In Competition No. 3202, you were invited to replace the word ‘love’ in a well-known book title of your choice with a word of your choosing, and submit a short story of that title. This challenge was prompted by Christopher Hitchens’s description, in his memoir Hitch-22, of an after-dinner game he used to play with Salman Rushdie and other friends that involved replacing the word ‘love’ in famous book titles with the phrase ‘hysterical sex’.
In a medium-sized entry of a patchy standard, Nick Syrett, Rosemary Sayer, Anthony Whitehead, Catherine Edmunds and Madeleine McDonald stood out. The winners, printed below, are rewarded with £30 each.
‘Never mind the suffering little children,’ said Jake to Carson, who was the local vicar, ‘what about the ache in my leg?’
‘Incipient old age?’ asked Carson.
Jake fairly bristled. ‘Come off it, Carson. I was injured during your harvest festival, by a falling display of tinned fruit cocktail and pineapple slices.’
‘Ah,’ said Carson, ‘the ones that were past their sell-by date.’
‘The date was of no consequence. My thigh is badly bruised.’
‘The deacon is an expert at the laying on of hands — ’
‘Well, she’s not laying a finger on me!’
Carson sighed, and opened the freezer. ‘Garden peas; a compress; they might relieve the pain.’
‘Everything in this house is ancient,’ complained Jake. ‘Fruit cocktail. Pineapple slices. Are the peas past it too? Anything else to declare?’
‘Always hard to tell,’ answered Carson wearily, watching her husband’s mouth.
Bill Greenwell/Enduring Pain
Rachel had never supposed that she might miss the office. Working from home meant competing with Emily for the dribble of connectivity that tenuously linked their cottage with the wider world. It facilitated Emily’s mission to turn the cottage into an exploded charity shop, punctuated by disruptive bouts of binge-tidying, to the accompaniment of Emily’s Tuneless Hum and her ‘comic’ variations on popular songs. Now the cooker was on the blink. Rachel was always up for a confrontation at work, but personal showdowns made her cry. She could hear Emily, even though she was down in the cellar, ‘tidying’, singing ‘Soon may the cookerman come, we’ll have tea and fill our tum…’ ; then: ‘Jeez, Rachel, here’s something of yours!’
Oh God no, I should have destroyed it!
Rachel tiptoed to the cellar hatch, quietly closed it, and dragged the farmhouse dresser into place. Lockdown.
Frank Upton/Women in Lockdown
The plagues to which we succumb are all the more fearsome for being unpronounceable. The common cold we shrug off as a trifling concern, but catarrh and phlegm swirl chill winds of mortality through the chambers of the psyche. As charismatic as they are chimaeric, our biosphere’s microfauna charm us with their inchoate chic even while the chronic ailments and disabilities they scheme to inflict plunge us deeper into the chaotic chasm of chthonic chastisement.
My story starts in Cheyenne, and carries me through Chihuahua and Champaign, so chiropractors and chess players from Christiana to China, drinkers of mocha and chai, don’t get the changes my chakras and yours are going through at this very moment by the chronometer. But from the cheap seats to the choir loft, they know it’s a cinch I’ll be dead by the end of it. So will they. And so will you. Cheers.
Chris O’Carroll/Phonetics in the Time of Cholera
Sebastian Rantipole eyed his elderly congregation. Was it his preaching or the organist’s dirges? The too-regular funerals or just general Anglican dreariness, culminating every Sunday in the social sacrament of tea and a damp biscuit? No young people; in two years this lot would be gone. He cleared his throat.
‘Next week,’ he paused, ‘an innovation!’ Suspicious faces stared back. ‘Not tea and biscuits’ — he’d got their attention now — ‘but something for the young. At heart,’ he added hastily.
Word got round that he was copying Winterby Waterless. The Rural Dean had reported excited teenagers crowding the pews, their whoops of ‘Jesus!’ and ‘Wicked!’ as the service ended, the new social fellowship shared over raspberry ripples and vanilla cones. They’d recouped the initial outlay from collections and the sale, on eBay, of the redundant tea urn.
Rantipole beamed. God moved in mysterious ways; the freezer was only the start.
D.A. Prince/The Sacred and Profane Ice-Cream Machine
Relations between Jeeves and the young master had been somewhat strained since I decided to leave the metropolis and try my hand at chicken-farming.
Jeeves’s opprobium was compounded by a plague of aunts. Aunt Agatha was the first to show up. She grimly surveyed the chicken-infested property, and cursed me roundly. Aunt Dahlia appeared in her wake, and was equally scathing. Thereafter, both Aunts would pop in without notice to bestow further imprecations upon me.
Finally, beaten down by the constant squawking of aunts and chickens, I had had enough. ‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘are you still in touch with that chap who offered to buy me out?’
‘Yes, Sir,’ said Jeeves. ‘As a matter of fact, he intends to call this afternoon with a contract ready for your signature.’
‘I say, Jeeves, what a remarkable coincidence! Just when I’m ready to chuck it in!’
‘Most remarkable, Sir,’ said Jeeves inscrutably.
Brian Allgar/Aunts Among the Chickens
No. 3205: Pop culture
You are invited to supply a rigorous literary critical analysis of a well-known pop song. Please email entries of up to 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 23 June.
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