Photo © Peter Neske

Photo © Peter Neske


by John MacKenna


It was the morning of the last day of February when the man at the other end of the phone told Miriam her husband was dead.

          “There’s no comfortable way for me to put this or for you to hear it,” he said. “Your husband’s body was found yesterday afternoon. No matter how I say it, it doesn’t make it any easier for you. I’m sorry to be the one.”

          Miriam took a deep breath. There were questions she needed to ask but they were beyond her for now, so she did the practical thing. She asked for the caller’s name and a telephone number.

          “It must be what, three in the morning – where you are? It’s just after eight here; it’s still dark outside.”

          “Yes ma’am,” the soft Canadian inflection.

          “So you won’t want me calling you back in an hour.”

          “This is a police station, I’ll be on duty till eight but my colleagues can assist you any time.”


          “Again, I’m sorry.”

          Miriam found herself wondering about the policeman, about his age. He sounded young but it was more likely he was in his late thirties or forties, that he’d have some experience of this kind of thing.

          “Do you have someone there with you?” he asked.

          “Yes, Charlie, my son – he’s here.”

          “He’s an adult?” He put the emphasis on the second syllable.

          “No, he’s six. But my sister will come.”

          “That’s good, ma’am. You call her and then you call us back when the time is right for you.”

          “Yes.” She hesitated. “How did it happen?”

          “Looks like it was a natural passing. We need to wait for results. But there was no sign of anything untoward.”

          “What a strange word,” Miriam said.

          “I beg your pardon?”

          “Untoward, it’s a strange word.”

          “Yes, ma’am. I guess it is.”

          “If I call back in an hour or two, you’ll still be there?”

          “I’ll still be here.”

          “Thank you.”

          “I truly am sorry.”


          Putting down the phone, she stood for a moment, not thinking, staring into the shadows of the hallway, and then, picking it up again, she rang her sister.

Suzann spoke to the Canadian policeman and to the embassy and to the travel agent and then rang their brother and arranged for him to travel with Miriam. She contacted the undertaker and the Department of Foreign Affairs and made coffee and lunch. She talked a little about Bart but not too much and then took Bart’s photograph from the sitting-room mantelpiece and put it on the kitchen table, where they could see it when they felt the need to see it. Suzann organised everything without it being obvious and she listened to her sister and hugged her and smiled that smile that made Miriam believe things would be all right, in spite of everything. And, the following morning, when Miriam and Michael left for the airport, Suzann stood with Charlie and waved them goodbye.


“Where’s Mammy?”

          It was late on the first evening of March.

          Charlie was sitting at the kitchen table, swinging his legs and trying to kick off his damp runners without opening the laces.

          “She’s on her way to Canada,” Suzann said.

          “Is Uncle Michael gone with her?”


          “How will they get there?”

          “They’re flying.”

          “In an aeroplane?”

          “Yes.” Suzann smiled.

          “Angels can fly without aeroplanes. They have shiny, bright wings, brighter than the sun. Feathery wings.”

          “Do they?”

          “Do you know any angel names?”

          She shook her head.

          “Are angels related to chickens?”

          Suzann laughed out loud.

          “You’re a funny little man.”

          The boy nodded and then opened his mouth, as though about to ask something else, took a deep breath and was silent for a moment.

          Suzann stared through the kitchen window but she could see nothing beyond her other self, gaping back from the rain-pocked glass.

          “Your mum and Uncle Michael are going to bring your daddy back home with them,” she said quietly.

          The little boy perked up, loosening a shoe against the chair leg.

          “When will he be home?”

          “Next week.”

          “When will it be next week?”

          “Five days away. Or six.”



          “Is that why daddy’s picture is on the table?”

          Suzann turned and smiled at him.

          “Yes Charlie, that’s why. To remind us.”

          “To remind us that Daddy is coming home, so that we won’t forget and go out and not remember to leave a key? We did that once.”

          Suzann nodded.

          “Can I stay up when he comes home? Will he collect me from school?”

          “We’ll see.”

