Experiment - Winner

Sharon S Summervale

The Wildness


Sharon S Summervale lives in Bridgwater, Somerset with her wonderfully supportive parents, loving sister, and two adorable cockapoos. She loves reading and has always written stories but only recently started a creative writing course and began entering writing competitions. She’s won a couple and been shortlisted several times (twice with WM!) She’s currently writing her first novel, a psychological thriller.

The Wildness By Sharon S Summervale

You float the mower over your bright green lawn
snipping only the tips of each blade of grass.
Levelling the green carpet, so neatly shorn,
leaving a million clipped green blades en masse.

You plod along the wide and empty expanse
like a partner-less fool in a lonely dance.
On and on you mow this perfect patch of grass,
crisp and precise, the lawn sparkling shards of glass.

Along the edge, borders of flowers stand proud,
dancing in bold colours like a vibrant crowd.
Pops of pure perfection, bright colours abound,
bursting from the rich, earthy-scented dense ground.

Sweet honeysuckle twists and twines up the fence, - sum to    early autumn
the fragrance so heavy, and sickly intense.
Pretty little orchids flaunt dresses so fine. - early spring to autumn
Angelic violas are simply sublime. - early summer to early autumn

Tiny white jasmine stars twinkle in delight - spring to mid-autumn
and blue delphiniums wave petals so bright. – summer
Great balls of hydrangeas bob with graceful flair,
their smooth honey vanilla filling the air.

Deep purple heliotropes dance in the breeze
as they offer sweet almond delicacies.
The cyclamens shake their pink upside down heads - late summer and autumn
as the tulips rise drunkenly from their beds.

Evergreens are a backdrop for bright jewels,
where frothy waves of phlox gather in bright pools.
Above all others the great red roses stand
surveying their rule of the manicured land.

You hate it.

You hate every moment of your tedious work in this garden.
Creating perfection and order in the lawn, beds, shrubs and planters
turns your gut,
making you squirm with disgust.
Every straight line sickens you.
Each precisely planted shrub, every perfectly pruned rose, all the tedious topiary,
repulses you.

You hate the perfection and those strict fine lines. Each ruler-precise alignment is like a whip mark slashed against your skin. How you hate the exactitude.
But you have to maintain the order, by order of your husband.

‘Don’t bother,’ he says, ‘if you can’t do it right.’
Another wound for your back, carved with his spite.

His judgement is as harsh as his lines.
His standards are higher than you can reach.
You struggle to mimic his meticulousness
in your life,
in your house,
in your garden,
in yourself.

The only sliver of joy you have in your grounds, in your life,
is hopping the low fence at the bottom of the garden.
Beyond the fence is a deep, dark, thick, rough woodland.
The dense tall trees there obligingly absorb the sound of your cries. Their thick bark muffles your sobbing and absorbs your frustration.
Thick piles of desiccated leaves soak up your tears. Dry your eyes on the tiny tissues. Take heart from their abundance.
Solid trunks support your body as you lean on them for strength. You are cradled in their limbs, protected in their steadfast embrace.
Low branches stroke your arms and back in comfort.

You flee to the woods for freedom
from your husband,
from your home,
from yourself.

You listen to the choir of wild birds amongst the trees, flitting from branch to branch, darting between the trembling leaves – needles sewing a thread through the protective canopy above you.
In your garden, birds are not invited. They are barely tolerated. You know how they feel.
In the woods, the ground heaves with the constant work of woodlice, beetles, moths, spiders and countless other insects. You can hear the rustle of their bustle as they explore their land. They are scurrying so fast, they can’t be simply working, no one and nothing works that hard and fast constantly. They must be dancing – rejoicing in their freedom. You rejoice in their freedom. Do those tiny little insects know they are free? Do they know they can strike out in any direction that takes their fancy? They can spin on one slender leg with their compound eyes shut, then strut off in whatever direction they end up facing.
In your garden, you must pluck caterpillars and snails from your plants and flowers and you release them here.
Here they’ll live their lives properly, fully, as they were born to do.
In the woods – whether they realise it or not – they are wild and free.

You walk through the woods in open sandals so you can feel the leaves trickle between your toes
and you let your hair tangle in wispy branches. They reach for your perfectly coiffed hair, tug at the strands, pull out the clips, comb through your silky locks. Their gnarled fingers are gentle and tender.
You fondle the rough dry bark of the trees,
a delight to your soft, sensitive fingers. The bark is cool, and peels and crumbles under your fingers. You could peel all the bark from the trees to the uniform flesh within, but it looks better this way – messier.
The woods are filled, every inch, with the divine scent of life. You can smell the rich earth, the bursting life, the dense decay, the musky hint of wild animals, the dusty traces of past lives.

In the woods you revel in the chaos of life.

You long to bring disorder to your garden, the desire itches like a rash.
If you could drag the wild wood through your fences you would melt in delirium.
If you could smash the fences down, splinter the wood that keeps you separate from the woods, and mix the two like oil and water, you would do it in a heartbeat. You would do it in the blink of one eye. You would do it in a thought – a firing of a synapse.
At night, you dream of the wildness devouring your pristine garden.
Destroy it, you beg and plead.
Upend it.
Rip the ranging roots right out of the clogged ground.
Tear the perfect petals from the flowers and hurl them to the wind.
Slice the heads from the roses, dethrone them.
Churn the lawn like a fallow field.
Smash like a savage beast, every perfect thing.

