Short Story Competition 2019-20
Announcing winners of the 2019-2020 competition!
First Prize: “By the Grace of Breshay” by Oraine Campbell
Second Prize: “Bresheh King” by L. A. Wanliss
Runner-up Prizes: Alexi Brown, Kodi-Ann Brown, Jordan Garvey, Tajha Winkle
Scroll down to read the winning stories!
Short Story Competition in honor of Joan E. McLaughlin
Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF) and Gloria Lyn Memorial Fund (GLMF) sponsored a literature contest. This competition honors two inspiring UWI educators who loved the written word. Joan McLaughlin is Mary McLaughlin’s mother-in-law, and Gloria Lyn is Cathy Lyn’s mother. Mary is co-founder of TTFF and Cathy is co-founder of GLMF. Both Joan and Gloria attended the University as mature students. Joan went first, back in 1962, then became a lecturer who taught Gloria in 1966. Later Gloria also went on to become a lecturer at UWI. They particularly enjoyed teaching the wonderful stories of Jamaican folklore and promoting literature. Both women have passed on but their memory lingers as literature continues to transform lives.
Lynn Kelso, Judy Osgood, Fred Kennedy
Prizes sponsored by Mary and Mike McLaughlin
Scroll down to read the winning stories!
By the Grace of Breshay
by Oraine Campbell
Next door, the wind howled ferociously, louder than Miss Edna, when she starts her cussing in the mornings. Lorna lay in her queen-sized bed listening to the rain pounding the nine sheets of zinc that covered her one-room. She was worried. In the far right corner, the bellowing wind toyed menacingly with a slightly loose zinc sheet, spraying wet through the slight opening. With each shriek the wind threatened to take the sheet flying, Aladdin-esque over the town of Bath.
For a moment, the taunting, haunting wind seemed to settle but the deceptive element soon returned with a vicious onslaught. It pounded, pulled and pried at the now wobbling nail that kept the sheet in place. Like a cold and unfeeling apprentice, the moonlight spilt into the room and shone unto that one spot where Lorna could watch the heroic nail face the goliath wind. Inch by inch, second by second, the struggling nail was screwed from its fixed place until finally it came tumbling into the room and clinking onto the wooden floor. Lorna cuddled closer to her three children, closed her eyes tightly and prepared herself for a sudden blast of wind and rain. But something else happened.
At that moment there was a booming thud on the roof. It was explosively powerful and terrifyingly loud. It woke the children. Miss Edna had not missed it either, “De blood of Jesus!!! God only flood out de wikid and de bad mine! I am safe in the ark of God!”
Lorna knew the words were obviously thrown at her but she had become accustomed to the frequent assaults. Slowly she opened her eyes and looked up expecting to see a gaping opening. Like a miracle, the roof had remained secure. The sheet of zinc was now still and the leaking had stopped. There was no explanation.
Thankful for a little peace of mind, Lorna hushed the children back to sleep and began to prepare herself for the struggling days that would follow the storm. Her worry now shifted from the battered roof to the empty fridge box in the room, the power cut that had left the three parrot fish smelling foul, and the mosquitoes that would plague them in the aftermath of the hurricane. Lorna’s thoughts wandered to and fro, to and fro, to images and voices in her deep sleep …
… she stood on the beach soaked by the pelting rain. In the distance she saw a small boat being tossed about on the rough seas. The torrential rain made visibility difficult but Lorna could just about discern a group of men aboard – white men. For a moment, she thought of hiding. A slave should not be so far from her master’s plantation. What if these men took her and re-sold her to anedda massa who was cruel and harsh.
Somehow she remained affixed, her feet digging deeper into the waterlogged sand, as the boat was pulled on to the shore. There were nineteen of them – all seemingly tired, hungry and ‘renk’. Lawd how dem did ‘renk’. One of them fell to his knees and retched violently. Most of them just fell to the shore and laid on their backs staring at the pissing sky. But there was one who remained strong. He carried something in his hands that Lorna could not make out.
Slowly, he turned and stared intently at Lorna, ‘Forty-eight days … Mutiny,’ he said.
“Say wat, sar?” Lorna replied.
“It was mutiny,” the leader repeated. He slowly floated towards Lorna. Now, she could see that the object in his hands was a plant. “You can’t let them stop us. It must not die. You must protect it, Lorna.”
He placed the plant in her hands. It was beautiful, standing elegantly on a long, slender stalk. The glossy, green leaves, laced with yellow veins, glistened in the tropical moonlight. Each leaf boasted three or four indents on each side. Lorna traced her fingers down the curves and up towards the pointed lobes. The man looked at her long and hard, then smiled.
