BLUE - Runner Up

Bethany Hitchen

Runner Up


Bethany Hitchen (25) has been writing since the age of eleven and is proud to say that it has already caused her first mid-life crisis. Throughout her school years, she was fortunate enough to receive continued support and attention for her stories, even when they made no sense, which was frequently. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Sunderland, graduating with an MA, as well as winning the Michael Lavery Prize. She is grateful for the love her work is shown, and considers it her greatest gift.




Salt By Bethany Hitchen

I see you.
Come on. Come down here. Right down here. You want an eyeful, come up close and have one. Yeah, I know. Bring out your crack; I've heard it all. "Feeling a little blue?" That's a good one. "Fishskin", "fishface", "fish" anything. You're not funny, none of you are funny, but you've all stopped caring. 'Cause it's just easy to shout stupid puns at the blue person, isn't it? Easy as being sick.
Go on. Thought you wanted a look. Look at my face. Look at my hands.
Look at all my skin, it's everywhere. I'm like a kiddie cartoon, bluer than the sky, than a sapphire, than your mum's car, yeah, I've heard them too, all your boring little similes. You should all be on the telly. "Look out, it's the creature from the blue lagoon." Whatever,
I'm sick of all your bloody horror. Always with the "why?" and the "how?" and the "what?". I had this old man following me down the street once. I don't know why I bother with the coats and the hoods and the gloves; old people always have eyes like bloodhounds' noses. And he came after me all the way down, ranting on and on — ('What God made you? Our God puts no vile stench into His creations! You are the spawn that slithers from the depths, from Satan himself!" I spun round and told him that his preaching was a load of puerile, drivelling shite and that if he wanted to talk about my "vile stench" then I'd talk about the whisky on his breath. That put him off.
The look on his face when I was talking. His nose and mouth were all screwed up. I was disgusting, he couldn't bear to look at me, but it was the outrage I hated. Because you can all shout whatever you want, you can laugh and point and fucking film me for all your little idiot friends, but when I say something back, that's what makes you angry. That's what you can't stand.
"What does this freak think it's doing," you think, "it's not supposed to have feelings, it's just here for us to laugh at, and ask it why it was born."
Well, I don't know. And if I did I wouldn't tell you. Why won't you just piss off?! You've seen me now. I exist. "Don't go under the docks, there's a blue thing down there, like an eel but it's a person, and it smells like seawater and it'll give you a disease." I didn't come out of the sea, for God's sake. Leave me alone.
What?! I'm not gonna tell you my name. What do you want to know all this stuff for? You can't give birth to a freak without the media noticing. My name's in all the articles; they didn't care about patient confidentiality when I was born. My mum must have been surrounded by cameras before I was a day old. No wonder she left, I suppose. I wouldn't have known what to do with a blue kid either. And the smell.
You can Google the headlines. Just type "blue" and I'll be on the first page somewhere. "Blue Child Astonishes Nurses"; "Single Mother's Bizarre Blue Birth"; "Blue With Fright: Abandoned Infant's Mystery Condition" — I hate it, but it's proof I'm human. As far as I know.
I don't blame my mum. Must have been rubbish, all the papers dragging her like that. Like it was her fault. They tried to tell me she was on drugs, you know. I'd like to know which ones. Dickheads.
No, you cannot have a photo. Get your camera light out of my eyes! I'm bloody light-sensitive.
Minging, aren't they? See, they're not blue. Maybe that's why they're so runny; people trying to take their little videos all the time. Aren't I lucky, red eyes going so well with blue skin and all that. No, I don't know why they're like that. I don't know anything.
Yeah, you might be sorry. But if "sorry" fixed anything they'd have left me alone. I might still have a mum. 'Cause I grew up in care, y'know? I went to school like a normal kid, but it was still just me on my own against all of them.
The boys all ganged up together after P.E. once. I was always the fastest at changing, to get it over with, but they grabbed hold of me as I was going out and shoved me back in. At first they just said the usual stuff, calling me dirty and slimy. But then they said I needed to wash that salty smell off me, and why did I smell like that anyway, and did my mum have sex with a sea monster and was that why I was blue.
'tOhhh, you've pissed him off now."
"Look, he goes purple when he blushes."
"His eyes are runny. You gonna have a cry, you great big girl?"
"Nah, they're always runny. He's got pinkeye from living in the sea."
"It, not he. It's a fish thing,"
"Can you breathe underwater? Breathe underwater for us, fish-eyes."
That was when I started yelling at them to piss off, but it was too late.
There was this shower we had in the changing room; one of those ones that looks like it's got a footbath built in. Nobody used it 'cause the drain was blocked, but they turned it on and held me down under it til the bottom had filled up. Then they forced me down and held my head underwater.
