James Howe Second Prize (2013)


Anna Sparrow

lights glared that bright fluorescent 
and the background hum was steady and violent while
wondering who had turned their backs for good
wondering who had their ears pressed to the door
wondering who would gossip to their girlfriends,
“the girl before me was a wreck”
the ceiling tiles grinned
baring pointed yellow teeth
their red and pink flowers staring with cynical eyes
as fingers clenched tightly, feet in metal stirrups
screaming Ten! Ten! Ten!

running on the beach
running from the shoreline
running to feel wind across skin
running to feel anything at all
feet smacking into water
blood pounding into ears
over and over and over
screaming Ten! Ten! Ten!

“pick your sedative, miss"
“pick your painkiller, miss"
“pick your poison, miss"
“writhe in agony, for all we care, miss"
“either way,
we’ll make sure you’re bleeding when we’ve finished"
the fluorescent lights blink uneasily
reflecting all the things they’ve seen
in their long glass bulbs
and when she gasped with a long, shaky inhalation
and forced it out of her lungs with a harsh weight
the light bulbs quivered in fear

but the snow outside kept falling lightly
but people kept trudging back to their offices after their lunch breaks
while discussing the blizzard that pounded the city the night before
while ignoring that horrible sound being carried along the winter wind
twisting and billowing,
caressing their reddening ears,
screams of Ten! Ten! Ten!

“do you want some crackers, dear?”
“it will really help the pain, dear”
“you really need to eat, dear”
but the chair looked like a dentist’s chair
but the room smelled too sanitary
but those women in scrubs were so insincere
because she peered over her glasses in disgust
exuding contempt without even saying a word

the dresses were all too short or too long
and she only wanted to wear black
and she never wore heels anyway
and when she ran into him on mother’s day
her heart turned to stone and fell straight through her stomach
and she stood in the rain in her nice dress and smoked a cigarette
the filmy material clung to her hips
and she stared at the ground as that laughing bastard walked by
his arm around his new girlfriend 
he always had a thing for redheads
and stupid artsy girls

in that squash coloured room she arrived
in sweatpants and an over-sized sweater
in the middle of an ecstasy trip
in that first mug of tea
in that last-minute clean up
in that pulsing headache
in that uncomfortable wooden chair
she asked me, “what was it like?”
and I answered, “honestly, it felt like death” 
I answered, “honestly, I still dream about it”
I answered, “honestly, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night,
thrashing and whimpering, “Ten! Ten! Ten!”

but because the ocean will keep grasping at the sand with its cold fingers
the cars will keep driving on the road along the beach 
without their drivers knowing what almost happened
on that sandy break in the bay
the secret married between me and the sea
because the sea will never gossip to its girlfriends
and the sea will never speak out of turn
the sea will never say, “that girl is a parasite"
the sea will never say, “that girl is a whore"
the sea will never say, “that girl is a waste, what a waste of a girl"
because the sea will never scream at the top of it’s lungs,
Ten! Ten! Ten!