Richard Booth Prize Winner 2022, Lily Rose King.

We are delighted to showcase Lily Rose King’s 1st prize winning piece, “Angels” from this year’s Richard Booth Prize for Non Fiction.

We are extremely grateful to our wonderful judge, Gilly Smith for reading the entries and selecting such a worthy winner.

Gilly wrote of “Angels” –

This is such a beautifully poignant essay on life and death, motherhood and childhood, love and loss. I love the tiny detail – hours spent giggling over slow cigarettes – juxtaposed with the profound reflections on what life and love is really all about. The lack of names makes it a universal story while the detail, again shared by so many of us, makes it belong to the protagonist alone. It’s about everything that is important in life.

Angels
by Lily Rose King

Six children birthed and another one raised as her own. Twelve grandchildren smattered along a sliding scale of ages with the oldest tipping into adulthood, and now the thirteenth pressed into her arms, just two days old.

Her bones resemble memory foam as they recall how to hold him with a gentle ease that can only be gleaned from experience; nestling into the crook where so many babies before him have been cradled.

Three weeks from now her earth will shatter, bringing into focus the poignancy of this moment. But in her blissful unawareness she soaks up the endless magic that is summoned by the all-consuming presence of a newborn.

Memories engulf her and suddenly she is just turned sixteen again, clutching her firstborn like a doll and holding back tears as the nurses scoff at her naivety.

They begrudged her the help she so desperately needed, but pride and determination to do her best for her boy saw her forge her own path as a mother. Years later, she would teach her three daughters how to do the same; albeit under wildly different circumstances.

Born and raised on the very edges of Northwest London, she fell head over heels for trouble. They were married while her belly swelled, her father’s fierce disapproval subsiding the minute he laid eyes on his grandson for the first time. From then on, their bond was unshakeable.

The babies kept coming, and she found her heart continued expanding to make room for them all. With an army husband came the inevitable compromise to frequently move home, and she uprooted her flock ready for the next cycle to commence: new town, new friends, new start.

To her youngest children, separated from the older ones only by a large age gap and a different father, she would indulge repeated requests to recall tales of their mishaps and adventures, embroidering these years with a pattern of laughter and coating them with a sepia tone of nostalgia. Even though her reality was somewhat different, being a devoted working mother with an unfaithful spouse, it was evident her children had always been – and would always be – the light of her life.

When they were posted to the Brecon Beacons it induced an epiphany. Existing amongst the lush green of those valleys was like settling into cushions on a sofa: she finally felt they were home. Hours were spent giggling like schoolgirls over slow cigarettes with the neighbour who quickly won the occupation of her best friend. Her oldest daughter learnt to ride horses, and her youngest raced snails up the living room walls. The smallest of the boys set his status as the joker by unwittingly cracking hilarious one liners, which are reminisced about even to this day. The big brothers caused such mischief that it still proved legendary when the youngest children, not yet born, eventually attended the same school some thirty years later.

After moving back down south and remarrying, her tribe expanded again. Not only were her children growing up and starting their own families, but she also added two more babies to her brood. The daughter whose newborn she now held, and a son. Both premature and tiny as a result of preeclampsia.

Despite relishing as the nucleus of her clan, physically living at the centre of each member, and metaphorically being the one they gravitated towards, she felt something was missing. Years of studying and late nights had paid off as she became a qualified nurse and excelled in her job on a gynaecology ward, but she couldn’t shake the magnet that urged her towards the Brecon Beacons once again.

A successful application to a district nurse role saw the four that remained in the household pack up and relocate. For her, she knew it was the last time. Her body breathed a sigh of relief as soon as they arrived.

Her existence ebbed and flowed, meandered with the river, but she was solid in her decision to move. Whatever happened, it was easier to cope with here. The kids became adults, and the adults had more kids. No two were in the slightest the same, and neither were any two days.

She was their rock. Answering daily phone calls for advice, soothing teary teenage tempers, guiding through break ups and marriages. She thrived on it.

The baby stirs in her arms and summons her back to the present. She sits on the end of the new parents’ bed while they slouch against the headboard, ecstatic but exhausted.

The next few weeks are a bubble of bliss as much for her as for the mother; sleepy cuddles and squishy features evoking sentimental smiles. Although her nappy changing repertoire is extensive, the exercise takes a little getting used to again.

And then it comes. On an ordinary Saturday. The news from Africa that her firstborn is dead.

A heavy reminder that where there is life there is death.

Instantly she is caught up in the whirlwind process that no mother should have to endure. Panic. Sorrow. Anger. Fear. Followed by grief taking up its permanent residency in her body.

Like never before she collapses into the family she has built. They all experience the loss in unique ways, but none quite as destructive as hers. Yet the love is palpable. They come from their own homes, hours away, and sit together in hers.

And he is there. The baby. The only being detached from the emotion. But it is as if he knows his importance; understands his role as a shining beacon in the sea of their darkness. In his company they find the relief they seek, if only momentarily.
They admire his beauty and carry his weight, a tangible reminder of the fragility of life.

As he grows so does her anguish. Although she is comforted by his fleeting resemblance to her angel, born not forty-eight years ago. Those who say time travel is not real have never lost a child.

There are countless visitors, so many bouquets that her lounge resembles a florist shop, cards, and condolences. There are arrangements and a funeral. A plot is selected, and a headstone planted there. She visits to clean the marble and arrange fresh flowers.

One phrase embeds itself into her, from her late son’s girlfriend, who had somewhat of an outsider perspective when visiting them in the worst possible situation.

“There is so much love in this house.”

She already knows it is this love that will carry her through.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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About thehaywriters

The Hay Writers : a highly active & forward thinking writing group based in Hay-on-Wye, the world famous 'Town of Books'. ✍️ In 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
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