Read one of the 2018 run­ners-up, A Spe­cial Sun­set by Lucy Gar­rod

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The yel­low ball of fire spread its mag­nif­i­cent rays of light ev­ery­where. Reds and or­anges changed to hues of pinks, pur­ples and reds. Against the dusky sky the few clouds that were vis­i­ble were flushed with the palest pink.

“Wow!” breathed my friend as she wit­nessed the vi­sion be­fore her. “That’s some sun­set.” Wide eyed she pointed a fin­ger to­wards the glow­ing col­li­sion of colour. I smiled hap­pily, pleased my friend was im­pressed. She stood for a few min­utes then turned to go. “Have to dash, things to do, you know how it is.” I nod­ded. I knew ex­actly how it was, how­ever, I was in­clined to linger.

Look­ing hard at where the sky was more in­ten­si­fied one or two stars al­ready set could be seen. A dis­tance from the sun­set where the sky was darker there were pin­heads of bright­ness only vis­i­ble if I held

by Short Story run­ner-up Lucy Gar­rod

my eyes steady. There were tril­lions of stars on the far hori­zon that were al­most lost to view. It wasn’t dif­fi­cult to imag­ine them there. As I looked my mind filled with most beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries.

As a child I had lived in a small mar­ket town in Nor­folk. In those days and at my young age evenings were made for lay­ing out school clothes for the fol­low­ing day and go­ing to bed early. On rare oc­ca­sions I was al­lowed to stay up late (well, nine o’clock to be pre­cise) and it was on one of these spe­cial times that my thoughts went back to.

The whole fam­ily was go­ing to a mu­si­cal fes­ti­val at the church. Fa­ther took our bi­cy­cles from the shed, lean­ing them against a brick wall at the back of our house. Slowly and care­fully he checked each tyre and light to make sure ev­ery­thing was in good work­ing or­der. I was hop­ping from foot to foot im­pa­tient to be off but Fa­ther took no no­tice of me, he just un­hur­riedly car­ried on his check. At last we were ready to ride out into the cold, in­vig­o­rat­ing night. The even­ing went well and I ar­rived back home for once tired and ea­ger to be tucked up in a warm bed. Af­ter re­turn­ing our bikes to the shed Fa­ther stopped me in my tracks as I headed to go in­doors.

“You were so ex­cited tonight you didn’t see those,” he said point­ing up­wards. Puz­zled, I threw my head back and stared at the vel­vety sky. The myr­i­ads of stars were so clear and bright I felt I could reach out with my hand and pluck one out of the heav­ens. My mother and sis­ters came to look too.

Mum pointed out the groups of stars and gal­ax­ies she could name, I do re­mem­ber her pa­tiently out­lin­ing the ‘Plough’ and telling us that many of the names were

Ara­bic; some for­ma­tions were shaped and named af­ter the sem­blance of an an­i­mal. I loved that you could see star af­ter star af­ter star. I was obliv­i­ous that my fin­gers and toes and the end of my nose had grown numb with the cold and that I had felt tired. That night was filled with peace, beauty and a still­ness that was pure magic and it will never es­cape my mem­ory.

A year or two later we went for a fam­ily hol­i­day to Hun­stan­ton. This was an­other of those times when I didn’t have to go to bed early. Late one even­ing we were en­joy­ing a walk along the sea shore when we saw the sun sink­ing over land and sea. Hun­stan­ton, al­though on the east coast is on The Wash, and if you are in the right place at the right time, as we were, it is pos­si­ble to see the golden orb of sun stretch­ing its mag­nif­i­cent fin­gers of light un­til the sky en­folds it and it fades from sight. This was the most mag­i­cal part of the day for us. The phe­nom­e­non of the sun part drown­ing in the end­less sea and part sink­ing into the dark earth, its bright vivid colours turn­ing slowly into a mix­ture of warm dreamy colours like pur­ple and indigo un­til it dis­ap­peared was heart-stop­ping.

