Cúirt New Writing Prize Winning Pieces
Cúirt is delighted to announce the winners of the Cúirt New Writing Prize 2016
Poetry: Kathryn Guille
Fiction: John O'Donnell
Young Cúirt: Oyanne Gahan
The Cúirt New Writing Prize is kindly sponsored by Tig Neachtain in memory of Lena Maguire. Kathryn Guille and John O'Donnell will receive cash prizes of €500 each. They will also have the opportunity to read during the festival at the Cúirt/Over the Edge Showcase event on Wednesday 20 April at 3.00pm in the Town Hall Theatre.
Oyanne Gahan is the third winner of Young Cúirt and will join us at the Cúirt Labs on Saturday April 23rd in Galway Arts Centre where she will read her winning piece.
Oyanne will also receive a €100 cash prize. Congratulations to this year’s two runners up in the youth category, Amy Colleran (Fiction) and Rebecca Walsh (Poetry). Both runners up will join Oyanne at the Cúirt Labs to read their work.
Kathryn Guille: Poetry
Kathryn Guille is an American writer and choreographer living in Limerick City. Her screenplay, Enemy of the Freak State, has won the David Dortort Prize for Screenwriting, and her play, Venla and Henry has won the Alice Stark Award for Playwriting.
Kathryn is a founding member of the New York Time’s acclaimed Ateh Theatre Group.
She was an Off-Broadway and regional fight director and actress for over ten years before moving to Ireland. Kathryn holds a BFA from NYU’s TISCH School of the Arts, and an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York.
if her mother were here
what would she say? what would
she think--watching her eat toast
for breakfast--she always did--with
orange juice back then
she didn’t take coffee or tea, maybe
just milk. it was after all
une ferme laitière de Québec.
toast for breakfast, of course, and
cream of potato soup for lunch
(the kids and Ed like that)
in Québec they ate the biggest meal
in the middle of the day. that one day. was it 19-
58? she tried speaking to them
en français. six gaping mouths
staring empty back at her. ce serait
trop de travail, and. never again.
was her mother there with her
in that tiny house? did she
understand it was easier
to do it their way? shopping
at the supermarket--comment
suis-je arrivée ici?
chauffeured by un petit-fil
from the Alabama State Penitentiary
to Florida. her son
(not little Eddie, the other one) pays him
to help. c’est plaisant de recevoir
de la visite. yet again, she never
would have moved down here.
but Ed liked to golf-- mais revenons à nos moutons--Eddie
will eat ice cream
maybe a little macaroni and cheese—both
from cardboard, it’s easier
than the farm and she hates to cook
always has--marmalade for herself and
for the toast. coffee. and sugar and usually
orange juice--she would prefer
pamplemousse, but he won’t drink that
so this is
I am terrified by moldy blueberries.
I haven’t been inspecting them thoroughly.
I need Tupperware and diligence and less desire
for seasonal fruit. What I choose for me
is what I choose for you. So I won’t
ride my bike in the street and I won’t
eat oysters. I’ll sit
at the Metropolitan Hospital
in the waiting room
where English is a second language,
maybe third or fourth after women
using their hands to talk
to their abdomen, and I alone care
that you are the size of a blueberry.
He laid down his hand to reveal a pair
of jokers. She exhaled a tiny pine tree.
Juniper berries hung from her thoughts
and gin sweat through his pores
I’m afraid of Freud, the cat purred
from the sill, and a mouse lounged
on a floating arugula leaf in the sink.
If we give up hope for Lent
Will we find it between Rosh Hashanah
and Yom Kippur? Easter is my favorite
bedtime story, Madeline whispered
to Br’er Rabbit, but he wasn’t listening.
He was counting cards. Lily killed the Jack
of Hearts; smoke, conspiring in the nursery.
John O’Donnell: Fiction
John O’Donnell’s work has been published and broadcast widely. Awards include the Irish National Poetry Prize, the Ireland Funds Prize and the Hennessy Award for Poetry in 1998. His fiction has been published in the Sunday Tribune, the Sunday Independent, The Stinging Fly, and online in Books Ireland and the Irish Times. Promise, his first short story, was published in 2011 and was broadcast on
RTE’s The Book On One. In 2013 his story Shelley won the Hennessy Award for Emerging Fiction. He lives and works in Dublin.
She’s standing over me and I can smell ThreeNines off her, his cheap cigars, the faint whiff of Old Spice. “Get up”, she says, “get up, Con”. “Leave me be, Ma”, I say, turning over, but she whips the duvet off me and suddenly I’m Baltic. “Get up, would you”, she says, “your lift’s downstairs”. Hoppy: I can hear him, smarming up to my sister. “Fifth Year, is it? I thought you’d finished school”. She’s buying it as well, smirking at him as she chews her hair in a way she doesn’t know is lovely. “There you are”, says Hoppy, looking up at me as I’m barrelling down towards the front door, still buttoning my shirt. “We’re off so, Mrs Kearney”, he says to the old doll, before turning to my sister. “Bye, Siobhan”, he says, flashing her a grin, his teeth a row of crooked tombstones. “Bye, Hoppy”, says Siobhan, smiling back.
“You’d better have that for me later”, Hoppy says, “or I won’t be responsible”. The interior of the Skoda is grimly pristine, like that room in “Silent Witness” where your one cuts up the stiffs. “Next Turn Garth Brooks Plaza”, says the road-sign. Hoppy veers left and the white roof rises up ahead of us, a giant stetson. I’ve no chance of finding him a monkey by tonight, and Hoppy knows it. The old doll’s not got it, nor Siobhan neither; an even if they had they wouldn’t give it to me, not after the row about Siobhan’s babysitting money going missing from the Father Ted DVD. “I already told you”, I said to them, Siobhan bawling her eyes out and the old doll waving the empty DVD case in my face, “I don’t have your stupid money”. I didn’t have it either, not by then: Doncaster, 3.30, Compagnero, 8 to 1, and for all I know it’s out there still, or else it’s sliced and diced and stewed in its own juices in some tin. Like I’ll be if I don’t get Hoppy back his money. Because that pair he kicks around with, they don’t mess about. The Twins.
Oh sure, I could tell ThreeNines. Tom Nyhan, Sergeant; NyhanNyhanNyhan, some smart- arse called him, and ThreeNines now, for short. My old doll’s squeeze these last two years. He knows I hate him. He’d be leaning on the counter in the station and winking back at Kennedy, the other blue. “D’you hear that, Kenno? Dolores’s young fella owes Aidan Hopkins five hundred”. The way he says the old doll’s name; I can’t stand it. “For the ponies. And now Hopkins is saying if he doesn’t get it back this evening, he’ll have young Con here done for”. Kennedy, the little scut that he is, would be smirking and rolling his eyes to Heaven inside in the office. “I’ve packed it in”, I’d want to say then, “I’ve packed it in and I’m never having another bet, so fuck the pair of ye”. And I’d walk out, leaving the both of them sniggering behind me. With the €4.30 I have left still in my pocket.
Way back before it became Boylesports it was Meaneys. “The best name for a bookie yet”, my father’d say as he’d push open the door and we’d step in. “Howiya, Ram”, Fonsie Meaney’d say to my father, watching as he thumbed over the notes. Then, the first time that he tossed a stray fiver in my direction: “Try this”, he said: Navan, 4.15, Just Kidding, 6 to 1. I could feel their eyes on me as I filled out the docket; Fonsie, and my father, and Higgins, the solicitor’s apprentice with his arse propped up against the wall. When I walked over to the counter I could hardly reach back then, it was like being on parade. He was beaten a short head. “Wuh-hoh!” said Higgins, who’d backed the winner, or was letting on he had anyway. But by then they had me, and they knew it: the bays and chestnuts, the candy-coloured silks, hunched and steering, the flying clumps of kicked-up turf and the screeching of the commentator, rising in excitement; and the rising up inside of me as well, where winning was the best, but nearly winning was nearly as good, was almost better, because of the win that was certain to come next . “We’ll have to put a block on young Con’s head to stop him growing”, Fonsie’d say each time I was in there after that, until I grew tall enough to look him in the eye, although I never did, not even after my father died, and sometimes I wished they’d tied a block around my ankles, to stop me going in.
But I’m finished with all that now. A mug’s game, I keep repeating to myself, the way they tell you to; never again. And anyway, €4.30: there’s no longshot would’ve got me out with Hoppy on that, not even up in Boylesports. So how much damage could those two gorillas do to me, I’m wondering as we head in the back-door of the Plaza to get changed, and then I think of MacNamee, barely breathing when the blues found him at the bottom of the quarry, and I start praying that Roz has put me on Till 6. Because that’s my only chance.
The roster’s up already, though, and Roz’s black and neatly looping hand says I’m on Till 5. I’m doing up my tunic when she comes waddling towards us, carrying her clipboard. “Anyone seen Mac?” she asks. Silence at first: does she not know about the quarry? “Sure he’s above in hospital”, Hoppy says eventually. Roz’s foot taps out a tiny drum tattoo. “Ok, so”, she says in her Shift-Leader voice, “you do 6 today, Aidan. Con, you do….actually, no. Con, you do 6. Aidan, you’re on 5”. Winner alright, winner alright, the fuzzy tannoy in my head is saying; and where he’s gone to most times I don’t know, but maybe after all there is a God.
