Love Short Story Competition - Winner

Michael Callaghan

Miracle at the Green Dolphin Café
Love Short Story Competition


Michael Callaghan is a lawyer living and working in Glasgow. He has had previous WM successes, including being a past winner of the Crime Story, Ghost Story and Fantasy Story competitions. Amongst other recent successes he took third prize in the 2022 Exeter Writers Competition and third prize in the 2022 Scottish Arts Trust Award for Flash Fiction. He has also had several stories included in the Trust’s various anthologies, including one in the recently published Beached.
He has his own writers page at the Scottish Arts Trust where you can find out more about him.

Miracle at the Green Dolphin Café By Michael Callaghan

“Where are you?”
I consider Karina’s text. I can’t tell her I’m at the Green Dolphin café. She’d have follow up questions. And I’d have to tell her about seeing the fortune teller and what that made me do.
So I ignore her, and enter the café. I haven’t been here in ten years – my first date with Heather. There are no other customers, because it’s off-season and it’s a dull, drizzly day.
The waitress approaches.
“Sorry, we’re full,” she says.
I look puzzled.
“Just kidding. Sit anywhere.”
I take a booth, then realise I’ve forgotten my wallet. I search my pockets and find a pound coin. When the waitress comes back I ask what I can get for that. She laughs.
“Half a cup of coffee.” But she brings me a full mug and a piece of toast. “We had extra,” she says.
I drink my coffee and look out of the window. It’s raining harder, and the wind is blowing in great gusts along the promenade.
And I wait.
Wait for Heather McKinnon to arrive.
And I think back.
When I first noticed Heather we were fifteen. She started Colbury Secondary that year, her family having just moved to the area. Once I started noticing her, I couldn’t stop. I noticed the way she chewed on her pencil in Maths. I noticed her voice, so clear, so cool, when she read out in English. I noticed her during PE when she was running, her face glowing, sheen of sweat on her golden head.
I was always noticing her.
My phone bleeps.
“Patrick. Where are you?  Tell me you’re not doing something stupid.”
I text back. “I’m fine! I’m in a café!”
Karina might be at the wedding. But maybe not. I’d heard it was going to be small scale. I put the phone away, and again, think back.
The Christmas Disco. I’ve been watching her dancing. She wasn’t a good dancer – her rhythm was slightly off – but she still looked good in her tight jeans and sparkly top. But suddenly I couldn’t see her dancing. She’s left, I thought, and I felt a weird, twisting, sense of loss. Then I turned round and she was right there, smiling.
“You gonna ask me to dance or what?” she said.
The waitress refills my mug. I keep looking out of the window. Sometimes I see a figure on the beach and try to convince myself it’s her. But I know, really, it’s not. I’d know Heather a mile off.
My mind drifts again.
We started dating. And we… connected. We so connected! I was going to be a rock star! She was going to be an actress! But whatever happened, we knew we’d always be together. We ate lunch in the cafeteria together. We walked to school together. We walked home together. We were together through school, through university…
I look up. The waitress is holding a piece of Victoria sponge.
“It’s just going to waste,” she says.
And then…
One year ago, we were in the park. We’d just sat down. The day was warm, I’d played a good gig at Malone’s the night before and I was still feeling that buzz. And I was with Heather. I was thinking: this was a perfect day.
“Patrick,” she said. “I don’t want us to go out anymore.”
The words registered but I rejected their obvious meaning. She wanted a bigger commitment! Get married! That delusion lasted about a second.
“I want to break up.”
She then gave me information overload. She’d met someone else. Robert. He was eight years older, a manager at the company where she worked. He had a company car and his own secretary. (She was keen to stress this, for some reason). She put her hand on my arm.
“When we met you wanted to be a pop star. I wanted to be an actress. I stopped wanting that six months later. Nine years later, you still want to be a pop star. You don’t have a serious job. You still live in your brother’s flat. And… I’ve grown away from you.”
I pleaded. I pleaded some more. It didn’t work. I suspect begging someone not to break up with you rarely works.
“This is best for us both,” she said. And left.
I stop thinking back. The day drags. At lunchtime the waitress puts a tuna sandwich in front of me – “We’d be throwing this out” – and refills my coffee. Some people come in. They eat, pay, leave again.
Then, about three o’clock another figure comes in. It’s someone I recognise. But it’s not Heather.
It’s Karina.
Who comes over and sits down.
“Right. What’s going on?”
I met Karina through Heather. They’re cousins. Karina’s a genius. She’s written award-winning plays and had three novels published, one of which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. She’s five years older than me and treats me like a kid brother who exasperates you but you can’t help looking out for.
It was Karina who told me that Heather was getting married today.
“Okay,” I say. “You remember telling me I’d need a miracle for Heather to come back to me?”
“I was at the fair with my brother last week. And he thought it would be funny to see the fortune teller. We did. And she said ‘I see a dolphin… I see green… I see 21st August… I see you finding your miracle.’”
I gesture. “Green Dolphin!”
Karina lowers her head, and sighs.
“So you thought the miracle would be Heather realising she couldn’t go through with the wedding, realising she really loved you… running out of the church, coming here, where your first date was, knowing you’d be here, tearfully throwing herself in your arms…”
“Not… like that!” (It was exactly like that.)
“It won’t happen.”
“Listen, this Robert’s dull. Dull as a wet Tuesday. He’s thirty four but acts sixty. He’s in a bridge club. He brews his own beer. The only music he likes is Coldplay. But… here’s the thing. She’s the same! I asked her once if she had a Big Dream. She said, to own a full set of Le Crueset pans. She wasn’t kidding! But… they’re nice people. They’ll serve on the PTA and help organise fetes and shake tins to raise money for the new church roof. The world... needs people like them. You’re… none of those things. You’re weird and beta male and dreamy and scatty –”
“Skip to the ‘but’, Karina…”
“…and dithery, and obsessive, and useless at loads of things…”
“But you’re also amazing. You’re quirky and creative… your songs are so good! I see you busking at the station on freezing nights and think – you’re fantastic! You just need to get focused. Or get a break. Also, you’re kinda handsome in a lesser-Harry-Styles sort of way. And you deserve… someone like you.”
“But… I want her!”
She sighs. And hammers the final nail home.
“They’re married. They married nine days ago.”
Something freezes inside me.
“No – you said…”
“I lied. I changed 12 August to 21 August. In case you did something stupid. Like turn up at the church.”
“I’d never have done that!” (I’d definitely thought of doing that.)
“They’re on honeymoon in Majorca now. She’s posted Facebook pictures. It’s over.”
I look out of the window. Everything, suddenly, looks much greyer.
“Will you be okay?” she says.
“Yeah. Sure.”
She sighs. “Come over tonight. Clara and I will be watching Hamilton. We’ll turn you gay, introduce you to our friend Marvin. He’s kinda choosy but might shag you as a favour to us.”
She’s trying to jolly me out of my fug. But I still feel frozen.
“We’ll make dinner too. You must be starving – here all day nursing a coffee.”
“Not one,” I say. “I got free refills. And the waitress gave me leftover sandwiches and cake.”
“Free coffee and food? You did get a good waitress. Okay, think about it. Heather’s my cousin. I love her. But you can do better.”
She leaves. The waitress comes over.
“Anything else?”
I consider. “No, I’m good.”
“Okay. But I’m finishing my shift. Next girl isn’t as kind with people not buying anything. You might have to pay or leave.”
I look at her. I realise, now that I consider her properly, how pretty she is. Her hair falls in frizzy, dark tresses around her neck. She has hazel green eyes and smooth, pale, skin. She also has slightly sticky out ears which are oddly cute.
I notice the book leaning out of her handbag. It’s Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
“Great book,” I say. “Even better than The Remains of The Day.”
“Really?” She looks dubious. “Sounds like heresy. But I’ll defer judgement until I’ve read it. Okay… so long.” She starts to leave.
I blurt out:
“Listen… if you’re not busy, would you like to see a film or something tomorrow? They’re showing Gaslight at the Film Theatre.”
She turns around. Considers me.
“Hmm. Don’t really date customers...”
“But... since you like Ishiguro and you nearly look like Harry Styles, what the heck. But forget the film. My uncle’s having a barbecue tomorrow. You can be my guest.”
“Great,” I say.
“And bring a demo CD. I’ll introduce you.”
“Introduce me?”
“My uncle is Richard Walsh. Siren Sounds Records. You heard of them?”
“Siren Sounds? Country’s third biggest record company? Yes… I have.”
“Good. I’ve seen you busking. You’re pretty good. Can’t promise anything but who knows.”
She scrawls something on a napkin.
“That’s the address, and my phone number. Get there at eight, call me, I’ll come out and meet you.”
“Definitely…” She hasn’t written her name. I look at her badge, pinned on her blue top. “…Mila.”
“It’s Spanish,” she says. “It means ‘miracle’ apparently. See ya, Harry!”
And she smiles and leaves.
I look out again. The rain has become heavier, the winds gusting even stronger. A big storm is coming. I’ll get drenched walking home.
But somehow, I feel like the sun just broke out.

