2023 winning story

Sweet Dreams are Made of This 

by Brenda Hutchings

"Stunning. Fantastic descriptive writing, gripping plot and a twist that caught me completely by surprise."

Winter bites my neck as rain slithers into ice, and I taste the gag of cold, wet pavements and dank raincoats as people scurry by. I’m alone, waiting for the bus, too cold to run. A trickle slips beneath my up-turned collar and briefly, I think about him:

The silk of his fingertips as he kisses tiny white hairs along my spine, teasing lips brushed over my thin, piccolo bones; heat from his breath, warms me, as his hands softly cup my breasts; a practised tongue excites my childhood scars, tracing them back to where we first met in the school playground, where we whistled gap-toothed promises.

Tender times, when our innocence led us to believe we were invincible or could wrap the worries of the world in a King-sized feather duvet; live forever, cosily togged together. 

Our bed, still hot and rumpled, as the man I never knew punctured my life; squeezed his long fingers around my neck, choked me. His right fist held inches from my face, waiting for the poison words he spat at me to demolish everything I believed he was or had ever been.

‘I’m leaving you. You understand?! I’m in love with Kiara.’ 

His lover. My sister. Who had cuddled under our duvet while a surgeon unhooked my womb, my life.

Wailing sirens pull me back from my reverie. My travel case sits clumsily between my thighs, shielded from a thunderous deluge with my long, black, coat. Hailstones dance on pathways. Empty crisp packets swirl towards overflowing drains; and I barely recognise the shop behind me I once owned. Cracks zigzag across smeared windows; piss ferments in the doorway. I peer inside. A poster curls under the weight of decaying insects. Lopsided pictures of herbs and spices take me back to my mother’s cooking. Home:

I shut my eyes, imagine myself at the bazaar; the seller’s banter, fun, paper bags rustling. I pick coriander and blue fenugreek sprung fresh from the mountains, inhale the heady scent of pepper. My family sing folksongs, share ghost stories, wag fingers; warnings I chose to ignore of nightshade and bitterness. About him.

My distorted reflection stares back at me. My hands tremble as I touch the bare patch above my ear. His parting gift as he pulled my head back to kiss my lips, my neck, my shoulders, one more time. His shocked face as I slit his throat with the silver handled knife my mother gave me long ago. His lovers name forever on his tongue. 

A weak sun breaks through the purple-bruised clouds, as the storm blows over. A ray of light.