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Winner of our Short Story Competition - 2016

Catherine Gorman from Dorking in Surrey whose story ‘The Pig’ was judged 1st in our competition.

Born in London, Catherine Gorman was formerly a professional classical musician. Having studied the oboe at the Royal College of Music she subsequently went on to play with many of the top UK orchestras and was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for ten years. Catherine and her husband Richard have had a home in the Lot since 1991.

Email: catherine@catherinegorman.com           Mobile: +44 (0)7976 414180

Catherine nominated CSF (East Dordogne and Lot) to receive the charity element of her prize.

2nd prize was won by Melissa Beckham from Limoges, who nominated Chats du Quercy as the recipients of the charity element of her prize.

3rd price was won by Peter Martin, who lives in the Lot.  Peter asked that his prize be given to Poor Paws.

A big thank you to Maree Giles for all her hard and considered work in judging the many entries.  Finally a huge thankyou to everyone that took the time to enter.  We may well run the competition again later this year or during 2017.

Catherine's winning entry . . .

The Pig

(Different People, Different Places)

It was a cold, crisp January day yet the sun felt warm on her skin.  Cynthia lifted her hand to shade her eyes. She hoped that she might be imagining things but no, there it was, a wild boar snuffling around at the back of the garden in broad daylight. Suddenly the animal seemed to sense her presence and lifted its huge head to look straight at her. She froze, bracing herself for the attack but it merely turned away and ambled up the hill before disappearing into the bushes. She waited until there was no sight of it and then walked hurriedly back into the house, glad that there had been nobody to witness her fear.

Although they had lived in the Lot for nearly ten years this was only her second sighting of a wild boar. Last summer they were driving home from a nearby village fête in the early hours of the morning when a huge male suddenly strode out in front of the car.  Robert had only just managed to slam the brakes on in time. The creature stood for a moment and looked at them with disdain before majestically continuing its journey into the undergrowth. Robert was thrilled. ‘Just look at him Cynth, isn’t he magnificent? Absolutely wonderful.’  

Cynthia didn’t think that the animal was wonderful at all and shrank down slightly in her seat. She had always been rather a nervous person, although confident enough in social situations and reasonably happy to take on new challenges. It was any sort of physical threat she found difficult to cope with and that threat often involved animals. She wasn’t phobic; she was happy enough when she came across a well behaved dog out walking with its well behaved owner. A stray dog was a different matter though and even worse was the thought of coming face to face with a wild boar.

She wondered if the strange encounter was a sign that they had been right in their decision to sell up and move back to England. Perhaps it meant that her fears were justified; the porcine creatures were always there on the hill in the pitch black night, unseen and silent but ready to charge out of the bushes and attack.  

It was time for one last look around. Everything was well organised so that when the house sold it would be ready for a removal firm to come and expunge all traces of their life there. The estate agents had a set of keys and Miriam would be arriving at any minute to take her to the airport. Robert had left a few days earlier as he had business to attend to in London but would be there to meet her at Gatwick. They planned to go straight out to dinner ‘to mark the beginning of a new chapter in our lives’ as he put it. She felt confused about the move. In many ways she would be glad to be back in England but sad at the thought of leaving her many friends and the lovely house that had been their home for so long.

It had been a complete surprise when Robert said he wanted to abandon their life in the Lot, especially as it had originally been his idea to move to France. That was ten years ago after her illness.  They had already decided that it would be best for her to take early retirement. It was during the course of a long weekend staying with Miriam and Don that he suggested registering with estate agents in the area. ‘Imagine Cynth, the sunshine, a slower pace of life, new interests. We can buy a place with a pool, think of that.’ Darling Robert, he always put her first. His own work took him all over Europe and he could easily commute to London when necessary. She was reticent at first, worried about not being there for Dawn and the children, although Dawn herself had been enthusiastic about her father’s idea.

