BBC National Short Story Award Shortlist - Jonathan Buckley
I have the address, but it’s not necessary to know the number. Briar Road is a street of sixty houses, and I could have found the right one blindfolded. It emits a frequency that cannot be heard but can be felt; it has the aura of evidence. Most of the houses in this street are in need of some repair: paintwork, gnawed by the sea winds, is falling away; window frames are rotting. The house to which I have been called, however, shows no damage. Every sill gleams like milk. Rashes of rust have broken out on many of the cars that are parked on the road, but the car that’s parked on the drive here – a large German saloon – is showroom-immaculate, though far from new; the father’s van, parked in front of it, is in similar condition. The edge of the grass, where it borders the little flowerbed, is as straight as a line of light. I have seen the father’s business premises; other people in this part of town are struggling, but in this house there is money enough.
As was to be expected, it is the father who opens the door. The father was the one who read the statement to the press, and answered questions; the mother was in no state to talk. On television he looked like a man with whom you would not want to argue. In person he looks tougher: he is small and lean, and the rolled-up sleeves are tight on the disproportionate muscles; his gaze is confrontational and too steady; it would not surprise you to learn that he used to be a boxer. He has not shaved today; to the side of the chin, a complicated small scar is framed by the grey-flecked stubble. He looks at me as if I were selling something he would never want to buy, and is making it clear that he is not going to speak first. When I introduce myself, I manage four or five words before he interrupts. ‘Come in,’ he says, standing aside to let the intruder pass.
The atmosphere of the house is familiar: the air is becalmed; this is the stillness that follows calamity.
‘Through there,’ the father orders, jabbing a thumb. I step into the living room, where there is nobody. Every piece of furniture is aimed at the TV screen, which hangs on the chimneybreast, filling its whole width. Mitt-shaped armchairs, in caramel leather, flank a matching sofa. I am directed to one of them. Having dealt with me, the father steps back into the hallway and calls up the stairs for his wife. There is no need to do this. She knows I have arrived.
The seating is arranged symmetrically around a glass-topped coffee table, on which a newspaper is lying; there are no smears on the glass, and no dust; there’s no dust on any surface. The glass figurines and photographs arrayed on the cabinet are regularly spaced; the pictures are all angled in the same direction. A faint fume of polish is in the air, and the carpet has been freshened. There have been visits from family, neighbours, sympathisers, police and other intruders, but it does not feel as though the room has been prepared for the benefit of visitors. My feeling is that the house is always neat and clean, but is even more so now, partly because housework, of course, is something that may offer respite from thought, and partly because it is important for the family to control whatever can be controlled. A form of sympathetic magic is at work, it occurs to me, as I examine the room. If everything is done correctly, the greater order will be restored, and their daughter will be returned. And to surrender to disorder, to even the slightest degree, would be to surrender absolutely, to the worst.
Jonathan Buckley’s story Briar Road has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with Book Trust. The winner and runner-up announcement will be broadcast live from the Award ceremony on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm on Tuesday 6 October 2015.
Read the entire shortlist in the BBC National Short Story Award 2015 Collection.