The Winners 2005 Under 19 Winner

Two brooding eyes sought refuge in the rainy window. The water droplets clung to the glass, trying in vain to squeeze themselves out of the storm, into the warmth of our car. As I hurtled along, shrouded by the protective box fashioned by modern technology, I felt the weight of boredom crushing my chest, restricting my lungs: my mind was laden; my heart was heavy; even my eyes drooped. It rained on.

I watched the raindrops lose grip of the slippery glass and slide off, dispelled by the forwards momentum of my car, and fall into obscurity. Two fat beads sat at the top of the window, lethargically making their way down into the shadows, rallying support as they went, by engulfing smaller droplets and shooting forwards with the sudden burst of stolen energy. They then resumed their slovenly pace. An innate urge to bet on the outcome of this aquatic race overwhelmed me. Mother said I was just like my Father. I wouldn’t know. I sent the first droplet telepathic energy, a loan, so that he might overtake his competitor. He didn’t. “Yes, the resemblance was remarkable.”

“My Father,” the ultimate paradox: revered yet perpetually undermined; despised but secretly adored; the world’s most glorified wreck: a hole in my childhood. That was until he came looking for me two weeks ago. “Don’t tell Mother.”

He wasn’t my first Father. When I was younger many phantoms came and went, each more glamorous than the next, revealing secrets of my past: I was a pirate; a gypsy; a princess. But after my initial letdown, all these shades slipped through my fingers like sand from the hourglass of my youth.

My real Father wasn’t half as sophisticated, but in compensation I found him far more exciting, daring, unhinged than anything my safe upbringing allowed my mind space to conceive. He would seize me after school and walk me home through other people’s gardens; we’d hitch lifts on rubbish trucks to allow us time to visit his sanctuary before Mother missed me. It was wrong, but I liked it.

My Father’s sanctuary was, in reality, a damp betting shop with musty, welcoming air, drab, undemanding colours and the faint stench of cigars, old men and adrenaline all mixed up in the orgy of their mutual interest-horses. It was also the most incredible place on earth: the rock on which I rebuilt my relationship with my Father. Whenever I could slither out of Mother’s careful sight I would skip down to this haven and pull myself on the stool next to my Father, accepting the arm he draped over me, my eyes fatally drawn to that screen of reality. Muscled animals, gleaming with sweat and my adoration, champing at their bits, eyes ablaze, would haunt my every thought; a forbidden obsession; a bond with my secret father.

Even in my sleep the horses would race on in my head, taking on the visages of my parents (my split allegiances), vying for my affection. My strong, steadfast Mother would gallop forward so consistently occasionally overtaken by my flighty Father pushing ahead with a sudden burst of favour, only to be pushed back by my conscience.

I would sit for hours, drinking in the enthusiasm of which I had formerly been starved. My eyes would feed on the wayward screen until I was fully gorged, just as the brightly coloured jars in the window of a candy store would captivate others my age. But soon, like any addict, this fix wasn’t enough to satisfy my escalating cravings.

“I think you’re ready for the races,” Father observed.

I wasn’t.

My over-enthusiasm hindered the pace at which the much anticipated day could arrive but, finally, the necessary excuses were made, alibis set up and I was on my way. My very breath pulsated with the thick excitement that oozed through my every pore. The magnetic buzz of exhilaration enticed me further into the oblivious throng of voyeurs congealed around the centre ring, eye balling the massive bestial bulks, as they pranced through the parade, seeping promises of power. I don’t know how long I was worshipping at that shrine before my fuelled Father took my arm and hurried me proudly into the stalls.

But I never saw the race.

I felt a withered, uninvited hand burden my naïve lap. The air in my lungs froze as my body iced over. Unresisted, that gross hand crept up my stocking and the formerly familiar eyes throbbed with a foreign force. That’s when I saw those eyes that scarred my innocence and disturbed my sleep.

Instantly the realisation dawned on me that so much more was at stake here than I was willing to gamble.

My disgraced legs staggered up and took themselves back, dazed, to the only place I knew to be safe. Home.

I don’t remember how I got there, but when my callous fingers closed around the sacred brass of the entrance to my house and my putrid body tumbled over the threshold I know that I moaned “Fath… I went to the…. The races… And Father…I saw…..I saw Father at the races”

The pain of betrayal in Her loyal eyes was almost tangible and Her cleansing hand comforted the selfsame fouled knee, “My Darling, you’re safe now. It was all a horrible dream. You didn’t really see your Father. A horrible mistake because……”

“But I met him at……..”

“That wasn’t your Father”

“He came…..he found me at school……”

“Your Father’s dead.”