          “I don’t like that photograph,” the boy said, holding the framed picture in both hands.

          “Don’t you? Why not?”

          “I don’t like the big rocks behind daddy. They could fall on him.”

          “Not in the photograph.”

          “But sometime, and then what would happen?”


Miriam asked for the policeman by name, the one who had telephoned to tell her Bart was dead.

          “He might not be here,” Michael whispered.

          “I know that but he might. I want to see what he looks like, what age he is.”

          “Does it matter?”

          Miriam shrugged.

          They were sitting in a small office in the police station. Outside, old snow lay like twisted, unwashed dishcloths on the sills of the barred windows. Inside, the faded room smelled of steaming coffee and damp carpet.

          A tall man stepped through the open doorway. Michael stood up and shook his hand.

          “This is my sister. This is Miriam.”

          “I’m Steve Mallett,” the man said. “I spoke with you on the phone.”

          “I wondered how old you’d be,” Miriam said quietly.

          “Probably not as old as I feel today.”

          They sat, the three of them, and the policeman answered Michael’s questions. It looked like Bart had died of a heart attack; they’d know for sure in a couple of hours but they weren’t looking for anyone else in connection with his death.

          “So this is what it means,” Miriam said. “When you hear that phrase on the news.”

          “This is what it means,” the policeman said.

          “Can we see Bart?”

          “Yes, of course. A car will take you to the hospital.”

          “And he’s, you know, he’s okay?”

          “He’s okay.” The policeman smiled a reassuring smile.

          “Who found him?”

          “Next door neighbour – old-timer, lives thirty minutes from the cabin. He went to see if your husband needed anything, seems they had any arrangement about picking up supplies from town. He found him and called us. It’s about two and a half hours from here to there at this time of year.”

          “Where did this man find Bart?”

          “He was sitting at his table, ma’am, looked like he’d been working there. I understand he was a writer?”

          She nodded.

          “He couldn’t work at home, said he couldn’t concentrate. Never did, always had to live in the places he was writing about.”

          The policeman smiled again.

          “How long had he been dead?” Miriam was surprised by the calmness of her voice.

          “A day, maybe two, I believe. But it’s pretty cold out there; the place was freezing. Nothing had happened.”

          “Is it possible for us to go out to the cabin?”

          Michael glanced at the policeman and he immediately nodded.

          “Of course. Sometimes, folk want to see where a loved one passed away. I understand that. I can have you taken out there first thing tomorrow morning. It’s a long trip, just so you’re prepared for that. And the cabin is pretty isolated but we can get you there, yeah, sure we can.”

          “You’re certain you really want to spend five hours travelling there and back?” Michael asked. 

          “Absolutely,” Miriam said. “I need to see.”

          “It’ll be all right,” the policeman reassured them. “Trust me, everything is fine, it’s not a problem, not a problem at all. And it’s very beautiful out there. That may be some consolation.”


Suzann was sitting on the side of Charlie’s bed.

          “How many days is it now until next week?”

          “Still six.”

          “You said that already.”

          “Yes but that was this morning. It’s still the same day. But it’ll soon be a new day. When you wake in the morning, it’ll be just five days.”

          The boy nodded.

          “Have you said your prayers?”

          “God bless Mammy and Daddy and Auntie Suzann and Uncle Michael and me. And everyone. Amen.”

          “That’s it?”

          “When Mammy is here there’s more but I think that’s enough.”


          Suzann tucked the bedclothes under the boy’s chin.

          “You’re as snug as a bug in a rug,” she smiled, tickling him.

          He laughed and squirmed and laughed again.

          “Daddy always brings me a present when he comes home.”

          “I know.”

          “I think this time he’ll bring me an aeroplane like the one he’ll be flying in.”

          She nodded but said nothing.

          “Tomorrow, can we paint a picture of an aeroplane for Daddy, a big picture? And I can give it to him when he brings me my present.”

          “Of course we can.”

          “I like painting in the daytime when the sun is out. You can see things better.”

          “Yes you can.”

          “Why are you crying?” the boy asked.

