Judge for Yourself

By Jo May

While waiting for a root canal, idling through a copy of a two-year old magazine I spotted an entry form for a writing competition. Being two-years-old this publication was out of date but by the time I sat in the padded chair an idea of wicked simplicity had pasted a silly grin on my face. My dentist looked rather disappointed to see me smiling……

…….I was going to enter a writing competition.

I wrote for all I was worth, which was not much considering that I had never had one single piece of work published. My story developed through a rugged assortment of vales and hills then bloomed into something miserably unremarkable. I wrote within the parameters of the competition with a frenetic (and often inaccurate) two-fingered assault. Drawing on my experiences (which haven’t amounted to much) I moulded a tale of such abject dreariness that I could barely keep myself interested. A wonderland of prosaic magnificence it was not, more literary guff — but that was unimportant, as you will see.

The fifteen hundred word piece had to end with the words; ‘but the horse would just not budge’.

My rambling narrative began with our hero trudging aimlessly along the sand dunes above a golf course in County Donegal. The bit about the horse would no doubt slot in at its own convenience. Our hero was feeling sorry for himself and of no mind to share his misery.

This made descriptive writing somewhat taxing but cleverly avoided the necessity.

I pretended that his wife had left him for a haematologist in Dubrovnik. He’d been devastated, made worse when his mate quipped, ‘love lies bleeding’. He’d come to Ireland to forget his troubles and got in a bit of a mess in a pub. He was so numb of mind due to the ‘white-topped Irish stout’ that he could remember neither his bride’s name nor anything about her appearance.

I reasoned that while the reader would perhaps be perplexed by this additional mystery it would leave the door ajar for imaginative involvement in the piece.

He was also short of cash largely thanks to the purchase of a horse sometime during the previous evenings dunking in ‘Kate’s Bar and Undertakers’ in Donegal town. He had been assured (and had believed) that it was a talking horse, a descendent of Ceilerdgh the Grey, whose spirit lived on in the mists of the Mourn Mountains. A weathered fiddle-player had told him that some missing racehorse was a distant relative but that sounded a bit far-fetched.

See how it’s developing, suddenly, the hint of an equine ending — if our hero could find his horse.

Luckily, far away on the sand a mottled steed of indeterminate parentage with a saggy back waddled across the foreshore talking to itself. It walked with awkward gait and didn’t exactly appear to have race-winning potential. Something had upset its equine equilibrium.

Tricks of the writer’s craft! Not only were equine and equilibrium adjacent words in my pocket dictionary but lo, a spot of alliteration no less.

But the horse would have to wait. Our hero was subject to the stature of hangover only on sale in Ireland. He suspected the he may soon require the services of the ‘Undertakers’ section of last night’s establishment. As a precaution therefore, he popped back into the the bar for a restorative. A short time later he was of a mind that he would live till the morrow, so much so in fact that he had also acquired a bag of nuts and saddle fit for a saggy horse in exchange for his imitation Rolex and a rather nice pair of size eight brogues.

Quite unable to find his way back to the beach our hero asks directions of a beautiful local gipsy girl with whom he falls in love.

Not only does this encounter offer up a romantic thread but the girl’s uncle was the one who schooled the horse in the art of conversation. See how it all gels!

He was warned that the horse’s state of mind was not all that it should be. Nobody could explain why, but discussions between the beast and the uncle had focused largely on ‘the dying art of dying in rural Ireland’. The horse had argued that dying was inevitable and therefore not an art at all, a point of view countered by the uncle who persisted that the act of living itself was an art-form learned throughout life; dying was part of living therefore equally an art-form. BUT as the art of living was being suffocated by materialism, over-commercialisation of peat and a smoking ban the art of dying was also dying. Our hero could begin to see why his horse had a saggy back and required a spot of shoreline solitude for contemplative reflection.

Our hero was temporarily, but enthusiastically, distracted by his new love and took a break from his adventure to build a house and have a brace of children before venturing out again to find his horse.

More romance you see. Our hero was male. A confused, rather dithery character I’ll admit but one with whom male readers could identify. I felt I also needed to tailor my piece for those of a more sensitive disposition.

