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March 23, 2023

Winner of Echo story comp: week 6

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Mandy Nolan

Thanks so much to all the writers who submitted stories over the last six weeks. It’s been an absolute pleasure to see them come in on my email every week. I’ve enjoyed making myself a cup of tea and poring over the creativity on offer in our shire!

Keep Writing!

This week’s winner is Margot Duell for her story Alphabet Soup.

Sabine toyed with the noodle letters in her chicken soup. Lining the letters up on the side of the bowl, she spelled out ‘k-a-t-z-e.’ She fished around in the cold broth for new letters until her father thumped the table.

‘I didn’t work my arse off all day to have you play with your soup! Eat the damned food that I put on the table for you!’

Each day at school she nodded off because she couldn’t understand a word the teacher said.

Sabine’s family were newly arrived post war German immigrants. Her father sat nightly in the dim light of the kerosene lamp, squinting at the English newspapers after a hard day of labouring; but her mother didn’t have the will to try.

The kids at school mocked her strange clothes, her wurst and pickle sandwiches and called her ‘Nazi’ and ‘peasant,’ and even though she didn’t comprehend what was being said, she felt the cruel intent.

But over time, by a kind of strange osmosis, the language seeped into her and she began to understand and to speak.

By then she was fascinated by the sound and shape of the language. Her parents spoke to her in German but she answered in English.

She read books under the covers by torchlight, long after the bedtime lights were out.

She sampled the shapes of big words that she didn’t know how to pronounce. She started using these in conversations with her new friends, who accused her of ‘having swallowed a dictionary.’

A teacher wrote on her English report: ‘Sabine is an excellent student who is drunk on words.’

When she slept over at her best friend Annie’s place, her mother said, ‘Gawd, you’ve got the gift of the gab haven’t you!’

Realising that people thought she was ‘up herself’, she started to dumb-down her vocabulary to fit in.

But she kept reading and storing up a private cache of word treasures in a notebook. Wonderful words like: ’supercilious’ phantasmagorical’ and juicy ones that sounded like what they were describing: slime, sludge, cackle, howl.

The more she was ridiculed, the more time she spent in her diary, It was puzzling, but wasn’t it true that someone wise had once said that, ‘In the beginning was the Word?

Sabine loved sleepovers at Annie’s house. The family were third generation Australians who told stories and jokes and teased each other in a way that was both kind and funny. They ate roast lamb with peas and potatoes and there was always trifle or jam sponge cake for dessert. The mayhem of the house was comforting for an only child and the family readily accepted her. Sometimes new people showed up for dinner at Annie’s house; distant relatives or friends of the other children. And one day, cousin Gavin showed up.

Gavin was almost sixteen, two years older than Sabine and he didn’t go to a regular school. He laughed in slow motion, and although his speech sounded distorted and laboured, he was bright and confident.

He had smooth dark skin and floppy brown hair and Sabine though he was the most beautiful boy that she had ever seen. He asked her in his drawn out way what she wanted to do after she left school, and she mumbled her reply.

‘You have to look straight at him, so he can read your lips.’ Annie moved her hands about in rapid, precise configurations and Gavin nodded, his fingers dancing out a response. Sabine was entranced. She had never seen anything like this before. There was no sound but there was communication and comprehension. It was pure magic.

‘He says he wants to be a writer too.’ Sabine felt her face redden as he grinned at her and Annie’s father elbowed her in the ribs.

‘Now that’s a turn around. Not much to say now, eh?’

Gavin became her first love. He taught her sign language and instead of becoming a writer, she trained as a signing interpreter, her face and hands moving with speed and nuance as she stood on stages throughout the country.

Sabine recalled when she couldn’t understand a word of English and the school blackboard was filled with mysterious symbols. And later, when the language finally caught fire in her, she had thought that all she would ever want to do was to write and read books.

But perhaps it was as her mother had often said, ‘Somewhere before you are born, the book of your life is already written.’


Winner of Echo story comp: week 6

Mandy Nolan Thanks so much to all the writers who submitted stories over the last six weeks. It’s been an absolute pleasure to see them come in on my email every week. I’ve enjoyed making myself a cup of tea...

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