BBC National Short Story Award: Jack Houston


28 September 2020
Every day this week, read an extract from one of the stories shortlisted for the BBC NSSA 2020

Come Down Heavy (Extract) - Jack Houston

& what happened was the breadknife’s serrations flashed in the fluorescent lighting of the Jobcentre Plus & the advisor’s routine smile fell from his face as Simone pulled with her teeth the elbow-length lace glove from her free arm & tried to flick it into the advisor’s face with a movement of her head but the glove only flapped & landed at the edge of his desk & slowly slipped down to disappear into his lap as Simone began to slash, slash, slash at her now bare arm; & as the computer monitor, keyboard, mouse-pad, mouse & countertop in front of her were flecked with small, dark beads of blood, the advisor squealed & pushed his chair back against the wall, raised his palms placatory toward Simone’s quiet growl, the quaver in his voice betraying the calmness with which he attempted to tell her to please not further hurt herself, do anything stupid, please stop; Jackie, caught in her new friend’s story, could picture easy the advisor’s need to urinate into his trousers, the blood drying dark on the desk, the screams of the other service-users as the security guards stomped across the worn & grey carpet towards them, the bearing with which Simone wore her black mini-dress & top hat, how she held the knife & yelled into the sparse atmosphere of the job centre; Luna, Jackie’s dog, came into the small kitchen, whined, turned on the spot & sat down by the door at the back of the room & Jackie stood to let her out onto the small section of roof the extended back room of the empty pub below them provided; I’d just had enough Simone said & smiled & seemed to expect applause &, receiving some in the way of Jackie’s impressed grin, said the two of them should hang out more.

& what happened was Jackie & Simone would take Luna to the small park by Haggerston Station with the overland trains smoothing in & out above their heads on the rails that ran high on the viaduct, a pile of feathers where a pigeon had been got by a fox, a handbag hung on railing, probably stolen by someone swift & moving through a local pub as Simone & Jackie bonded over a shared love of Neue Deutsche Härte music, other dog owners entering the park & Simone & Jackie watching, tensed, for the tetchiness that would likely explode from Luna at any moment as she circled the new dog just arrived; Simone mentioned she had a small one-bedroomed council flat, hers & in secure-tenancy, the block set back from Hackney Road on the Tower Hamlets side & Jackie could have the other bedroom, Simone already using & only needing the larger room, telling Jackie it would be better than there, flicking her eyes to the where the Belgrave Arms was sat at the other end of a side-street; & Simone asked what happened to your dog?

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The winner of the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on 6th October on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. The shortlist anthology is out now from Comma Press and the stories will be available to listen to on BBC Sounds.


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