The winner of the Off The Shelf literary festival’s short story competition has been revealed as Natalie Wu. Her piece, called Euphoria, is printed here for Sheffield Telegraph readers. “Barb”, a muffled voice seeps up through the tiles. I remove my hands from the sink of soapy water and dry them slowly on a worn tea towel featuring scenes from the Norfolk Broads; a memento from our honeymoon and the only time we ever made it out of Sheffield.
"Barb?" A louder, more urgent yell. "Coming," I respond in a weary whisper.
I pad over to the cellar door in moccasined feet and head down the cool stone steps. The walls have been tanked and painted a crisp white. It cost almost two grand. We could have gone to Hawaii.
I don’t come down here often; Derek gets rather territorial over his man cave. He's more than welcome to it. It smells funny, like meat and potato farts. I'd much rather sit upstairs.
The cellar walls are lined with shelves displaying row upon row of scale models; not children’s ones but the kind that require infinite patience and a steady hand. I walk soundlessly past them; a Supermarine Spitfire, a Soviet T-34 tank, an Aston Martin V12 in midnight blue, a 14 inch replica of the Cutty Sark. I confess I don't understand his obsession. I prefer a commemorative plate myself.
At the far wall a squat figure hunches over a desk muttering inaudible curses under his breath. To his left sits a box for a Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4, to his right a fine-tipped modeller’s brush and a small tube of glue.
"BARBARA?" He screeches this time, glaring impatiently up at the ceiling. I notice the deep reddening of his shiny bald pate. There's something obscene about it. It reminds me of a dog's privates. I clear my throat to stifle a giggle as Derek turns to face me.
"I need some Goldman's." "Goldman's?" I mutter indifferently, testing the point of Concorde’s nose against my finger tip.
"Yes, woman. The stalk for the left wing mirror's cracked and this kit glue won't hold. The surface area's not big enough." He waves his hand dismissively at the glue.
"Goldman's?" I mutter again. "Yes! I just bloody told you."
He storms over, slaps my hand away from his beloved model and thrusts two tiny plastic fragments up into my face. I'm having trouble even seeing them without my glasses. I squint as he joins them together and pulls them apart again emphatically to demonstrate the crack.
"I haven't paid £195.99 for a Lamborghini Aventador with a broken wing mirror. Come on Barbara, before it gets dark." £195.99! We could have gone to Blackpool at least.
I wonder where he’s taking me as I squash myself into the passenger side of our clapped out Fiesta. That flipping model shop in Attercliffe? For the amount of money he’s spent there we could have gone all the way to Australia... twice. I notice that we don’t seem to be going quite the usual way but I dare not mention it. Unexpectedly he pulls over in a derelict car park and marches off down the tow path along the Sheffield and Tinsley canal. I skulk along several paces behind until he stops abruptly at a scrappy blackberry bush and delves in headfirst. I let out a startled cry.
"Derek! What in God’s name are you doing?" He ignores my question and begins tossing metal detritus at my feet; a rusting can of WD40, a Lynx spray deodorant, a Swan lighter fluid canister. He pauses for a moment to admonish me.
"Well, the least you could do is help, woman!"
Help how? I wonder. Is there some kind of mental health crisis team I could call? I stare glumly at a partially submerged shopping trolley, unsure what to do. An empty bottle of Henderson’s Relish clips my ankle and I look up irritably to see a toned and perky figure approaching at speed, dragged along by three strapping canines. To my abject horror I realise it's Dog Walker Dylis from yoga.
My shame is so great that for a moment I consider jumping into the canal. They say it’s rather pleasant – drowning – that it induces a sense of euphoria. Sadly, I doubt that it’s deep enough. Dog Walker Dylis is so close now that I can see her sapphire eyeshadow twinkling; sandwiched between her disapproving, over-plucked eye brows and mascara-caked lashes.
I fight the urge to fold my stooped and clumsy frame into a tight ball like a hedgehog. I force myself to stand tall and proud as though everything is normal... well, normal for Sheffield. As Dylis passes she offers nothing more than a superior grin and I deflate gratefully; it hurts to stand straight. The yoga doesn't seem to be helping. I don't think I'll bother going back.
I flinch involuntarily as Derek lets out a high-pitched squeal of delight. I turn to face him, crouched before me, wild eyed and covered in scratches; thin trails of bloody beads across his cheeks and arms. He holds aloft a battered amber tin with red and black twirling typography.
"Goldman's Glue." He beams jubilantly.
Back in the cellar, he uses his fine modeller’s brush to extract a tiny globule from the tin as I stand lamely behind him.
"How did you know that you’d find a tin of Goldman's by the canal?" I ask. "Glue sniffers, love," he replies jovially. "They only sniff the good stuff."
Derek’s brow furrows and his tongue protrudes in concentration as he holds the fragments of wing mirror together. I reach across and open the tin. The milky liquid is viscous like honey. I inhale gingerly; the reek of the glue masks the stale meaty smell of the cellar. I put the pot closer to my
face and take a deeper breath. My vision blurs and Derek's shiny bald pate fades before me. I shove my face right into the tin and take a good hearty lungful. Much to my delight Derek disappears completely. Before me I see only a multitude of twinkling sapphire stars and I feel... euphoric.