Join our amazing community of book lovers and get the latest stories doing the rounds.

We respect your privacy and promise no spam. We’ll send you occasional writing tips and advice. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Short Story Contest 2020-21

Being Bob

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

The Oscar-winning, BAFTA-nominated international actor, Haydende Merle sprinted through the foyer of the BBC’s Broadcasting House, and out into the morning sunshine of London’s Portland Street, leaving a trail of open-mouthed security guards (‘Sir! Your name tag if you please!’), a harassed receptionist (‘I don’t care who he is, get that TAG!), and an adoring window cleaner (‘Loved your last film!’ ‘Cheers mate! Here’s a tag! It’s signed!’). Hayden knew where his car would be waiting. The space had been reserved with orange bollards outside a foreign embassy. He yanked open the driver’s door.

‘Bob, would you mind getting out?’Hayden was trying to sound calm. Any minute now, his publicist would be sprinting across the courtyard, so there wasn’t much time.

Bob was a good-natured kind of guy and clambered out.

‘Problem, sir?’

‘Not any more. Where’s the central locking on this thing?’

Sure enough, in the distance, Hayden could hear the sound of expensive leather soles belting towards them.

‘Here, sir.’ Bob pointed to a button inside the door.

‘And the windows?’

Bob pointed to some other controls.

Hayden jumped in and locked the doors. ‘Thank you.’Bob was starting to look worried. ‘Don’t worry!’ Hayden raised his voice so he could be heard through the window. ‘I’ll look after it!’ He started up the engine.

Matthew Thorneycroft’s finely trimmed beard appeared in minute detail pressed up against the driver’s window. ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m going for a drive.’Hayden smiled and reached up to adjust the rear-view mirror.

‘But the programme’s about to start!’

Hayden pressed the button for the electric window so that it moved down a couple of inches. ‘Bob? Would you mind moving that traffic cone, please?’

Bob moved towards the cone.

‘No! Don’t you dare touch it!’ screamed Matt. ‘You can’t just drive off! You’ve agreed to appear on the programme! We’ve been working on this for months!’

The ‘this’ that Matthew was referring to was Hayden’s carefully managed withdrawal from the thespian world. Hayden ignored Matt and smiled at Bob.

‘The bollard, there’s a good chap.’

‘Hayden, what’s got in to you? They’re going to be seriously pissed off. This could be really bad for you. We need to curate the next few months very carefully.’

That word again.

‘Matt, could you use language I understand? Curate? Isn’t that what you do to things in a museum?’

‘Open the bloody door!’

Hayden tried to figure out how to set the satnav. Pressing something on the display, a series of maps appeared.‘Please make a U-turn. Please make a U-turn,’ said a woman with a bossy accent.

‘Oh, keep your pants on.’ He gave up on the satnav and turned his attention toward the buttons on the door, adjusting the height and angle of the wing mirrors. There was a heated discussion outside the car regarding thetraffic cone. Then,Matthew was at the window again,clinging to the top of it, his fingers extending like some hungry squid into the space next to Hayden’s forehead.

‘Hayden, mate. Come back in. Do the programme. We’ll talk about whatever it is that’s bothering you once it’s done. We can make whatever changes you like. I promise.’

Matthew had come to some agreement with the driver regarding the traffic cone because Bob was now standing in front of the car, hugging the orange thing.

‘WE are not going to make any changes, Matthew. And I’m not your mate. Bob, please move out of the way.’Hayden pressed what he thought was the button to close the window, started up the engine then put the automatic gear into ‘R’ for ‘Reverse’. There was a long beep.

‘Now what?’ Just as he realised that the beeping was probably due to the Park Assist, there was an even louder scream from outside the door. Matthew’s hand had been caught in the closing window.


‘Matthew. Sorry, mate. That wasn’t deliberate.’

Beep. Beep.

Bob stepped back from the front of the car and the reversing Park Assist beeps were now replaced by a different set, a semitone higher.

Beep! Beep!

There was a satisfying crunching noise as the car moved forwards.

That’ll be the other cone, thought Hayden as he pulled away.

‘What the …!’


‘Come back!’


‘What am I going to …’

Beep. Beep.