The best marks are the young lads, especially if they’re with a young one; they’re so busy showing off they hardly ever check. Palm the twenty, turn away, ring up ten. Oh no, sir, definitely a ten. Here’s the print-out, sir; and look. You hit the return key with a flourish, and the drawer springs open, showing the stacks of tenners and not a single twenty. Till 6 is just outside the cctv’s range, so there’s no way Roz can see even if someone complains. By First Break I’ve €100; by Lunch-Break I’ve €360. The Plaza’s humming. They roll in off the motorway, pasty-faced, exhausted; you could serve them up the leg of the Lamb of God and they wouldn’t notice. At the break Hoppy is talking to The Twins in one of the banquettes. I can see him point in my direction as the two of them stuff their faces, splotches of the dark- red burger sauce spattering their uniforms. Storm Security, the black jackets say, and there’s a little bolt of lightning high up on either sleeve. They’re not even brothers, although that’s no consolation to MacNamee stretched out above in the Rehab after the trimming thateverybody’s saying was from the pair of them. “See you in Queallys, Hoppy”, I say, real friendly, though Hoppy just says nothing, and later on the Skoda wheelspins out of the carpark. The afternoon is quieter, but they still come piling in and I still keep piling them up, those beautiful twenties the colour of a summer sky stashed inside my pocket. By six o’clock when I clock off I’ve €540, and I walk the mile of road back in to town. Because before I go to Queallys there’s something that I need to do.
I push in through the door. The place is tumbleweed; the only other punter in is Higgins, thinning now on top, in his plum suit and scuffed shoes. “Any luck?” I say. “Cartoons”, he says, nodding at the virtual racing on the screens. I pass the pinned-up pages from The Sporting Life, and the sheaf of dockets; I take a twenty out and walk up to the counter. “Hi Aoife”, I say into the glass. And for the first time today I smile. Aoife Meaney: she’s with MacNamee, but there’s something in those hazel eyes that makes my own eyes water, always has . “Hi Con”, she says, smiling. She has a bruise on her left eyebrow that she’s tried to hide with make-up. “For Rubin”, I say, pushing over the twenty. Her son; he’s special needs, and it’s his birthday tomorrow. “Awh, Con. Thanks”, she says. She smiles at me again, a real big smile this time. “How’s Mac?” I say then. She shifts in her seat. “The same”, she says. She looks away, touches the bruise. For a moment neither of us say anything. “So”, she says,
recovering herself, “are you having….” “No”, I say, real proud, “no bet”. I turn to leave, and then I look over my shoulder. “Maybe see you in Queallys later?” I say, and she grins back. “Yeah”, she says, “maybe”.
And I’m almost out the door when a car goes up the street: the Skoda, with Siobhan in the back, still in her school uniform, and someone else in there beside her. But it isn’t Hoppy driving; it’s the taller of the two, and I can just about make out the flash of lightning on his sleeve. I’m about to run up after them but the Skoda disappears, leaving the street emptier than before. So I’m standing in the doorway trying to work out what my next move will be when a little gust of wind in off the street catches the corner of one of The Life’s pages, and I see it: Crayford dogs, 6.52, Take Your Marks, 3 to 1. And it’s swelling up inside me now once more like organ-music, the feeling that you get when you know your luck is in. I’m in control here, I tell myself as I turn back towards the counter, snatching up a docket and pulling out a fistful of the twenties, I’m in total control.
Oyanne Gahan: Young Cúirt (Fiction)
Oyanne Gahan is a seventeen-year-old student from Dublin. She is currently in 6th year. She was the senior category winner of the Eason Creates creative writing competition for secondary school students in 2015. She hopes to study English in university next year.
“All right, ladies, listen up,” Coach Murphy calls.
We’re gathered in the changing rooms, towelling our hair dry after practice. There’s nothing to train for anymore, so these days it’s just about enjoying our last few months as a team. We’re still buzzing from our big win last month; it was the perfect end to our last swimming season in the school, especially since we were the first team in the school’s history to come first in the County Finals. They covered the sports noticeboard with pictures of us, and the centrepiece is one of just me and Angie, holding up our trophy. We both beat our personal bests in the Finals, boosting up our score and giving us the edge over St Brigid’s.
