Furious Fiction March 2019 winner and shortlist

Writing can be a lot like doing the laundry. You put a jumble of ideas and words into the machine and then— actually, this simile isn’t doing it for us. Let’s just get to the winning Furious Fiction stories!

For March’s criteria, we sent many into a spin cycle by offering up a picture and a theme. There were tears, there were tantrums, but most of all, there were dirty clothes. Here’s what we asked for:

  • THE PICTURE (shown above) should inspire your story’s setting.
  • THE THEME of your story is to be ‘CURIOSITY’.

Many had to let this one soak a while. On the curiosity front, there were lots of cats or people named Cat/Kat (killing or being killed) and plenty of people-watching. Every piece of the image was picked clean – from stories featuring the plants, carpet, chair stain and even the real reason they’re closed Friday 21st. Of course, the image simply had to INSPIRE the story’s setting, so it was also okay to not take it too literally.

Which brings us to this month’s winner – big congratulations to J. Forrest of Victoria. Your ticket has indeed come up and won you $500! You can read her story and a selection of shortlisted others from this month below.


MARCH 2019 WINNER

TICKET 500 by J. Forrest

You’ve probably walked past me in the street. I’m just another nameless face. Truth is I don’t know you either. I’m a stranger too. But I am curious about you. I paint a picture in my mind after you’ve unknowingly let me in. I get up close to the fabric of your life. At the front you left an overflowing basket and garment bag needing separation and order. My effort in the back refreshes the uniform for each role you play and have played. I’m part of your life’s maintenance crew, from the mundane to the moments that define it.

Time to work.

So much lycra in the brightest of hues; their possibilities are endless. What do you use them for? Are you up before dawn pounding the pavement pushing your limits or is nirvana in your mind’s eye as you perfect each asana in a hot yoga studio? I admire your discipline for physical pursuits.

Green and white stripes tumble out one after the other. Some big and some small. The cup game was last week. They lost. The little stripes must have been sad. The big stripes made a trip for hamburgers and thick shakes at The Shack behind the stadium to cheer them up. The chocolate stains suggest they succeeded.

Prada’s label is stark among Target’s staples. All similar sleek, black suit pants. The Prada has better tailoring but is rather shabby after closer scrutiny. Obviously a favourite but why not replaced? Maybe the designer tag was enough to get you in the door but your stellar skills have kept you there. You know how to the play the game but made your own rules. I like your style.

Your wedding dress is exquisite. Time must have stopped when they saw you. When he saw you. I needed all of my expertise to handle the fabric and beading. The intricacies were a work of art. Did the train glide across golden sand as the sky burned from orange through to pink when you walked down the aisle? Or perhaps your groom stood in the drawing room of a stately manor on a winter morning waiting for your arrival. Was he handsome, your groom? I bet he was. I picture a man and woman excited on their big day transforming into husband and wife with enduring love. A smile spreads on my face at the thought of a strangers happy marriage.

And with that I am finished with Ticket 500.

Ticket No. 500

Gym Kit
Rugby Shirts
Work Pants
Annual Wedding Dress Preservation

Collection Date: Tuesday afternoon

On Tuesday afternoon I’ll stay behind the scenes. I would prefer not to know exactly who you are. I enjoy the anonymous narration of your life and look forward to dreaming up your latest endeavours with the material you provide me.

What we loved:
Beautifully paced and charmingly voyeuristic (no murder weapon in sight!), this story has curiosity at its core – taking the picture as inspiration and adding a dry cleaning business on the side. Our anonymous narrator’s theories about the clothing is a version of a game we all play – conjuring up entire stories for people based solely on fleeting observations. Here, each of ticket 500’s items tells a nuanced and personal story – and whether they’re true or not is irrelevant. We loved the line, “I’m part of your life’s maintenance crew” and the insight we get from one of these “behind the scenes” players in all our lives is wonderfully expressed. (We also realised working there would be a great job for a budding writer – so much material to work with!)


SHORTLISTED

POLY-BLEND by Rosie Double

“Don’t leave ya knickers unattended, luv.”

Ava jumped. “Sorry, what?”

“Ya knickers,” Jodie said, pointing to the washing machine. “If you leave ‘em in there too long, someone’ll nick ‘em.”

Jodie had a hard voice and fake red nails, both competing for most memorable feature.

“Ahh, right. Yeah sorry, just… daydreaming I guess. Do you want this machine?”

“Oh hunny. I don’t come here to wash… I come here to watch,” Jodie said, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like Ava was the one who was actually a bit off to be doing laundry there on a Tuesday.

Sure, Ava was curious about what sort of person would say that. But not curious enough to ask why. She’d been thinking about being back in bed with Steve and a bottle of red. And what it would take to make him happy again. He’d seemed a bit tired since they’d moved in, bored even. She wanted to keep thinking on it. Or honestly, obsessing over it.

So she gave Jodie a funny little half-smile that she hoped would say ‘thank you but I don’t want to talk right now’.

But all it did was encourage Jodie more.

