18 September 2017
Each day this week, read an extract from the stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award
by Ben Markovits
There were two great storms that summer. The first came off the Sound and bullied inland up the highways, till the cars pushing through it rattled like fan belts. It knocked the Rooster sign loose at Rooster’s Liquor on the corner of route 16. It cracked one of the panes in Robin Bright’s front door and broke in halves the holly trees outside his breakfast window.
The morning after, in heavy uncertain sunshine, his wife took an axe to the stumps just below the splits. (It always shamed him that she was better with her hands than he.) They fell creaking and dragging over an oleanthus bush. Later in the afternoon, she fashioned a board out of yew and nailed it to the tops of the stumps to make a bench. It struck him as cruel, how quickly she accepted the death of the hollies. She said the trees cut out the light anyway. She was glad to see them go.
Every dry morning that summer she sat out on what he called the breakfast bench to drink her coffee. In the summers the oaks filled their arms with green and you could only just hear the traffic on route 16 and see the empty parking lot outside Rooster’s. The second storm ushered in the first of fall and blew down from Canada in a cold clear hurry of leaves and clouds. His wife was out driving when the brunt of it hit and all they ever found was the empty Buick, tumbled into a gorge, and lifted from time to time in the uneven floods.
He didn’t believe she was dead for weeks. The fact is, he couldn’t account for her arrival when she came. And he couldn’t account for her going when she left. But he attributed the same mystery to both. The mystery of her will, whatever it was that made her first desire him and later run out of that desire, and go. They never found the body. The gorge, dry most of the summer, had filled and flowed all the way into the Connecticut River at Killingsfield—which afterwards ran out into the Sound again, and into the sea. Five people died on the roads that night. But the other four bodies were found, and Robin only believed she was dead when it struck him as easier that way, and simpler to mourn.
Robin inherited the house when his aunt died. Or rather, inherited the money for it. He was in his second year of law school at Y—, which he cared for little enough. But when the money fell into his lap he had no plans of dropping out.
The only thing he did care much for was collecting. He collected everything. Rocks, of course, when he was a boy, for starters. He gathered them in his mother’s old tin of Twinings Lady Grey. Later, books, new and old, hip flasks, watches, stamps. He bought his first car the summer after his freshman year in college when he picked up a plate of Penny Reds. He found a hanging elbow the dealer hadn’t seen and sold it on to a sharper dealer for an extra five grand. So he bought the Buick.
Tune in to BBC Radio 4's Front Row at 3.30pm each day this week to hear one of the shortlisted stories.
The BBC National Short Story Award 2017 Anthology is published by Comma Press, price £7.99 paperback
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