The meeting with the horse was one to which he had given serious consideration and had decided that the only way to initiate a relationship was for them to find something in common. Being by nature clueless he couldn’t think of a suitable topic so decided to wait till the confrontation and ‘wing it’. If he could find the beast that is — which he did eighteen months later in a Buddhist retreat on the outskirts of Kerry.

Religion, geography; it’s got it all!

Muttering something about everlasting life, the horse was sitting cross-legged, cross-legged in a ten by ten stone duplex with a view of the Atlantic. The fact that the only reading matter was a well-hoofed copy of Life-after-Life by the Tibetan sage Themthat Wasandare didn’t bode well.

I realised the importance of being widely read and dropping literary references.

The summit got off to a sluggish start as the horse merely gazed, glassy-eyed, out to sea. The nuts were a poor inducement, they were approaching four years old and looked like the dead bits in a fisherman’s bait-box and the rotting saddle was viewed with furrow-browed suspicion. They finally began to converse, steering well clear of anything to do with life or death. There was a dicey moment when our hero bored himself to such an extent, talking about the role of statistics in Russian wine production, that he nodded off and the horse thought he had died. Fortunately however, during the untangling of his legs he hoofed our hero in the groin which rapidly re-focussed his attention. Then the problems started.

Both gradually began to realise that they were at the opposite ends of the intellectual see-saw. Whatever they discussed, opinions differed to such a degree that alternatively one end of the argument was aloft while the other sat on the hay. Whatever theory our hero put forward it was pounced upon by a recalcitrant horse.

He returned to his family and explained that common ground was there none between himself and the nattering nag. As much as he was in awe and admiration of a horse that could talk, their relationship was doomed. He had even tried bribery in an attempt to cajole the beast out of his intellectual bewilderment promising to take him to the spring meeting at Royal Ascot — but the horse would just not budge.

See, there it is — sneaky eh?

The above is a shortened version of my submission. Any more, I am sure you agree, would be insufferable. Anyhow, I printed it out, Times New Roman 12 pt., double spaced, and sent it off for judging. Nothing I had ever written had been seen in public (except the notice I put in the post office window when the dog went missing) so I was pretty excited. The winning entry would be published in the magazine Poetry’n’Prose and the victor would receive fifty pounds.

For the past couple of years I have told people that I am a writer. I never sold anything so consequently never got paid, but I was a writer. When is a writer not a writer? When I won I would be able to tell people that I was a ‘successful’ writer. I am unsure how many competition entries there were but they were numerous and of international diversity.

I suppose I’d been a little naughty. Submissions were delivered and landed on my office desk. I selected three at random, added them to my own and asked Julia (Editor, Poetry’n’Prose) to notify the short-listed entrants, including me, to ‘please accept an invitation to the Swan Hotel, London at 7.30 pm Saturday next, where final judging would be undertaken and the results announced’.

A couple of days later my notification duly arrived and I called to accept the invitation. Awfully sorry, I said on the telephone on Friday evening, I have been called to a seminar in Brussels, really can’t get out of it, terrible bore but please accept my sincerest apologies. Oh, and good luck to everyone.

Presentation night was rather like the Oscars. I have to confess that I had been a little nervous when Julia called on me, as competition sponsor (and sole judge), to present the award: ‘We have read some wonderful, innovative entries and congratulations to you all,’ I muttered, ‘it really has made judging the most difficult task. But there has to be a winner. Unfortunately he has been called away on business to Brussels and cannot be with us tonight but ……….’

The meal had been rather good — rib of beef accompanied by my favourite Australian Shiraz, followed by treacle tart, all courtesy of P’n’P. I had chatted with Julia (dressed in a lovely pink two-piece) and the three other finalists, whose entries had been selected at random from the pile on my desk. I donated an apposite amount to a lonely horse charity in Donegal but it was worth fifty quid (and a box of Belgian Truffles to the runner up). I could hardly wait for my next dental appointment to see my name in print.

© Jo May 2016

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