“You would not believe the kind of things you see in here,” she said. “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they do their washing, wouldn’t you agree? Do they soak? Separate? Fold even? … It’s very intimate,” she added.

“Mmmm,” Ava gave a non-committal kind of nod as she shuffled her clothes into the dryer. What was the shortest cycle she could get away with, she wondered. She hated damp socks, but did she hate this more?

Jodie went on.

“That’s how I found out that the woman in 2B was having something with the man in 23C. But he was also getting it on with both girls in 26A. He had very distinct poly-blend briefs, you see”.

Ava did not see. Did not want to see.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she continued breathlessly. “Maybe they were all dating different people with the same briefs. But the thing is, these were no ordinary undies. They were, almost shiny maybe. Definitely uncomfortable. Too tight to be of any good to anybody. Not my cup of tea really, but then again, it takes all sorts doesn’t it.”

Round and round Jodie’s words went, faster and louder, like she’d spent so much time in the place she was becoming a spin cycle herself.

But Ava wasn’t listening any more.

She’d always hated Steve’s bloody poly-blends.

What we liked:
The first hilarious thing we learn about Jodie is that her hard voice and fake nails are competing to be her most memorable feature. This unwanted interruption to Ava’s day kicks off a scenario we’ve probably all been in with a talkative stranger. To call this a back-and-forth dialogue is perhaps misleading – after all Jodie’s word count here is 166 to Ava’s 16 (yep, we counted!). But we enjoyed the natural vibe and balance of this gossipy freight train with Ava’s body language. Jodie doesn’t come here to wash, she comes here to watch (love that line) – and she’s a fun “undie-sleuth” character to introduce, getting her kicks from airing others’ dirty laundry and ultimately bringing this story to its hilariously tragic end. Never trust a poly-blend.


SHORTLISTED

A TALE OF LAUNDROMAT LOVE by Susannah Hardy

A pair of lacy knickers peers out through the side of the washing basket and sighs heavily, her spirit fading just as much as her once pretty peach-coloured skin.

‘There has to be more to life than this,’ she says to herself.

A row of washing machines churns energetically in front of her, while queues of overflowing bags and baskets wait patiently on the side table. Feeling hot and suffocated, she pushes her way to the top of the pile, squeezing through the crowd of t-shirts, random socks and floral skirts.

She finally reaches the peak and gasps for air. The room is thick with heat from the dryers, but she doesn’t care. She simply gazes dreamily through the smudgy glass door, wondering, not for the first time, what might lie beyond. What adventures are out there waiting to happen? If only there was a way to escape the endless spin cycles and the washing powder that makes her itch. If only she could find some excitement and glamour, the life that a pair of lacy peach knickers should be leading.

‘What’s the point of it all?’ she says to a nearby blouse, who merely grunts a non-committal reply.

Through the front window, the branch of a nearby tree captures her attention. As it sways in the wind, she closes her eyes and imagines the breeze against her sheer silky skin. Even hanging on a line in the hot summer sun would be better than this factory-like feel.

Suddenly the basket jerks, shaking her back to reality a moment too late. She feels herself sliding downwards, sailing through the air and landing gently on the garish and rarely vacuumed carpet. She lies as still as possible, while her basket is picked up and emptied into the next free washing machine. She watches from afar, waiting patiently until everything is pulled out, dried, folded and returned to the basket.

She can’t believe her luck! Tentatively, she creeps her way towards the glass door. Closer and closer, she can almost hear the chirp of birds in the nearby tree. Until suddenly, she is snatched from the floor and tossed into a different basket, surrounded by clothes that she doesn’t recognise. Boxer shorts, black t-shirts, sports socks and a weighty pair of jeans.

‘Are you okay?’ asks a pair of stretchy steel grey boxers.

‘Yes, I think so.’

She looks at the boxers, her slinky peachy skin tingling like never before.

‘Are you lost?’ he asks.

‘Yes,’ she says shyly. ‘But I don’t mind.’

He grins. ‘Me neither.’

Before they say another word, she’s picked up by a strong leathery hand and placed in another, a familiar one that’s softer and smells of roses. Back in her basket, she’s heading swiftly for the door.

‘See you next week, I hope,’ calls out Steel Grey Boxers.

‘Yes, see you then.’

She smiles happily, wishing it were next Saturday already. Maybe life isn’t too bad. Maybe there is a point to it after all.

What we liked:
The secret life of laundry – now there’s something we’d like to see explored more. This story grabbed us with this quirky, strong opening. Personifying the clothing items immediately made sense and gave us a new perspective on this banal location. (The non-committal grunt from the blouse was brilliant!) The concept of the wistful knickers longing for a more interesting life was intriguing and kept us interested throughout. Ultimately, this tale of fleeting love succeeded in using all the senses and humour well. Roll on next Saturday.


SHORTLISTED

UNTITLED by Ian Orchard

Josh was loading dirty clothes into the middle machine of three in the laundry when a woman entered.

Which was surprising.

And awkward.

