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A Little Like Hope by Jason Jackson


Grief can be a difficult thing to write about well. It’s often, sadly, too familiar to the reader. We have heard it described in a similar way many times before. It can be too sentimental and saccharine, with characters becoming better versions of the selves they were before death. Writing about grief can often hit the right buttons in the reader—a relatively easy thing to do—but in an unearned fashion.

“A Little Like Hope,” by Jason Jackson, is a story about grief, but it comes at the topic in a different and unique way. Jackson uses dialogue as the primary craft element in the story—the comfortable dialogue of a married couple—to both explore their relationship and to develop each character. Dialogue is also something that’s incredibly difficult to do well, but Jackson manages, in under 800 words, to show us these characters and their relationship in detail. The grief that’s shown here is real and true and universal. The final line will stay with you, long after you’ve read this beautiful story.


O was twenty-nine when he died, and now he lives in my head. He says it’s like swimming. He can’t breathe.

“You don’t have to,” I say. “You’re dead.”

But he just sighs. At first, there was a lot of shouting, but now he’s usually quiet, and there’s just his heavy silence.

Sometimes I think he might have died all over again.

O was my husband, and we did everything together. Apart from die. I don’t think he’s forgiven me for that.

“Is that why you’re in my head?” I ask him. “To make me feel guilty?”

Do you feel guilty, Rachel?” he says, but he already knows.

O didn’t die cycling, although I often used to think that he would. He always wore a helmet-cam, and he’d play back his journeys on the computer.

“Idiots,” he’d say, watching as another car missed him by millimeters.

I wanted to tell him that he was the idiot for cycling when he knew how much it frightened me.

I hated him for that.

And now he knows.

“I can see all of your secrets,” he says.

This is something they don’t tell you at bereavement counselling.

“I don’t have any secrets,” I say, pointlessly.

He just laughs. It’s not a nice sound.

“You’ve changed,” I say.

“I died,” he says.

This time the silence lasts all day.

Most days, I still look at photos. O never knew how to stand in front of a camera. He’d cock his head too far to the right, or he’d slump one shoulder too far down in an attempt at nonchalance. I used to make fun of him about it.

“Christ, I look like a prick,” he says.

But I’m crying too much to answer.

Sometimes, in the morning, I wake up and my fists are clenched, my teeth too.

“You’re like a snare drum,” he says. “You need someone to hit you.”

I don’t say anything.

“Sorry,” he says.

“Now who feels guilty?” I say.

It only happened once. Before we were married. We were travelling, six months. For two days we’d waited for a bus, and then it was cancelled again. It was the kind of heat that can turn you into someone different for a while.

It doesn’t matter what I said to him that day to make him, although he still thinks it does, and it wasn’t just a slap.

A slap is an open hand.

“What do you want me to call it?” he says now, in that voice.

Another secret: sometimes I’m glad O died.

Once, in Lima, we saw a village built on a huge rubbish tip. The waste spread for miles. There was a storm of birds, wooden shacks made of weathered planks, and crouching people, picking and scraping at the expanding outskirts of the dump.

There was a smell I will always smell.

“Our lives were built on mistrust and deceit,” he says.

“Dying has made you really pretentious,” I say.

I can feel him smiling. He says, “We argue as much now I’m dead as we did when I was alive.”

That’s something else they don’t tell you at bereavement counselling.

We were flying back into Heathrow at night, and he was looking down at the lights. I could see past him, out of the window. Illuminated jigsaw pieces of the city. Green, red, blue, orange and white.

“Everything we’ve seen,” he said. “Nothing’s like home.”

It was when I knew.

Better or worse. Richer, poorer.

But no one tells you about when they go too soon.

O died when something in his blood stopped working the way it should. It has a name, this thing that killed him, and sometimes he says it in my head, over and over, a mantra, or a prayer.

“Stop it,” I say. “Stop stop stop…”

“Did you love me?” he says.

“I thought you knew all my secrets?”

He doesn’t say anything, and then later, when I’m trying to sleep, I think he’s gone because I can’t feel him at all, I can’t hear him, and I think about what he said about swimming, and I think he might have got lost or drowned or something horrible, and I get out of bed and I say to the darkness of our bedroom, my bedroom, “Where are you?”

There’s a moment that’s full of something like fear but a little like hope until he says, “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”


JASON JACKSON’s prize-winning writing has been published extensively online and in print. So far in 2018 Jason has won the Writers Bureau competition, come second (for the second year running) in the Exeter Short Story competition, been runner-up in the Frome Short Story competition and had work short-listed at the Leicester Writes competition. His work has also appeared this year at New Flash Fiction Review and Fictive Dream. In 2017 he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Jason regularly performs his fiction around the south-west of the UK. He tweets @jj_fiction

Author’s Note

Where Stories Come From: Dreams, Notebooks and Fear.

I want to write about where stories come from. Or, at least, where the bits that make up stories can come from. As writers we’re constantly faced with a blank page. Filling it is the thing.

This story originated in a dream. A good friend of mine died, and for a while I dreamt about him a lot. One morning I woke from a dream and wrote a 3000-word story which told exactly the dream-as-dreamt. It didn’t make for great reading. But the first line, the first thing I wrote down in my notebook on waking, was “O died, and now he lives in my head.” Dreams are useful as a source of inspiration, and I’m sure this will not come as news to you. But I’d steer clear of using them in their entirety. Like life, they usually make little sense.

This brings me to notebooks. Most of this story comes from mine. I jotted down “helmet cam” after a conversation with a mate who’d suffered a bad cycling injury. “Heat turns you into someone different,” was overheard in a conversation. I saw a television news item about a village built on a rubbish tip, and I jotted it down. “Illuminated jigsaw pieces” and “something in his blood stopped working” were phrases I wrote in my notebook after a plane journey and while thinking about my father respectively. “Look like a prick in photos,” was also in the notebook. It’s from cringing at photographs of myself.

As I was writing this story, I had my notebook to hand. I tend to write in fragments, so when I want to know where a story needs to go, I flick through the notebook and a phrase will select itself for me to use. In this way, the story is built up.

When I started the story, all I had was the first line and the idea of writing about grief. I built it up by listening to the characters speak in my head (they really do this, don’t they?) and using my notebooks for building blocks when I was stuck. When the deceased character in the story said the line (in my head) “You’re like a snare drum,” I almost deleted it as too clichéd, but on the back of it followed immediately the “you need someone to hit you” line.

That was when I knew I really had a story.

It concerned me. A man writing in the voice of a bereaved woman, one who has suffered (at least once) physical violence at the hands of a partner. But I believe we should write wherever our words take us, and the authenticity of the story can be judged on the story itself. I hope it works. I believe it does. And the fact that it frightened me to write this story, and that every time I read it back it frightens me anew, means that it is absolutely the story I needed to write.


JASON JACKSON’s prize-winning writing has been published extensively online and in print. So far in 2018 Jason has won the Writers Bureau competition, come second (for the second year running) in the Exeter Short Story competition, been runner-up in the Frome Short Story competition and had work short-listed at the Leicester Writes competition. His work has also appeared this year at New Flash Fiction Review and Fictive Dream. In 2017 he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Jason regularly performs his fiction around the south-west of the UK. He tweets @jj_fiction