Kate Nowakowski’s captivating short story A Cuckoo’s Broken Wing, is the winning entry for Short Fiction in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition 2012. There is still chance to submit Short Fiction or Poetry to the Creative Writing Competition 2013. The final deadline for submissions is 31 August and the following is an extract from Nowakowski’s story.
Cora is the first to throw, her sandal clearing the nettles to land squarely in the ditch. They stand side by side and watch as it sinks into the soupy brown that lines the ditch’s bottom. Lee looks at Cora, apprehension puckering a frown above blue eyes, a sandal dangling limply from each curl of fingers. Cora stares back hard. Lee sucks in her lip and mimicks Cora’s effort but too weakly, her sandal lodging amongst the nettles just out of reach. Sensing her shortcoming, Lee casts a worried glance at Cora and goes right ahead with the second throw, aiming harder this time so that this sandal strikes the ditch’s far bank before tumbling gracelessly into the water. Cora takes her last go, aiming soft this time, sensing instinctively the need for parity, one foot each sunk in the ditch and one each in the nettles. They contemplate their handiwork a long moment. Cora turns first, leading the barefoot trudge back to the house.
So everything they did was exactly the same yet Cora knows, even though they receive their tellings off separately, that the real ire is reserved for her. Cora is aware of Lee’s general lack of intent, hence the subsequent need for Cora to be the one planning and initiating but this is a nebulous, far away thing compared to the hard facts of action: surely punishment should be meted out equally to those whose actions are equal? But this is not what happens. The wrongness of it wells up inside Cora as she sits, confined to the bedroom.
Cora is the first child, and feels her place fiercely. She is more than ready to become mentor and protector to a younger sibling but instead, here upsetting the balance of things is Lee, a year and a half older than her and robed in this peculiar sad fragility which Cora must, on her parents’ instructions, do her best to dispel. This in itself troubles Cora, being by no means a straightforward task. Cora is further discomfited by the uncertainty surrounding Lee’s stay. She cannot play the waiting game, counting the days until Lee is gone, nor can she knuckle down and resign herself to Lee’s permanent presence for it is dependent on the health of her mother, who might, in fact, not get better at all. This is one of several facts that Cora is strictly forbidden from mentioning to Lee. Cora wavers between compassion and resentment, and when the resentment swells within her she feels herself dangerous, barbed with powerful words she must not say. Although she holds them beneath the surface, when they subside she feels dark and ashamed.
1. A Cuckoo’s Broken Wing, Kate Nowakowski. Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2013.