Something special this week! Lip Magazine has generously shared the story that won their 2015 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction.
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The Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction is a themed fiction competition, open to all ages and genders. Rachel Funari, the namesake of the competition, was the founding editor of Lip. Tragically, Rachel went missing in 2011, while on holiday in Tasmania. Lip launched the prize in her honour, because she was determined to better the lives and opportunities for young women.
Mr Darfur tells me – after he’s finished one of his coughing fits, and pushed his glasses up over his nose – that sometimes, shitty things just happen. Only he doesn’t use the word shitty. He uses therapy words and smiles.
Mr Darfur has eyes like blackcurrants. He tells me his first job was KFC and he could only speak two words of English. He says things are always hard at first but then they get better. I ask when but he only smiles, all sad, and scribbles something.
Mr Darfur wants me to relive everything. He says it will help let go. He says I need to acknowledge the pain. He says there’s no going around pain – you have to go through it. So I try to be honest and I try to tell him everything but sometimes my voice catches in my throat. Slides down my neck.
‘Are there any drugs I can go on?’ I ask.
‘You need to confront the pain. Step through it. Drugs will only mask the pain.’
‘But after I’ve confronted the pain,’ I say, watching him write. ‘Then can I go on something?’
‘Then we’ll assess where you’re at and we’ll see if drugs are the best option. Maybe something to help you sleep. Some days will be better than others,’ he says.
I remember the flashing, the screaming, the huge cinema screen going blank. Who even turned it off?
I remember a boy – dressed in grubby blue, climbing under his seat, crying. And a girl next to me – pink lipstick – screaming. That scream had gotten her shot.
I remember the blood. The way it smelled. Lingered on my skin. It made me think of strawberry jam. Thick and pulpy, not at all how I imagined it should look.
When I close my eyes at night I see a lot of red and a lot of rain. I’m not sure where the rain comes from but it falls down quickly and sinks over everything and sometimes when I’m lying in bed, it’s hard to breathe. Mr Darfur says maybe it isn’t rain and then he pauses as if he’s said something real poignant.
The boy with the gun had ashy blonde hair. I remember because I saw him before anyone else did. He glowed. Before everything went dark I saw his eyes and they were sad and shiny, sort of like bunny rabbits about to be hunted, and his hands trembled but I thought maybe he was just on a date or something. Then I saw his hand moving – under his jacket – and by the time I saw the gun, all slender and silver, it was dark and he was already shooting.
Mr Darfur wants to know if he said anything.
‘Like what?’ I say. I pick at my t-shirt.
Some mornings when it’s still dark, I wonder if he had a girlfriend. If he lived with his Mum and Dad. Did they go on family outings? Or work on school projects together? Maybe they sat around the table and ate dinner. Roast potatoes and slow cooked beef.
I wonder where he got the gun. I wonder if he bought a movie ticket. I bet he did, all smug and self-satisfied at the candy bar, handing over twenty dollars to the girl who was chewing gum.
He killed her too – when she came running later.
Mr Darfur says if we can extend kindness to ourselves, we will be closer to understanding others. But I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.
I wonder if Mr Darfur would have tried talking to him. Maybe the boy would have listened because Mr Darfur has a soft voice, and then the boy might have put the gun down, and Mr Darfur would have had tears in his eyes. And then the lights would have flicked on and instead of the blood and the screams and the spilt coke, there would just be slow sighs of relief.
I think of the families a lot. People write and ask for answers and I feel awful when I don’t remember the son with the orange jumper or the daughter with the tattoos but there were so many people and it all happened so quickly, and I’m not a hero – I just sat there and closed my eyes really really tight and plunged my fingers into the seat until I broke through to all that white cushiony stuff. I didn’t get up and speak to the boy like some people did. They’re the real heroes. I don’t want to be a hero just because I’m alive.
Mum always goes quiet when she sees me. Like she’s afraid I’m going to burst or go crazy, or something. But I’m just sad, even though sad isn’t the right word. I have a feeling this is the sort of sadness you carry for the rest of your life.
