The winning story from this year's VS Pritchett Memorial Prizeby Carys Davies / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Carys Davies was born in Llangollen, north Wales, studied modern languages at Oxford University and has worked as a journalist on both sides of the Atlantic. She won the 2011 VS Pritchett Memorial Prize for the following story. Davies’s stories have been broadcast on Radio 4 and have picked up many other prizes, including last year’s Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Award. “Writing a short story is always risky and very, very difficult,” Davies says. “I never know if I am going to pull it off. But when it works it feels quite magical: an alchemy of inevitability and surprise.” Davies has just completed her second collection of short stories. She lives in Lancaster with her husband and four children.
They’d all seen Sheriff Nye bringing Pike into town: the two shapes snaking down the path off the mountain through the patches of melting snow and over the green showing beneath, each of them growing bigger as they moved across the rocky pasture and came down into North Street to the jailhouse—Nye on his horse, the tall gaunt figure of Galen Pike following behind on the rope.
The current Piper City jailhouse was a low cramped brick building containing a single square cell, Piper City being at this time, in spite of the pretensions of its name, a small and thinly populated town of a hundred and ninety-three souls in the foothills of the Colorado mountains. Aside from the cell, there was a scrubby yard behind, where the hangings took place, a front office with a table, a chair and a broom; a hook on the wall where the cell keys hung from a thick ring; a small stove where Knapp the jailer warmed his coffee and cooked his pancakes in the morning.
For years, Walter’s sister Patience had been visiting the felons who found themselves incarcerated for any length of time in the Piper City jail. Mostly they were outsiders—drifters and vagrants drawn to the place by the occasional but persistent rumours of gold—and whenever one came along, Patience visited him.
Galen Pike’s crime revolted Patience more than she could say, and on her way to the jailhouse to meet him for the first time, she told herself she wouldn’t think of it; walking past the closed bank, the shuttered front of the general store, the locked-up haberdasher’s, the drawn blinds of the dentist, she averted her gaze.