Now, I sit with Angie and the other girls on the bench in the changing room. Coach Murphy stands in front of us holding an envelope. My pulse quickens when I see it. I can see from the flap that she’s already opened it. I sit up straighter.
“What’s that, Coach?” Angie asks.
“It’s a letter,” Coach says, “from Willow University.”
A sharp intake of breath ripples along the bench. My stomach flutters as I think about Willow, with its sprawling lawns and its castle-like building and its glittering turquoise pools.
“You all know I contacted Willow about the possibility of scholarships after we won the County Finals,” Coach continues. “I sent them all of your times from the Finals, and the video footage. They wrote back yesterday, and they’re interested in two of you. Before I say who, I want you all to know there’s not one swimmer in this room who doesn’t deserve a scholarship. You’ve all done me and the team and the school proud this year.”
She pauses for breath and I’m suddenly hyperaware of my pulse pounding in my ears.
“But the people Willow are interested in – the people who tied for the fastest times – are Claire and Angie.”
When I hear my name, something breaks open in my chest, spilling out warmth that travels along my limbs and out to my extremities. I turn to Angie and see my own excitement mirrored on her face.
“Hang on, there’s more,” Coach says.
Something inside me falters when I see the look on her face.
“Unfortunately,” she says, suddenly apologetic, “Willow is only in a position to offer one scholarship.”
The happiness inside me withers and dies. My smile freezes on my face. I struggle to wrap my head around this piece of information. The atmosphere in the room has soured; everyone is silent, eyes flicking between Coach, Angie and me.
“Willow has suggested having a tiebreaker,” Coach continues. “Whoever gets the fastest time gets the scholarship. It’s the only fair way to decide.”
I feel sick. Is it possible that only a minute ago, I was elated to the point of dizziness?
“Is there no way we can both get one?” I ask, desperation seeping into my voice. “If our times are the same –”
“They were very clear. They can only give one,” Coach says. “I’m sorry, girls. Well done to you both, and I’ll see you tomorrow at four for the tiebreaker. The rest of you, next week.”
The other girls file out, congratulating us as they go. Coach leaves too, the changing room door swinging shut behind her. Angie and I don’t move.
Six years. That’s how long we’ve been swimming together. We joined the team at the start of first year, back when everything was new and confusing. I was already part of a tentative new friend group, but I’d never spoken to Angie before that first swimming practice. We hit it off instantly. She was like me: competitive, but not a sore loser; up for having fun, but always focused on the ultimate goal. In terms of swimming ability, we were fairly evenly matched; I might have had the edge on her, just about, but there was never any jealousy or petty rivalry. We were on the same team, united by our desire to win.
This is the first time we’ve ever been pitted against each other. And the prize isn’t a trophy; it’s a full ride to the university of our dreams.
The situation is so awful, I’m overcome by a bizarre urge to laugh. I bite my lip to stifle it.
“What are we going to do?” Angie says, massaging her temples
I tilt my head back until it thuds lightly against the wall, and close my eyes. The smell of chlorine anchors me to the spot, refusing to let me pretend I’m somewhere else.
“I don’t know,” I say.
⃰ ⃰ ⃰
I’m fifteen minutes early the next day. I change methodically into my swimsuit, twist my hair up into a swimming cap, and take my goggles from my bag. I leave the changing room and sit on the edge of the pool, dangling my feet in the water.
There were purple shadows around my eyes in the mirror this morning. I was awake half the night with a knot of anxiety twisting in my stomach. My brain was stuck on a loop, replaying the scene from the changing rooms until I would’ve done anything to fall asleep.
I swish my feet back and forth through the water. I want this scholarship so badly. Willow is my dream, but to get in without a scholarship I’d need almost straight As in my exams, plus the money to pay their huge tuition fees. Even if I put my head down and studied solidly from now until June, got a summer job and scrounged additional money from my parents, I might not make it. And I want it. I’ve worked for it.
I deserve it.
But so does Angie.
She and I are evenly matched in the pool, but outside of it, I get better grades than she does. And I’m an only child; her parents have three other kids to put through college. If Willow would be a stretch for me without a scholarship, it would be an impossibility for Angie.
I look up when I hear the smacking of flip flops against the floor. Angie walks towards me in her navy swimsuit, her pale skin almost translucent in this lighting. She sits down beside me.
“You nervous?” she asks.
“No, I feel great,” I say sarcastically.
She laughs and knocks her shoulder against mine. “Okay, sorry, that was a dumb question.”
We’re joking about it now, but that doesn’t change the fact that only one of us is walking out of here with a scholarship.
I break off as Coach Murphy appears. She’s got her stopwatch and clipboard at the ready, her whistle on a cord around her neck.
