750-word competition 2022 - Winner

Sam Palmer

750-word competition 2022


Sam Palmer is a secondary school teacher living in Staffordshire. She is currently working on a novella-in-flash and loves writing flash and micro-fiction. This is her second win in a WM competition.

21,915 By Sam Palmer

You planned to tell him you loved him a minimum of 21,915 times – allowing for leap years, of course – once a day for the sixty years you expected you would be married. By the time you reached this diamond anniversary, you knew that you would be fat with affection, bloated by it. You would both be old and grey and wrinkled, but it wouldn’t matter because each of you would see your younger versions in the face of the other. You would see the gossamer trails stretched tight between you, joining you together, humming with the vibrations of shared memories.
Like the time when he brought you tea in bed on a Sunday morning. You cuddled up to him with your nose stuck deep in his armpit, one leg thrown over his. Together, you listened to the early morning whistles and chirps outside the window. You couldn’t see his face but you knew he was looking at you, you knew he was smiling, because you did the same sometimes. What luck, to have found this person.
Eventually, you knew you had to get up. Oh, but it was so warm and cosy. You remember that clearly, that feeling. And you remember he dragged himself out from under the duvet first. You felt his weight shift and then disappear. The clink of the mugs being picked up.
You were dozing, eyes half closed, when you heard him scream. You opened them wide just in time to see him jerk the dregs of drink against the paintwork. You saw movement on the floor, spindly black legs scuttling to the corner. A spider. A small spider. A fact you find hilarious. Every weekend you saw the stain and said you should paint it and every weekend your time was filled with other chores and the brown streaks remained.
Not that long ago he said he loved your blue eyes (even though they are definitely brown, have always been brown. He should know – he’s stared into them often enough). You were mad, (you’re still mad, just a little, just a tiny bit). And even though afterwards he gave you his best puppy-dog look you weren’t ready to let it go. You were quiet and heavy handed with pots and pans. You thought you would have time to let him make it up to you.
You were wrong.
You have the time to be here now though, drowning in the lack of him, even though he’s still here – just.
The pale green hospital walls fade away and in your head the beeps of the machine become birdsong, swooping high notes and trills, and it’s that Sunday again. You’re safe and warm and next to him. You hold his hand and tell him to take as long as he needs. You have nowhere else to be.
Under your breath you say – I love you
I love you
I love you.
And you count them off in your head

Judges Comments

Every word in fiction has to earn its place. In micro-fiction it's even more imperative. 21.915, Sam Palmer's winning entry in WM's 750-word short story competition, is writing where every word counts.

The economy of the writing, where each word is effective and every element of the story builds the reader's understanding, shows the depth of Sam's craft. In a very short space, Sam has told a very big story, encompassing love and loss. We're shown the intimate details, carefully chosen for effect, of the relationship, set against the overarching understanding that the narrator is waiting for their loved partner to die long before it was expected.

To call this story poignant is an understatement; it's heartbreaking. The fact that it's told so precisely and with such restraint adds to its effectiveness. The language is clear and expressive, with a stripped-down quality that draws attention to what matters most. There is clarity and focus; telling detail that enables insight into the relationship. The emotional impact builds, and the end, fulfilling the story's beginning, is quietly devastating.

The lyrical passages - such as the beeps of the machine that become birdsong - have the effect of poetry as the narrator's heightened emotions take them out of the realm of the everyday and into the place where strange things make more sense than reality. It's a beautiful piece of writing that has really earned its place as the winner in this competition.


Also shortlisted in the 750-word competition were: Rosy Adams, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion; Ana de Andrada, Bracknell, Berkshire; Dominic Bell, Hull, Humberside; Laura Besley, Oadby, Leicestershire; Jane Bidder, Paignton, Devon; Deborah Hugill, Northallerton, North Yorkshire; Mairibeth MacMillan, Cove, Argyll and Bute; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Helen Rogers, Whitley Bay, Tyneside; Deborah J Smith, Maidenhead, Berkshire.