The fifteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University revealed its shortlist on Friday 11 September, with stories exploring race, family politics, millennial relationships and inner-city life. Today we are sharing an extract from ‘In The Car With the Rain Coming Down’ by Jan Carson, winner of the EU Prize for Literature for Ireland 2019.
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.
“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.
This story is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 15 September; listen to it live at 3.30 p.m. or catch up online here. All of the shortlisted stories are available in an anthology published by Comma Press, out now. The winner of the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on Tuesday 6 October in a special short story edition of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row.