Not once in the six months Josh had been using the laundry had he encountered another person. And because he had come to believe he was the only person who used it (where did everyone else go?) Josh had begun using each machine in turn, so as not to wear one out before another.

Now here he was using the middle, which meant the woman would have to use one next to him, denying them both the space for modesty. The woman was stocky like him, young, wearing a pink T-shirt and grey sport leggings which emphasised her chunky muscularity. He continued loading, hoping she would not see his fraying jocks, stretched T-shirts, or socks with toe holes. And he made sure to unsee anything that came out of the bag she was carrying.

Josh was about to push coins into the slot to start the machine when the woman said: “Crap. I didn’t bring any change.”

There was silence, until, in a rash act of chivalry that arrived unbidden and was out of his mouth before he could stop it, Josh said: “Tell you what. I’ve only got a small load and these are big machines. Why don’t you put yours in with mine?”

The quick wash cycle took 55 minutes, or a lifetime if you were Josh, who spent the time thinking of something to say but rejecting all ideas at birth. Then they had to sort through the intimately intertwined damp clothes, Josh snatching at anything of his before she could examine it too closely.

They lived in the same block of flats, and as they got in the lift the woman said, “My name is Tasha, by the way. I live in number 20. In case you find any of my stuff with yours.”

“Okay,” said Josh, and managed to blurt out his own flat number just before he had to step out of the lift.

Inside his flat he tipped the damp laundry onto the bathroom floor while he set up the spindly drying rack from K-mart. He picked up a T-shirt, and a bright red garment fell out. Lacy. Flimsy. He picked it up, gingerly. A thong. He had often wondered about them. Why did women wear them? They didn’t look very comfortable, that thin piece of material between your buttocks. And what happened when you walked?

He impulsively dropped his shorts and slipped on the thong. It was light, a bit tight but the lace was not as rough as he had thought it would be. He lifted his shirt to examine his rear in the mirror. The front door opened, which it did sometimes because it was warped and did not latch properly. Josh stepped out of the bathroom to close it, and there was Tasha, with one of his socks in her hand.

What we liked:
Poor Josh. First his illusion of introvert-heaven is smashed when another person invades his laundry time, and now he’s left with a lot of lacy explaining to do. How we get from start to finish includes a quirky yet relatable ritual of sharing his laundry among each machine and a realistic internal thought process that showed effective insight into Josh’s character, without having to spell it out. At this point, we’ll say that yes, this month we read a lot of stories that featured red g-strings, but we liked how Josh explored his curiosity in this one!


SHORTLISTED

THE CYCLE by Mary Griffiths

Your day always starts out the same way.

The worn plastic sign flips from “closed” to “open”. The fluorescent lights flicker on, one tube at a time. The machines sit silently, their doors hanging open in anticipation. You wait for the customers to arrive. At least, this is how it’s been for the last six months or so. It’s the longest you’ve stayed in the one place since you can remember. What is it about the coin laundry that keeps you here, you wonder.

At first, it was necessity. You recall the way the wind bit at your ankles the day you found it. It was the plants in the window that caught your eye, their bright green complexion defying the wintery conditions outside (later you would find out they are fake). As you stood with your fingers pressed to the glass, you felt the warmth radiating from the whirring machines inside and savoured the faint smell of soap. A sign on the door announced they were hiring.

Then, after a while, you started to recognise people coming and going. There is a couple that stops by often, their youthful skin covered in tattoos and piercings. They sit side by side on the red upholstered chairs while the machines spin, talking too softly for you to hear. There is an old woman with a stooped back wheeling her shopping cart behind her. She raises a brown paper bag to her lips frequently. They don’t acknowledge you but you feel a sense of familiarity, almost belonging.

Today is Saturday (the street is always busier on the weekend). A young boy approaches. He has blonde hair and walks with a bounce in his step. He’s alone, but you can tell by the way he’s dressed that he’s well cared for. His clothes are just the right size and the shoelaces on his sneakers are tied neatly in bows. He stops at the entrance, looking for reassurance. Looking straight at you.

His mother appears from around the corner, flustered. She looks more relaxed now that she’s spotted him. That is, until she sees you. He takes a step towards you. His nose wrinkles slightly at the smell but he doesn’t retreat. He’s about to say something when his mother grabs him by the hand and leads him away.

He’s too young to read the words scrawled in black marker on the cardboard propped in front of you. She chooses not to.

What we liked:
The set up here is simple enough. Worker in a laundromat reflecting on getting the job and making observations about the comings and goings during each shift. It’s only as the story unfolds we realise that this is a shift that doesn’t end and this narrator isn’t behind the counter but outside the store. While we did have a number of stories that dealt with the subject of homelessness and laundromats (the two apparently go hand in hand), this one told the story in the most efficient way. We liked the double play in the title too – some cycles stop after 30 minutes, others last years.

On that note, check out and maybe support Orange Sky – a charity that brings the concepts of homelessness, laundry and storytelling together. (We have no affiliation with them whatsoever; it just seemed like a nice place to end this month’s stories.)


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