meet the winners of the 2018 rachel funari prize for fiction: 3rd place, “quiquiriqui!” by kristin hannaford
Kristin Hannaford’s story, Quiquiriqui! place third in the 2018 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. Here’s a Q&A with Kristin, plus her award-winning story!
Congratulations on placing 3rd in this year’s RFP for Fiction, Kristin! We’re sorry you were unable to make it to the prize announcement. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Who are you?
I’m a Queensland poet and writer. I’ve had four collections of poetry published, the most recent is Curio (Walleah Press, 2014) which is about the lives of colonial era taxidermists, Jane Tost and her daughter Ada Rohu. It looks at museum artefacts, curiosities and natural history specimens and the role women played in that world.
I work as an English teacher in Rockhampton, Queensland.
What do you believe makes a great story?
If I think about a story for days afterward, it’s a great story. I like detail. Voice. Subtlety. A slow burn. But, I also like diversity in my reading and that’s why short stories appeal to me as both a writer and reader. Short stories are slippery, exciting things. You can never quite hold a good short story in your hand – it wriggles, defies interpretation.
What’s your writing process?
I have a fairly chaotic writing process in terms of organised time spent writing. I don’t have dedicated hours or a routine. I try to seize hours when I can, moments when I’m in the house alone to write. I tend to think on an idea for a long time, worrying at it like dodgy tooth, before it emerges on the page.
How do you know when a story is ready to be sent out into the world?
Honest response? I don’t. There’s always a little self-doubt. I only know that when I’m thinking of sending it out, it feels like I can’t do any more to it. Perhaps it’s when those final edits and rearrangements start to unravel what I have created. Then it’s time to put it away. Send it off. Cross the fingers.
What (or who) inspires your work? Particularly, what inspired you to write Quiquiriqui!?
My husband and I travelled to Cuba in late 2016. We happened to be there when Fidel Castro died. It was such a strange time. The normally very noisy, music-filled streets became still. People were visibly affected by his death. The government enforced a period of quiet – no music, no celebration. The silence and mourning were palpable. It was a fascinating time to be there and the story emerged from my experiences. Quiquiriquí is Spanish for Cock-a-doodle-doo!
In terms of short stories and novels, I like detailed, rich writing with a strong sense of voice. I’m thinking of writers like Ron Rash, Annie Proulx, M.J.Hyland, Cate Kennedy, Cormac McCarthy and Tim Winton. A friend also recently introduced me to the work of Margo Lanagan and I can’t get enough of it. Strange, bright and incendiary writing.
Let’s talk books. What’s the last book you read? What are you currently reading? And what’s on your TBR pile?
The last novel I read was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I loved it. I’m currently in a ‘reading for work’ phase – the Queensland senior education system is in the process of implementing a new suite of courses for Years 11 and 12. So Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is on the ‘TBR’ pile and I’m re-reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Books I’ve recently loved are Ellen Van Neervan’s Heat and Light, and I highly recommend any of Elizabeth Harrower’s works re-released through Text Classics.
Why did you enter this year’s Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction?
The theme of metamorphosis, word length and timeliness of the award all seemed to come together and fit what I had written, so I decided to take the plunge. I find entry deadlines are great motivators to get work finished. The prize also seems to attract a certain calibre of ‘good writing’ and I have been impressed by the work of past winners. Lip magazine provides a space for diverse, articulate women’s writing – it seems important to support it.
What does ‘metamorphosis’ mean to you?
A friend of mine who heard I had done well in the prize recently reminded me we had studied David Malouf’s ‘An Imaginary Life’ in our final year of high school. The story is about Ovid’s metamorphosis, about his journey of personal transformation while in exile. I had forgotten it – but I think the notion of personal transformation, emotional change triggered by something external (a season, a person, an idea) is my definition of metamorphosis. Change as a response. It’s about continual, momentary change – it’s not static. We are always metamorphosing into different stages of life, different patterns of mood, of belief, of relationships. People are rarely constant, rarely the same.
Where do you hope to see yourself, and your writing, in 10 years’ time? What’s your ‘dream goal’?
I hope to be still writing. I’d like to have published another collection of poetry and to have written a collection of short stories.
The nail artist first examined my foot on her knee, before submerging it into a vat of warm, soapy water. She then scrubbed at my heel with an orange towel. Streaks of spilt varnish had hardened the fabric. You have dirty feet, hey? She shook her head and proceeded to scrape out the red crescent-moons of dirt under my toenails. At the end of the street, the arched grandeur of the Casa de Cultura and a plinth supporting a bust of Cuba’s national hero, José Martí, stood silent.
