Colette Coen - Runner up

Competition: 750-word short story competition

Colette Coen has twice been shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust’s prestigious New Writer’s Award. In 2013 she won the Waterstones’ Crime in the City Competition and has regularly been published online and in print. Her first novel, All the Places I’ve Ever Been, and three short story collections are available on Amazon. She has been a librarian and literacy lecturer, but now works in a supermarket to allow time and head-space for writing.

Colette Coen

Lost

It’s a daft thing to be proud of – knowing where things go, but I was good at it and it was useful working in a supermarket. Customers didn’t really appreciate it – they thought everyone should be able to find them what they wanted, no matter how obscure it was – quinoa anyone? But my colleagues knew I was the one to come to when their handsets sent them to the wrong shelf. ‘I’ll show you. They moved it last week.’
You wouldn’t call it a photographic memory – I was no good at school, and I could never have been a spy like Barbara Windsor in that old Carry On film where she could capture secret documents with a click of her huge eyelashes. I don’t know. Maybe I was just good at how things relate to each other, like knowing the beans are next to the...
You see I’d bought a mirror and put it on the… So that the light would come in and shine on my face and I could see the wee buggers as they emerged. I’d been taken aside by Karen, she’s one of the managers, and told that I should really do something about my personal grooming. I was affronted at first, but when I got the mirror with its 8x magnification I could see she had a point. But it got too much though, all the plucking in the world with the tweezers that sit on the… couldn’t keep them at bay, so I took Karen’s advice and tried this threading thing.
I’d gone to get my eyebrows done, that’s what I tell folk, I never could bring myself to say the moustache and beard bit too. ‘Lie back,’ the girl had said, ‘and try to relax.’ My body tensed. The chair squeaked. I closed my eyes.
It’s not like being at the hairdressers where you get a cup of tea and a chat. No, you’ve got to be stony silent with your tongue pushing under your upper lip so the thread can get a good grip. I was a bit embarrassed the first time, sitting in the middle of the shopping centre like that, but then I figured, if folk get their kicks out of watching someone suffer, then I’m happy to oblige. You’ve got to breathe through the pain, like when you’re having babies. I’ve got two of them, Sammie who can never find her school bag and Jake whose trainers seemed to move by themselves. ‘Mum, I can’t find…’
I had to stand still for it to work, so maybe that’s the problem now, because I find that hard, but I used to take a moment, and then the missing trainers would appear in my mind, sitting on top of the… or underneath. I could tell you where the thing was before I even had a chance to check the sense of it, but then, when things are lost it’s often because they’re in the most stupid place.
There was a crack. Loud like a gun on the telly. My neck had been resting on the black padded plastic, so when the chair collapsed, my head took the full whack of the floor. I don’t remember much about what happened after that.
It’s weird but there was no blood other than on my chin where the thread ripped my skin. Nothing came out of me like you’d imagine, but they said swelling and internal and bleed. Someone stole my phone, but Paul said that was how they contacted him. He said it must still be in my bag and my bag’s in my locker and my locker’s right next to me, and when I cry and get confused he says if I can’t find it now I should look where I had it last.
My speech is getting better every day and if you don’t mind the left-handed scrawl then I can write it down when you don’t understand me. The doctors say that I’ve been very lucky, that it could have been worse, and that at least I’ll get compensation.
But they don’t know how much I’ve lost, not just my phone, and my keys, and my bed, and my locker, but the thing that made me special, my little talent that everyone thought was so insignificant even when they relied on it. And so I’m telling you everything is lost and I don’t think that looking in the last place I had it is going to help.  

Judges Comments

Colette Coen's command of her character's first-person narrative voice makes our runner-up story in the 750-word competition a delight to read: it's chatty, colloquial, self-deprecating, digressional and entertaining without ever losing the thread of the story. You can't help but warm to the character as she natters on, butterflying from one detail about her life to another. It's only as you get to the final three paragraphs that we realise the moments where the narrator misses a word and picks up the next thread in her tale are not simply her conversational style, but a symptom of something that has gone very badly wrong for her. Colette's ability to convey the difference between long-distance recall and short-term memory loss is impressive, and so is her skill in maintaining the fine balance between comedy and tragedy that gives Lost a particularly effective impact. Incurring brain damage because of an accident suffered during a cosmetic treatment for profuse facial hair is the stuff of very dark humour, but Collette's skill in managing the shift between humour and sadness makes for a tale that is compassionate and funny without a hint of sentimentality.
 

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