24th May, 2018
Our 2017 winners’ stories in full
We’re delighted to present in full, the winner of the 2017 competition’s 16-19 years category, by Miranda Barrett. You can read the winner of the younger category here.
All nine winning stories are available in printed form in our special free Anthology, which is available to anyone sending in a self addressed stamped envelope. We hope they inspire you to enter next year’s competition – you can find out how to enter here.
The New Neighbours
by Miranda Barratt
(Lights up. A fifties kitchen/dining room. All bright yellows and blues. Low end of middle class. BARBARA HOLLY, thirties, red skirt and blouse. She’s taken a cake out the oven and is looking at it as if deciding whether to throw it away. In a chair to the side of the table is JEFF HOLLY, early forties, reading a newspaper. If not for her discomfort, it’d be the picture of a domestic home. After a few seconds CHARLES HOLLY, nine, bolts through the door)
CHARLES: Mommy! Mommy! There’s a coloured girl playing on the lawn!
BARBARA:(dismissively) Yeah, I know, dear. (It clicks) Wait… On the lawn?
CHARLES: Yeah, on the front lawn!
BARBARA: Well, who’s she with?
CHARLES: She’s talkin’ with Louise! (they both half start to the door; Jeff doesn’t move)
BARBARA: Is she still there?
(Charles runs out to check. Comes back in)
CHARLES: Nah, she’s gone now. Who is she?
BARBARA: I told you, remember, it’s the new neighbours. The Miltons. They’re… from the South.
CHARLES: You mean they’re-
JEFF: Coloured, is the word you’re looking for, Charles.
CHARLES: Oh. I’ve never seen a coloured kid around before.
JEFF: Sure you have. On the television.
CHARLES: Yeah but I sure haven’t seen one in school.
BARBARA: Well, she and her brother are going to be the first.
CHARLES: She got a brother?
BARBARA: Yeah, she does.
(Charles starts to wander off)
BARBARA:(falteringly) Maybe you could- maybe you could play ball together.
(Charles stares at her blankly, then walks off.)
BARBARA: We got a cake last year, the Jones’ last year, the Thompsons the year before- hell, even the Mayfields get one at Christmas, and their Joe’s a crook! We all know he’s a crook!
BARBARA: And that man does notwash.
BARBARA: You remember that? When we moved in? The table was piled high. Bell ringing every half hour. But it’s been three days, and let me tell you, not one woman’s been to next door.
JEFF: How’d you know that?
BARBARA: I’ve been watching through the curtains like some spy!
BARBARA: I don’t know what to do. (He is silent) Thing is, I’m really stuck on this one, Jeff. It’s a real conundrum.
BARBARA: Weighing up the evidence and…. I just don’t know. (Pause) Jeff, are you listening to me? I could really use some advice on this one.
JEFF:(Looking up) Sweetheart, what do you want me to say?
BARBARA: Well, what do you think? Should I deliver the cake? You always give good advice.
JEFF: To the door? With all the woman on the street looking at you? Well, I suppose there’s no other way to do it. Unless- what sort of cake is it?
BARBARA: Chocolate, why?
JEFF:(grins) Seems apt.
BARBARA: Oh, stop it!
JEFF: Hey, no- well, look. We got a saying up at the office. Stick to your guns. You know? Whatever you do, you can’t half ass it. You gotta go all the way. So if you deliver that cake, you deliver it with smiles, and gracious welcomings, and invites and all the rest of it. But if you don’t, well, then you gotta act like you never even heard of the concept of baked goods. And you got to stick to that too.
BARBARA:(giggles) You are funny. (pause. He goes back to his newspaper. When she speaks again, he half rolls his eyes) I just- I feel like it’s the right thing to do, you know? But then we got our own lives to think about, you know, that’s the thing with these higher ideals, they don’t think one bit about your own life.
JEFF: This whole civil rights thing got you real riled up, huh?
BARBARA:(hesitates) I don’t want the kids growing up all narrow minded, you know? And I am not big on all this ‘free love’ stuff that’s coming out, not at all- but there’s a difference between thinking you’re the centre of the world and knowing there’s other stuff out there too. You know? Even if you don’t ever see it, it’s like- empathy. Yeah, I want the kids to have empathy. Especially Mary, she’s awful impressionable.
JEFF: You’re an intelligent woman, Barbara. That’s why I married you.
BARBARA:(smiling as he kisses her) Thank you, dear.
JEFF:(pause)That being said, if she’s not grateful, don’t be surprised, you know. That’s just the way she’ll be. Just like those protesters- after 1954 everyone thought they’d be happy, you know, in the Brown case. Mixed schools and everything, and at a damn inconvenience to said schools. But four years later and they’re still at it. Just the way it is. Nature versus nurture.
BARBARA: Jeff, don’t say things like that-
JEFF: Hey, now, come on! I’m no bigot. I served with a boy in the army.
BARBARA: I know, Jeff. John…
JEFF: John Castle, we ate together, we slept together, we got shot at together- And he were just as good as any member of our regiment. He was a fine man. (Pause) Shame we didn’t keep in touch, I could’ve introduced him, done this whole “empathy” thing for you.
BARBARA: You’re no fool, Jeff.
JEFF: Damn right I’m not.
BARBARA:(admiringly)You got so angry when you heard ‘bout all the troops getting beat up when they came back…
JEFF: I tell you, if I’d have been there, I would’ve gunned down half of Texas. (checks his watch)I better go help Charlie with his homework. (Looks at her)This is really worrying you, huh.
BARBARA: They’re gonna see. I know Judy’ll be down here “borrowing some flour,” and just happen to remember- and then they’ll all be talking.
