Deborah Tomkins - Winner

Competition: Timely Topic Drying Up Competition

Deborah wins her choice of £100 or a WM writing critique.

Deborah Tomkins

My Heart Beats Faster Than A Butterfly’s Wing

I stand beneath the thrumming blades of the turbines and gaze at my knee-high wheat, a drought-resistant variety guaranteed to thrive these hot years which have come season after season since I was a child. The empty field shimmers in the scorching air. Blades above, me and the wheat below. No birds, no insects, no dragonflies, hoverflies, butterflies or any flies at all. The stalks are a pale silvery-gold but the tiny grass-seed sized grain is the colour of oak. The wheat has died, and with it our livelihood.

I blame the giant to whom I am in hock for pesticides, herbicides, inorganic fertilisers and this revolutionary wheat seed which is supposed not to fail. I blame my family, for we have been complicit in our disregard for the soil. We have done nothing in three generations to nourish this earth and it is dry as dead bones, cracked into large ragged scales in shades of brown paper and ash. It has hungered and thirsted for manure and mulch and the dredgings from our silted-up river, and now, starving, it cannot hold water, nutrients, or microbes. Worms and other small creatures died long ago. In our arrogance - no, our hubris, I see that now - we knew better than nature.

My debt is so enormous the bank will take the land and house. We will beg friends and relatives for help; we will sleep on their sofas and attempt to find work, a home, and schools for our children. Those we have failed to feed with our stillborn wheat will blame us, pity us, curse or ignore us. We will queue for food handed out at street corners and in church halls and at the night-time soup kitchens when it is cool enough to venture out and we will compare sunburns and peeling skin and stories of sleepless days in searing heat, wet curtains hung over the windows to cool the air, wet sheets over our naked bodies. Too hot for work or exercise or sex, too hot to speak.

We will look back at golden summers and chilly winters and say ‘Remember? Remember drizzly springs and misty autumns? Apples and pears, plums and tomatoes, and the joy of playing in shady woodland? Remember dew and frost and snowy landscapes, the blessed cold and wet that we didn’t understand gives us life? Remember how we longed for blazing summer days, sizzling on fiery sandy beaches, burning for the fun of it? Remember?’

I stand and gaze at the useless wheat and know that we - so clever and cunning, so inventive and shrewd - we have not been wise. We have not valued what we had, not treasured the cradling of the earth, her caresses, her generosity of purpose. We will understand this at last, and, retreating further from the sun, we will hide our faces.

I gaze at the wheat under the thrumming turbines, and my heart beats faster than a butterfly’s wing.

Judges Comments

Also shortlisted were

Terry Baldock, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire; Alyson Barber, Houghton-le=Spring, Tyne and Wear; Dominic Bell, Hull; Kyle Raymond Best, Chinnor, Oxfordshire; Mike Buckle, Richmond, North Yorkshire; Sarah Haselwood, Oxted, Surrey; Stephen Joseph Kelly, Sturton-by-Stow, Lincolnshire; Jill McKenzie, Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway; Nicholas M Morrish, Fareham, Hampshire; Julie Noble, Fylingthorpe, North Yorkshire;  Julie C Round, Worthing, West Sussex.

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