Judges Comments

There's little as uplifting to read as a rom-com done well, and in Michael Callaghan's Miracle at the Green Dolphin Café, the winner in WM's Love Story competition, it's done wonderfully.

If it feels like a light, uplifting read, it's because it's so well crafted by multiple WM winner Michael that the reader is immediately swept up in the first-person story of Patrick, hopefully (or hopelessly!) waiting in the café for his lost love to return to him. The opening question "Where are you?" is carefully chosen so that it feels entirely natural for Patrick to explain his whereabouts, and his why-abouts as well. Michael has written a rom-com, so an element of kindly comedy flows from both character and situation, and is inextricably woven into the romantic narrative. There's the carefully placed set-up: the fortune teller's prediction, and Patrick's interpretation of what it means - Michael is skilled enough to just put that there, knowing the reader will understand that things will not go according to plan (otherwise there would be no drama, and no story). Patrick is sweet, a bit dorky, quirky, creative and as loyal as a dog, both to his lost love Heather and to his music. Romance comes in two forms: Patrick's yearning for the evidently unsuitable Heather (more comedy as her big desire is for a set of posh pans) and the introduction of the 'miracle' – not the interpretation he was after, but actually much better: a kindly, attentive person who plies him with cake and whose uncle happens to own a record company.

The dialogue, too is a delight: naturalistic, humorous, every point adding to the reader's understanding of character and circumstances. It's a lovely, optimistic story of second chances, and a positive affirmation that love can come along in the oddest of circumstances, and sweep you into a whole new set of possibilities.


SHORTLIST Runner up: Katie Kent, Bicester, Oxford. Also shortlisted in WM’s Love short story competition were: Michelle Alexander, Alfreton, Derbyshire; Ellen Evers, Congleton; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Laura Besley, Leicester, Leicestershire; Maria Dean, Thackley; Dominic Bell, Hull.