The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition 2019
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Short Story Competition 2019

Sophie Holland

3rd Prize – Sophie Holland with:

What Do You See When You Look At The Moon?

Bright white screen, blur, space, dust. Zoom in: planets, maybe Saturn? Then stars, moon, earth – green, brown, blue. Zoom, all the way - clouds, fields, a playing field sloped at the end, corner shop, street, house. Fade in: interior, bedroom, night. Duran Duran on the wall, girl on the bed, curled up at an angle to make her legs look thin, eyes swollen, hair splayed on the pillow.

If this was last week she would have been in soft focus, half-smiling. She hasn’t smiled since Tuesday, when he dumped her.

Mia thumps the bed, gets up and paces the room. She goes to the window. He’s there again at the top of the street, the man from the end house, smoking. Is he building something in the dark? Zoom in: the eyes glint with murderous intent. She sighs - she’s got to stop making this shit up.

Damien smoked. God, she loved watching him smoke. He’d flick his head back to exhale, in a sort of sneer. It gave her the shooting sensation down into her groin. And the stale hot taste of his mouth when they kissed, his tongue whipping around her gums. Never again would she grind herself against him at the Slope. She could scream. Grace Butland said she’d seen him with Mandy Ashworth. She flings herself back on the bed, face down. Damien. DamienDamienDamien. The swelling starts up in her chest and her throat.

The hill at the end of the playing field is where everyone hangs out on Saturdays in summer. A few people bring tape recorders but no one dances except Dave Pollard, who’s got a screw loose and everyone calls Polly. He’s there every single week.

It’s better if you’re in a couple.

It had been the best summer of her life. Until Tuesday.

She can’t eat her tea. Upstairs she twists a few dance moves from Grease, checking the mirror. Nothing flows. She sticks her chest out - little points where she needs roundness.

She has to get out. She might even see him. They could talk.

Outside it’s weirdly bright – like a silver version of daytime. She’ll stand on the corner and something will happen. Fade in: exterior, early evening, streetlights. With a sexy flick of her hair she looks right, the way Damien would come. He’s not coming. He’s never coming. She presses her knuckles into her eyeballs and kicks at the wall, harder and harder until her toes throb. Fade to black.

She zigzags back up the street scuffing her heels. She doesn’t want to go home. A shadow moves at the top - the man from the end house. She stops. People say he’s a weirdo. She feels suddenly exposed, her shadow looming giant ahead of her, and retreats to the edge.

He’s on a camping chair, with his back to her and a small stool at the side, bent over a thick black tube like an extra limb. The whole scene is the most interesting thing she’s ever seen in their boring, shitty little cul-de-sac. She goes up and stops next to him. It’s a telescope. He nods towards it.

‘Sit down. Have a look.’ His voice is husky, like it needs oiling. Mia sits on the stool, tips it forward and puts her eye to the eyepiece.

She gasps. A huge bright perfect circle fills her eye. A chalky white ball, like a rare fruit. She picks out little pocks and craters, tiny indented circles. She feels like she’s falling forwards. There’s a throaty laugh beside her. She sits back and looks at the man – she’d forgotten he was there.

‘It’s a wonder, isn’t it?’ Half his cheeks and his jaw are covered in a whiteish stubble; little specks of glitter in the silvery light. His eyes are wide, expectant, hopeful and hopeless at the same time. She stands up quickly and her chair falls back.

‘Thanks, gotta go.’

She flops on the bed, head full of the moon. It’s a perfect fit. The round brightness, the detail. How could a telescope at the end of the street bring her so close to the moon? Mum talks about it when she talks about periods. It makes Mia’s body go rigid. But now, with its silver-grey light on the carpet she offers herself up. She rolls onto her side, her pillow’s damp. Damien.

Exterior: night, full moon, hilltop. A thin girl pirouettes in flowing white dress, hair shining. Pan out: she’s a silhouette, on the top point of the hill, she leans her head back, no, she is joined by a wolf, he’s friendly, they dance (he’s on his hind legs), both lean out, and howl-

‘Mia?’ Dad’s knocking on her door. ‘You alright, love?’

She is alright, but she isn’t going to tell him. Any of them. The moon will be her secret.

She does know something about the man. He’s called Mr Yorke, moved in a year ago. He had a wife but she moved out. Mia’s heard people saying stuff: “Funny in the head. Sitting out there, looking into space. He won’t find her there, she’s gone to Faversham.”


Saturday evening. Mia’s pacing her room. Telescope man’s out there again. Sod this, she is going to the Slope. Something in her chest starts to flap as she tries on her blue Ra-ra skirt. She carefully applies mascara, then flies down the stairs and out of the house.

‘You and Loverboy made up?’ Dad’s voice from the doorway.

As she wheels round the look on her face shuts him up.


After the cornershop she loses her mojo and at the edge of the playing field she stops, stranded. She can just about see groups and couples on the Slope. She shivers as a bunch of girls with fantastic hair pass her, giggling and jangling. A panic rises in her chest as she imagines Damien and Mandy Ashworth coming next.

Zoom out: She’s standing on the corner, smoky eyes. Damien pushes Mandy aside and takes her in his arms like Danny Zuko and Sandy. Mia stumbles back. Something has bumped her feet. It’s Dave Pollard.

‘Sorry,’ he says, picking up his skateboard and standing too close. He has a ring of pimples on his left cheek, and surprisingly curly eyelashes. For ages he just stares at her. She’s too surprised to speak, or even scowl.

