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GLARE by Lucy Collinson, 1st Prize (13-15 Years)

April, 2019
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Blue and red lights flash at her like mirages in a concrete desert. She blinks, and New York City responds with a fusillade of projectiles, dark blurs seated inside.

She waits at the curb.

One of the reds, a spiderlike shape, turns into a glaring amber, and then into a green. She does not know what the spiderlike green light means—feels a push from behind her, at first not palpable but rather sensed by instinct, as if a thousand minds wish her to move—a silent cloud of brisk speed and inherent purpose surrounds her. A million souls jostling through, barging past, eager to reach their destination of nowhere in particular. Everybody notices her. Nobody helps.

She waits at the curb.

She cannot resist the wave any longer, and her feet shuffle forward, left-right left-right. Millions of other feet move beside her, all stomping to a different tempo; the neon sky crushes down on her menacingly as she moves. The brisk cloud disperses, and she turns around, silently pulls at her cardigan, and walks back across the white lines etched into the black floor, or perhaps the black floor etched from the white lines. She does not hear the angry horns, the swerving, screeching symphonies; simply silence. All she knows and has ever remembered knowing is this harshly lit dream—lucid and hazy, hazy and lucid.

Nothing else.

Or something else. The yellow projectiles fly past again and she thinks idly of her daughter, whom she has not seen for twenty-three years. She pulls her cardigan closer around her as she shivers.

She waits at the curb.

Five streets and two crossings away, a pair of neatly shined high heels click like a metronome on the bustling pavement as heads turn. Now that’s a brisk woman, they whisper. Famous, a millionaire. And rushing down the street.

Sandra Bloom ignores the whispers and accelerates her pace to a jog. From Andante to Allegro. She is panicked, as usual, but—as usual again—her panic is somewhat structured. She has the police searching, she has her friends on full alert, and above all, she knows exactly where she can find her.

Her long coat sweeps sideways; she is now four streets away from her mother.

She is still waiting at the curb.

Her fingers fumble in the bitter December wind; she leans against a lamppost and slides down onto the grey pavement spotted with round, white dots of discarded chewing gum. She wraps her cardigan around her bunched-up legs and thinks about her daughter, stares as the spiderlike light turns green again and thinks about her daughter. Indistinct shapes dart around in surrounding shops, smudged shadows tremble under neon lights. She shivers again, her sparse, flyaway hair seaweed in a churning ocean, and closes her eyes as another yellow blur rushes right towards her

Sandra bites her lip. So many cars. A traffic jam at midnight…something serious must have happened. She knows that panicking is foolish—in fact, she learns that the hard way, every day of every week of every month of every year of her life. Her mother used to sing Three Little Birds to her when she was little, every single time she lost something or forgot something or messed up something she shouldn’t have. She had grown irritated with it; she thought back then that worrying was healthy, that it meant that something was wrong with what she was doing. She worried, she forgot her lines; she worried, she lost her husband and half of her fortune. But here she stands again, panic welling up inside her as police motorcycles rush past, knowing that something must be wrong. She never learns. She never, she never.

She grows impatient at the red light and begins weaving through the traffic jam, muttering mouthfuls of Sorries and Excuse mes just like they do in the movies. Drivers honk their horns at her, more venting their own anger than trying to clear a path. Some pull out their phones and take pictures. She wonders what the next caustic gossip article or viral video will be: Sandra Bloom Lost in Hometown, perhaps, or Practicing for Next Million-Dollar Role? Perhaps they will even invent a whole backstory to why she is here—the usual secret boyfriend will do—or perhaps stage “interviews” with her distant and fame-hungry aunts. All muck-rakers these days, Sandra reflects, simply rake up their own muck and throw it at whoever seems to be famous.

She crosses the road, and her almost-improved mood is suddenly thrown off-balance by sudden, uncontrollable fear. She really tries, she really tries sometimes to stop worrying. But the world keeps breaking her routine. Keeps breaking it—and every time it does, she feels the panic welling up inside her, remembers the panic attacks from when she was young.

Too many cars, it’s not normal. Not normal.

Not normal at all.

She attempts to take a few deep breaths, but the air seems thin; her breathing accelerates. Someone has their hand on the metronome and is sliding the knob downwards. From Allegro to Presto her heart goes.

She turns another corner, and a garishly-red convertible blares its radio at her. The familiar drums hit her like a million bolts of neon lightning.

Don’t worry

About a thing

She walks away from the car, but the song sticks in her head, playing the lyrics she knows by heart.

Cause every little thing

Gonna be all right

Her mind attempts to block out sound, but she passes more cars with radios and more words worm their way into her mind. Accident on 34th Street. Two Macy’s delivery lorries involved. Approximately twenty casualties reported; severe congestion in surrounding areas.