Time marched on and it wasn’t long be­fore I was a stu­dent at a se­nior school – where I was bul­lied. When things got too much for me I would lay on my bed and look out of the win­dow at the great ex­panse of sky and ex­pe­ri­ence that same sense of peace and still­ness I had known on that frosty even­ing of long ago. The vast sky with its many fluffy clouds scud­ding hur­riedly by di­verted my at­ten­tion from ‘me’, re­mind­ing me that life was larger than my present dif­fi­cul­ties.

Of course, it was un­der the vel­vety cloak of a dark sky that I was to have my first kiss. It was a time of dis­cov­ery of one­self in re­la­tion­ship to oth­ers. It was also a time of new friend­ships and in­ter­ests.

Af­ter many false starts in choos­ing a ca­reer, I fi­nally hit upon the right one. I would need qual­i­fi­ca­tions but em­bark­ing on this jour­ney didn’t be­gin im­me­di­ately. Un­der the smoky, barely vis­i­ble skies of an in­dus­trial town to which my par­ents had moved, I met my hus­band-to-be.

On our hon­ey­moon, each day af­ter our even­ing meal we walked along the tree-lined prom­e­nade in the cool even­ing air. It had been a long time since I had en­joyed gaz­ing at a sun­set, ro­man­ti­cally. This was the idyl­lic time and place to en­joy this gift of na­ture; and we did.

It wasn’t un­til af­ter the ar­rival of our son, then four years later our daugh­ter, that I be­gan study­ing for what I felt was my vo­ca­tion. With a fam­ily to look af­ter there was lit­tle time for any­thing else, least of all

look­ing at sun­sets! I qual­i­fied and we moved our fam­ily north and work be­gan.

The next 35 years flew by. The once pop­u­lar song ‘Sun­rise, Sun­set’ from Fiddler on the Roof, in which one sea­son swiftly fol­lows an­other, said it all. Time sped by. My life was filled with peo­ple, prob­lems, joys and sor­rows. I con­tin­ued work­ing, my chil­dren grew up and mar­ried, mov­ing away, mak­ing lives for them­selves in places I’d scarcely heard of. We were de­lighted when our first grand­child ar­rived on the scene. Work re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and our do­mes­tic life were for­got­ten as we trav­elled the miles to see her.

Be­fore our sec­ond pre­cious grand­child ar­rived we both re­tired and moved house. Un­til then, life had been full-on for us; now we are not quite so busy. There is beau­ti­ful scenery where we live, won­der­ful walks and just enough com­merce for our needs. Yet still, af­ter our hec­tic life, there was this nag­ging feel­ing that there had to be more. I hope you don’t think that sounds ter­ri­bly un­grate­ful of me. Though con­scious of the good life I have and the things I now en­joy, I have felt a lit­tle lost on oc­ca­sions. I won­dered how I could fill my time; my life was dif­fer­ent af­ter re­tire­ment.

I found the an­swer. En­cour­aged by my fam­ily I took my courage in both hands and learn­ing of the var­i­ous lo­cal groups around, I chose one to join. Over time I have made friends and learned new skills. Some­times we ar­range to have a meal to­gether, of­ten we sim­ply go for a walk. We have wit­nessed the sun ris­ing be­tween ma­jes­tic moun­tains, em­brac­ing the heav­ens with grey, then pur­ple and cerise pink frondy arms of vi­brant colour; we have seen sun­sets that are washed out and wa­tery, hardly re­flect­ing the sea be­neath. At other times the sun­set is awe­some; like a ball of fire slowly sink­ing into the earth, il­lu­mi­nat­ing its way as it dis­ap­pears be­low the hori­zon, re­mind­ing us that God’s in His Heaven. It has taken me a long time to get to this stage of sat­is­fac­tion with what I am do­ing.

My friend has re­turned to look at the sun­set with me again, she has dragged poor Brian along and I can see he is re­luc­tant to come. I smile apolo­get­i­cally at him when he ex­plains he was clear­ing up.

“He just has to see this sun­set,” my friend says.

I stand to one side so that Brian can see. I feel very ner­vous. I want him to like what I show him. Brian is the art teacher for the group I’ve joined.

The sun­set is all my own work.

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