‘Don’t be silly Mum, go ahead. It’ll be wonderful for you, especially after what you’ve been through over the last couple of years. Don’t forget we’re both teachers. We can bring the children out to France for most of the summer.’ Cynthia remembered those wonderful, fun filled, endless August days. Once the children were in bed, the four of them would sit by the pool until the early hours, sipping Cahors wine and putting the world to rights as the cicadas performed their nightly symphony. She thought how strange it was that ten years ago Robert had spent months persuading her to move to France and now he had spent nearly as long persuading her to move back to England. Their conversations always followed much the same pattern.

‘But I thought you loved it here Rob.’

‘I do in many ways but let’s be honest, I haven’t really settled down like you have I? I wish I had your ability to speak the language for one thing.’

‘But that’s because you aren’t here so much darling. Remember that I have a French lesson once a week. You’ll feel differently when you retire.’

‘That’s part of the problem though Cynth. I don’t want to live here when I retire. I don’t want to struggle with the language. I want to be able to walk down to a village pub and join the National Trust and that sort of thing.’

That made her laugh and it wasn’t long before she gave in, even though she had a niggling feeling that there might be some underlying reason he hadn’t revealed. Now it was all arranged; they could stay with Dawn and Andy while they looked for somewhere to rent and when the French house was sold they would find somewhere to buy. Her mobile ‘phone rang, startling her out of her reverie, it was Dawn.

‘Mum, where are you? Are you still at the house?’ Dawn sounded anxious.

‘Yes, you know Miriam, she’ll be late for her own funeral. I’ve allowed plenty of time though, there’s no problem.’

‘Mum, I … Oh no, it doesn’t matter.’

‘Dawn, what is it?’

‘Nothing Mum, it’ll wait. Just have a safe journey and say goodbye to the house for me.’

At the sound of a car on the gravelled driveway Cynthia stood up.

‘Darling, Miriam’s here, I must go. I’ll see you tonight.’

She opened the door to find Ann, one of Miriam’s neighbours.

‘Sorry Cynthia, I had a panic call from Miriam. She woke up with one of her migraines, can’t even get out of bed poor love. Don’s on a business call so here I am!’

‘Ann, that’s so kind’. Cynthia grimaced as she turned away to gather up her things. 

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In London, Robert sat on a worn, red velvet seat, hunched over his pint of bitter and trying to make sense of his feelings. On one hand he was so pleased, thrilled in fact to be back but the thought of telling Cynthia the real reason for wanting to come home filled him with dread. There were three hours to go before he was due to meet her at the airport. Even now he couldn’t help worrying about her but then he had always worried about her, possibly without reason. He felt guilty when he remembered how brave she was during her illness all those years ago; he was the one who found it difficult to cope.

His hand shook as he picked up his ‘phone. Why hadn’t she rung? He badly needed to know that everything was going to plan. After trying her mobile for the third time he sighed and resigned himself to the fact that there was nothing to do but wait. He looked around the 17th century pub with its leaded light windows and open fire. This sense of history was what he loved about London, the city that had survived the Great Fire and the Blitz. Walking from the tube station to head office he often had a strange sensation when turning a corner, that he might glimpse Shakespeare on his way to his Silver Street lodgings or a young Charles Dickens hurrying to his office at Gray’s Inn. He really was a Londoner through and through although he and Cynthia had lived in Surrey for most of their married life.

He turned back to his drink and his increasing sense of anxiety. Why hadn’t she called? He breathed a sigh of relief just a few moments later when the trite ring tone of his mobile startled him even though he had been waiting for it for nearly an hour.

‘Hello darling, where are you? I was getting worried.’

 The pause was too long.

‘Robert, I’m sorry. I won’t be there, I can’t do this. I’m so sorry.’ Robert felt the colour drain from his face.

‘What? You can’t mean that. What about all our plans?’ The group of young city workers at the next table turned to look at him, his words had been loud and desperate.

‘Robert, what can I say? I am truly sorry, I realise how much I’m hurting you.’

‘Sheila, please! Everything is arranged, I’ve even spoken to Dawn. You knew I was going to.’ He spoke in almost a stage whisper, aware that he was attracting attention from his neighbours.