Something begins to dawn on her. 34th Street—

Rise up this mornin’

Smiled with the risin’ sun

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep


She mindlessly, dreamily makes it halfway across the street before she breaks into a sprint.

The world is still flashing by, flashing by where she lays still on the pavement. The harsh wind of lost time and bittersweet memories blows past her; she is untouched.

Sandra approaches a crowd on the pavement. She knows this is the spot. The place where, innumerable times in her childhood, her mother had dropped her off in her battered Honda Civic to go window shopping with her friends. The place where, innumerable times in her adulthood, she had brought her mother out in her sleek Tesla Roadster to go real shopping, just the two of them.

She peers through gaps in the crowd, her vision flashing red-blue-red-blue in the light.

Singing sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true


This is my message to you-u-u…

The lyrics speed up, distort until they are unrecognizable. Bob Marley’s singing becomes a scream, echoing against the glare.

“WHERE IS SHE?! WHERE IS SHE?!” she yells, grabbing the nearest shoulders and shaking them ferociously.

“Who?” A bewildered pizza delivery guy stares back at her.

His face brightens for a moment; she has hope.

“Can I get your autograph? Even now…such a good act—”

Her heart falls a thousand feet and she slaps him, slaps him hard. His shocked face veers off to the left, and she steps past him, the song a banshee’s wail between her ears. She cannot see clearly; she knows she is running but barely registers anything else. Her shiny high heels are scraped, sullied, her neat blond bun a lopsided mess. Frustration tears her apart from the inside, and she screams NoNoNoNo like she always used to do, hands pressed on her ears; the left heel of her high heel snaps, and she lurches sideways, collapses and sobs on the sidewalk, all fancy facades gone. Her acting glitz and glamour spreads across the ground like shimmering ash, fallout from a volcano long waiting to erupt.

She throws one shoe, then the other into the middle of the street, and stands up. Her throat is raw as she stumbles forward, feeling the coldness of the pavement on her tender feet and the taste of blood in her mouth. The crowd has thinned. She wades through it desperately, silently, her resolve faltering a little with every step.

She walks into a space clear of people and realises why it is empty.

A blank hum starts in her ears as she and around twenty onlookers stare down upon the curled body of a woman, her wispy grey hair frail in the neon glare.

She crouches down, turns her slightly.

Gentle hands move her. She feels a type of deep recognition, some instinct long cloaked underneath the blizzard of forgotten time. A face floats into view, with blue eyes and tired eyebrows, and she knows it is her daughter, her long-lost daughter.

The body stirs.

Relief washes through her, bringing waves of dizziness. The glare of the lights seem to dim, seem to soften in the haze. Three Little Birds plays again, this time at normal speed.

You don’t worry about a thing

Cause every little thing is gonna be alright


Don’t worry about a thing

Don’t worry

Cause every little thing is gonna be alright

A hand, raised outwards.

She crawls forward and lifts her arms feebly, wraps them around her daughter. Future and past blur together like out-of-focus streetlights. She can feel the warmth in her fighting the cold, feel the distorted crowds and bright light slow their pulsing, Presto to Allegro to Andante and, finally, Largo. She squeezes her face to purple-robed shoulders, and everything else, before and after, slips out of reach; all she is concerned about is now, now with the red and blue lights flashing all around her and the neon sky a million miles away.

Another New York minute, and she forgets everything once more.

As her mother is rolled onto a stretcher, Sandra stumbles back down the street, still dizzy with relief, to find her shoes. A police officer approaches her, looking mildly concerned.

“You her daughter?”

She doesn’t answer. She finds her shoes and shuffles them awkwardly onto her feet, limping a few experimental steps before stopping.

The police officer belches loudly.

“Weird how she ran away from Serene Hill. Security on that place, they check dust before it goes in—as if old people need protection like that. Uh—she does that often?” He takes a bite of his sandwich, munches it thoughtfully. “Everything all right, Miss Bloom?”

She smiles bitterly, her wavy hair tumbling over her shoulders. The lingering euphoria at her small window of mutual understanding fades from her, and she almost wishes it could be now again.

“It’s all right now,” she replies.

The December wind picks up. Sandra feels it blowing into her, feels the cold all the way to her bones.

She turns, squints into the glare, and begins walking again; somewhere among those hazy lights her mother sits, travelling away from her at the speed of forgotten memories. She smiles again as she looks back—the smile of a long-lost daughter long-lost forever.

“She waits on the curb every Sunday.”


By Lucy Collinson,

Shanghai High School International Division


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