New Writing: extract from 'The Miraculous Return of Flora Whyte' by Lynsey May
Every day this week we are posting a selection of works by recipients of the New Writers Awards in 2013, in anticipation of the publication of our New Writing Sampler at the New Writers Showcase at Edinburgh's Summerhall this Thursday.
'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again,' is a phrase that has particular resonance for awardee Lynsey May: she entered the New Writers Awards three times before being selected, proving that perseverence is key to the writing business. Her novel, The Miraculous Return of Flora Whyte, has been praised by Peggy Hughes, programme director for the Dundee Literary Festival, as having 'a delicious surefootedness, a pleasingly formal turn of phrase and light humour icing its dark and mysterious edges.' Read a snippet from the book below, and learn more about how Lynsey finally clinched her award here.
Extract from 'The Miraculous Return of Flora Whyte'
Duty paid to the worn-thin memories of her family, Miss Bryce headed back into the outer garden, where her gloom was interrupted by the sound of a bird that was not a gull. Something more musical had stopped by and old Miss Bryce paused and squinted for it, but her eye was caught by a low-down honey flash of fur instead. She bent to peer through the bushes and saw there was nothing warm about the orange animal lying there. Its legs were stretched out and its head pushed back with none of the grace and sleek self-awareness of a living cat.
Miss Bryce tutted and thought she could place the animal – it surely belonged to the young family near the edge of the harbour. She’d seen the toddler pulling on its tail. The other child trying to force it to wear a sun hat. The mother, Hannah, laughing from her front step. Yes, that was the cat, a placid enough thing although Miss Bryce had warned those girls, and that mother of theirs, about the dangers of turning a cat into a fool. She’d explained, hadn’t she, that cats might play along for a short time, but they would always remain cats. And cats don’t forget a slight. The woman had smiled and told Miss Bryce she’d had him declawed, a thick, soft paperback book lolling between her fingers.
Poor cat, Miss Bryce thought, going to the grave with no claws, the indignity of a once-worn sun hat still settling round its ears. She’d be sure to mention her sighting to Edna in the corner shop on the way back to her cottage, news of a dead pet being worth at least one dizzy turn. Before she faced the steep walk, Miss Bryce needed a seat to catch her breath.
She took a step towards the old stone bench and away from the sad sight of the wee thing, but another flicker caught her eye and stopped her. She squinted through the brambles, shifting her head until she could also see a crouched figure fussing over the animal.
If there’d been air enough for her to do it, Miss Bryce would have shouted at the little bugger – didn’t these kids have any sense at all? The diseases the tabby’s orange fur could be concealing, the dirt waiting to rub off on the girl’s un-gloved hands. Miss Bryce puffed and tutted all the more when she recognised the glakit child, squatting over the poor cat like some eight-year-old hyena.
The girl, Flora, was crouched at the end of the path with her long hair falling in her face in such a way that Miss Bryce thought she was talking to the mangy dead animal. Maybe even saying a prayer for the soul it most certainly didn’t have. This was the child whose mother had drowned. Granddaughter of the Whytes.
Flora hunched over so that Miss Bryce could no longer see her hands or the cat itself. Miss Bryce hoisted her stick, ready to bring it down sharply and make the stones beneath it speak for her. The girl leant back to reveal the body of the cat and Miss Bryce’s gaze was inexorably drawn to the orange shape as it seemed to twitch and shudder.
She blinked, but the scene remained before her, framed by the rustling bushes. Breath whistled in her chest as she watched orange ears flick. The cat – who she remembered as so silent, so still – stretched and flexed under the girl’s hands. Miss Bryce unsteadily lowered the walking stick, her knuckles bone white around the handle and growing whiter still as she watched the cat roll to its feet and walk stiffly away without a backward glance.
The tabby disappeared into the long, patchy grass, its sinuousness returning a little more with each step, and Miss Bryce felt the beginnings of something wonderful thrumming in her chest. Flora stood and stretched and would have walked away if Miss Bryce had not shouted.
‘You, girl. What have you been doing?’
Flora gave a small cry and turned to the old woman with widened eyes.
‘I didn’t see you,’ she said.
‘How did you do that?’
The girl said nothing. Miss Bryce gripped her stick tightly.
‘I saw you. I saw you bring that cat back to life. I saw you. Don’t think you can hide it from me, I know what I saw. A saint. A visit from heaven. Come here, let me touch you.’ Her free hand stretched out before her, imploring, but the girl whispered ‘sorry’, turned and ran away down the steps.
The old woman was stuck, weak and shivering, yet filled with the knowledge that she’d finally been given the one thing she’d always wanted. She knew a miracle when she saw one.