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Toothpicks - Winner

Dorothy Cornish

She’s pouring toothpicks onto the kitchen table, to check whether the box is lying. You’re thinking about the tree outside the bedroom window of the flat you viewed that morning. The voice of the current owner says So lovely in summer, it’s got those little leaves that let the light through, and you turn around, because you thought you were alone in the room. You test the sink by the kitchen window. A good height, doesn’t hurt your shoulders. Look out, see the kitchens of other houses. Do the washing up, watch the neighbours doing theirs.

She arranges them in groups of ten, drops some, starts again.

What are the limits of a house? Do they trace the outskirts of our imagination? Some sketch of BBQs on amber afternoons, workmates and football mates and dribbles of condensation sledging down beer bottles, of reading books by lamp-light, the soft patter of slippers across the hall, whisky-bringing, of rushed workaday mornings, dropping keys and forgetting umbrellas and a kiss before you go in case you die in a car crash?

Or something more?

Now she has started marking down the count with a pencil, so she doesn’t forget. Sixty. Seventy. Eighty.

Your mother took you to her childhood house in Philadelphia, pointed to a windowsill beneath the A of the roof, said That’s where I used to sit, just sit and read and think about all the ways I was going to change the world, how different it was going to be. You look at the strip window by your knees, into the basement where they used to play, and listen for the sound of laughing children, as if you could hear the Sixties by straining your ears hard enough. When you look back at your mother she is crying.

There’s one hundred and forty three. It said one fifty. She looks up.

What are the limits of a house? A small, square room that whispers in both of your ears. For the baby.

Dorothy Cornish was once called 'Dorset's answer to Francoise Hardy', but she didn't fancy it. She lives in Glasgow with her lover and a pet snake called Jon Stead (no relation).

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