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Sandstone Short Fiction Competition – A Cat Amongst the Pigeons

On Saturday evening we announced the winners of the first ever Sandstone Press Short Fiction competition - today we are delighted to share our second place winner, by Orla Owen. Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congratulations to Orla!

Older people were the stars of many of the stories in this competition. In our second-place story, we see a grandmother rebel against the so-called kindness of her daughter and son-in-law. Do they really want to keep Dolores safe from harm, as they claim – or have they moved her down to theirs for the free babysitting? This is a poignant and moving read, with a strong sense of pathos underlying the deft touches of comedy, because while we can empathise with Dolores’ defiant mischief-making and refusal to go quietly, we worry about her eventual fate… Brava! -Dan Brotzel

Dolores sat on a bench amongst the pigeons, her feet flat on the ground, back straight, her breathing deep and regular as the tatty birds pecked at her hushed figure. She was used to being pecked at, pecked at and picked at, put upon and shouted over. But not today. Today she’d walked out of the house that was suffocating her, into streets that were empty. And she’d kept on walking past the train station, past the tube station, ignoring the bus drivers who looked hopefully at her in the same way a taxi driver would have in the old days. Before the quiet.

By the time she arrived at the common, she was breathing the warm air all the way down to the base of her lungs. That was a good feeling. Cheering. As was the sight of the cloudless sky with its gorgeous blue hue.

She pictured her own home and wished she’d ignored the phone that night rather than succumbing to its relentless ringing, rather than getting the coach down to Surrey the very next day because things are getting serious mum to the house where she could be looked after, fed and watered, kept an eye on, where she could help out with the children while the him and the her were working at home, their laptops and papers spread out over the kitchen table meaning there was no room to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.

“It’s a win-win Mum, you have to come. It’s better for everyone. And we’ll know you’re safe then, that’s the main thing.”

Dolores wasn’t sure that was the main thing, seemed to her that childcare was, that and and her love of ironing in front of Coronation Street. It was all too much, really it was. The birds scattered.

“There you are. For Christ’s sake, the trouble you've caused. You’re not meant to be out. You’re too old, it’s too risky.”

“Meow,” said Dolores. “Meow.”


Her daughter huffed and puffed and scooted behind the bench as if that would hide the smell of the cigarette she was lighting. She called her husband.

“I’ve found her, acting all weird. As if we haven’t got enough to deal with. Honestly.”

Dolores felt less alone when she was at home. Perhaps if she played the madness card she’d be sent back, like the prisoner in that war film she’d watched when she was younger. She’d be allowed to isolate herself from her family as well as the outside world, protecting her heart from near and present danger.

“Meow, meow.”

She curled her right hand and licked it as if it was a paw. When her daughter came too close she hissed and bared her teeth. The daughter took seven steps back. The pigeons returned.

“Shoo, shoo,” the daughter cried, from a distance, not understanding what was happening.

“Meow,” laughed Dolores. “Meow, meow,” she whispered.