Nine, Hillcrest Street
Winner of the Norman Beard Award
Friday mornings, Mrs M goes to the library to take up where she finished the week before. Knitting in nonfiction; SWE in fiction; foreign languages or large print—wherever it is she was up to. Electronic media and books for the young: the only exceptions to her rule. As someone checking each and every spine for something they are yet to read—or someone in search of a title piquing—she runs her finger along each book of every shelf until she comes across that for which she is searching: a book out of place. She takes it out, turns it over, reads the blurb and inside cover. ‘One.’ She replaces the book in its correct position and continues from the space left behind. Number by number—or letter by letter, depending—finding and replacing until she comes to a ninth, misplaced. The ninth book of the day is the one she borrows. Her house is number nine. Nine, Hillcrest Street. Mr M bought it for them both when they were married saying as they signed the papers, ‘Nine seems a nice round number. Round as its bottom front step.’ And there is the ninth of the ninth, Mrs M had replied when it came to her turn with the pen. Mr M nodding and knowing: theirs—an early spring wedding. Fifty-nine years and nine months. How cruel it seemed, Mr M said, that he should be going ahead of her. ‘On the ninth of all things,’ at a whisper. But Mrs M only smiled, the sort she reserved for him alone, when it was he would make her morning tea with lemon. She stroked his cheek and caught his leaving. ‘In the hands of Grace,’ she said—holding his in hers. And though he was gone she sat alongside, catching his warmth as it ebbed and doing her best to take it all in. She holds his warmth in her shadows, like a rounded front step in an afternoon turning to twilight. As such, it simply is. The ninth. The ninth she holds to breast, walking home with it resting against her, beneath a grey knitted hat; beneath a waning sun.
Norman passed in 2014. He left his wife Maureen behind who misses him dearly and thinks of him every day. This award was donated by his granddaughter Jessie