          “I’m just sad. But I’m happy, too. Happy to be here with you.”

          “Will you stop being sad when Mammy and Daddy and Uncle Michael come home?”

          “I’m sure I will.”

          “I never knew you could be happy and sad together.”


“I’m sorry, I can’t take you folks up there myself,” Steve Mallett said. “But Officer Marsh is one of our best. She’ll take care of you.”

          They were standing outside the front door of the police station, the dark, morning traffic slushing past them on the main street of the town.

          “I guess everything will be finalised within forty-eight hours. I’ll be talking to someone from your embassy this afternoon. Everything will be in place by the time you get back from the cabin.”

          “Thank you,” Michael said. “We appreciate all you’ve done.”

          A patrol jeep eased out of a gateway to the side of the station.

          “That’s your ride,” the policeman said. “I’ll introduce you.”

          Miriam and Michael followed him down the wet concrete steps.

          A young, casually dressed woman climbed from the jeep and came to meet them.

          “Dominique Collins,” she smiled. “I’m sorry about your husband.”

          “Thank you.”

          She shook Michael’s hand.

          “Real sorry.”

“Not sure if you folks want to talk or not on the ride out,” Dominique said.

          They were clear of the town and, ahead of them, where the road arrowed into the horizon, mountains reared above a thick smear of evergreens.  Closer to hand, barns and silos crouched beside farmhouses, their backs pitted against the bitter, churning winds.

          “Some folks do. Some don’t; people differ at times like this. I brought some coffee and bagels. Best we get out to the cabin and let you have time. We can stop off on the ride back, get something more substantial, if you feel like it. Everything is your call.”

          “Thank you,” Michael said.

          They drove on, across the snowbound farmland and then, mile by mile, the fences and farmhouses evaporated until they were speeding through a bottle of murky green forest, the low light shattering as it fell between the trees.

          “How could he write up here?” Miriam asked. “He told me it was bright and white and clear. This is darkness.”

          “Forty-five minutes on we’re into snowfields,” Dominique said. “And then it’s just stands of timber and an eternity of snow. It’s everything you don’t see here – white, bright, clear, fresh. And mostly just empty.”

          “That’s what his letters said.”

          “How long had your husband been up here?”

          “Since just after Christmas. Eight or nine weeks. He’d planned on staying till the end of summer.”

          “He was a writer?”


          “A good one, I guess.”

          “I think so.”

“That’s it,” Dominique said, pointing into the wilderness ahead. “That’s the cabin. Just thought I should alert you that the journey’s nearly done.”

          Michael leaned forward from the back seat and Miriam squinted into the rosy whiteness.

          “To the left of that stand of trees.”

          “I see the trees,” Miriam nodded.

          As they drove, the cabin began to take a shape within the shadow of the coppice, a low and regular building and behind it what looked like a garage. Bart had told her, in his first letter, that he had bought a small car. It was a necessity out here. A small and simple house and a small and simple car, what else had she expected? Wherever he went, Bart chose to live austerely. He detested ostentation. Sometimes, she thought, he had no choice but to go; even their modest house seemed to hold echoes of affectation for him.  

          As they swung off the roadway and onto a rough track, Miriam could clearly see the cabin now with its shuttered garage and, behind that, a woodshed precisely stacked with neatly sawn logs. The logs had come with the cabin, Miriam knew. Bart had told her. He wouldn’t have had the patience for such orderliness.

          She was thinking of Frost’s lines about the woods and the frozen lake. Somewhere beyond that stand of trees, somewhere in a hollow in the snow she supposed, was a lake, ice-covered but breathing in the expectation of spring. Without that anticipation, how could anything or anyone go on?

          Then, right away, she was overwhelmed by the enormity of what had happened. There were no tears. Instead the cold seemed infinitely colder and the emptiness of the landscape was immense and the forlorn, the unlit windows of the cabin were deep, black holes that terrified her.

          Michael coughed and only then did she realise that the jeep had come to a standstill and that Dominique was assiduously looking into the distance, allowing her the time to prepare herself.