Mr Darfur gives me a texta and I draw big looping lines and tiny dots. When I’m finished I hand it back to him and he sniffs. Mr Darfur says I have nothing to feel guilty about. Mr Darfur says people think I’m brave. I tell him people are idiots and he laughs. When he laughs his lips shake. Sometimes I wonder what Mr Darfur does when he goes home. I don’t even know if he’s married or has kids. I like to imagine he has two kids. I think he has a beautiful wife who smiles as though there are sparkles in her eyes. I bet she has perfect skin and hair that rolls all the way down her back.
The boy looked like he wanted to be at the beach, sliding ice cream round in his hand. Or maybe he wanted to be at the skate park, or maybe he just wanted to be held by someone. I wonder if his last thoughts were loose or hard. Maybe he wasn’t having thoughts at all. Maybe his mind was empty, like one of those shells a child finds on the beach.
The police were holding guns. I’d never seen a gun up close before. They shouted things and when they realised I was alive they went very, very quiet and put the guns down and turned to the boy. The boy was crying, his tears rolling onto the carpet, and someone rushed over to me and I was pushed into an ambulance, hands tight, digging into my skin, and I think I was crying and someone gave me water. And then everyone asked a lot of questions until finally some woman held her hand up and said enough is enough.
The hospital was nice. Mum came and sat by my side and cried a lot. The nurses were even nice when I threw up over the bed.
Mr Darfur wants to know if I’m glad he’s dead. I ask if I can go to the mental home.
‘You’re not unwell,’ he says, twirling a pencil in his hand. I lean down, dropping my head into my lap.
‘Yeah? Well. I feel crazy. Sometimes I lie awake and cry until I think the walls are gonna cave in.’
‘You’re not crazy.’
We sit in silence for a while, the sun throwing itself through the window, and then I get up to leave. Mr Darfur says he’s sorry and he swallows, as if there’s a bug in his throat. I nod, scoop up my bag. When I get outside I see Mum. I pull open the car door and she jumps, knocks the radio off.
‘Hi,’ she says. She drums her fingers on the steering wheel. ‘You okay?’
I don’t respond. She drives for a while and I close my eyes. I think I’m dreaming of the boy, only he’s not a boy at all, he’s a mouse – all pink eyes and tiny ears. And he’s crawling on the ground, squeaking and rubbing his body against the wall. He runs, tapping his feet on the pavement until he’s tired and can’t run anymore. He sleeps, his breath curling from his mouth like smoke, and in my dream he doesn’t wake up.
When I wake up we’ve stopped and Mum’s smoking out the window. She waves her hand when she’s finished and drops the cigarette butt outside. She asks how therapy was. I tell her I’m tired and she yawns.
‘I’m tired too love.’ She switches the ignition on. Outside it’s dark.
‘Why do you think he did it?’ I ask.
‘I dunno love. I don’t know why people do bad things.’ Mum rubs her face. I tug at my seatbelt.
‘I think about him a lot,’ I say and I’m not sure why I say it, or what I expect her to do with that information, but I say it anyway.
‘Like all the time. I wonder what things would be like if he was alive.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Mum says, and she pulls out her handbag and starts rummaging through it. ‘I’m sorry,’ she says again, and outside the trees sway. The wind is loose and flat. ‘I’m so sorry this happened.’
I reach for her.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she says, for the fourth time. She strokes my hand. We watch silently as birds make circles in the sky. Round and round. Their inky bodies sliding. Pressing into the clouds.
Loved this piece? You can read an interview with Katelin Farnsworth here.
Katelin Farnsworth is a writer from Melbourne. She won the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction last year, and has had work published in Award Winning Australian Writing, Tincture Journal, Offset, Flashing The Square, Voiceworks, Lip Magazine, The Victorian Writer (upcoming) and others. She studies Professional and Creative writing at Deakin University. Find her on twitter: @ktnworth