First Place: Popman’s bin by Maria Thomas


I hear ‘im before ‘e arrives on the street, bottles rattling together like bones. Mam’s in the kitchen holding onto a cuppa tea like it’s a life raft, eyes sore and swollen as lemons with all the cryin’. She kicked Sammy out last night – caught ‘im spyin’ on Kel as she got ready fer swimming. He’s allus bin a bit of a creep ‘as Sammy – mi other sister said she’d caught ‘im lookin’ at ‘er when Mam wasn’t there. She threatened to kick ‘im in the balls – no-one messes with our Kat.

Anyhow I can hear Popman rattling through the estate, and I’ve got mi clean bottles ready to swap for pennies and I’m looking forrad to a cool glass of lemonade with the chippy tea Mam’s promised. And I’m gonna gi‘er a few of mi pennies, just to show I appreciates ‘er, just to show I loves ‘er.

Dandelion and Burdock

Mam’s at kitchen table when I gets in from school, hands around a mug of summat that I’m pretty sure isn’t tea. These days she allus looks knackered. Since Sammy went she doesn’t sleep and ‘er eyes look like maw of a grave – like mi Dad’s afore they lowered ‘im into it. I gies ‘er a cuddle that slides off ‘er like rain, and I just wants to know, just to know ‘ow to mek ‘er better. ‘Ow to mek ‘er the Mam she was afore our Mickey were born cold, afore Dad took ’is own life and left ‘er to deal with me and Kel and Kat by ‘erself. Afore Sammy come and med things better, and then worse.

Popman’s bin and I get meself a glass of D&B and I remember our Kat once rubbing burdock onto a patch of nettle stings on mi ankle, remember it soothing and cooling, calming the angry red rash, and I pour mi Mam a glass and leave it by her hand and cross mi fingers that she might drink it, that it might help.

American Cream Soda

Today were a good day. Today we ‘ad mi ole Mam back. I gets in from school and she’s mekin dinner – fishie fingers as crispy as yer like, and them chips yer put in oven – a bit soggy but we don’t bother – and mushy peas that mek kitchen smell of farts and we mek Mam laugh rasping with our lips on ‘er neck and ‘er arms as she’s tryna get stuff done.

Popman’s bin and she’s got these big ole pint glasses which she fills with American Cream Soda, then she scoops a perfect egg shape out of a big tub of vanilla and drops it in the glass. Pop sizzles and bubbles like sea at bottom of cliffs, and the icecream pops back up and floats like an island, like Kelham Island mebbes. She slips in stripey straws, and we suck and suck and suck, and it’s like drinking candy floss, like drinking the happiest memory you ever had.


It were our Kat that found ‘er. Sitting at kitchen table like allus, smell of marzipan fillin’ room, smell of marzipan and vodka and an empty bottle of pills reght next to ‘er hand. She’d bin taken away by time me and Kel got in and there’s all these uniform types millin’ around the place. Our Kat’s 18, old enough to tek us on, but she looks scared and sad and small. She looks just like mi Mam.

Popman’s bin and there’s a fresh bottle of Cherryade on side waiting for us, like Mam thought we might want a bit of pop with our death in the afternoon. There’s a small pile of coins beside it – pennies and tuppence mostly, the odd five pee – and I slip ‘em into mi pocket as if they might help, as if they might mek things better.

The author’s distinctive voice imbues the work with a sense of originality. The use of drinks as symbolism and the exploration of memory as a theme are particularly noteworthy and brilliantly crafted.

Mustapha Enesi

The sickly sweet taste and corrosive of soda pop is the backdrop and innovative structure to a tragic family story beautiful told in poetic language; lines such as “a perfect egg shape out of a big tub of vanilla” blew us away making this story a clear and deserving winner. 

Camilla Grudova

Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two. She has work in various publications and was shortlisted in the 2022 Oxford Flash Fiction competition and a finalist in the London Independent Story Prize (LISP) 2022. Maria won Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro competition, was a runner up in their AMOK themed quarterly flash comp, and took second place in Propelling Pencil 2022.

She can be found on Twitter as @AppleWriter.

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