Using memory as a trigger for a story idea can work on a small or large scale. This story was written in 2002 and started as a writing exercise. I used an old photo-booth photograph of me one summer in the 1960s, aged about seven, wearing a heavy-knit Aran sweater.
“Congratulations,” said the judge, the doctor’s wife, as she pinned the red rosette on the bridle. Red was for first. The horse hadn’t won the prize, its rider had. A skinny black-haired girl with very red lips wore a thin smile and an Annie Oakley costume complete with Stetson and chaps. She perched on top of the horse, too big to be hers, as if she were balancing on top of a barbed-wire fence.
The stereo sound of sniffing emerged from fancy dress contestants to Annie’s left and right. The doctor’s wife walked quicker along the line of ponies, her thighs rubbing together. It was a hot, static sort of sound.
“Well done.” The green rosette, green for second, was awarded to a chimney sweep whose father swept chimneys. He was carrying his father’s brushes and wearing his father’s work trousers, rolled up at the ankles, black with coal dust, tied at the waist with a bulky leather belt wrapped around twice and twisted at the buckle.
“Well done.” The yellow rosette, yellow for third, to a fairy. She was carrying a wand with a star on the end. The star was from the box of Christmas tree decorations, the wand was a pencil covered in tin foil. While the doctor’s wife had been congratulating Annie Oakley, the fairy had hit the chimney sweep on the head for calling her ‘Fairy Mary quite contrary.’
The sniffs got louder as the truth gradually dawned on the postman, farmer, footballer, flower and nurse that they had won nothing.
The doctor’s wife walked along the line of ponies, the last rosette in her plump fingers, sweat leaving a smudge on the carefully folded ribbon. The thin cotton of her pink-flowered dress was sticking to her thighs now and she tugged at it as the hem rode up above her knees.
“Well done.” She pinned a cream rosette, cream for highly commended, to the bridle of the last pony in the line. The wearer of the crepe paper green and yellow flower brushed back her fringe with a single swipe of the back of her hand to reveal a forehead unaccustomed to the sun. The freckles, sprinkled across her cheeks and nose like chocolate powder shaken on a cup of cappuccino, were missing from the half moon forehead above her eyebrows. So many freckles that they almost joined together to make a sun tan.
The contrast of the flower’s between the golden freckled cheeks, the white unfreckled forehead and the dark brown hair reminded the doctor’s wife of the chocolate box of white, milk and bitter chocolate she’d been given as reward for judging the competition.
She smiled at the flower. “You are a very pretty daffodil.”
“I’m a sunflower,” and the owner of the freckles burst into tears.
© Sandra Danby
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