fifty-three-year-old ‘glad to be gay’ placard, the one that Christopher painted, the one Jimmy held propped up on his lap, might just as easily lead to romance.

photo by christine-jou-6PPQDX2liKE-unsplash

Runner-up,’Papel Picado’ by Patricia Q. Bidar

Meg says: ‘A story rich in dramatic movement which is built with taut, economical sentences. The writer’s skilful use of repetition hints at a tragic outcome and creates for the reader a rhythm that makes one think of the rumblings of a train engine and the unstoppable surety of fate.’

Papel Picado

There was something on the train tracks ahead, but the engineer, Jaime, was lost in thought. The festive patio restaurant he’d just passed, right after Jack London Square. The slim couple, the pretty server with splotches of paint on her forearms, the fluttering papel picado in its vitalizing hues.

There was something on the tracks, but Jaime was struck with the image of his wife and how she’d wanted him to linger that morning and maybe even call in sick. He’d scolded her for her folkloric impulses. Her face when he refused. The memory of her in her lilac nightgown interfered with his ability to scan the route ahead, to monitor.

There was something on the tracks, but the sun, setting over the hills that separated the Bay from the Pacific, bathed the scene in gold. The plain sun, repeating the same action it had for all the 18,250 days of Jaime’s life. Simple. Whether or not you could see it, it was always going to happen.

There was something on the tracks, and the train sound deafened and the tissue flags danced. The loud machine inhaled space. Chewed the distance between it and the waving arm, the stoic gaze. The long hair, lifted by the wind.

There was something on the tracks that resulted in Jaime’s early retirement, his tragic divorce. The way he remembered the smell of the grill, the cornflower sky. The dancing papel picado and the slim couple and the server. He could hear the music, still. The way the safety glass from broken-into cars glittered under the summer sun. The way he tried to block out what happened after. His thoughts stayed with that server. He hoped she became a painter.

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