My second year in entering, two stories submitted and two finalist places. Ninety-eight entries and my two make it into the top nine – that’s pretty good. Unfortunately (it was going so well) I again only managed to make the Highly Commendeds – two out of the three. I will be very honest and say I was very disappointed and a tad upset by this, especially as I felt one of my stories was better than two that placed. To be extra painfully honest I had already spent some of the prize money… DAMN YOU CAMBRIDGE SATCHEL COMPANY!
This year, the task was to write on the theme “Heroes” in no more than 750 words. Another great and flexible topic, and it was a conversation with The Lovely Benson, when he said a hero could be anything from a superhero to a favourite uncle, that set the trigger in motion for the following story. People always talk about where artists (of any media) get their ideas… I woke one morning and – BAM! – wrote this out pretty much finished. It had a different ending and a few extra bits here and there, but it was pretty much complete.
Also, I’ve been asked, and this story is no way autobiographical. However, the backyard is the one from my childhood home; I loved that trampoline.
You can download a PDF booklet of all the winners at the gay-ebooks website here, but please enjoy below my story. I’ll post the second in a day or two. And, as always, for those participating, oh bugger it for everyone, Happy Mardi Gras.
Mum had a brother a few years older than her. Nan said Anthony and Mum were inseparable, the best of friends, fixing her bike, fighting her battles. Once Anthony came home with two teeth missing and his t-shirt splattered with blood – some kid had said something mean to Mum and Anthony went at him. Nan said Anthony always had a big smile but that day it was twice as big and somehow even wider with that great gap in the middle. Lucky they were baby teeth, but he went about with that damaged smile for a year. Still, Anthony was as proud as punch, Nan said, and Mum was in awe of her brother.
I don’t have clear memories of Anthony. He’d moved to Sydney pretty much as soon as able and left the family behind in Dubbo to do whatever it is country folk do. But I do remember that he always brought me a present – he once gave me a snowdome containing the Sydney Opera House, which made me think Sydney must be a magical place – and that I could never say his name properly. There were too many letters you see, so the best I could manage was Anthy. Uncle Anthy he was, and I was his Little Stace.
One Christmas, I must have been ten or eleven, Uncle Anthy arrived like he always did, bursting through the door, his arms chocked with presents for all us kids. That was the year that right in the middle of lunch Anthy let out a huge huff that stopped all conversation, picked up his plate and came and sat at the kids’ table. He plonked his plate next to mine, pulled over Mum’s tapestry footstool, sat himself down, and then continued eating as if nothing had happened. The adults watched frozen like overstuffed greasy dolls, but eventually the spell broke and they went back to their bickerings, and I whispered to Uncle Anthy why he was now sitting here. “You know what Stace,” he said, “that bunch over there are really boring. This table looks like much more fun.” He smiled as wide as the paper plates we where eating from, squinting his eyes to make room for all that grin, and I looked at my brothers and cousins. We all had the same expression: we were The Cool Table.
That evening Uncle Anthy gathered the adults into the living room and us kids were sent outside. After a while we could hear yelling. Not long after that Aunty Nance and Uncle Rob came out to collect their kids. “Come on, we’re leaving,” said Uncle Rob. “But Daaaaad,” whined my cousin Graham. “Now!” yelled back Rob. Soon all the others disappeared in similar fashion leaving just me and my brothers behind. We sat on the trampoline and didn’t say a word.
Eventually it got dark, and us hungry or tired or both, so we tiptoed back inside. Dad and Pop were in front of the television. Nan had gone to bed. Mum was sitting at the kitchen table, just sitting there. When she saw us she wiped her eyes. “You kids must be starving,” and she busied herself making up plates of leftovers. “Where’s Uncle Anthy?” I asked. “He had to go,” Mum said after the littlest of hesitations. “When’s he coming back?”
But he wasn’t coming back. That was the last Christmas – the last time – Uncle Anthy ever came. I would ask: When’s Uncle Anthy coming to visit?… Perhaps I could ring him like I used to?… Perhaps we can go see him?… but the requests were always met the same. Dad would get angry and Mum always ended up crying. Soon I learnt it was best not to mention Uncle Anthy at all, so his name and memory faded away.
On the day that Australia turned 200 I turned 18, and a month later I made my own trip to Sydney where I was lucky to snare a shared flat in Randwick just around the corner from uni. The first thing I did was grab the L-Z and look up the name Anthony Marshall. There were five A Marshalls, but Uncle Anthy was none of them. Perhaps he has an unlisted number, I consoled myself, perhaps he doesn’t have a phone?
The second thing I did was place that Sydney Opera House snowdome on my windowsill.