HOME – the winning entry

Bridge by Sylvia Telfer

He crumpled the letter, and stared over Hong Kong. His mother was being hostile about Suk-fong. His marriage to a Chinese woman had been a blow.

‘Your mother’s jealous,’ Suk-fong had said.

An Electra complex, and not a race issue?

The birthday card with his mother’s letter inside was so Scottish; deer and forests. Ironic it was next to Suk-fong’s card on which bronze dragons stifled air.

Suk-fong joined him.

‘Xi Wangmu?’ she said, pointing at the crumpled letter.

‘Uh?’ he said.

‘Queen Mother of the West. A goddess, who separated her daughter from a loving husband. Bells ringing?’

‘Love your exotic card,’ he said.


‘Don’t start, Suk-fong.’

‘Tomorrow, Nigel, the second of August, is also the Double Seventh Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day. The bridge will open then. Magpies built it for the seventh day of the seventh month, so the lovers, Zhinü and Niulang, may be together for one day.’

‘Who are they?’

‘A mortal cowherd and an immortal weaver girl. The Qixi Festival celebrates their one-day annual meeting. Bells?’

‘We’re drifting apart?’ he said.

‘Zhinü ran from the sky, where she wove colour clouds. She met Niulang, and married without Xi Wangmu’s consent.’

He sighed. They had thought this flat would be a home, a fortress against the world.

‘They were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River, which is the Milky Way. You go to Edinburgh, every time your mother calls, and I feel like Zhinü.’

‘My job takes me frequently to Edinburgh.’

‘I will go to the local temple to pray to Zhinü, and make her offerings.’

‘Go where you like,’ he snapped.

He reread the crumpled letter.

‘Come home for your birthday. A traditional picnic,’ his mother had written.

‘Home? And traditional to whom?’ Suk-fong had said.

Worse, his mother had mentioned an ex-girlfriend. ‘I saw Susan, yesterday. Lovely red hair.’

‘Home’s where your wife is. And is red hair better than black?’ Suk-fong had said.

His father-in-law coughed in the toilet. Why had a fit man come from Beijing to stay with his daughter while his wife was in America?

Suk-fong had opened an illustrated book.

‘You Chinese adore lilies,’ he had said.

‘You Chinese?’ she had said.

He went up to the roof, a sucked emotional weatherman. A cough. His father-in-law was behind the lift shaft. He could only see a dark snake of arm moving. What was that soft rattling?

He looked out across the South China Sea. He could make nothing of the tiny lives of them all. Was this home?

He heard Suk-fong approaching.

‘What’s your father throwing?’

‘Rice for good luck. It’s a blessing for you and me. Love doesn’t know race. We’re all bewildered because it means something.’

They looked up. The magpie bridge was forming.

‘Invite your mother,’ she said.

‘And yours.’

‘All can be bridged,’ she said.

A weird lightening in the sky revealed tall, colourful clouds.

‘You’ve been busy weaving bright clouds. There’s no place like home for self- expression,’ he said.


Sylvia Telfer (pictured) says: 

I now live in Rutherglen, near Glasgow, after having spent almost 35 years living in Africa, The Far East, and Middle East. I worked in publications, was a court reporter, PA, etc., but writing has been like a flame to this wandering Scottish moth. I have a few international awards for poetry, and have been published in that field, but love all genres. I was delighted to hear that I won this short story competition. It has boosted my confidence to write more short stories.


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