BBC National Short Story Award Shortlist - Mark Haddon
He loved Mars Bars and Kit-Kats. He loved Double Deckers and Galaxy Caramels and Yorkies. He loved Reece’s Pieces and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. He could eat a whole box of Quality Street in one sitting and had done so on several occasions, perhaps more than several. He loved white chocolate. He was not particularly keen on Maltesers, Wispas and Crunchies which were airy and insubstantial, though he wouldn’t turn his nose up at any of them if they were on offer. He disliked boiled and gummy sweets. He loved chocolate digestives. He loved Oreos and chocolate Bourbons. He loved coconut macaroons and Scottish shortbread. He would never buy a cereal bar but a moist, chunky flapjack was one of the most irresistible foods on the planet.
He loved thick, sweet custard. He loved Frosties and Weetabix with several dessertspoons of sugar. He loved chunks of cheese broken from a block in the fridge, Red Leicester preferably or cheap, rubbery mozzarella. He loved Yazoo banana milk, the stuff you got from garages and service stations in squat plastic bottles with foil seals under chunky screw-tops. He could eat a litre tub of yoghurt if he added brown sugar or maple syrup.
He loved hot dogs and burgers, escpecially with tomato ketchup in a soft white bun thickly spread with butter. He loved battered cod and chips with salt and no vinegar. He loved roast chicken, he loved bacon, he loved steak. He loved every flavour of ice cream he had ever sampled – rum and raisin, Dime bar crunch, peanut butter, tiramisu…
At least he used to love these things. His eating was now largely mechanical and joyless. It was the sugar and the fat he needed, though it gave him little pleasure. More often than not it made the cravings worse. He hated people using the phrase ‘comfort eating’. He had not been comfortable for a very long time, except sometimes in dreams where he ran and swam, and from which he sometimes woke up weeping.
He was twenty-eight years old and weighed thirty stone.
There was a creased and sun-bleached photograph of him at nine, standing in the corridor outside the Burnside flat wearing his new uniform for the first day at St Jude’s. His mother had run back inside at the last minute to get the camera, as if she feared he might not be coming home again and wanted a memento, or a picture to give to the police. He was wearing grey flannel shorts and a sky blue Aertex shirt. He could still smell the damp, fungal carpet and hear the coo and clatter of the pigeons on the window ledge. He remembered how overweight he felt, even then. Whenever he looked at the photo, however, his first thought was what a beautiful boy he had been. So he stopped looking at the photo. He dared not tear it up for fear of invoking some terrible voodoo. Instead he asked one of his care assistants to put it on top of a cupboard where he couldn’t reach it.
Three weeks before his tenth birthday his father disappeared overnight to live in Manchester with a woman whose name Bunny was never allowed to know. At supper he was there, by breakfast he was gone. His mother was a different person afterwards, more brittle, less kind. Bunny believed that she blamed him for his father’s departure. It seemed entirely possible. His father played cricket. As a young man he’d had a trial for Gloucestershire. He was very much not the parent of an overweight, unathletic child.
To Bunny’s surprise he wasn’t bullied at St Jude’s. Mostly the other children ignored him, understanding perhaps that isolation was both the cruellest and the easiest punishment they could inflict. His friend Karl said, “I’m sorry. I can only talk to you outside school.” Karl was a wedding photographer now and lived in Derby.
Bunny had kissed three girls. The first was drunk, the second, he learnt later, had lost a bet. The third, Emma Cullen, let him put his hand inside her knickers. He didn’t wash it for a week. But she was chubby and he was aroused and disgusted and utterly aware of his own hypocrisy and the tangle in his head when he was with her was more painful than the longing when he wasn’t, so he cold-shouldered her until she walked away.
Mark Haddon's story Bunny 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.