Short Story prize winner Year 10&11
GCSE English creative writing coursework
The Bird Cage
As I walked towards the balcony, a gentle breeze flew through my room and caught the edge of my pink, satin gown. The balcony, which overlooked the grey cobbled courtyard, consisted of a single, aged terracotta pot erupting with lemon fizz-scented geraniums and a wicker chair, covered in two faded cream cushions delicately embroidered with blue birds. Although the balcony was small, it had a sophisticated air to it which oozed the French charm of the idyllic chateau. I made my way across to the chair and sat down, checking my watch at the same time. It was 6 o’clock: two hours before I was required for drinks downstairs in the drawing room before dinner.
Poitiers. France. 1923. I did not want to be here. This visit had been forced upon me like an unwanted present; I had been dreading it for the last twenty years. Within the next two hours, to my horror, I was scheduled to meet my fiancé, the son of a French lord, who I was expected to marry in the early days of next month. The decision that I would be wedded to Frances had been made when I was only eighteen months. I had been sold off like an animal at a fair by none other than my mother and father, who always claimed to have my best interests at heart. Nevertheless, the agreement had been made, the date set, and the husband chosen: I was going to be married.
Attempting to drown out my resentment for this evening’s events, I let my eyes wander over the surroundings. The air was thick with that particular, pungent scent of late afternoon cigars, emanating from a man sitting out on his balcony only a few windows across. He looked around sixty and had a red, plump face which mirrored his spreading body. Next to him, on a beige-coloured side table, was a bottle of wine and two glasses. Initially the presence of an extra glass confused me, but after a few minutes had passed, I heard a voice coming from the gentleman’s bedroom.
“Excuse me, Sir, but your wife has gone down to the courtyard” said the unfamiliar voice.
“Again!” spluttered the man, a fleck of spit landing on the table. “What is wrong with that woman? Always disappearing off…”
Directly below me stood a cherry blossom tree, which was coated in pink and white and had blanketed the floor beneath with petals. As the last beams of sunlight poured into the courtyard, the delightful fountain dazzled as the light reflected off the water like shards of glass. The muffled sound of footsteps on flagstones echoed through the hallway which led out into the courtyard, and eventually an elderly woman dressed in a glorious full length emerald green dress appeared. Gazing meticulously at the lady, my eyes were drawn to her wrist where light refracted off an exquisite bracelet coated in rubies. Softly, she made her way across to the bench which was situated below the cherry tree and delicately eased herself down onto it. I suspected she was one of the guests staying at the chateau for the wedding: perhaps a great aunt of my future husband. The woman’s tiredness was obvious, as it was reflected in her slouched posture and weathered face. With the grace of an owl, her face slowly revolved to face mine and, although she was staring right up at me, her glazed eyes suggested that she was almost looking straight through me, as though I wasn’t even there. She blinked frequently, and whenever she did the prominent lines under her eyes would deepen. Despite her cold, expressionless exterior, her blue-grey eyes appeared to convey her sorrow and loneliness, almost entrusting me to discover the reason for her evident sadness.
I wondered whether I would end up like her, wrinkled and weathered by each choice that was snatched away from her throughout her life. “Remember” my mother and father used to tell me, “the choices you make will determine the life you lead” but what were these choices? Since I was born every decision had been made for me. My parents had prescribed my life through choosing my education, what I did every second of the day and, most of all, the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with: my husband. My suitcase was still there in the corner, untouched, next to the bird cage. I could hear my thoughts whispering to me, calling me and now shouting at me. I had two hours before I would be noticed, enough time for me to climb down into the courtyard and leave through the back gate. I stared down at the elderly lady. I couldn’t end up like her, I just couldn’t. This would be the first time I did something without being commanded to do it, the first time I didn’t choose the life imposed on me by my parents. Without hesitation I got up from my chair and walked across to the suitcase.
Clara's comments on winning the competition
"I’m very excited to have been given the opportunity to enter and win the Short story prize. Thank you much to the brilliant Connell Guides and William Boyd for the opportunity!"