          “I’m sorry,” Miriam whispered. “I was just thinking how beautiful it is out here. And how lonely.”

          Dominique laid a gloved hand on her arm.

          “I can go in with you or I can stay out here – whatever way you want it. It’ll look just like any other room in any cabin, I promise you. I realise it’ll mean something much deeper to you but there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

          Michael put his hand on her shoulder.

          “You okay, sis?”

          She nodded, smiled and opened the jeep door.

Inside the cabin it was colder than she had expected, colder than outside, as if the wind had gathered every shaft of iciness and shut it up in the half-darkness of this functional room, dulling its light and congealing its coldness.

          Michael stood in the shining doorway. Beyond him she could see Dominique just outside, listening and waiting, on duty. Miriam stood in the middle of the room and, closing her eyes, breathed slowly, deeply, searching for the moment of her husband’s death, listening to the ice crack on the gutters, feeling the weak dusk from the small window lean uncertainly on her left hand. But she found nothing of Bart. What had she expected: that there’d be any more of him here than there was in the house in which she lived? That, secretly, he had become more attached to this place than to the place she had labelled home in the hope that he might some day feel it was such?  

          Opening her eyes, she moved between the plain kitchen table, with its four sturdy chairs, and the small desk that faced a window filled with distant, drunken trees. Some notebooks sat, neat and silent, side-by-side on a flock of coffee rings. Two loose pages lay together, a pair of redundant wings, feathered with Bart’s scrawl, lost now without the force that had made them fly.

          She lifted the top sheet and read a list of things undone and groceries unordered.

          The second page was tidier, lined and neatly written.

          It’s snowing here again tonight.

          I hope it’s snowing there, too.

          I like the idea of you sleeping and snow falling outside your window.

          I imagine myself standing at that window, looking out at the snow, then turning back to watch you sleep.


On the morning of the day that Bart’s body was due home, Suzann told Charlie about his father’s death. They were sitting at the kitchen table, low sunlight streaming through the picture window. She said the usual things, the words she had heard others use when they spoke to children about death. She told him something terribly sad had happened, she reminded him of how much Bart loved him, she assured him that his father’s love would never stop, just that it would be coming from a different place, about how Charlie would find his father’s star in the sky and know he was always there.

          “Stars are not people,” the boy said.

          “They can remind us of people we loved.”

          “What if two people pick the same star to remind them? Whose star is it then?”

          Suzann smiled, relieved that this was the question he’d chosen to ask.

 When Charlie’s father came home, it was in an enormous wooden box and the box was left in the sitting room and people came and went and they kept stepping over Charlie where he was playing with his digger on the floor at the foot of the stairs. All those legs and all that talk and, from time to time, a hand reaching down from the sky to rub his head and, afterwards, the smell of perfume from his hair. And someone gave him money and he squashed it into the little pocket at the front of his jeans and thought for a minute about what he’d like to buy and wondered if his father had remembered to bring the aeroplane he’d promised. And then he went back to his work, digging blocks from the hall carpet and piling them on the first step of the stairs.

Charlie woke while it was still dark. He always woke in the darkness. He liked to wander around the house in the shadows from the landing light. At the foot of the stairs, he stopped; there were voices in the kitchen, so he turned right, into the sitting room where his father was still keeping out of sight.

          Putting his ear to the box, Charlie listened. His father was keeping very still, he was good at that. Charlie knew what he needed to do: he needed to surprise his father. He waited, silent, unmoving, counting to fifty, counting and waiting for longer than he’d ever done before. Then he knocked loudly on the side of the box inside which he believed his father was hiding, knocked and giggled because he suspected his father couldn’t keep still forever and he knew his father loved to hear him laugh, it made him laugh too.

          Suzann was suddenly beside him, her arm across the boy’s shoulder.

          “What are you doing little man?”

          “Playing hide and seek with Daddy. I know where he’s hiding. He’s in the box. I can hear him.”


“I’m tempted to pull the fucking lid off the coffin and slap his face,” Miriam said.

