Click on the video and play the music WHILE you read the following!
At long last, in fear and trembling, the judges have reached a final, final decision (first there was a five-way tie, and then there was a three-way tie). We have checked the auguries, read the entrails and mapped the scapular fissures. This was a fantastic contest. Explosions of rampant creativity, blazing moments of brilliance. It’s a shame and an anti-climax, in some ways, to name a winner. For most of you, the act of entering, of creating the piece, was an epic of adventure and discovery. I’ve had emails from entrants saying they discovered new secrets about writing and process from the form. And your readers won because they got to see these delightful, witty, funny, and surprising texts appear each day on the entry page. Everyone who entered should be an inspiration to the rest of us.
The winners this time (may there be many more) are Julie Marden and Christopher Willard for their novel-in-a-box entitled Novel in a Bottle (thus doubling the metaphor). Novel in a Bottle is the tale of a doomed ship in a cracked bottle floating in the sea, its passengers embarking on a frenzy of decadence & despair as they await the final catastrophe. The text is itself a frenzy of allusion and technical play. The blank chapter (borrowed from Tristram Shandy), the poem chapter, the textual quotations. It’s full of character (how many characters inhabit this tiny text?) and sadness and comedy and eroticism. And at the end, Gerdy, the steward, swims for the surface and, perhaps, survives. It’s the Titanic in a bottle and, this time, Leonardo DiCaprio escapes.
Read the winning entry below!
Novel in a bottle
by Julie Marden and Christopher Willard
The sea remained cracked. Fiona kissed the porthole glass and crawled over the three women sharing her upper berth. She still hadn’t spoken to them (nor they to her). She wanted Mr. Kinglet. One of the women cocked open an eye and appraised Fiona’s dirty-nailed fingertips as they slipped from the ladder’s top rung. The old woman snored, relaxed her girth.
Mrs. D from County Cork tore out pages and tossed them overboard. Gerdy the steward caught one. “Messages of condolence and sympathy are being hourly received from all continents.” He recalled Fiona’s tenderness and turned to the stack of tin plates holding the cocktail franks. “Starve. Choke. What’s the difference?” he muttered, searching the pantry for paint.
At the evening party, thongs were the costume of choice, at least among the men. Captain Flegg jumped overboard (again). “Grab his leg!” Women screamed. Professor Zeugma, his teeth rotten as his desires, drove Fiona against the bulwark. “When the cork comes we’re all goners.” He stumbled off. Fiona flushed, not noticing Mr. Kinglet slip behind a mast. The air reeked glue.
The doldrums sang a morose litany
Day by day, little by little,
A number sank off the coast of Brittany,
Gerdy gave up, began to whittle.
Mr. Kinglet offered Mrs. D a low lounge chair. A clavicle man, this was an opportunity. “You c-c-c can call me M-M-Miss if you wish,” stuttered Mrs. D. Her nose bounced through the air as she sniffed his Score cologne. Kinglet turned away. “I believe I’ve mistaken you for Fiona’s bunk mate.” he said. “You ef-f-ffeminate f-f-f-fop,” returned Mrs. D.
Most of the rooms are empty. I should know, I slept in them all. So read the last page of the diary of Eunice Brawl, dead at age twenty four and four tenths of an hour. Fingers shaking, Gerdy displayed the entry to Fiona. “Strychnine,” he said. “And strangulation with a paisley ascot.” Empty rooms, Fiona thought. Where? Alone, Gerdy painted Eunice’s words on another sail.
Fiona accosted her bunkmate. “All my life I was told you were dead.” The woman handed Fiona a tiny lady-slipper shell. “It was your grandmama’s,” she said, using the French pronunciation. Lonely, pale, Mr. Kinglet walked in. Fiona presented the shell, which he evaluated. He put his hand under Fiona’s blouse.
Everything incarnadine: clothes pulled up, off, furrowed around ankles, necks. On deck, below deck. Amidst shattered glass and shagged bodies, Gerdy found the shell filled with Fiona’s tears and pressed it to his palm. He clambered to the prow, leaped, and swam through the opening, twisting past crumbled cork, holding his breath until both sea and sky unclasped their hands to greet him.