It’s been a week or so since my last post, and unfortunately I’m still stuck in the same funk that saw me lose sight of myself and unleash a verbal attack on the publishing industry. My writer’s block is taking over my life, and I’m struggling with a severe case of apathy towards everything and everyone. As I’ve said before, the writing process is sempiternal and I am continuously moving in waves of highs and lows as I strive towards my eventual goal of having a novel published. But today for something different, I’ve decided that rather then fly into another bout of misguided rhetoric, I will take you back in time and present to you the piece of work that saw me win the 2011 Heading North Young Writers Competition.
The piece you are about to read is one that I never imagined would warrant the affirmation of my peers. The idea was conceived whilst standing at a reception counter at my work watching the sun rise at 5:30am through a thin window. I had been in a bad place for a few months and was wallowing in the depths of depression. At just twenty two years of age my body was exhausted from working and studying fulltime and my mind felt as though it were fracturing in two. I spent about half an hour creating the short-story, instead focusing all of my attention on an alternate piece that I submitted to university (and was slammed by my tutor for producing). Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this story would be first time that I ever saw my work in print… Nevertheless, I present to you Moonlight & Prison Bars…
The sliver of moonlight retracted slowly across the dusty floor of his cell, climbing walls covered in flaking grey paint before disappearing from sight. He had been waiting all night for this moment, watching the silver beam of light cast from the heavens as it filtered through the iron bars fastened across the window. This morning in the yard he had seen clouds on the horizon, felt the subtle south westerly breeze scaling the fence and blowing gently across his skin. He had known then that rain was coming; he could smell it in the air.
He craned his neck and caught sight of the clouds concealing the moon, their once greyed edges illuminated as the moon reflected light from its counterpart half a world away. He heard a soft tapping as the first raindrops splashed against the dried dirt of the yard. A drop landed near the windows and the mixture of dirt and water splashed against his face, startling him. He twisted his body and edged his shoulders through the bars, extending his arms out into the cool night air, pressing his face against the cold iron as the smattering of raindrops became a torrent. His arms were soaked in seconds, cool droplets cascading over his skin, wrapping around his sinewy fingers, muscles, and tendons before free falling to the earth below. His face was sprayed with continuous flecks of water, reminding him of the feel of the ocean spray blasting across his skin as he sat on a surfboard watching lumps of swell roll beneath him.
He closed his eyes and pressed harder against the bars, his cheekbones aching against the pressure. The constant spray against his skin felt magical, and he ran his tongue across his lips remembering the taste that the saltwater used to leave there. He could feel the pitch in the pit of his stomach as his board lurched over the lip of the wave and he rose to his feet, feeling his fins catch as he bottom turned and set his line for the barrel. The lip rose up over his head and he tucked his frame inside the wave and felt time slow. He could hear his heart beating above the sound of the wave smashing down against the shallow sandbank, his eyes constantly roaming the green wall of water ahead of him. The wave began to slow and he emerged from the barrel and sunk the rail of his board into its wall, sending a huge spray skyward before he whipped off the back.
Opening his eyes against the rain he felt his stomach sink. It had been so long since he had felt saltwater against his skin, but he could still remember it so vividly. Like it was yesterday. His mind raced away from him again, and he felt the warmth of his own tears grace his cheeks between the never ending torrent of raindrops. He had never been much of a drinker. Alcohol had never really held any prestige in his life.
Thinking back now he wasn’t sure why he had decided to drink and drive that night. He didn’t think. It was as simple as that. The image of the young woman bouncing off the bonnet of his truck as he mounted the curb played through his head almost as vividly as his memories of the ocean. He had pulled over and tried to help her, he had done everything that he could. But she had broken her back and had haemorrhaging on the brain. He looked at his hands again, soaked with rain, watching as the individual droplets lost their translucency and transformed into a scarlet red before falling to the earth. He pulled his face away from the bars and watched his bloodstained hands with horror, just like he had after an innocent bystander had died in his arms.
Moving away from the bars he sat down on the edge of his lumpy mattress, listening to the unending torrent of rain as he stared down at the dusty concrete where the slivers of moonlight had shined in the not too distant past. He belonged here. He knew that. And it was selfish of him to miss the ocean. It was selfish of him to feel as though he was the victim. He was a monster, and an idiot. His decisions had killed an innocent woman who had been waiting for the bus. His only solace was that she had been alone. He couldn’t remember how many times he had driven past that particular stop when it was standing room only.
He sat for hours, his eyes never once leaving the floor, his ears twitching in response to each raindrop as it fell against the earth outside. He watched and listened as morning arrived and the rain eased. He waited until the thin slivers of sunlight filtered between the bars, glistening off a pool of tears drying on the concrete before he lay down on the lumpy mattress and rested his eyes. Licking his lips as he drifted off to sleep he tasted not of the ocean, but the gritty taste of justice. He belonged here for what he had done. He had told the judge that himself. He had taken a life and this is what he deserved. Even so, as he drifted off the sleep in the morning light he imagined himself running down a grassy headland, leaping into the ice cold water and paddling towards the point.
So there you have it. An entry into a competition that saw me taste success before my writing journey careened off course and ground to a halt in a cacophony of personal shit. Now two years later I look back on what I created with a sense of nostalgia. In the past two years my writing has improved tenfold, so much so that I found it difficult presenting the piece as it was back then. Each time I put pen to paper my skills develop and I grow ever more confident in what I produce. Moonlight & Prison Bars was my first published work, but with a little bit of luck it won’t be my last.