The red dirt of Viñales had seeped into my toes. A day earlier, we had bicycled through the hills and picnicked at the base of a mountain. Above us on the escarpment walls, were paintings of vivid, imposing dinosaurs posed with Neolithic humans. The route had taken us past pineapple and sugar cane crops. The warmth of the day and the mogotes, mountains rising like rounded haystacks, reminded us of the trachyte-plug geography of home, in Central Queensland. Despite scrubbing, I could not rid myself of the stain.
The beautician dried my feet patiently and wove a piece of lilac sponge through my toes. It felt nice. Mi nombre es Lydia. I nodded and waited for her to go on. She was waiting for me. Soy Juliana. My tongue froze. That was it. All I could give her. She turned her gaze outside to the shop’s signage, a post with ‘Lydia’s Salon de Belleza’ scrawled in pale yellow, beneath which a man sat in dirty jeans on a milk crate, concentrating. Es Jorge. He’s a little loco, crazy. You know. But good with birds. Los Gallos. She raised her hands into claws and pointed to the bird’s feet splayed upside down on Jorge’s lap. Lydia laughed and then proceeded to sing like a morning cock, Quiquiriqui!
Spears of grass poked and wove between the man’s toes as the white plastic of his flip-flops lolled like tongues at his heels. He held the bird tight between his knees, one hand at the nape of the neck, the other smoothing the breast feathers. Looking into the rooster’s eyes, the man whispered to the bird as he began to pluck and tweezer feathers from its chest, Eres el gallo más feroz de todo el mundo. Smothering its squawks and protestations with love, Shh, mi luchador, mi premio. Three other birds were in large cages at his feet, strutting in agitation.
Jorge had plucked the bird’s chest and legs clear of feathers, up to a fringe of plumage above its breastbone. I placed my palm on my chest and tried to find the words for naked. Desnudo? Lydia filed my nails, and nodded, Si, si, desplumado. For the blood. To see. She clenched her fingers into a fist and punched the air. For fight.
Jorge righted the bird and petted its back and wings in long, slow, hypnotic strokes. The tail-feathers fluoresced brilliant green and orange in the sunlight as he lowered it into a wired cage. He reached into his pocket and threw it some corn kernels. Jorge grabbed the next gamecock, lifting it out of a wooden crate. A magnificent black and white rooster emerged. He nestled the bird close to his chest before turning it over like a baby, and commencing the process once again.
Two women in heels, tight pants and flowing floral shirts bustled into the salon in a cloud of perfume and noise. Hola! Hola Chicas! Descending on each side of Lydia, they embarked on a series of noisy, cheek-to-cheek kisses that glanced off the walls like particles of light. I was given kisses across the reaches of the manicure bench, too.
The younger one, opening plastic bag after plastic bag, released a flood of Spanish. They had been shopping in Havana, and now they were back! She reached into a bag and held up a lacy white singlet, before leaning over and draping it over my chest. The three women, Lydia included, stepped back to admire its beauty. They nodded and smiled together in agreement, Si, si. Next, an eighties-style red dress, frilled at the shoulders and gold-zippered, and a new pair of tight black pants. They swathed a scarf around my neck to complete the look. Smiling mutely, I couldn’t help but enjoy being the store mannequin. A light breeze curled through the salon’s gauze curtain.
You like rojo? Or rosa? Lydia placed six different bottles of colour before me, all shades of pink and red. She seemed to remember I was a customer. I pointed to a bottle of cherry-red nail polish, and the trio nodded in approval. Ooh, rojo cereza. Lydia tried out her English, with its elongated ‘e’, Cheery.
The older woman, a brunette, took out a pastry from her bag and shook icing sugar from her fingers. We all then watched in silence as Lydia applied the first layer of transparent undercoat and placed my foot under a dryer of ultraviolet light. She commenced the application of varnish. Sure, clean strokes transformed my toes into little buttons of red.
Hay una fiesta esta noche, Lydia said. A big party. She motioned with her hand toward the valley behind the salon. Todos los granjeros y campesinos, the farmers. The brunette licked crumbs from her lips and smiled in agreement as the beautician continued, Si, si. A party. All of the men with their cocks, you know? At this, they all turned to each other and laughed; then Lydia became serious. It’s big here. People make big money. Especialmente hoy. El luto, mourning is finished. Madre de Dios, our Papa, Fidel. Se muerte. All of the women made the sign of the cross and whispered Fidel Castro’s name in prayer. As Lydia finished my pinky toe, I looked out to Jorge who was finishing his last bird – a sleek black rooster, smaller than the others.