“Captain, it’s time,” one of the eighteen muttered.
Hypnotically, the sea captain and all his men gradually began disintegrating into nothingness, their voices echoing his words, “Protect, it Lorna… protect it, Lorna…
Lorna … Lorna …”
“Lorna! Mek yu no open de door?”
Lorna jumped awake with a fright to a banging noise. The children were still asleep even though Precious was pounding her door like a mad ram goat. Stepping out of bed on to the damp, creaking floorboards, Lorna pulled back the bolt. Apprehensively, she pulled the door open. A surprisingly bright light beamed in. Precious’ silhouette stood there godlike.
“ ‘Ow you can sleep wen daylight and storm done?” She asked with a high degree of incredulity, her hand akimbo and head tilted to the right.
“Precious, I don’t know how we make it thru de night,” Lorna started, “me swear say we lose the house in de storm. One piece a wind nearly blow off me roof. Is only the grace of Yahweh save we.”
“Is not Yahweh. Is Breshay!” Precious laughed.
“How yu mean?”
Lorna stepped out into the yard and was transfixed by what she saw. The ground was laden with scores of breadfruit. The round, gritty, green fruit was scattered in varying sizes. Some were almost yellow and the air was filled with the sweet scent of their ripeness. Most were just on the verge of maturity, ready for the fire. Lorna didn’t know what to make of it all. She didn’t have a breadfruit tree in the yard, neither did her neighbours.
And then she saw it.
Up on her roof, a large breadfruit tree lay prostrate, its branches stretching to the ends of each of the four sides, hugging the sheets of zinc. It was this beautiful tree that had saved her and the children. The tree must have been uprooted from elsewhere by the strong wind, carried through the air and unloaded on to the roof.
“What a way you blessed!” The voice came from the gate where a gathering of neighbours was building up.
“You can’t go hungry this week,” Busha observed, “Breshay nice and can eat in all different style.”
At that moment, Pastor Jacob’s van pulled up at the gate. He got out and the 18 (or so) friends and neighbours parted to make a path for him. He walked through the opening and entered the yard.
“Good morning, Ms Lorna. What a blessing.”
“Good morning, Pastor.”
“I stopped by because I heard of this miracle. With the sudden storm and cut in electricity, no one had time to stock up properly. I was wondering if you would sell me a few dozens of the breadfruit so that we can feed those taking refuge in the church.”
“Pastor, I couldn’t sell you anything. Is not my tree and we all in the same boat.
Take what you need and feed the people dem.”
“May God bless you,” Pastor whispered, “ this is like manna from the heavens – bread for our sustenance. Do you know why it’s called breadfruit?”
“No,” Lorna replied.
“Captain Bligh, who brought the plant to Jamaica, from Tahiti, said the fruit looked and tasted like bread. He was trying to get the plant to a botanical garden in England but there was mutiny on his ship and he and a few men had to make their way here in a small boat. Because of him we can eat today.”
“You say ‘Captain’, Pastor? Mutiny?”
“Yes, breadfruit has a long and strong history, we have to protect it.”
With that, he and the gathering, including Miss Edna who was surprisingly quiet through it all, picked up all the breadfruit they could carry and disintegrated into nothingness.
Alone in the yard, Lorna stared at the huge tree resting on her roof.
The words kept echoing in her mind. Tipping up on her toes she reached for a branch hanging down towards her like an arm outstretched to greet her. Using all her strength, she broke the limb and walked towards a clearing in the yard. Lorna fell to her knees and used her hands to dig the soil, still water-logged from last night’s soaking. Reverently, she planted the branch and hoped for the best.
That evening there was a knock on the door. Lorna got the kerosene lamp and unlocked, the children peering out behind her. The nineteen, including Pastor, were standing with dishes in their hands.
“I bring breadfruit Mash for you,” Miss Edna said.
“Mine is breadfruit salad,” said Cynthia
“Try my fried breadfruit,” someone injected.
“You like it roasted, steamed, or bolied?” asked Mr Thomas
“I like to eat the ripe ones raw,” Pastor smiled.
Lorna looked at the children and their faces lit up. The eldest nodded eagerly.
“Listen,” Lorna smiled. “Why don’t we all just eat together in the yard?”
The group gathered around the freshly planted breadfruit plant. Some pulled up rocks to sit on, others turned pans and buckets upside down to make seats. Lanterns, flashlights and candles were placed at the foot of the plant. It glowed beautifully, just like it did in the moonlight in Lorna’s dream.
