Writing Magazine Grand Prize - Winner

Iris Goldsztajn

A Story of Boy Meets Girl
Writing Magazine Grand Prize


Iris Goldsztajn is a London-based freelance journalist, copywriter and aspiring novelist. Having grown up in France with a French father and Yorkshire-born mother, Iris moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, before landing in London in 2017. Her work, which mainly spans lifestyle, wellness, relationships and pop culture, has appeared in a wide range of publications, including InStyle, Stylist, Metro, Cosmopolitan, SheKnows, Alma and more. She is currently working on her first novel, a romantic comedy. This is her first published short story.

A Story of Boy Meets Girl By Iris Goldsztajn

Before we begin, I must warn you: this is a love story. If sentiment is not for you, this story is not for you, though you may come back to it in time, when you are ready to open your heart. Like all love stories, it starts with a meeting, wherein two kindred souls who in a billion parallel universes do not meet, meet in this one, and fireworks ensue, a full symphonic orchestra rings in our lovers’ ears, the colours of the world are suddenly bright, so bright — are they dreaming, or did everything just get a little brighter? — and onlookers sneer, for their world is dull, the only music they hear is the sound of sirens, engines, rainfall, and, notably, there are no fireworks lighting up the sky for ​them​. It is a pity, because by all measures these fireworks are quite something. There are colours no camera could render and a little ball of fire burns inside the stomach of all who witness the show; only this little ball of fire doesn’t burn like fire ought. It warms, like a hearth, tickles, like a feather, elates, like a narcotic, nourishes, like... porridge. There, true love is like porridge. How’s that for sentiment?
Now, about this meeting. I’m sorry to say it is a very ordinary meeting. No sinking ships, natural disasters, wars, illnesses, bumps on the head, no mad wives in the attic or getting snowed in, no picking up dropped books, no reindeer jumpers, bets, schemes, deceptions, or dramatic irony. Just a girl and a boy and a bar. The girl — let’s call her Frances — walks up to the bartender — who shall remain unnamed. Frances opens her mouth to order a whisky and ginger ale (she is trying something new), but the bartender looks straight past her and asks the woman standing behind Frances what he can get her. Our heroine turns around and she understands: the woman standing behind her is striking, a model perhaps, and Frances is wearing an old jumper because she came to this bar straight from work, and this morning she didn’t have the energy for fashion statements. So it’s OK, she gets it, she would have served the model, too. But before she settles in properly to wait for her turn, before she takes out her phone to pass the time, a boy tells her, “I haven’t seen him serve a bloke yet, and I’ve been standing here for ten minutes.”
“What?” she says, because she is wearing an old jumper and strangers don’t typically talk to her in the pub at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday.
“Do you think you could order for me, when you get a hold of him? I might die of thirst before he gets to me.”
Frances smiles politely and lets out a little air through her nose. “I don’t think I’m his type, either.”
“Then he’s mad! You’re not that bad-looking.”
Frances snorts a laugh. She is a good audience.
The boy extends a hand and, conveniently for our storytelling purposes, announces,
“Frances,” says Frances.
They try to make mundane conversation, but they find they cannot, so instead Frances settles for second best: she tells Amir things she’s never told anyone. She claps her mouth when she realises this, and this makes Amir laugh. As for him, he tells her everything he’s ever told anyone, the rainbowed words streaming out of him like a magician’s kerchief. The boy and the girl scrunch their eyes, trying to figure out what it is about the other. ​What is it about you? Eventually Frances orders their drinks and Amir pays for them, and they talk, and they talk, but eventually Frances can’t hear what Amir is saying anymore, she can only hear the tinkle of her own laughter sounding in her ears, Amir’s hand brushing her arm now and again, sending a thrill through her that impairs her hearing, clouds her eyesight. She shies away now every time he makes an excuse to touch her, because it looks like he wants to kiss her, and it isn’t the time or place. Then Frances’s friends say where have you been and are you ready to go, and Frances feels it’s time to walk away. She and he stare at each other, eyes wandering about the room, arms hanging limply at their sides, and this goes on for a moment too long so that Frances breaks the silence with a wave and a “bye then” and she turns around. One step, two step, three.
“Wait!” Amir calls after her and Frances’s whole face lifts upwards like she’s just received several simultaneous botox injections. She turns around. “Can I see you again?”
The first time they go out, Amir isn’t sure Frances likes him much. She laughs again, that incredible laugh that envelops her like a cape of light and self-abandon, not a sexy or playful laugh, but a joy so full it may well be magic. She laughs, but she frets. She surveys the room when he tries to make eye contact and relaxes only when he gets up to order drinks or use the loo. When at last he leans in to kiss her, his heart lurches in dread, but she leans in towards him, too, and for a moment she brings her hand through his hair. Then they part, skipping and stumbling like young fawns through the streets of Manchester. She misses her bus stop. The second time they go out knocks the air out of their lungs. ​How is this possible?​ “I feel like I know you,” says Frances, and Amir mocks her gently. “I’m Amir, remember?” She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms and huffs. Then he laughs and she laughs. The truth is, he feels like he knows her, too.
Next thing they know they’re swapping schedules, leaving toothbrushes at each other’s flats, sometimes they even sleep together without having sex. Of course, they’re having sex, too, good sex and bad sex and damn near spiritual sex. They’re taking a crash course in each other. Here are some things Amir knows about Frances: she has a birthmark on her left arm that she swears looks like a sailboat, she likes when he kisses her ear. She has a labrador named Oscar at home. She still calls her parents’ house “home” though she moved out nine years ago, and she’s allergic to kiwi. Her favourite film is ​When Harry Met Sally​, though she says it didn’t age well. People who take up two bus seats make her angry, happy Avicii tracks make her sad, and the smell of a mandarin being peeled makes her queasy. She can’t pronounce “February” to save her life. What does Frances know about Amir? She knows, that’s all.
Then one day two months after they first meet, nothing changes. They are in her flat making dinner and her housemate Felix comes into the kitchen. “Sorry! I’m early,” he says, reversing out of the room and hoping they forget he was ever there. But he was there and he has disrupted something. The boy and the girl look at each other and for the first time since they met, they are afraid, because when they look at each other they see no answers there.
“Has something changed?” Frances asks later that night. “What do you think has changed?” Amir replies.
“I don’t know. Nothing,” says Frances.
“Do you want something to change?” says Amir.
“No. Do you?”
Nothing changes but everything changes.
Now the girl’s magic laugh grates at the boy, not nails on a chalkboard but certainly the
light drip-drip of a tap into its sink. Now his teasing taunts her. And mark my words: the boy and the girl chase these nothing-changes away. Don’t you believe me? Really, they do. They chase and they race and they charge, but before long they are out of breath and they must stop running. They do not want to stop, but they know they must, because — like I said — nothing has changed, and you can’t outrun nothing. You can’t trample nothing into oblivion, nor can you hold it in your hands to cradle and coax. You can’t reach for nothing and tug at it and implore it to give back what it took. It only took what wasn’t rightfully yours.
And so finally our lovers part. They don’t skip with glee, not this time, no, but they do stumble. Who wouldn’t, in the dark? For their world has turned so that they don’t recognise it, are left directionless and shaking in the grey, grey streets of Manchester, where fireworks are a distant memory and there is no more music to guide their steps. But the sirens still sing, and today they don’t sound so shrill. Today they sing of what is coming, and that is how our love story ends, in a symphony of siren song, engines, rainfall, on a set of soft colours, and promises whispered in secret.

