Against the backdrop of war, a group of children barricade themselves in an abandoned townhouse, cherishing what’s left of their innocence with the help of a dressing-up box…
A deep-sea diver takes to being suspended for hours at a time on the end of a line not long enough to reach the seabed…
An aging widower moves into the shed at the end of his garden to plan out his ‘endgame’ surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of hoarded curiosities…
The characters in David Constantine’s fifth collection are all in pursuit of sanctuary; the violence and mendacity of the outside world presses in from all sides – be it the ritualised brutality suffered by children at a Catholic orphanage, or the harrowing videos shared among refugees of an atrocity ‘back home’. In each case, the characters withdraw into themselves, sometimes abandoning language altogether, until something breaks and they can retreat no further. In Constantine’s luminous prose, these stories capture such moments in all their clarity; moments when an entire life seems to hang in the balance, the past’s betrayals exposed, its ghosts dragged out into the daylight; moments in which the possibility of defiance and redemption is everything.
Born in Salford, David Constantine has published several volumes of poetry, and two novels (most recently The Life-Writer) as well as four previous short story collections: Back at the Spike (1994), the highly acclaimed Under the Dam (2005), The Shieling (2009) and Tea at the Midland (2012), which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2013. David’s story ‘Tea at the Midland’ won the 2010 National Short Story Award, and his story ‘In Another Country’ was adapted into 45 Years – an Oscar-nominated film, directed by Andrew Haigh and starring Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling. With his wife Helen, David edited Modern Poetry in Translation for many years. He is also translator of Hölderlin, Brecht, Goethe, Kleist, Michaux and Jaccottet. He lives in Oxford.
Read: Asylum, Short Story Project
Prompt: Remove three items from your handbag. Begin by describing the items and then think about what they say about the person who owns them.