Hayden pressed a load of random switches.‘Shut up!’

‘Please make a U-turn,’ said the satnav.

Hayden emerged on to Regent Street, making a right turn away from Oxford Circus. He was already halfway across by the time he realised he was probably not allowed to make the turn across four lanes of traffic.

‘Idiot!’ shouted a cyclist, swerving dramatically but somehow retaining enough balance to make a lewd gesture as he cycled away.

‘Please make a U-turn,’ said the satnav.



‘Hayden! You’ve got to come back!’

Somehow or other, Hayden’s phone had connected to the car’s loud speaker, so when it rang, and Hayden was still prodding random buttons to switch off the irritating satnav, he inadvertently answered Matthew’s call.

‘Did I answer your call?’

There was a pause.

‘How should I know? You’re talking to me, so you must have! Hayden, please come back so that we can sort this out. I’ll send a car to pick you up.’

‘From where?’

‘The hotel.’

‘I’m not going to the hotel.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m not sure.’

Hayden reached for the dashboard. There must be some way of cutting off the call. His mobile had slipped under the passenger seat. He prodded more buttons, trying not to take his eyes off the road. He was in a lot of traffic and to his right he could see queues of people lining up to go into Madame Tussauds. He remembered Matthew’s ideas about curating.

‘Matt, is my puppet still in Madame Tussauds?’


‘You know, that wax effigy of me?’

Hayden was pretty sure he could hear Matt swigging something stiff, probably a whisky in hospitality.

‘Please make a U-turn,’ said the satnav.

‘Christ. I’m in four lanes of traffic, how can I make a U-turn!’

‘Who’s in the car, Hayden?’

Hayden laughed.

‘Seriously. Who’s in the car? I thought we had an agreement? If you’re going to have relationships, we need to know. Is that what this is all about? You’re really out of order. This wasn’t the understanding. You need to look at your contract again if you think that…’

Miraculously, Hayden’s next jab at the dashboard cut Matthew off.

‘Hurrah!’ He jammed his foot on the brake just in time. He had been about to plough into the vehicle in front, a large and menacing-looking 4 × 4 which was painted in the deepest, darkest matt black paint. It’s a mobile black hole, he thought. That’s what I’m going to disappear into if I’m not careful – a supermassive black hole jam-packed with make-up artists, agents and publicists.



Hayden took every turning or slip road that looked as if it might take him far away from London. At one stage, signposts offered him the choice between West and Midlands. Midlands sounded bad. He didn’t want to be anywhere that was ‘mid’. He wanted to be on the edge. In fact, so near the edge of things that he might fall off without anyone noticing. He had a vague recollection from filming some years before that the West could be reached along something called the M4. West was good. West eventually meant the edge. The furthest part of an entire country before the sea began. The last thing before Ireland.

‘I bet you’re really sulking now, aren’t you?’ said Hayden, addressing satnav woman.‘What do you do with yourself when people aren’t listening to you?’

‘Please take the next exit on the left, then immediately turn left,’ said satnav woman as if on cue.

Hayden sailed past the exit.




The phone rang again.


It was Ryan, one of Hayden’s oldest friends. Finely trimmed Matthew must have spoken to him.

‘How are you doing,Hayden, mate?Matthew tells me you’re going through a bit of a rough patch.’

‘I think you’ll find that it’s Matthew who’s going through a bit of a rough patch. I’ve never felt better.’

‘C’mon, mate. You don’t have to hide anything from me. Matt said it might be difficult to talk, so you don’t have to explain if you don’t want to. Oh, God. Are you on hands free? Sorry… whoever you are.’

‘No problem!’Hayden laughed. ‘She won’t be offended. Actually, she has two names. She’s also called satnav woman.’

‘Two?You’re breaking up a bit, Hayden. Does Maggie know? I mean, I thought you were after a reconciliation? It’s not going to help your cause, mate.’

Hayden had no time to respond because just then he noticed some blue flashing lights approaching at speed in his rear-view mirror.

‘Oh, Jesus,’ said Hayden, glancing down at the speedometer. It said 95. ‘Oh, that’s not good.’

