12+ "And the winner is–" Zoom freezes on my laptop. But I don't care. From the gallery director's opening comments in her awards speech, praising this year's portraits, it's clear my landscape has not caught the judges' eyes. Again!
Like all working artists, I've learned to channel disappointment into creative energy. And I toil on my large canvass landscapes that fill the studio and sweat paint and turpentine for my art. I share it, not for fame and fortune (though that would help my finances). But in the hope that the public will see the environmental message behind my dystopian landscapes.
However, the public only sees winners. And year after year, competition judges have shown little interest in my landscapes.
Once, before the wretched virus, when we could attend awards ceremonies at the gallery in person and not via Zoom, I overhead a pair of judges assessing my entry. "His use of texture and colour impresses, but the subject is bleak," one judge commented to the other. "Perhaps he's been too influenced by the old wave of eco-landscapists?" the other judge responded.
"Influenced by!?" I wanted to explode and shake the judge by the throat. "I founded the eco-landscapist movement! And, of course, the landscape is bleak. It's my warning to the world!"
Rather than resort to violence, I doused my rage with a full glass of champagne and grabbed another from a passing waiter. And I didn't win. Again!
Last year, the gallery director emailed me after I'd delivered my landscape. "Another technically brilliant and challenging piece," she wrote encouragingly. "But I feel obliged to remind you, tides and tastes shift. And I counsel you to consider this with future entries."
"FUTURE!?" I felt like spitting back in caps. "There will be no future unless the world sees and heeds the message in my landscape!"
Instead, I swallowed the bile and emailed my thanks. And later, I watched the director announce another insipid portrait as the winner on Zoom.
This year, fueled by climate catastrophes and further isolated by lockdowns, I produced one of my starkest environmental statements. And I beamed with pride delivering the canvass to the gallery, knowing it was probably my best chance of winning. Finally!
Hopes were high that judges, artists and the public could attend the awards ceremony. I'm no social butterfly, and I prefer the solitude of the studio, surrounded by my brushes, easels and canvases, and the smell of paint and turpentine. However, I do like complimentary canapes and champagne and the chance to watch the public reacting to my work.
But the virus reared its ugly head again, forcing the gallery to resort to another online ceremony. And I chilled a cheap bottle of wine for the occasion.
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Zoom refreshes on my laptop. The director has finished her speech. For a moment, I fantasise the tiled faces staring out from the screen with glasses raised are saluting me and my landscape.
I smile, raise my glass and acknowledge the winner's toast.
© 2021 Robert Fairhead
- The first sentence must contain only four words.
- Something must be shared.
- And it must include the words PAINT, SHIFT, WAVE and TOAST. (Longer variations were acceptable as long as the original spelling was retained.)
Fittingly, the opening sentence came to mind first: "And the winner is–".
I toyed with the idea of setting my story around a writing competition or a literary awards night. But rather than a writer, I decided to make my protagonist another form of artist, a painter. And this helped me place the words from the brief. (Can you find them?)
The abrupt ending of the first sentence suggested a Zoom meeting. And offered a device to write the backstory for the artist and awards ceremony. It was also an opportunity to make a statement about the environment. A message the artist shares in his landscapes.
As with the protagonist's paintings, my Furious Fiction short stories, including this one, have yet to catch the judges' eyes. However, like our working artist, I've learned to "channel disappointment into creative energy". And so, with a few minor edits and a new title, I "beamed with pride" when sharing this short story on Tall And True.
I hope you enjoyed The Winner's Toast. Please feel free to review the short story below or click on my writer bio to contact me via Facebook, Twitter or email.
You might also like to read another of my recent Furious Fiction short stories, Lagermind.
N.B. I've narrated The Winner's Toast for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.
Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.