I actually thought I was gonna die. I thought: "They won't care if I drown, they'll just run away." They held me down, then yanked me back up. I was still choking when I was pushed back under. In and out, in and out, and the stupid pricks were all laughing. I would have punched them then if I could, but they got bored first. They pulled me back so hard I overbalanced and my head cracked on the tiles. They were still laughing when they ran off. Maybe it makes people happy to feel like there's always someone inferior to them.
Maybe it's distracting.
People think you're weird if you get hung up on being bullied, but that's just because they're the ones who did it. I try to forget. I can't.
They wanted to do a documentary about me when I was eighteen. All my life I'd been going "no no no" to the interviews and the catchups, but this time I said "Okay," and they said "Great, and we'll give you... " well, I can't remember now. But I could have had thousands. That was the point. I thought the producers could help me find my mum, and then I would give the money to her.
Shows you how thick I was.
I told them over and over; "I'm only doing it to find her." But it was just the bloody changing room all over again. I was the prize freak they could milk.
They were pulling and tugging on my skin, asking me if it hurt, asking me...
They actually asked if I could develop gills. Like a fish. And I could tell they were hopeful. As if they knew people would believe it. I suppose people will believe anything when you look like this.
In the end, I pulled out. They had to can the whole thing. God, were they pissed. Said now I'd aged out of care they could only do so much for me, and they put me on Jobseekers' and let me go. And that was the best day of my life. Nobody was watching me anymore. I thought, finally, I can just try to be normal. And as you can see, I lived happily ever after. Under this fucking dock.
D'you think I like being this way? Not just the blue; I mean bringing the mood down all the time. I know I'm draining you; don't shake your head at me.
Look: you can ask if I'm alright, and I'd like to be alright. But—
I'm sorry for ranting. Okay? And for going off at you. But sometimes, life is really shit.
When I was on my own, I was over the moon. I mean, I knew I'd always be different but I thought things would be better. Don't ask me why. I suppose it was just hope. But nobody's hiring, for obvious reasons.
This country. It's always the same. Everything's grey and dead, and the economy's down the toilet. Well, that was what they said over the phone. I stopped going in person first. They'd see me and freeze up. Or get their colleagues over. All the whispering. But what else could I expect?
I know what people think when they look at me. That's why I shout. If I can say all the stupid shit they want to say first then I feel like, sometimes, it makes things bearable. But sometimes I just want someone to — oh!
Thanks. I needed that.
It's just that everyone notices you, but nobody asks. But now you're here and you're listening, and I don't even know who you are. I don't know your name. It's messed up when you think about it,
So. Sorry you had to listen to all that. Maybe push off now though, yeah?
Don't mean to be rude, I just... you know, I still have a bit of a thing about people seeing me. But thanks for listening. I do mean that.
You want my advice? Don't ever go into journalism. I mean, look around you. it's all bullshit about being happy or rich or whatever, but when they can't use you, they chuck you. Look at me; "Blue Thing from Under the Water". 1 1 m washed up now. Get it? See, I can make stupid jokes too.
Doesn't matter though. 'Cause I'm going to find her. My mum.
I want to tell her I love her. And that it wasn't her fault.

Judges Comments

'Salt' by Bethany Hitchen, the runner-up of WM's Blue Short Story Competition, crackles with seething energy. Given a surreal twist with Bethany's creation of a blue-skinned creature, the first-person story is a searing indictment of stereotyping and prejudice. It's raw, angry, confrontational and deeply sad, fizzing with righteous anger about discrimination based on difference, using language as a defensive weapon. Right from the opening line I see you the first-person narrator is on edge, reading how they're percieved, ready for a fight.

The writing in 'Salt' is filled with immediacy and wonderfully, properly salty. The narrator takes no prisoners with the unfiltered language and attitude they deploy, creating a loud and proud poetics of dissent. It's funny too - there's a razor-sharp wit at work in the inventive wordplay.

Above all, this is writing that makes its reader see the world through the narrator's eyes and understand their humanity and what it is like being in their (blue) skin. Bethany doesn't shy away from making the reader see the hurt and anger caused to the narrator by other people's unthinking prejudice, from name-calling to physical bullying. It's though-provoking, social justice warrior writing where the high quality of the words matches the urgency of their underlying message, and it highly deserves its winning spot.