Fidel Castro died in the week prior to our arrival in Viñales. A ten-day period of mourning had been enforced across the country. No one was permitted to drink alcohol, listen to music or host parties. As the women talked, I nodded with respect, trying not to remember our initial distress regarding the absence of music on our holiday. While my husband and I had managed to secure an occasional Piña Colada or Mojito, we had witnessed most of the nation of Cuba fall into a solemn introspection. In fact, the younger woman told me, one woman’s wedding celebration had been cancelled. But, tonight, it would end. Cubanos would resume ordinary life.
As I left the salon, Lydia offered a gift of an anklet that would tinkle as I walked. For your sexy legs. She laughed as I placed it my bag. I promised I would wear it. My red toes against the blue and white stripes of my thongs were like the Cuban flag.
I wanted to talk to Jorge, to examine his flock up close, but he had passed through a rickety fence of bamboo and chicken wire. I opened the gate and passed through into a network of cages. Each cage was hexagonal. A honeycomb of birds. Small, wooden feeders were freshly packed with dried corn kernels, and leaves of spinach and wild grasses festooned the wire walls. I recognised the black and white rooster. Pressing my face against the wire, I watched it strut the length of the enclosure. Scents of fresh sawdust and ammonia rose through the compound.
Jorge emerged from a shed at the back of the yard with a ball of twine in his hands; he was whistling. He nodded and approached as if it were perfectly natural to find a strange woman admiring his birds. He smiled and crooked his finger, motioning for me to follow him. I tried to talk, to explain myself, but he took my hand and whispered, Silencio. We toured each cage slowly, appraising each bird. There were fifteen in total. A range of younger and older roosters, all fierce in their beauty. Wild and primal. He pulled a pair of spurs from his pocket and opened my palm. They were tortoiseshell, crafted like small slivers of moon into a fine, deadly point. Jorge opened a cage and motioned to the bird’s leg, where its spur had been removed. Closing the door, he brandished the weapons and pretended to be a bird in conflict; they flashed in the sunlight. I remembered the Spanish word for knife, cuchillo, and felt it catch on my tongue.
We arrived at a clearing of sand circled by corrugations of iron. A gouged line marked the circumference of the arena. We train. I show you. Like boxers, they must learn to fight. Jorge wiped the sweat from his brow and a smell of tobacco drifted between us. He motioned for me to sit in the shade beneath a leafy banana tree, while he went to get his birds. He returned with a black rooster in a cage and another, mottled with brown, under his arm. First, he freed the black bird into the ring, then – retrieving the twine from his pocket – Jorge loosed a circlet of rope around the leg of the brown. Certain that he had my attention; Jorge grinned and set the second bird down.
Immediately, the two roosters flew at each other with their legs and claws extended. The black bird succeeded in pressuring the brown to the ground and the birds locked into an almost mechanised, circular dance. Whereby the wings of one would rise, the other would take turns to fall. Eventually, the fury and collision of wings and feathers dampened and became the sound of pillows plumped, or of sheets laid out on a bed.
Jorge reached into the fray and separated the birds. At first, he held the brown and crooned to it, patting its nape. He then thrust the bird outward. Caught between his hands, Jorge taunted the black rooster as the brown squawked and fretted, became agitated. He set the pair down again. This time, pulling back on the brown cock’s string. Thwarting its approach. The bird’s hackle feathers splayed like a mane. Again and again, he yanked the bird backward before it reached its target, its legs straining. Jorge patted his thigh, Los muslos, more big, can you see?
Later that evening, my husband and I entered a restaurant courtyard through a side gate and sat down at a table. Throughout the afternoon, we witnessed streams of people flowing to the next village. Vintage American cars and trucks beeping and playing loud music from stereos as they drove. Others rode carts, led by cattle or horses, carrying people and boxes of gaseosas and Cristal beer. My husband had wanted to know, Why aren’t we going? I had been unable to answer.
The waiter took our order, and we waited for the drinks to arrive. Four men with guitars, maracas and congas began to set up in the corner of the yard. They wore matching white Guayabera shirts and camel-coloured pants. Familiar Cuban rhythms settled and cooled like perspiration on the skin. Two, three, cha cha cha. I closed my eyes and saw the tumble and swirl of inky black and bronzed feathers rising before me, each flight a contest, a bolero with partners seduced by instinct and desperation. The waiter settled sweating glasses of beer between us. My husband took my hand, What did you see?
I saw birds spinning and fighting, locked together with their claws. I looked up and saw a sickle moon in the sky, pale and thin in the twilight. As the music drifted above us, I reached into my bag and fastened the anklet of bells to my heel. I lifted my skirt and began to dance. I saw my legs extend and arc like silver knives of light. My toes, bright flecks of blood, hammered into the dirt again and again, raising plumes of red dust in my wake.