          She and Suzann were standing in the back garden, drinking coffee, stooped against the black March wind. A few beaten daffodils huddled at the foot of a dividing wall.

          Suzann looked again at the sheet of paper her sister had pulled from her jacket pocket.

          “All it says is, I hope it’s snowing there, too.”

          “It rarely snows here. You know that, I know that, he knew that. This is not for me.”

          “It’s probably just a piece of a story, something he was working on. Notes. He was always leaving notes around the house. You said that yourself, ideas, bits and pieces. That’s what writers do. I think.”

          Miriam warmed her face in the steam from her coffee cup.

          “His notes are on his laptop. I’ve read them. They have nothing to do with this. And anyway, there was an envelope, with the page.”

          “Was it addressed to anyone?” Suzann asked quickly.


          “There you are then.”

          “The page was sitting on the lip of the envelope, ready to be put inside.”

          “You don’t know that.”

          “There was a roll of stamps beside it.”

          “This is not a good time to come to these conclusions. This is not the time to decide stuff like this. Honestly it’s not.”

          “He was expecting some old guy to call. There was a grocery list beside it. He was going to address the bloody thing and have it posted. I know, Suzann. Don’t tell me I’m not right. You always try to find the balance in things, but sometimes there is no balance. Sometimes life is totally unbalanced, it’s dark, it’s disingenuous, it’s fucking twisted. The fact is – and I know this in my heart – he just hadn’t got around to addressing the envelope. So fuck him.”


Charlie was mesmerized by the priest who was to conduct his father’s funeral service. He was a tall young man with a mop of brown hair and a smile that the six-year-old recognised as genuine.

          He knelt by Charlie in the church and shook his hand and asked how he was.

          Charlie said he was fine. He talked about Charlie’s father the way Charlie did, as though the game of hide and seek which was going on would end when Charlie least expected it. He let Charlie light the taper from which the candles would be lit.

          He asked if Charlie would like to come up and speak about his father from the altar during the service. The boy looked at the expanse of white marble he’d have to cross and shook his head. The priest showed him where to leave Bart’s camera, when the time came to present the gifts of remembrance, on a small table with three of Bart’s books, and then he said they’d talk later.

          Watching the priest move along the front of the altar space, distributing the communion wafers, Charlie began to believe the marble wasn’t so expansive after all.

           And, when the priest talked about death and life, he listened.

          “If we believe in Jesus the Christ, then we believe in the promises he made. We not only believe, we trust. Jesus promised his disciples that he was the way, the truth and the life. We can find our way to that truth through Jesus’ life. We can rediscover the joy in life by recognising that death is not the end. Jesus preached the resurrection and his disciples had their faith rewarded on Easter morning when, as the sun rose, they found a very real presence in the absence of Jesus from the tomb. We are four weeks from Easter, the rationale of life and death lies there. We have faith that we shall rise again and, as Paul tells us in I Corinthians: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.’ We believe, even better we know, that we will see Bart face to face again.” 

          The priest smiled at Charlie and Charlie smiled back. Glancing to his left, he saw that his mother’s eyes were closed. To his right, Suzann was crying. She caught him watching her, took his hand and held it on her lap. Her hand was cold but her clothes were soft and they had a gentle smell of perfume that made him feel warm and wanted. He shifted slightly in his seat, moving closer to her.


“If I could pity the bastard, I would, but I can’t. If he’d died a day later, I’d never have known but he wouldn’t, would he? That might have spared everyone.”

          Miriam was standing at the sink, staring into the solid, sunless garden.

          “Have you said anything to Michael?” Suzann asked.

          “I have not! I don’t want everyone to know what a fool I was. No one knows but me, you and her – whoever she is. I wonder if she’s even heard that he’s dead. I keep expecting the Canadian police to forward one of her letters to me. If they did, I’d have a name.”

          “Well, it’s been three weeks and they haven’t. Surely that counts for something?”

          “Most likely she lived somewhere in that godforsaken town, probably a waitress in the local caff or a fucking pole dancer. She’ll have been close enough for him to get to. She’ll know by now. They always do.”