Miss Edna pinched her, “When the breshay tree ketch I want a sucker to plant in my yard.”
“Me too,” Everyone chimed.
Pastor stood up, “Let’s say grace.”
by L. A. Wanliss
As I entered the street, I heard in the distance the music pushing against the wind, sometimes losing its melody. It was as if it was being pushed down into the earth so that only the bass and deepest parts of the songs could be heard. The songs were to cheer for my father; they were to send him to a higher place. He was a man I hadn’t met, but he was the man I came to say goodbye to. If that was even possible.
I had left my three boys and my wife in Toronto to come here for his funeral. It is impossible, my wife had said, to raise boys without knowing who I was. That was how my search for him began. Coming here would be its end. I was unwilling, but my sister convinced me. So, I acquiesced, and now I was at the gate of his family’s home.
Across the road was a police station and a gully filled with putrid, dark, still water that stank the way swamps do. The house was also close to a church with a steeple plunging like a knife into the sky. The house itself was painted in red. Even the driveway was red. The breadfruit trees towered over the house. In the moonlight they seemed to be hiding their fruit behind the broad leaves. The gate was unlocked and swung halfway open to receive me. There were two tables with old men sipping rum, staring and slamming dominoes. I passed, and nodded at them. I knew they were family, from their laughter, their gait, their postures. They behaved alike. And as if they could smell something on me, they paused, nodded back and then returned to their games. I was my father’s ghost and they were simply acknowledging his presence.
“You made it!”
“It wasn’t hard to find the red gate, and the breadfruit trees were spot on.”
“Just the way Dad loved it.”
My sister. It’s different knowing you have a sister and then seeing her for the first time. A part of you sees a part of yourself in her. It was like we had met before, I just couldn’t put my finger on where. Maybe we were neighbouring sperms in my dad’s sack. So when I met her, I felt an attachment as if an amputated part of my body had suddenly grown back. I was like an axolotl regenerating family instead of limbs. I wanted to follow her around as if I was four and she eight, as if the world revolved around her.
“Come inside, meet my mom. Then you can meet the rest of the family.”
Inside the house was a shrine to him. There were candles lit in the house, the big white ones. Above the candles there were pictures of him staring down on us. I had never really seen him before, my father. But the people I spoke to had all said that we looked alike. I had his eyes; they were hazel like his, they said. Staring at his picture, I could see the similarity. But he was just another man staring at me, like a model in a magazine. I could appreciate his features but the silence between us just grew and grew the more I stared at him. I sighed. The fire from the candle flickered. On the stand was also the television, figurines and picture frames sitting still on doilies.There were pictures of my sister and her mother ,copious amounts of them, a trajectory of their time together. Also, there was one picture of him coming in from the farm, in one hand a machete, in the other, three large breadfruits which he seemed to tote without a strain, holding them by the stem and bundled together, a grin on his face. It was as if he was posing for an advertisement for a product he made. I felt a twinge in my stomach, a rude reminder that nothing here was mine. I wanted to leave.
“Mom. Come Victor, meet my mother, Miss G.”
Georgette Francis was my father’s wife. I had heard of her when I started searching for my father. She pushed her head out from the kitchen, turned around quickly and beckoned me to join her in the kitchen. It was not a welcome it was a demand.
“Come. You like breadfruit?” she asked.
“Why am I asking if everybody loves breadfruit? It’s not so much if you love it, but how you love it, boil, fry or roasted. It don’t matter I have it every style here to tonight. Your father wanted it hot, straight out the oven or out the frying pan with plenty, plenty salt.” Taking out and putting in breadfruits in the frying pan, she turned them as she talked. “Get a plate.”
She didn’t say anything more to me after that. She stood one hand akimbo, the other swiftly turning and exchanging breadfruit as if I had interrupted her thoughts. I wondered what she thought of me, her husband’s bastard. I shared a plate with roasted and fried breadfruit, complemented with curry chicken. I was staring at the plate when my sister commented on my choice of food.
“Prince. You are definitely your father’s child”, she said laughing heartily. Her mother remained unmoved.
“My sons would love this. Don’t you love breadfruit too, Abigail?” I bit into a fried piece, letting the crunch reveal the soft tender warmth of the inside.
“I will probably never eat another breadfruit again in my life, while she will never stop turning them.” The pain of it all sat under her words like a tied dog howling and snarling at danger.