‘Yes you’ve spoken to Dawn but not to Cynthia, you still haven’t told her have you? Rob I’m sorry but I can’t do this to another woman, I just can’t. I love you but this…this whole thing was a fantasy, a pipe dream. Please don’t try to contact me, I’m going away for a while, I’m sorry.’ The line went dead and he was left holding the ‘phone to his ear.

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Cynthia and Ann sat opposite each other in the airport café. Ann was still droning on and on with gossip about their mutual friends, much of which was rather malicious. Cynthia had almost given up listening while they were still in the car and wondered how soon she could escape without seeming rude.

‘Ann, sorry to interrupt but I think I might go through now. Security can take so long these days.’

Ann leaned over and squeezed her hand. ‘Oh Cynthia, we’re all going to miss you so much. Also… I must say how brave I think you are.’

Cynthia withdrew her hand and shrugged. ‘Oh no, hardly brave.’

Ann sat back in her chair. ‘Well it makes me furious. Bloody woman, why doesn’t she go and find someone single?’ She stared at Cynthia’s stricken face. ‘Oh my God, you didn’t know did you?’ Did a slight smile hover at the corners of her lips?

Cynthia slowly shook her head. She stood up unsteadily. ‘Take me home please Ann.’

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Robert sat in the Costa coffee bar at Gatwick, sipping a cappuccino and feeling surprisingly normal.  Cynthia’s flight had landed and she would soon appear through the barrier, smiling, relieved to be back and glad to see him. He thought how strange it was that only a few hours earlier his heart had been broken. It would take a long time to mend but once the initial shock of Sheila’s ‘phone call had passed, an instinct for survival made him spring into action. ‘Damage limitation’ they would call it at work.

He rang Dawn and told her that he had come to his senses, he couldn’t imagine what he had been thinking. He said he had spoken to Sheila and told her that it was over; he realised that he had never stopped loving Cynthia and that there was no way he could ever leave her.

Dawn was over the moon. ‘Oh Daddy, I’m so glad. I can’t tell you how glad I am.’

He didn’t like lying to his daughter but he could see no alternative. The plan had been for him to take Cynthia out to dinner, tell her of his decision and then leave her at Dawn’s before going on to Sheila’s flat. For one moment he felt a surge of pain at what might have been but then comforted himself with the thought that maybe everything had turned out for the best after all. Perhaps Sheila was right, perhaps their relationship had been a fantasy, a moment of madness. He finished his coffee and went over to wait at the barrier.

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In the months that followed, Cynthia grew to enjoy living alone in the house. It was still for sale, a situation which she hoped would last for as long as possible. She would have liked to stay there for ever but Robert needed his share of the proceeds and she couldn’t afford to buy him out.  She hadn’t decided if she would stay in France or return to England but took great pleasure in the fact that for the first time in years the decision would be hers and hers alone.

Once spring arrived she spent a great deal of time working in the garden but never again caught sight of a wild boar. The weather was exceptionally mild that year and in the evenings she often sat on the terrace with a glass of wine until it was nearly dark. It was pleasant to watch the sky change colour and listen to the chatter and laughter coming from the neighbour’s garden. Sometimes she was startled by the night sounds; a strange call of an unidentified animal or a sudden rustling in the bushes. She was startled but never afraid. She often thought that the strange encounter on that fateful January day had indeed been a sign but not the one she had imagined. Instead it was surely a sign that she should never be afraid again. What was the point? What was the point of being afraid when life could change in a second? What was the point of being afraid when things were so often not as they seemed? The wild boar, the creature of her nightmares, had done her no harm but Robert had cruelly ripped her heart in two. The man she had loved and shared her life with for nearly thirty years would have shown no mercy; it was only circumstances that caused him to change his plans.

Living in the moment was an art that Cynthia had never been able to master before, but now she knew that it was the only possible way forward. She had every intention of enjoying this new chapter in her life.

       

 

 

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