You cradle a hope in your heart like a secret lover, and count the days to its release.

Your husband leaves for two days and you stay home ‘to maintain order’.
You kiss him goodbye and wave as he departs. Sweet kisses.
‘Love you’ you lie, smiling widely. Sweet lies.

You hurry back to the garden,
your hands itching,
fingers twitching.
Breath panting,
mouth ranting.
Heart racing,
legs pacing.
Spade raised,
mind crazed.
Fence smashing,
wood crashing.
Free. Wild. Release.

You take the spade to the borders, the shrubs, even the regal roses. The spade slices through the rich hearty earth with a satisfying ssshhh. No need for shushing anymore though – he can’t hear you. You dig as deep as you can. Maybe you’ll dig to China? Maybe Australia? You dig for freedom. Dig for victory. You smile like a fool.
Tears wash the dirt from your face, tears of joy, utter bliss, total release.
You claw at the delicate flowers with your manicured fingers loving the ruin of the fake plastic nails and the fake perfect petals.

That afternoon you sit for hours in the peace of your wild ruined garden and absorb the chaos. The chaos surrounds you, caresses you, strokes your skin and soothes your spirit. This is the lover you have wanted so long. This is natural and real.
It astonishes you that something that took many hours, days, weeks, years to create could be so utterly devastated in only moments. How fragile perfection is. How easily crushed.
You are happier than you have ever been before. Buzzing with excitement and satisfaction. Positively charged with energy yet exhausted beyond measure. You could power the world with the delight in your body. You could change the world with the strength of your will.
A blissful smile graces your face all day. A delirious grin sends you to sleep.
That night you dream of waterfalls and great landscapes. Roaring, tearing waters, rough pounding seas, cracking lightning and eye-drumming rain. Nature screaming and roaring around you, filling every cell in your body. Cyclones roar and holler, thunder booms, lightning explodes like dynamite, gales scream past your eyes. The enormous world creates a cacophony in your mind, one that yells for freedom, one that celebrates life, one that glories in that eternal spirit within us all. Nature is so much bigger than one person. It’s so much bigger than one garden, one woodland, one town or city or country. It covers every single centimetre of the world and fills the air above and seas below until it’s bursting and swelling over its borders. Nature can’t be contained. It can’t be trained or restrained. And it can’t be tamed.
That night, for the first time in years, you finally dream of your freedom.

When your husband returns, you blame the badgers and deer for your shattered garden. The guilt swells around you, but it’s only guilt at passing the blame.
Your husband quickly builds up a tall strong fence.
But it’s too late:

You’ve already escaped.

Judges Comments

WM's Experiment Short Story Competition attracted some truly exceptional entries, as writers cast off the shackles of coventional storytelling in favour of creative risk-taking. The winner, Sharon S Summervale's 'The Wildness' is just glorious: a story that matches its theme of a woman wilding her own life at the same time as her garden with the prose it's written in.

It starts out with neat, trite, twee, perfectly regulated verse as the viewpoint character 'you' sets out her pretty, conventional, perfectly ordered garden. It's with the line 'You hate it' that the story, and the language, take flight into a wonderful, wild, liberation that increases as the viewpoint character expresses first her unhappiness and then her sense of discovery and self-expression – of herself, of wild nature, of her own nature.

What wonderful expressive freedom there is in the language Sharon deploys as the viewpoint character explores her own elemental self: the rustle of their bustle; If you could drag the wild wood through your fences you would melt in delirium. It's glorious, numinous and luminous, filled with dissenting joy and rebel humour as the story builds to its gleeful act of rebellion as 'you' gleefully destroys her ordered garden, and her ordered life.

Matching the prose to the elements in the story was a creative choice that worked wonderfully well. It shows that playing – with language, with form, with style, with any aspect of creative prose – can free a writer, and a story, and let it grow imaginative wings, and soar.




Runner up and shortlisted

The runner up in WM’s Experiment competition was Damien McKeating, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire. You can read his story at www/writers-online.co.uk/writing-competitions/showcase/
Also shortlisted were: Dominic Bell, Hull; Lucy Brighton, Barnsley, South Yorkshire; Alan J Carter, Rothesay, Isle of Bute; Anthony Crossley, Chobham, Surrey; Manjit Dhillon, London; Fay Dickinson, Corby, Northamptonshire; Tara Karillion, Mickle Trafford, Chester; Jeanette Lowe, Sheffield, South Yorkshire; Patricia Marson, Kirkcaldy, Fife; Pauline Massey, Osney, Oxford; Chris Morris, Dundee, Tayside; Jerry Randalls, Ballinluig, Pitlochry; Lucy Smallbone, Birmingham; Wally Smith, Halesworth, Suffolk; Charlotte Wood, Whitwell, Worksop