“Okay girls, who wants to go first?”
“I will,” Angie volunteers.
She positions herself at one end of the pool. Coach Murphy stands behind her, stopwatch in hand. Angie adjusts her goggles over her eyes and bends forward at the waist, toes curling over the edge of the pool, arms outstretched in the starting position. Coach lifts the whistle to her mouth and blows.
Angie dives, hitting the water smoothly and resurfacing quickly. Her arms slash through the water, her feet kicking up a spray behind her. When she reaches the other end of the pool, she kicks off from the wall and speeds back towards us. Coach presses the button on her stopwatch the second Angie’s hands touch the wall beneath us. She surfaces, gasping for air.
“Excellent!” Coach says, scribbling down her time on the clipboard. “Great job, Angie.”
Angie clambers out of the pool with shaky arms, panting. I smile and hug her, but secretly I’m thinking that while her time was good, I’m almost certain I can beat it.
“Ready, Claire?” Coach says, resetting her stopwatch.
I position myself, arms outstretched by my ears. I bend my knees slightly, ready to launch myself into the water. Nervous energy surges through me like an electric current. I think about Willow, and longing flares in my chest like a physical ache. If I get this right, I can have it.
“Good luck,” Angie says behind me. I feel a sharp twinge of guilt. If I win, Angie loses her chance to go to Willow. If I get what I want, Angie doesn’t. My mind races, and my thoughts are still in disarray when the whistle blows. I make a split-second decision.
I plunge into the water, but not in the flawless dive I’ve perfected over the last six years; instead of skimming along just beneath the surface, I dive deep. It takes me three precious seconds to resurface, and by then I’ve lost all the momentum from the dive. I swim as fast as I can, but any swimmer knows that if you mess up the start, you’ve already lost.
“What happened?” Coach Murphy demands when I finish. Both she and Angie are looking down at me in disbelief.
I heave myself out of the pool. “I don’t know,” I pant. “I panicked.”
Coach glances at her clipboard. “Angie, you were faster than Claire by six point three seconds.”
“Wait,” Angie says. “We need a rematch.”
“What?” Coach and I say simultaneously.
“Claire was nervous. She never would’ve done that normally, you know she wouldn’t. Let’s just go one more time.”
My heart sinks. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s ruining everything.
“No,” I say, too quickly. “No, it’s okay, Angie. You won.”
Her brow furrows. “But it wasn’t fair. You were off your game.”
“I messed up,” I say. “That’s my own fault.”
“Coach, please.” Angie turns to her.
Coach Murphy, who’s been watching this exchange with puzzlement, shakes her head. “The only way we can have another tiebreaker is if you both agree. And that one would be final.”
Angie nods and turns to me expectantly. When I don’t say anything, confusion clouds her expression. I cast around for words that will somehow salvage this situation, but in my panic I come up blank.
“Claire,” Angie says. Suspicion replaces her bewilderment. I can almost hear the cogs turning in her head as she pieces it all together.
“I’ll give you a minute to decide,” Coach says. “I’ll be in my office when you’re ready.”
She leaves an uncomfortable silence in her wake, during which Angie scrutinises me.
“What’s up with you?” she says eventually.
“Nothing. I just don’t see why we need a rematch.”
My words sound tinny and hollow in my own ears, and Angie’s face immediately hardens.
“You lost on purpose, didn’t you?” she says.
“Why’d you do it?” she says, her forehead creasing.
I drop my gaze.
“Because…it doesn’t matter,” I mumble. “I can still get into Willow without a scholarship.”
That hangs in the air between us for a moment.
“But I can’t?” she says. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“No, I just meant –”
“You let me win because you think it’s my only chance? Is that it?”
I can feel the anger radiating from her.
“No!” I say automatically.
“Poor little me can’t afford Willow, so you cheat to make sure I get in on a scholarship I didn’t earn,” she says, her face reddening.
“I was just trying to help –”
“Jesus, I’m not a charity case, okay?” she says furiously. “I don’t need your help. And I don’t want the scholarship. It’s yours.”
“No, it’s okay,” she says bitterly. “I’m glad I know where we stand.”
“I don’t –”
She’s gone before I can finish my sentence. It hangs, truncated and bleeding into the air.
A few moments later, I hear footsteps. My head snaps up, but it’s only Coach Murphy.
“Claire? Angie just told me she’s forfeiting the scholarship. She said you both agreed you’re taking it. Is that right?”
I swallow down the lump in my throat and blink furiously. My eyes are stinging.
“Yeah,” I say rustily. “That’s right.”