WINNER of the prize for WRITER WITH A DISABILITY OR CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITION (THE WELKIN WRITING PRIZE 2023)
The Troll Was a Woman All Along
by Ali McGrane
And after a couple of centuries stuffed under a low bridge, she’s on the move. Looking for headroom. Relief from the crick in her neck. Somewhere to unfold. Thinks she’s found it in this lighthouse, rising tall from the cliff.
But it’s lined with its own stuffing, a dizzying wonder-winder, cold stone, not light at all.
She climbs to break free of the weight, up and around, heaving her aches skyward. Her troll-mutters raise echoes in the narrowing tower. At a slit window with a view of the horizon, the earth’s curve made straight, she presses her face to the gap where the ocean’s morning breath snags a song that moans in her belly, in the empty mounds of her breasts.
She turns back to the stairs.
This tower seems taller on the inside. She fears its magic, fears her climb may never end. On all fours she gropes and scrabbles. Woodlice skitter. A black story spider spins a web in her hair, baby fingers stroking. She pushes and pushes, and bursts out of, and into.
Slow as the winking lamp, she uncurls. She can see it all. Caught in the beam, in the dark. Found and lost. Lost and found.
After a time, an age, an aeon, she tips the memory bag from her back. The contents spill, and she bathes her feet in the warm pools, dips her fingers in the sorrowing streams. She spreads her arms wide, and the glass walls are beyond reach. She stretches her arms above her head as far as they will go, and they touch only air.
Ali McGrane lives between the sea and the moor in the south west UK. She has stories in Splonk, Fictive Dream, Ellipsis Zine, Gone Lawn and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net and Best Microfictions. Her novella-in-flash, The Listening Project (Ad Hoc Fiction 2021), received a special mention in the 2022 Saboteur Awards. Find her @Ali_McGrane_UK and alimcgrane.com
I love how this piece hurtles straight into its first sentence and how it ebbs and flows from there. The writing is wonderfully playful throughout – the tower described as “a dizzying wonder-winder”, the mirroring of “Found and lost. Lost and found” – and there is a brilliant attention to tempo and rhythm, especially in that hurtling sentence that starts “At a slit window” and in the one-sentence paragraph “Light” around which the story turns.