BBC National Short Story Award: Jan Carson


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

In The Car With the Rain Coming Down (Extract) - Jan Carson

There’s a stand-off in the front yard. No significant progress can be made until the men decide who’s driving. It’s the same every time we go anywhere together.

There are six cars in the yard. To say they’ve been parked would be giving the drivers too much credit. They look as if they’ve been dropped from a great height and have come to rest at outlandish angles, sniffing each other’s bumpers like a pack of frisky dogs. The men are debating which cars will be required today. They’ve ruled out Matty’s wee Nova. He’s taken the backseat out for transporting feed. The whole car stinks of sheep and teenage boy. You wouldn’t want to be cooped up in it; not in this clammy heat. The Escort’s out too. It’s filthy with dog hair. William, my father-in-law, keeps it for his collies. He’s never once thought of cleaning it out. Sure, what would be the point? This leaves four cars in the running: Brian’s big Audi, our -more modest- Audi, Cathy’s Golf and the Peugeot 407 William keeps for driving Susan to church on Sundays. It will require two cars to transport us all. We are nine these days; soon to be ten. Next time we head out together we might need a third car. Baby seats take up a lot of space.

The men have distanced themselves from the women. They have their hands in their pockets, jiggling keys. They’re not looking at each other. They are intentional about this. William has a suit jacket on, a dress shirt and tie. I recognise this get up. He used to wear it to church a few years back. It has seen better days. The elbows are shiny from being leant on. There’s a button missing from the cuff. It’s still too formal for a day like today. He’ll be sweltered. He won’t be able to kick football with the boys. The boys have made no such effort. Buff and Brian are in t-shirts and tracksuit bottoms. Matty’s wearing a pair of shorts, a branded polo and hoodie, knotted loosely round his shoulders. He’s taken to wearing his shirt collar up, copying the lads at the Rugby Club. He’s the youngest; the only one still living at home. Surrounded by his sons, in their trainers, William looks stiff and faded, like a man lifted from another time.

William insists he will drive. Brian is equally insistent that he won’t.

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“It’s your birthday, Dad,” he says. “Let us chauffeur you about for a change.”

Young William, (or Buff, as we call him), says, “I don’t mind driving either.”

He says this so quietly nobody hears. I hear. He’s my husband. I’m used to him. Even so, I miss half the things he says. Buff’s a wild mumbler. Susan once told me he had a speech impediment when he was younger. He’s never told me this himself. That’s not to say it isn’t true. There are lots of things Buff doesn’t tell me. He’s not having affairs or gambling or anything like that. It’s the embarrassing things he keeps to himself. Diarrhoea. Parking tickets. The time he tripped over the entrance mat in Tesco’s and fell into a stack of cereal packets. I only heard about that because Jill next door was coming through the door behind him.

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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