‘Damien’s a wanker, you know,’ he says in a rush, and skates off.

Her stomach lurches, her cheeks burn. Commiseration, from Polly. Jesus! She has an impulse to shout ‘Thank you!’ or maybe ‘Fuck you!’ She closes her eyes, hoping gravity might pull her somewhere.


Back on her street it’s dark. Mr Yorke is sitting there, hunched over the telescope, an extra camping chair tonight. He looks smaller.

He leans back and waves her forward, ‘Go ahead.’

Mia wavers. She should have told Polly to fuck off; she always misses chances.

‘It’s on the wane now. Only just.’

Mia scowls back down the street. What a weirdo he is, sitting here every night. Zoom out. Blur-pan all the way to Faversham. Zoom in: Mrs Yorke’s street, house, kitchen. She’s lying on the floor, blood oozes from her forehead.

‘-might cheer you up.’

Mia starts. He’s leaning towards her, his moonlit face wears a sad smile. Shame creeps in a blush up her neck. She leans quickly into the telescope.

The moon fills the lens, huge and still, the surface glowing, naked. Something widens inside her. She scans slowly, greedily: clusters of rings, a dark grey shadow, craters like squat chimneys.

‘I can’t' she takes her eye away again, then back to the magnified moon. ‘I can’t get my head around it.’ A thin line of cloud enters like an arrow from the side.

‘It’s best not to try,’ he says. The arrow fades and dissolves.

She imagines heaving the telescope around with her. Boring into things, people, faces. If that was her superpower, she wouldn’t get caught off guard.

‘-steadying influence,’ he’s saying quietly. Mia stares hard and it goes into a blur at the edges. He says something about pulling the tide.

‘-impossible to fight it.’

She pictures the moon spinning down, landing gently on the Slope, like a balloon. Her throat gets a lump. Shit! she can’t cry out here. Damien’s probably lying on top of Mandy Ashworth, right now. He’s got his hand up her T-shirt. She’s soft and big. Mia sits on her hands to stop her clawing at herself.

‘-slip away,’ he’s saying. He turns to her, ‘It’s slipping around four centimetres each year.’

They’re both looking up now. He’s like a wizard with his straggly hair and his silver chin. He squints at the sky like he’s searching for something. It might be him that cries. She could tell him about herself at the beginning of the summer - how she was in a permanent gasp, spinning on her own axis. Like being drunk. And now look at her. Unbelievable.

‘-bought it after Andrew’s accident. As a distraction, I suppose. Ha,’ he does a sharp bark of a laugh, ‘Quite a distraction, the whole universe.’

‘Who’s Andrew?’

‘Our son.’

This sounds heavy. She pulls her hands out from under her legs, clasps them together.

‘I’ve just split up from my boyfriend,’ she says in a loud voice, and wishes she hadn’t.

He nods. She wants him to say something but he leans forward and adjusts the dial, then looks through it for ages.

‘All this,’ he says, waving his hand over his head in a big ark. His gesture could indicate the universe? His life? Mia doesn’t want to ask.

He leans out, she leans in.

She leans out, he leans in.


Mia lies awake thinking about the slipping moon. The ache in her chest might be on the move.


The weather turns. The sky is coated in thick cloud. ‘This is the year’, everyone keeps telling her. O’ Levels. Mia stands at her window, only clouds and concrete.


Another clear night, the moon is a slither - a beautiful suggestion of itself. The air is autumn-crisp. Straight after tea she heads to the top of the street.

‘Hello Mia, how nice to see you.’

‘Hi George.’

‘This one’s a slip of a thing.’ Mia gets a squirm of excitement as she puts her eye to the telescope. It takes her a second or two to adjust: a luminous slice along one edge of the circle. The more she stares the clearer she can see the whole of the moon as a vague shadow, hiding. They take turns to look. He says billions of years ago the moon wasn’t locked to the earth. She pictures two lonely planets floating round the galaxy in search of each other. The apple tree on the corner drops ripe fruit in little thuds.

‘Andrew used to climb trees,’ George says suddenly.


‘My son. Climbing was one of his things, when he was small, before he took to the water.’
‘Is that how he had his accident?’ Mia asks, holding her breath as she pictures a cartwheeling figure silhouetted in mid-air.

‘No, he was surfing. He got caught in a high tide,’ he gives her a funny smile. ‘They fished him out, but it was too late.’

Mia puts her hand to her mouth and just stares at him. The cartwheeling figure splashes into the ocean.

‘He lives at Sunshine House now,’ George says.

‘Oh!’ Sunshine House is where everyone says Polly should be. She tries to see his expression in the dark. Will he will look different to her, now she knows? She follows his gaze to the crescent white sliver. A cat wails in the distance. A loud car engine revs down the main road.

Keep zooming: Moonlit street, houses with lights on, the Slope, town, whole world. Darkness, a shooting star and the moon, shining. Final shot: half of the moon with its shadowy craters, other half darkness, earth’s sphere in shot, two specks on the earth.

About the Author

Sophie loves writing and reading in equal measure, and has been writing stories and short plays for the last ten years. She recently completed an MA in creative writing at Oxford Brookes and is an active member of Quintet Writers. She has performed her short fiction in Bristol, Bath and Oxford, and† her short plays have been performed at Neath Little Theatre and Rondo Theatre, Bath. Her most recent publication is a short story in 'Stories from the Greenhouse' published by Comma Press She plans this year (again) to complete her first novel. She lives and works in Bristol.


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