Runner Up 2 of Spring 2018 Short Story Competition

Runner Up: Morna Sullivan

Young couple entering a competition

Morna is from Co Antrim, Northern Ireland and has always had a love of stories. She has an honours degree in English Language and Literature from Queen’s University, Belfast and has completed creative writing courses at Belfast Metropolitan College and Queen’s University.

She is a member of a local writing group and has had short stories published in several journals and magazines and has been shortlisted in a number of writing competitions.

She was runner up in the 2016 UK Society of Public and Civil Service Writers children’s story competition and won 1st prize in the poetry category in the Lagan Navigation Trust’s story making festival earlier this year.

She is currently working with Sainted Media writing a children’s book about St. David.

You can find Morna at:

Left on the Shelf

I lived in that old house more years than I can remember. It feels like it’s always been my home, along with the large clan I once belonged to. We spent many happy years together there. Then over time, one by one they left, and I was the only one surviving, all alone, left on the shelf.

We all looked similar at one time, albeit we were different shapes and sizes. We shared a distinctive look, the same colouring, similar features, like families do. Our scrubbed, shiny faces sparkled with youth and burst with pride each time we were brought out to be put on show.

I out-lived my siblings. Time broke them, wore them out, turned them to dust. One by one accidents befell them. There were falls they didn’t recover from, crashes with life threatening injuries they succumbed to. But I was lucky. The years were kind to me. I’ve wrinkles and lines and a few dents and knocks here and there but no major health problems, certainly nothing life-threatening. Somehow, I survived and lived to tell my tale.

I’m still here after all this time. I’ve had a few minor fractures, but thankfully nothing too debilitating. My colouring has faded with age and at times I feel tired and washed out. If you look closely you’ll notice my once flawless complexion shows signs of wear and tear. I have seen better days but when the morning sun casts its rays into the kitchen you can still catch something of my youthful beauty, a hint of what I once looked like.

I don’t get out as much as I used to now. But I really don’t mind. I’m quite contented, sitting in my corner in the cosy kitchen.

Home is engrained in my being. It’s where I’ve always felt cherished, happy and useful. I’ve been called upon in all sorts of crises and calamities. At such times it felt good to be at the centre of the home.

We all arrived with the new bride, Evelyn and her paltry trousseau. We were cosseted in layers of tissue paper in a sturdy box. Her favourite aunt, and uncle, Helena and George had purchased us from the china department in McHugh and Wilson’s department store. When Evelyn and Jim returned from honeymoon in Blackpool, she lovingly unwrapped each one of us, setting us on the table and admiring us before carefully washing member of my family and lovingly drying us. I was left to the end. We were carefully organised, kept good and put away in the china cabinet in the lounge for ‘special’ occasions. But after a few years we began to make more appearances. Once filled with steaming hot tea, I was given pride of place on the centre of Evelyn’s dark, mahogany table at Sunday teatime and family get-togethers. During the week, I was now placed on her kitchen dresser, so I could hold court and view all around me. Every week I was carefully dusted. After a while we soon made regular daily appearances on the scrubbed pine kitchen table, very much now part of the growing family. Not long afterwards, some of my clan began to suffer casualties. A chipped plate here, a broken cup handle there. I mourned them and missed them, but realised it was sadly inevitable, as Evelyn and Jim’s family grew older, so did mine.

But I’ll never forget that Tuesday morning, almost ten years ago. It was the day my life changed forever. Jim was drying the breakfast dishes. He was looking out the window at the neighbour’s cat. His shaky hands weren’t as strong as they once had been. He waved at the cat as he set my other half, my lid on the kitchen bench. But he hadn’t been watching what he was doing. My lid fell on the tiled floor. It broke in two clean pieces. Jim was aghast. He knew Evelyn would be annoyed. He knew what we meant to her. We ‘d been with them throughout their marriage and were the only part left from her favourite wedding present. He tried to superglue my lid back together again. It held together for three days but with hot tea steaming through the crack the glue didn’t last. It was clear the end was now in sight for us as a team. I lamented my other half’s passing. I felt I couldn’t go on without him. We’d been together forever. How would I function? I’d be useless now without my lid. I quaked, fearing I’d be relegated to the dustbin, now useful to no one. Who would want me? I continued to sit on the kitchen dresser, but was pushed out of the way, towards the back. Evelyn still lovingly dusted me every week.

But I need not have been so nervous. I began a new life on my own when summer beckoned. Evelyn once again set me in the centre of the kitchen table. I proudly held the freshly cut sweet pea, roses and lupins Jim had grown in their garden. I continued to be admired for being ‘quaint’ and ‘pretty’, my faded willow pattern contrasting with the soft summer hues from the garden. It felt good to be the centre of their home again. But then, over time, as old age crept in, I began to leak here and there, leaving damp patches where I’d been sitting on the pine table. I couldn’t help shedding tears for the life I’d lost but I was embarrassed they would think I’d become incontinent. I was becoming even more useless. Once again, I feared I would now be thrown out and discarded. Over time I featured less and less on the kitchen table. Once again, I sat on the kitchen dresser, pushed further to the back.

When spring days stretched, I was set outside on the back-door step. Again, I feared my next journey would be to the bin as part of Evelyn’s spring clean. She’d been clearing out cupboards recently. It had kept her busy in the long, quiet days after Jim had gone. Like me, Evelyn was on her own now. But instead of ending up in a bin bag, Evelyn took me down the garden and attached me with wire to the apple tree. I’d been outside in the garden many times when we’d all gone out for afternoon tea. On those occasions I’d enjoyed being out in the fresh air, though I always feared being dropped and smashing into smithereens as I was being carried along the crazy paving stone path. I usually sat on a red gingham tablecloth covering the green plastic table in the middle of the lawn. But I’d never been up a tree before and to be honest I thought I was a bit old to start climbing trees. And then I was left alone. I didn’t understand what was happening. It was cold outside. I could feel the chill go right through me. The next morning two blue tits carried twigs and straw and leaves and made their new home inside me. Their tiny feathered bodies warmed me up. Two weeks later I welcomed their young brood and once again I was the heart of a growing family. I was proud to provide a first home for the new chicks. But once they had flown the nest I was alone, again and I also feared this time my days were really coming to an end.

“Gran what have you done to your old teapot? It could have fallen and been shattered into pieces!”

“Well it’s not much use to me now. It’s more use to the birds than me.”

“But that tea set used to be your most prized possession – and your tea pot was the heart of this home.”

When autumn days shrunk, I was given a new home. I was washed to remove the mossy, green stains and packed in bubble wrap along with everything else left in the empty house.

Once again, I was given pride of place in the kitchen – though now in a different home. Evelyn’s granddaughter unwrapped the bubble wrap I had snuggled into, releasing my aching joints into the October sunshine again after days in the dark. She stroked me and set me on her kitchen window-sill as she wiped a tear away from her eye with her sleeve.

“What are you doing with that?” Graeme asked.

“It was Gran’s favourite teapot, part of her wedding tea set.”

“I remember it. But there’s no lid. And it’s all cracked. It’s useless.”

“I can’t bear to throw it out. She loved it. It’ll mean there’s a part of her here with us always. It’s what she would have wanted.”

I was placed on the kitchen shelf. Slowly, I became the home for important ‘things’ – the custodian for dry-cleaning tickets, receipts, supermarket money-off vouchers, buttons, safety pins and odd screws. I’ve had a new lease of life and although I’m very elderly, I feel useful again. I’m still important to the whole house with a different growing family. It feels good to be the centre of the home again, even if I’m still on the shelf.

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Written/Reviewed by: Amanda Gillam

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