‘No, it isn’t, mate. She’s going to be really pissed when she gets to hear about this. Sorry, whoever you are – both of you. Matthew’s only looking after you. He’s a bit of a megalomaniac,I agree, but he has your best interests at heart.’

Hayden wasn’t listening toRyan. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was trying to bring his speed down to an acceptable level without actually appearing to be braking, he would be prodding the dashboard again, trying to cut off his friend’s call. The police car must have been doing over a 100 because he was gaining incredibly quickly.

‘Oh, God,’ groaned Hayden as the car drew level.

‘Look mate, don’t worry, it’s nothing that can’t be handled. Maggie’s a great girl. She’s forgiven you before. Quite a few times, let’s be honest. That time in the Jacuzzi, and then at the Waldorf…you’ve got to admit, that was quite a stunt! Sorry, whoever you are. I mean, it was before your time. I would imagine. At least, what I mean is, I don’t know that for sure as I don’t know who you are, but…’

‘Oh God!’The speedometer showed75. But the police car showed no sign of stopping.

‘Please leave the motorway at the next exit.’

‘Oh, shut up!’


‘Not you. Her!’

‘That sounds like Vanessa. Is Vanessa in the car with you?’

Hayden would have answered but all he could see ahead of him was a sea of red braking lights. Everyone ahead of him was coming to an abrupt halt and he was still doing well over 70.

‘Jesus!’Hayden slammed on the brake.

‘Look mate, I’m only trying to help. I had no idea about any of this before Matt rang.’

Hayden brought the car to a stop, with a few inches to spare.

‘Your route has been recalculated due to current traffic messages.’

‘Vanessa, is that you?’

Hayden punched each one of the buttons surrounding him on the dashboard, the gear column, the door.

‘It’s tough being at the top mate, but you know, all you need to do is come back and I’m sure all this can be…’

Finally, Hayden cut off the call. He sank back in his seat, pushed up his sunglasses, closed his eyes and waited for the traffic to clear.

For the last few months, Matthew Thorneycroft had been trying to orchestrate Hayden’s graceful retirement. Ironically, this seemed to involve even more press activity than usual. It had seemed like a good idea at first. An end to unpacking cases, having 30 versions of the same pair of jeans because the right pair was always in the wrong country. How many pairs of shoes did he have, he wondered? He’d lost count. In fact, beyond the age of 22, when things had really hit the big time, he’d started to lose count of most things. He frequently woke unable to work out where he was. Yet, there was an underlying issue which neither he nor Matthew was prepared to face.

Most people dreamed of a life away from work. They had visions of finally growing into their skins, being allowed to do what the hell they liked as the person they really wanted to be, free from bosses and HR departments, despotic line managers. Hayden, on the other hand, when he thought about retreating back to his idyllic ranch in Idaho, found the prospect terrifying. He loved the horses and the hills, but he always went there as his last character, or the character he was about to become. He was an American president or a Viking warrior, a science genius or an undercover agent. He’d never actually been there when he was being himself.

His characters were amazing. They had incredible skills. But what was he good at? He was good at being other people. Hayden had probably only been himself for 25per cent of his entire life.

On the move again and keeping a close eye on the speedometer, he thought of Bob’s accent and his East End drawl. How easy it would be to ‘become’Bob. Hayden was still ‘being Bob’ when the phone rang, so, unsurprisingly, he instinctively pressed the right button to connect the call.

‘Bob?’ said a woman’s voice.

‘Yup,’ answered Bob.

Hayden re-emerged and thought, oh no.

‘Look,’ she continued, ‘I know you don’t have much time because Hayden will soon be out of the studio so I’m just going to get straight to the point.’

Hayden made a sound which was completely involuntary. The woman, whoever she was, took this as some indication that it was ok to carry on.

‘I’m leaving you, Bob. I know this is not a good day to be telling you. You’ve been looking forward to driving Hayden around but that’s just it, isn’t it? You always prefer to be at work. And why wouldn’t you? I’d much prefer to be doing what you’re doing than clearing out the cat-litter tray and wiping baby-sick off my shoulder. I had such a stressful day yesterday. You have no idea. The school run, then the sports day, then the dentist appointments. And you got stressed within five minutes of being home, just because you couldn’t find the remote. Get real Bob. We used to be such a team but since you got that swanky job, you’re just not here anymore.’