JEFF: That woman would comment if one of the tulips dropped a petal. Anyway, I would’ve thought Linda’s the only one to worry about.
BARBARA: Nah, Linda’s alright, it’s Jews she doesn’t like. I just don’t want to be first, you know?
JEFF: Well, so what if you’re the first? Eh? We were the first to paint the fence duck egg blue. And then, yeah, there were some comments, but what do you know? Now everyone’s doing it, the whole damn street! The neighbourhood is known for it! Down Surbiton street, you know what they say, they say- ‘hey, aren’t you from Madison Grove, where they paint the fences blue?” And then they go off on one telling me how neat they are, and how they wished their street had them too- Hey, maybe it’s the same here. If you give, then I’m sure Mr King himself would be proud. And if you don’t, well, you haven’t done anything wrong. Where they’re from, I’m sure they’re just happy they’re not getting strung up. (He exits, passing MARY, seven, who enters))
BARBARA: Hey, Mary!
BARBARA: Were you playing with the little girl next door?
BARBARA: Do you like her? What did you talk about?
MARY: TV and stuff. I asked her if her Daddy’s daddy was a slave(Barbara looks aghast)and if that meant she was a slave, and she said no, her daddy was a doctor and her grandfather worked on a farm. May I have a glass of milk?
BARBARA: Oh- yes. (She pours her one)
MARY: She has her hair braided in lots of little bands at the back. Can I have my hair like that?
BARBARA: I’ll see what I can do. (She hands over the milk. Mary goes to leave)You talk to her Mom or Dad?
MARY: Yeah, her Mom. She’s real nice. I think you should let her in though, she’s been standing outside the door for awhile.
BARBARA: What?! Christ!
(She exits. Thirty seconds pass, muffled talking. Enter Barbara and EDNA MILTON, dressed similarly to Barbara. The tension is thick)
EDNA:(Faint Southern accent)I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to impose…
BARBARA:(Shrilly)No, no, it’s fine, it’s- better inside…
EDNA: I just wanted to apologise for my little girl being on your lawn. I told her not to go walking round other people’s houses.
BARBARA: No, don’t be silly, it’s perfectly fine. Round here all the children play together.
EDNA: I’m glad to hear it.
(pause. Inspiration strikes. Barbara thrusts the cake forward)
BARBARA: I baked you a cake!
BARBARA: It’s a bit of a tradition, everyone baking something when someone new’s in the neighbourhood. You’ll probably be getting lots more… why, any time now.
EDNA: It looks delicious! Thank you so much.
BARBARA: Oh, it was nothing.
EDNA: I can’t help noticing your Sunbeam mixer, it’s just lovely. Do you bake a lot?
BARBARA: Yes. You know, when I bought it, I… I thought the pink would help set off the walls. I don’t know if it worked.
EDNA: It does, it does.
(Another awkward pause)
BARBARA: Mary told me your husband’s a doctor.
EDNA: He is, yes, his practice is in town.
BARBARA: Is he…….
EDNA: He’s black as well, yes.
(This sudden acknowledgment is shattering. Edna speaks almost kindly)
EDNA: And what does yours do?
BARBARA: He works for Goldman Sachs. Working his way up the corporate ladder, although I wouldn’t mind if he picked up the pace a bit…
EDNA:(Laughs) I know just how you feel. I spoke to your Mary briefly- she’s a really nice girl. Got your eyes.
BARBARA: Thank you, people do say so. What’s yours’ name?
BARBARA:(genuine) That’s a lovely name.
EDNA: Thanks, I know. I got a little boy too, Charles.
BARBARA: Oh! My son’s called Charles too.
EDNA: Look at that!
BARBARA: What a coincidence! I suppose I’ll see them around the school. I teach.
EDNA: You’re an educator? That’s very impressive, keeping the house looking so good with a job like that.
BARBARA: Well, it does wear me down sometimes, but it’s the modern way… (pause) You might have seen my son around, he- he wears glasses.
EDNA: I believe I have.
BARBARA: He always gets jokes, you know, our surname’s Holly- that makes him Buddy Holly. You probably saw him and thought it too.
EDNA: I didn’t like to say.
BARBARA: He pulls it off though, I like to think anyway. He even says he wants to see him in concert, although I’ve told him to wait till he’s older…
EDNA: Plenty of time for that.
BARBARA: Yes- and that’s thing (her speech is speeding up alarmingly) That’s the thing when a kid looks different, you see, when a kid’s different like that- they’re got to learn to pull it off, you know, they’ve got to make it part of their character, otherwise there’s no hope at all- to make it work, to make it, to… to survive… because kids can be cruel, you know, and I would know, I teach them, kids can be damn, cruel, and to pull that sort of thing off, well, a kid’s got to have character, character and a whole lot of nerve. A whole lot of nerve.
BARBARA:(breathing very quick)You…. You come from Alabama, don’t you?
EDNA: We do.
BARBARA: You know this is… this isn’t how things are generally done here. Not in Pittsburgh, not in Madison Grove. You must know that, surely. I mean, look around you. Not a bad thing, not necessarily, but right now- here…
EDNA:(With immense weight) It’s been… so hard…
(Pause. She suddenly smiles)
EDNA: Thank you for the cake. (She turns to go)
BARBARA: Mrs Milton- Edna-
(Edna stops and turns, suddenly quite on guard)
BARBARA: Can you show me how to plait Mary’s hair like you plait Evelyn’s?
(Long pause. Edna half laughs)
EDNA: I’ve never plaited a white girl’s hair before. (Pause) I’m sure you can teach me. (She turns to go)
BARBARA:(slowly)You are welcome here.
EDNA:(a beat) Thank you. (She exits. Blackout. End.)