          Suzann came and stood by her sister. Together, they watched Charlie in the garden outside. He was kicking a ball into the wind, laughing each time it lifted above his head and landed at the other end of the lawn.

          “He’s taking it well,” Miriam said.

          “Seems to be. I’m not sure how much of it has sunk in.”

          “He knows Bart’s dead, if that’s what you mean.”

          “Of course he does.”

          Outside, the ball soared into the wind, bounced on the narrow lawn and disappeared into the neighbour’s garden.

“Got it,” Suzann called.

          Charlie could see the top of her head above the dividing wall.

          “I’m going to throw it in to you. See if you can catch it.”

          The bright, shining ball held in the wind and blew back into the next-door garden.

          He could hear Suzann laughing.

          “I wouldn’t make much of a player, would I?” she called.

          “Throw it again. Harder.”

          She did and it bounced beside Charlie.

          “Have you got it?”


          “Right. Coming over.”

          Her face appeared above the wall and then she pulled herself up and sat on the narrow blocks.

          “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,” she laughed, rocking puppet-like, backward and forward. “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”

          Suddenly she tumbled, all arms and legs, onto the lawn.

          “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

          Charlie came racing across the garden and jumped on her. Together they rolled, tickling and giggling in the cold grass, their arms about each other, hugging together against the hardness of the ground.

          “How long are you going to stay with us?” Charlie asked quietly

          “Till Easter, the week after Easter.”

          “When is Easter?”

          “Not next Sunday but the one after that. Ten days.”

          “I like when you’re here.”

          “Thank you.” She hugged the small boy close to her. “I’m going to buy you the biggest Easter egg you’ve ever seen. It’ll take you a month to eat it.”

          “And Daddy will bring me an egg.”

          “Not this year, sweetheart.”

          “Jesus came back. The man said Daddy will come back too. And he might bring an egg for me, if he can find one.”


“I took Bart’s photograph off the mantelpiece,” Miriam said. “I put it in Charlie’s bedroom.”


          “I thought it would be good for Charlie to have it there. As a reminder.”

          “I’m not sure he likes that picture. He’s afraid the rocks will fall on Bart.  Anyway, the first thing he did every morning was to go into the sitting room and say hello.”

          “Well now he can do it when he wakes. And last thing at night. And I don’t have to see Bart staring at me when I’m watching telly. A win, win situation, isn’t that what they call it? You only have to look at Charlie to see he’s flying. He laughs all the time. He’s happy, Suzann, that’s the important part. I can deal with what Bart did. See no evil, speak no evil.”

          “He wasn’t an evil man.”

          “If you say.”

          “You know he wasn’t.”

          “You’re not telling me that what he did was acceptable?”

          “You have no idea what he did or if he did anything. A few words on a sheet of paper, a blank envelope, that doesn’t amount to evil or anything remotely like it. This has to do with other things, Miriam, things about Bart’s being away, and that’s understandable but it does not make him an evil man. Just let it go with him. Give him the benefit of the doubt, or don’t if you can’t, but let it go.”

         “Easy to say. If you want to know me, come and live with me. I feel totally humiliated and used and I do not want to see that dark, suntanned, self-satisfied face grinning down at me night after night. Charlie likes having the photograph in his room, whatever you say, so good for Charlie. Like I said, it’s all win, win.”


Only after his mother and aunt had tucked him in and read him a story and tickled and laughed with him and promised to help him in the morning to find the places where his eggs might be hidden, after they had kissed him goodnight and wished him sweet dreams and told him he was the best boy in the world and that they loved him more than anyone else, after they had switched on the soft bedside light and closed his door, did Charlie take his Dinosaur clock from the shelf above his table, wind it and set the alarm.


“I think I’m going to sell this place,” Miriam said.

          She and Suzann were sprawled on the couch in the sitting room.

          “Wouldn’t Charlie miss his friends, the school, all that?”

          “I don’t mean to leave the town, just the house. I never liked it. The rooms are too small, too gloomy. Bart said it was big enough, which was easy for him, he wasn’t often here. Passing through between books. And women, it seems.”

