Competition Shortlist – Short Fiction: ‘Idle Tuesdays’ by Ben Halls

Creative WorksThis week we have the second story from the Short Fiction Shortlist from our 2015 Creative Writing Competition, ‘Idle Tuesdays’ by Ben Halls.

We found this story engaging from start to finish, and thought that it stood out particularly in the way in which it plays with narrative structure.

Once again, our judge’s comments can be found at the conclusion of the piece.

Idle Tuesdays

The news report is given as traffic, not tragedy; a disinterested tone masquerading as solemn. “The southbound carriageway of the M25 was closed for two hours this afternoon following a fatal collision between a car and a lorry,” she says, her weary eyes playing a poor role in looking serious. It’s been a long day in the newsroom and this is the last broadcast of the evening. She knows just how few people would still be tuned in; it wouldn’t matter if she tuned out.

“The driver of the lorry was treated for shock on the scene, while the driver of the car was airlifted to Wexham Park Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The next of kin have been informed.”

She’d promised herself she wasn’t going to stop at M&S on the way home. She has food in the freezer, and doesn’t need the wine. But she also knows she’ll walk past it from the bus stop. After a beat she moves onto the next story and smiles; a lighter piece about a new wetlands project in central London to improve bird numbers. It’s run twice already today, and she uses the vocal beats of the chirpy reporter as a countdown until she gets to leave.

Jane Boylan does not hear the news report. She’s sitting upstairs on the bed she shared with her husband, rigid and staring through bloodshot eyes at the hairbrush left carelessly on the dresser. The family support officer is holding her hand, but it’s an impotent gesture. Nothing is getting through, her mind seized up thinking of memories, and trying to process that no more will be shared with her husband again.

From downstairs, she can hear the sounds of her two children watching Frozen with her mother. Occasionally she hears her youngest, five-year-old Jamie, telling his grandmother that this is the latest he’s ever stayed up, and how he knows he’s a big kid now because his bedtime is now so late. His grandmother shushes him. Jane’s eldest, seven-year-old Kate, is too old to blindly accept that her mother has to innocently speak to the police officer, and is heard asking where her dad is. No response is given aside from Kate being asked to watch the film.

The support officer tells Jane that she needs to go downstairs and tell them, that children are resilient and often more full of curiosity than abject grief, but Jane shakes her head viciously from side to side. Her eyes remain harshly focussed on the hairbrush.

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