Judges Comments

A Story of Boy Meets Girl, the winning story in WM's inaugural Grand Prize competition, is a lovely, original take on a love story that pinpoints all the subtle, fragile emotional shifts and the moments of magic that make up an everyday romance. Clever and bittersweet, it has a deep charm and is shot through with a mixture of exhilaration, euphoria and melancholy.

We know from the way its introduced that even though it is a story of everyday lovers, it is not being told in an ordinary way. The narrative voice begins with a warning before sweeping up the reader in a story that flits joyfully between a recounting chance encounter in a bar in Manchester and conveyinf the soaring, heart-trembling exhilaration and heightened emotions of falling - if not staying (there was a warning, remember?) - in love.

This is an idiosyncratic love story, full of insight and imagination, with shades of an urban fairytale. The reader is caught up in the unfolding relationship between Frances and Amir and the way new love transforms them and their surroundings into something transcendent. The shift where everything changes is handled with subtlety and sensitivity, and even though this is not a love story with a happy ending, the reader is left with a lasting sense of something fragile and lovely and rare that altered the everyday.

Runners-up in the WM Grand Prize were:
second, £250, Gina Ochsner, Albany, Oregon, whose story is published on www.writers-online.co.uk;
third, £100, Amanda Marples, Rotherham, South Yorkshire;
fourth, a WM mini-critique, Terry Baldock, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire;
fifth, a year’s WM subscription, Elena Orde, Birmingham.
Also shortlisted were: Penny Blackburn, Wallsend, Tyne and Wear; Tanya-Marie Folliot, Kenilworth, Warwickshire; Rhiannon Lewis, Hay-on-Wye; AJ Reid, Heswall, Wirral; Sumana Khan, Reading, Berkshire; Danielle Richardson, Woodbridge VA; Jacquie Scholes-Rhodes, Longcot, Oxfordshire; Enobong Tommelleo, Chicago IL.