Hayden made another noise. What was he to do? He couldn’t come clean now, could he? Bob’s wife had told him all these private things.

‘Don’t interrupt me, Bob,’ she said. ‘I’ve kept this back for too long, I’ve just got to tell you as it is. I’ve packed the important stuff and there’s a van coming later. We’re going to the caravan. The kids will just think we’re on holiday. I doubt they’ll notice you’re not there. Then we might go to my sister’s. It’s the best thing all round. I can get some proper help with the kids and you can look for your own bloody remote.’

This woman was clearly used to talking, thought Hayden. But it bothered him that she was used to Bob being so uncommunicative. Why was Bob just sitting there not saying anything? Was he just going to let her go? He concentrated on Bob’s voice and said,

‘I’m sorry.’ There was a long silence on the other side. He was starting to wonder whether Bob’s wife was still there. He thought he’d say something else just to find out.

‘I’ve been a…’ Hayden thought of all the derogatory words he’d heard Bob use for various other famous celebrities and plumped for ‘plonker’. There was another long silence.

‘You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to hear those words.’

‘I’ve been a plonker,’ Hayden repeated, feeling rather proud of Bob.

‘Not those words.’

Hayden thought back over what Bob had just said.‘I’m sorry?’

There was a stifled sob. ‘You have been a plonker, but it’s so much easier to bear if I know you’re sorry. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. For you to realise when you’re being a plonker. Not all the time, obviously. Just sometimes. Well, quite often. I didn’t marry a plonker. You weren’t a plonker ten years ago.’

Hayden felt disappointed with Bob that he’d let things get this bad. What was the man thinking? Hayden didn’t know what Bob’s wife looked like. She could look like the back end of a bison for all he knew, but that was not the point. It wasn’t all about looks. Hayden had received all kinds of offers since his own wife had left him. Some of the women had been jaw-droppingly stunning. But at the end of the day, what he really missed was a proper friend who didn’t mind telling him when he was being a dipstick. Or a plonker. His own wife had been the most beautiful of them all as it turned out. Hayden had realised this too late, and now Bob was about to make the same mistake.

Bob’s wife was still talking. She’d been listing Bob’s misdemeanours. It was a long list.

‘Well? Do you agree? Am I right to be upset?’

Hayden didn’t want to damage Bob’s improving reputation so he returned to the tried and tested formula.

‘I’ve been a plonker. I’m sorry.’

‘I know it’s hard for you to talk.’

It really was hard for him to talk. Hayden was impressed with Bob’s wife that she understood the circumstances.

‘Do you really mean that?’


‘Do you want me to stay?’

Hayden was banking on the fact that Bob was a man of few words.


Hayden glanced at himself in the rear-view mirror. He was even starting to pick up Bob’s mannerisms.

‘This doesn’t mean that everything is all done and dusted, you know, that I’m going to put up with any old crap. We’re both going to make an effort. Okay? We’ll go on some date nights or something to remind us of why we’re together. You’re going to put your phone away and have a proper conversation with your kids. And you’re going to stop being a plonker.’

‘Yup.’ Another pause.

‘You know. You’re even starting to sound like Hayden.’

Was his cover blown? He glanced at the rear-view mirror again and tried to imagine how Bob would respond. He needn’t have worried. Bob’s wife added, ‘That’s ok. He’s a nice man.’

Hayden felt confused for Bob. For a moment, he felt jealous that Bob’s wife might have a bit of a thing for Hayden.

‘He’s a plonker,’ said Hayden, reminding himself that he was pretending to be Bob.

‘You don’t mean that. You’ve always said he’s a great bloke. You like him!’

Hayden felt proud of Hayden. Clearly, despite his fame, he still retained the common touch. He was, despite the publicists, the make-up artists, the carefully curated retirements, still a good egg.

‘Look, I know you’ve got to go. We can talk about this later. I’m glad we sorted it all out. I’ll cancel the van. Maybe we can all go to the caravan on the weekend? Spend some proper time with the kids. Build sandcastles. Make a campfire. Maybe have a look at your schedule, will you?Bob? I love you.’