“Maybe it was a bad idea to come to her house like this, I hope I am not imposing.” I whispered, as we walked away from the kitchen at the heels of Abigail.
“She will be fine.” Abigail said. It was a jab.
I sat outside. There were at least 30 people gathered at the house. Many were eating and drinking, others played dominoes while some simply lingered, waiting. The old people sat on the veranda singing the hymns from the church. A few people lingered close, throwing in the missed words, or changing a key, or disrupting a boring song with a lively, much more catchy song. Everything swayed, even the breadfruit tree. The only thing that stayed still was the scent from the gully which mingled in with the rest of the air and soon became part of the whole celebration.
Miss G stepped onto the veranda and looked around. She glared at me, said nothing and went back inside ignoring every request for her to sit and rest.
I engaged in small talk with whomever had a question for me, about where I came from, who my mother was and how I found my father, how many children I had, where my wife was. I pulled away from the crowd, thinking of Miss G and her aversion to me being here. I noticed a man busily tending to a fire. There were two fires, one with a pot making its cover dance. I suspect it held the mannish water, the goat head and intestines boiling in a soup with green bananas, breadfruit, dumplings and yams. But the man was not tending to that. Instead, he was busy pushing around three breadfruits on the mesh on a smaller fire, making sure that the fire cooked through the fruit as the skin got black and ashy.
“You father was so happy when him hear bout you,” he said after the pleasantries, “but him was ‘fraid Miss G leave him. Cause is one thing fi hear, is another thing fi see. All now me still shock. I don’t know why me never climb the tree fi him, myself.”
I stood there staring up at the breadfruit tree. Its roots pushed above the earth and its limbs spread over the yard and above the roof.
“Was this where it happened?”
“Same place. The man drop hard like breadfruit. Bloop! Neck bruk one time.”
I had read the news report: Neighbours said David Francis of Leeds, St Elizabeth, wanted a breadfruit for his dinner, climbed the tree when a limb broke. He fell and broke his neck. He died instantly.
I stared up at the tree. I remember it was Abigail who told me more. She called at 3pm. I was at work. “He’s dead.” That’s all she said. I had to call back later in the night after work when the bile in my mouth subsided. Why had my body turned on itself for a man I never knew? She said the hurricane was coming and he wanted breadfruit in the house so we would have food for breakfast and dinner for a few days. He always said that hurricane love fruit trees more than house top. It was the lightning that did it, she said, a strange bolt snapped the tree limb because breadfruit tree limb hard to break. She said it had to be the lightning. She heard the sound before the fall. As she spoke, I remembered thinking that the man would rather have died in a freak accident than meet me.
“The worse part is the hurricane turn back and only little rain drop fill up the gully, not one damn thing more. Place stink since then.”
I tried to leave, but Abigail held my hand.
“This is your family.”
The night rolled on with no other mention of how my father passed. Later, when the rum met memory, the stories rose up in the air. I sat listening as the veranda was transformed. There were no domino sounds hitting hard wood, it was just voices and laughter. Men and women plied themselves with the remaining breadfruit and mannish water. Each raising a story about my father. I looked around for Miss G but she was nowhere to be found. They told a story about a horse he bought before he decided to become Bresheh King with a breadfruit farm that farmed, produced and sold every byproduct of breadfruit. That horse hated water and he would stop on the track if he came on a puddle of water. They told of my father’s fascination with cricket and his love for a good game of dominos. I watched them all while gathering some idea of myself from them, an idea of my boys and who they could become.
“Abigail, I should get back. my wife must be wondering how I am. I should tell my boys good night.”
“I hope you enjoyed your night.”
“I am glad I came. Tell your mom good night for me. And apologize for me; I feel like I am…”
“No, she will be fine. It is my mother’s way, to pretend. You just make it harder to do so.”
I stood at the shrine. I picked up the picture of him holding the thing that killed him, and I stared at him. He died the week before I was to come here and meet him. It was the threat of the hurricane that changed everything.
“You can have that,” a voice said. Miss G was behind me. “Just do me one favour, tomorrow at the funeral don’t cry.” She walked by me and sat on a chair on the veranda.
On my way to the hotel, I replayed the stories I gathered. I measured every word against my own story of him. I held his picture in my left hand. And I thought of the silent old lady on the veranda. Even with all I had gathered, the gap between my father and me had only become wider. Everything as I knew it had changed. But nothing really had. My father is dead.
I allowed myself to cry.
Stories Copyright (c) 2020 Trees That Feed Foundation and JamaicanEats.
Use with permission.