[EVEN MORE HYSTERICAL UPDATE: Eeeeeeek, it won!]
Those good people at Galley Beggar Press (you know, the same ones who took a chance on A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing) have been doing their level best of late to bring back the golden era of the short story. I'm a member of their Singles Club, which sends a toasty new story to your inbox every month in return for pennies. What's not to love?
Now, they're releasing each of the eleven longlisted stories for their Short Story Prize as an exquisite little e-book. I was honoured to make the list, and just look at how beautifully it has been done:
(Yours for just £1, or less than a cup of tea)
Here is the opening page:
Jacob Henry wakes before first light on the morning of the burn. In the darkened hallway his father is shuffling blindly, knocking against the carved hatstand and its many cruel, waiting legs. Jacob has been dreaming of water, or a dry lake, and something swift – a sharpened line of birds, a sudden arrowing – passing over. It slips from him even as he reaches for it.
In the hallway there is the trembling of glassware, the soft thock of a limb against hardwood. ‘What for?’ Liesl says beside him in a clear voice. The thinning braid of his wife’s hair slides across the pillow and then is still.
Water, Jacob decides. The dream had been of water, stretching glassy and thin to the horizon. In this part of the Cape there is no such sight.
He pulls the counterpane from the bed and hangs it about his shoulders, the cotton soft from use. Liesl had worked it during a long winter pregnancy in the first years of their marriage – on Benjamin, he thinks, but cannot be sure. The winters had been harder then. But also easier.
In the doorway, Jacob pauses. His father is quarrelling with the hatstand. Jacob can hear the words now – fokkenfokkenfokken – quiet and venomous. They are not coming from the man but from somewhere else.
‘Pa,’ Jacob says, standing chilled in his underclothes. He pulls the counterpane closer.
‘Carrying on! All hours… dare they!’
‘Pa,’ Jacob tries again. ‘Harold.’
His father turns, a thread of saliva hanging from his chin. ‘I won’t be forced out! They’ll never – keep it tight!’
‘Outrage! Stinking creeping!’
His father blinks, unsure. He takes a step toward Jacob. ‘It’s out, Danny? You’re sure?’
Danny is not here, in this house. He has not been for thirty years, but Jacob says only, ‘All out.’ He puts a hand to the small of his father’s back and feels Harold tense against him, then relax. A faint trembling comes through his palm. ‘Come, pa. Come on back.’
‘Boss Jacob?’ says a soft voice in the dark. Fortunate, the housemaid, has entered unheard.
‘We’re fine,’ Jacob says. ‘Aren’t we, pa?’
His father turns sly then, one hand reaching for Jacob. ‘Fine, fine.’ Fortunate turns heavily on her broken-down ankles, back into the dark. Only then does Harold let himself be led to his room, where the rank stench of urine waits, heavy and acrid. Jacob seats him in the yellowwood nursing chair that had formed part of his mother’s dowry and begins to strip the sheets, saying over and over, in a low voice, not to worry, now, not to worry.
I am making my way through all eleven stories, over coffee and chocolate in bed - delicious. You can browse below for some tasty morning reading: