There’s still over a week left to enter the Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition 2013. Now in its sixth year, the competition is a fantastic opportunity for emerging and established writers to showcase their work to a wider, international audience. Register your poetry or short fiction by 31 August for a chance to win publication in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual, £500 prize money and a selection of inspirational books. To mark this exciting event in the Aesthetica calendar, we’re taking a look at one of last year’s finalists Susan Yardley with her short story SCAR.
Susan Yardley writes both short stories and screenplays. She has won several writing competitions and her work has appeared in FreeXpression, The Outback Writer and in the News Limited press. She lives in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria, Australia, with her family, dogs and chooks. Read Yardley’s short story SCAR.
Susan Yardley: SCAR
Now that I am seventy-five years old, it is difficult to tell which are wrinkles and which are scars. They have converged to form one giant map of imperfection, rolled out across my body by Time’s relentless road gang.
The folds of skin that create these crevices on my face and neck are deep enough to retain small granular deposits of make-up and powder. I know this but still choose to brush some on every morning because it is important to make an effort.
I don’t want anyone saying that I have let myself go.
The scars were there long before the wrinkles of course, taut and milky white where the burn grafts had taken hold. Even with make-up there is no hiding them. That is why, even as a young woman I always wore long sleeves and stockings.
Even on the hottest days.
My mother and I sat together all those long summers, sheltering our fragile skin from the sun’s fierce rays. She worried about “my missing out” on swimming, tennis and other social pursuits, but I was always content to sit and watch. My fear of peeling away clothes to reveal the legacy of scars was far greater than my desire to join in any sporting activity.
We would read, my mother and I, read and talk and play word games. “Jungle”, she would say and I responded alphabetically with associated words.
Armadillo, Brazil, Crocodile, Dangerous, Elephant. All the way through to Yellow Fever and Zebra.
She challenged me on particular words.
“Zebras don’t live in the jungle. They’re more of a savannah type animal.”
And so on. It amused us. And it helped to pass the time. If I ever did begin to feel sorry for myself, one look at my poor mother’s face quickly cured me.
The word games began in the hospital. I was ten years old. As the nurses slowly unwound my bandages and peeled back the dressings, my screams clawed at the antiseptic air, hands groping wildly at the starched white bed sheets. My mother, who lay in the bed opposite, began to call out words, long lists of words, in an effort to distract my mind. Sometimes the nurses joined in too and somehow we would get through the awful daily procedure together.
Then it was my mother’s turn. She never screamed. She bore her pain with a silent defiance that surprised everyone except me. I knew that if she gave the pain one flicker of self-expression it would consume her. Just like the flames had done.
Every Wednesday afternoon my brother visited us in hospital. Uncle Ray drove him down from the farm and the two of them would sit glumly by our bedsides, smoothing out the knees of their trousers again and again with their too-large hands. Looking everywhere except at our wretched faces, waiting for the black hand of the clock to finish the weary journey around its own etched face, thus releasing the reluctant visitors back out into the long hospital corridor and back to the farm. I never blamed them. Those visits must have been torture. And they continued for twelve long months.
Hospital: Antiseptic, Bandages, Carbolic Acid, Diagnosis, Examination. All the way through to Yearlong and Zonked Out.
Going home, going back was the hardest thing of all. A taxi drove us from the railway station to the front gate. My mother’s legs were still not strong enough to walk more than a hundred feet or so. I unlatched the gate and pushed it open. We linked arms and made our way, slowly, painfully, along the gravel path towards the farmhouse. As we rounded the azalea bed, now hopelessly overgrown, the remains of the old wooden garage loomed into view. My mother gasped for breath and I felt her entire body recoil. We held hands, united in the memory. My father, his face contorted with rage push push pushing my mother, the noise dragging me from the kitchen window to the washing line, my mother pleading, my father shouting his accusations to the wind, the flash of a metallic can, the unmistakeable reek of petrol, then in his hand a cigarette lighter, a flame, a scream, my mother erupting in a blaze of light and I am running, running towards her and together we tumble and burn, burn and tumble over and over, the roar of airless heat swallowing all sound, our skin melding and molten on the grass. Flames turn to black, to char, to smoky silence, my eyes squeezed shut against it all, lying there, with my mother on the grass.
Fire: Acrid, Burning, Blistered, Caught in the Crossfire, Collateral Damage, Destruction, Eyewitness, Eyesore. All the way through to Yelling, Yielding and Zealot with a Zippo Lighter.
She would have appreciated that last one. The zeds always presented a challenge.
Today I tend my mother’s grave. I am wearing a blue dress, the one that has tiny lilac flowers on it. I lay sprigs of rosemary for remembrance and a bunch of lilies because she liked them. I have visited my mother here every single Sunday for the past thirty years. I still like to talk to her. As I sit beside her resting place I trace over the name on the headstone with my finger.
Eleanor. Etched like a scar on old faded stone.
To enter your work into this year’s Creative Writing Competition register your work before 31 August www.aestheticamagazine.com/creativewriting
1. Martha Zmpounou, Untitled. Aesthetica.
Posted on 22 August 2013