There was only one possible response. Hayden knew that Bob really had to nail this. It was the equivalent of the final curtain. Rapturous applause would only be possible if Bob put his heart and soul into the closing lines.Hayden concentrated on the shape of Bob’s head, the curve of his mouth, how the sounds of the words would come out of those East End lips. He cleared his throat, and aimed for a tone a tad lower than the usual Bob. This was a man who was struggling with his own ineptitude after all. Searching for the right way forward.

‘I love you too.’

Was it a clincher? Was it the tiny pause before the long bravo? He needed it to be unequivocal. He added the resounding, ‘precious’.

‘Oh, Bob! You haven’t called me that for years. I do love you, so much. Look, don’t worry about anything here. And we never need to talk about this again. Ever. Now that I know what you really feel. I can’t wait to see you later.’

Bob’s wife hung up. Hayden felt elated in a way that he hadn’t for years. It had been one of his best performances.

‘What the hell have you done?’ screamed Hayden at Hayden.

‘I’ve just saved a marriage, mate, that’s what!’

‘What if Bob’s wife brings the whole thing up this evening and he has no idea what she’s on about? What if he didn’t want her to stay!’

‘You heard her. She’s not going to talk about it ever again. End of story. Happy days. She loves him. Bob’s a lucky man.’

Hayden seemed content with Hayden’s assessment of the situation. It was all very quiet in the car for the next hour and a half until the M4 ran out, then Mrs Satnav woke up and started directing him through all sorts of bizarre junctions, leading to unpronounceable places.

He just about made it to the coast before the petrol gauge flashed red. He had no idea where he was. There was a beautiful estuary and a sea, which looked as if it stretched all the way to another continent. There were seagulls and even though the day had been uniformly grey, over the horizon the sun was setting ina clearing sky. This must be the edge I’ve been looking for, he thought. He watched as the last rays lit up the approaching good weather.

He went around the car and opened the passenger door. Reaching under the seat, he located his phone. He had 3 percent battery life left. He’d obviously missed a few calls from Matthew Thorneycroft while Bob’s wife had been on the phone. He probably owed him a call, even though he was a megalomaniac.

‘Matt. It’s Hayden.’ Matthew let out a huge sigh and Hayden could tell that he was about to launch into a long report of what had happened since they’d last spoken. ‘Look, my phone’s about to die, so I’ll be very quick. I’ve decided that I don’twant to retire. You’ll have to curate another scenario for the time being. I want to make another film. It’ll be about an actor who saves a man’s marriage during a long car journey. I’ll fund it and direct it. It’s going to be brilliant. I’m spending the rest of the month on the coast, fleshing out the script.’

Matthew Thorneycroft must have been hyperventilating. Hayden couldn’t make head or tail of what he was trying to say.

‘Matt. Listen. Calm down. Trust me. The best is yet to come!’

‘Where the fuck are you?’

Haydenheld the phone away from his ear and studied the sunset. ‘I have absolutely no idea. But it’s beautiful and very illuminating.’ There was a strange noise. It sounded like someone having his vital parts squeezed by a slowly descending concrete block.

‘It will all be fine. Honestly. Gotta go!’

Whatever was about to come out of the phone was cut short.

He genuinely had no idea where he was. A small fishing boat was crossing the bar, heading home after a day at sea. Hayden felt as if he’d arrived home too even though he’d never been there before. He looked down at the phone. One percent left.

‘I wonder if it would be a good idea?’ Hayden askedHayden.

‘You’ve got nothing to lose,’ he replied. ‘Maybe everything to gain?’

Hayden scrolled through the numbers on his phone and stopped at his ‘estranged’ wife’s number.

‘Perhaps you should take a page from Bob’s book?’

Hayden didn’t reply.

He was already dialling.

Rhiannon Lewis (UK)

Rhiannon Lewis’s debut novel, My Beautiful Imperial, was published by Victorina Press in December 2017. In March 2018, it was listed by the Walter Scott Prize Academy as one of its ‘recommended’ historical novels. The Spanish translation, Mi Querido Imperial, was published in December 2018. Her novella, The Significance of Swans came runner up in the New Welsh Writing Awards, 2019. Rhiannon has also had success with many of her short stories.

Write A Comment