          “Charlie thinks Bart is coming back.”


          “He thinks he’s coming home for Easter.”

          “Shit, where did that come from?”

          “I’m not sure. From what the priest said, I think.”

          “What priest?”

          “At the burial service.”

          “What did he say?”

          “Charlie thought he said Bart would be back at Easter, like Jesus.”

          Miriam laughed out loud and then her eyes filled with tears.

          “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to laugh, it’s just another good reason to keep religion and children apart, fairytales and bullshit. Well, at least the Easter Bunny will come. That much we can see to, that much will happen.”


Charlie dressed quickly by the light from the bedside lamp. It was five o’clock. He wasn’t sure if that was very early or just early. He made no attempt to be quiet. It never crossed his mind that he should. He was too excited.

          Downstairs, he didn’t bother to look for his eggs. Instead, he wriggled clumsily into his jacket, zipped it up, pulled on his cap, opened the hall-door and stepped into the melting yellow light outside.


Miriam woke to the darkness. Pressing her mobile phone, she squinted at the dim, scratched screen.

          Bugger, she thought, forgot to charge it again.

          Something after five but she couldn’t decipher the minutes.

          Turning back towards sleep, she considered for a moment the fact of Bart’s death. She thought of him on that morning or afternoon or night when the end had come in the isolated cabin. It was like a nightmare to her now. But, in that moment, she allowed herself to forgive him whatever wrongs he might not have done. She imagined him recoiling from the bullets of pain inside his arm and the convulsive explosion in his chest. And she pitied him the terrible hurt of that moment. And then she slept. 


Suzann found him.

          She had sensed, when he didn’t come bounding into her bed at six o’clock with the egg she had left on his bedroom table, that something was wrong. She had gone into his room and then looked in on her sister’s sleeping form before hurrying downstairs. She saw, immediately, that his jacket and cap were missing from the low peg in the hallway. 

          Upstairs, she pulled on her jeans, a jumper and the jacket with the fur-trimmed hood; it would be cold outside, she knew that.

          At the foot of the stairs, she dragged on her socks and jiggled into her boots.

          In the street, the windscreen of her car was frozen. Splaying her hands, she pressed them hard against the glass until the ice began to melt in fingers and palms.

          And then she was driving, swinging out through the wide and curving crescents of the estate, into the narrow street of the old town, past the voiceless yard of Charlie’s school and sharply left onto the avenue, with its cortege of wintry trees, nodding mutely towards the ravenous gates of the graveyard.

          Though she doubted Charlie had even noticed her car lights at the gate or heard her running feet on the gravelled path, he didn’t seem at all surprised to see her. His knees were resting against the frozen mound of Bart’s grave. His face looked pale and tired.

          She knelt beside him, aware immediately of the cold and damp seeping through the knees of her jeans.

          “I think Daddy will come soon,” Charlie said, nodding towards the eye of a railway bridge. Through it Suzann could see a vein of light against the edge of night.

          “Perhaps he will,” she said.

          They hunkered closer, waiting for whatever it was they believed, separately or together, was about to happen.

          “The sun is coming up.” Charlie whispered.

          “So it is. Maybe the sun will blow the snow away.”

          “There isn’t any snow.”

          His voice was sleepy and hoarse.

          Suzann opened her coat and hugged him to her, taking his frozen hands in hers, letting his rigid frame fold against the warmth of her own.

          “Let me tell you a secret,” she whispered. “Sometimes it snows and people don’t even know."

John MacKenna is the author of seventeen books – short-stories, novels, memoir, history and biography. He is a winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award; the Cecil Day Lewis Award; the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and his most recent novel, The Space Between Us, was short-listed for the Kerry Book of the Year Award. Where Sadness Begins, a collection of poetry, was published in 2012 by Salmon Poetry. His books have been translated into several languages. He is also a winner of a Jacob’s Radio Award for his documentary work with the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. He teaches in NUI Maynooth.

Photographer's credit: Peter Neske is an artist and photographer based in Germany.