‘All the People Were Mean and Bad’ by Lucy Caldwell

Caldwell said of this story, “I wanted to write about the distance between where we come from and where we end up; between who we think we are and who we turn out to be. Between what we dream, and what we do”. The narrator, travelling home from her cousin’s funeral, taking a night flight with her toddler, has an existential crisis at “thirty-however many thousand feet… hurtling onwards at hundreds of miles an hour”. The man sitting next to her is kind and helpful and they bond.

“You think of the books that you and your cousin loved, the ones with multiple pathways through, and dozens of endings. You’d read them lying on your stomachs, heads pressed together, holding various pages, options, open. You’d always be careful, trying to make it through, and she’d choose the most reckless routes possible, just to see what might happen.”

I saved the link to this BBC National Short Story Award winner, and next to it I’ve written, “stunning; exactly the sort of story I wish I could write”.

First published in Intimacies, Faber & Faber, 2021. Available online on the Guardian website here, and audio via the BBC

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