Since the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez earlier this year, I have been meaning to set a comp with a magical realist twist and I finally got around to it with this latest challenge — to take something mundane (a parish council meeting or the weather forecast, for example) and filter it through the lens of magic realism.
Marquez conjures a world in which the arrival of one character is heralded by a swarm of yellow butterflies, the death of another by a light rain of yellow flowers. Where Remedios the Beauty floats, ‘as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end’, into ‘the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her’.
Magic realism is not everyone’s cup of tea, and when it’s done badly it’s horrible. On the whole, though, you did pretty well. The entry was peppered with echoes of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but there were traces of Bulgakov too. Basil Ransome-Davies’s account of the talking cat and the supermarket trolley token was an impressive runner-up. Frank Upton wins £30. The rest take £25.
‘Thank you for calling Megacorp. Your call is as unimportant to us as every human action and may be recorded for purposes that are unclear. All our operators have identical names right now. Please listen carefully to the following options although they all lead, eventually, to the same outcome. Press 1 to hear this message again, cyclically, for ever. Press 2 to keep perfectly still for seven years, listening. Press 3 to speak to your three-greats granddaughter, who is also your three-greats grandmother. Press 8 to experience the interpenetration of non-deterministic reality with rational unreality. Press 5 to be engulfed by a plot hole. Press 9¾ to find yourself amid a popular fantasy. For all other options, please sacrifice the goat that your family ate last week. After the tone, you will be executed by firing squad and reincarnated as a jaguar. Thank you for calling Megacorp!’
North Utsire, South Utsire! The move from one to the other had taken him many years — how long, the Viking never knew. How old was he? Still in his forties? Had those oil rigs been there when he sailed out with Olaf Tryggvason all those years ago? Initially they had gone easterly or southeasterly, veering westerly or northwesterly later, variable, four or five …he paused to think: four or five what? Was that the number of mighty kings in the alliance against the ferocious German Bight? The voices from the air had even spoken of the pharaohs — he thought that was what they said. Or should he seek the lands of the mysterious king known as the Fisher? His fears, though, were only slight to moderate. He still had control of the elements. He would ensure some thundery rain later. It was moderate to good, though they could all be poor later.
At the AGM of Arcadio Resources the chairman, Mr Bottomlyons, began the meeting by having the assembled board members fly around the room, shaking their beaks and claws at the attendees, all the time tweeting ‘miraculous results’. A tall, skinny lady shareholder, almost 120 years old, with long flowing copper hair was the first to speak. Excited by the finance director’s multicoloured plumage, she asked him to lay the golden egg that would guarantee everyone a money stream for centuries to come. This narrow but fast-moving current should have its fertile banks populated with verdant assets such as forget-me-nots, pennyroyals and perennial mint dividends. That motion was carried strongly. But another proposition, crisscrossed with obscure footnotes and sacred texts, was defeated by an army of hundreds of thousands of proxy spirits in serpent form. These emerged from the paper forest, visibly alarmed by the spectre of rising, pestilent debt.
Miss Faircloth habitually closed her eyes as she spoke. So she didn’t see the white butterflies issue from her mouth into the waxy air of the parish hall, then flutter round the heads of the subcommittee and vanish. All, that is, except one which settled on the table in front of the Major. As it demurely folded up its wings, Miss Faircloth parted her eyelids. The Major, who thought he had seen a white flag, smiled indulgently. In his career he had never dealt with a surrender but he knew the correct procedure. Leaning forward he closed his fist round the butterfly. It struggled briefly. Miss Faircloth gasped as its death throes scratched at her eardrums. The Major opened his fist. There was a pale powdery substance on his hand. He flattened his palm and blew the dust towards Miss Faircloth. The summer rota bargaining had begun.
Time for a look ahead to programmes later today on Radio 4. After the News, In Our Time: Melvyn Bragg and guests spend a haunting 45 minutes conversing in the language of owls. Queen Nefertiti joins Jane Garvey for Woman’s Hour at ten, while tonight’s episode of The Archers finds the ghost of Walter Gabriel silently watching the sun dance from the top of Lakey Hill. At midday, Call You and Yours would like to hear from you if you’re a child’s chalk drawing that has unexpectedly come to life, while at three Paul Lewis and the Money Box team will advise a listener on whether to hurl 400,000 Spanish doubloons down an Argentine ravine rumoured to be paying 26 per cent interest. With the conclusion of your autobiography as tonight’s Book at Bedtime and a Shipping Forecast especially rich in mermaid shoals, you’ve every reason to stay tuned to Radio 4.
All week long Rosaria baked cakes and cried into the cake mixture, cursing her faithless lover the bearded sailor Aureliano. The cakes sank in the oven and tasted of the sea. Anyone eating them felt sad and slightly seasick for days afterwards. The cake stall made a disappointing £7.32. Aureliano set his heart on the bottle of sherry at the tombola and spent his life’s savings on tickets, but all he could win was bottle after bottle of cheap aftershave named Desire. The tombola raised a record £878.29. Sister Immaculata, in a state of grace after a month of prayer and fasting, won the tombola’s bottle of sherry, the raffle, guess the number of marbles in the jar and the sack race, from which she was later disqualified after suggestions that her sack had not touched the ground. Thanks to everyone who helped make the church fête such a success.
Your next challenge is to submit a dialogue in verse between God and man. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 22 October.