Ray drops his hand on Ernest’s shoulder and the boy looks up at him. What a beautiful, gap-toothed little thing, Ray thinks. How perfect for the task he is.
Ray points across the snow-covered field. There is a building in the distance, a sliver of cracked light breaking through the darkness. “That’s where you need to go,” Ray says. “Walk over to the door and knock. Someone will let you in.”
“Why can’t I go with him?” Hettie asks; she is curious, not anxious. She looks at her child, bemused at how straight his back is, how determined he seems though, of course, giggles still burst from him.
They spend the night beside the Stoneman and when they wake, Frank finds his hands inside Hettie’s clothes, cupping her breasts as she sleeps on. He is shocked but fights the urge to flinch away. He blinks rapidly. He has not held Hettie in this way, not ever. Their transactions in the past have been brief and resentful, almost as if they disliked their physical need for each other.
But Hettie feels so warm and right under his hands. His body doesn’t stir, not as it might, as she murmurs and moves a little, pressing back into him, breasts slipping across his palm; instead a feeling of completeness steals over him and he nestles closer, pushing his mouth against the nape of her neck.
They are ready to go and Jackie thinks – this is it, we’re really off. But Ernest stumbles; Connor catches him. Ray pauses.
So they turn back to the Stoneman and Jackie unfurls a rug. There is no shelter, but the group doesn’t miss it. He and Connor sit down, warm as toast. Gerry lights a fire and they all circle it, near to the Stoneman. Angie fishes out a cooking pot from a bag, Ray takes out a couple of hares, wrapped in brown paper, from his briefcase of surprises. Gerry skins them quickly, accepts the skewers Ray offers and roasts the animals over the fire. Soon a tasty, rich smell fills the air and Jackie feels hungry for the first time in days.
It takes hours to reach the Stoneman and, when they do, night is falling and the temperature has dropped. The group are aware of the stiffening breeze and the occasional shard of ice across their teeth, but they don’t feel the cold as viscerally as they might. They stand beside the Stoneman. It soars into the air, standing so tall that Angie can’t see the top.
The bar door is thrown open – it seems an appropriate, dramatic gesture, now they are finally leaving. Connor feels as though it has taken forever to get to this point – he feels a pull behind his belly button towards the open door and pressure in his calves to move, his body throbbing forward. Snow swirls in unremittingly; the outside is inside and Connor is momentarily confused. He doesn’t know
Jackie realises he is hungry: he had not stopped to eat Connor’s stew before stepping out into the snow and stumbling towards Shay’s Bar.
The familiar, empty ache blooms in his stomach like it always does, threaded with a line of panic. Will he eat? Will there ever be food?
Somehow it has been decided that they will leave tonight, even with the snow still falling. When Frank says it will be so, Hettie simply nods and sees the others bow their heads in affirmation. She forgets about the ice splinters in her toes and forgets that her core – that hard centre of her that she always imagines is shaped like a pine cone – has frozen and stuck to her ribs.
No, somehow it has been decided they will set off tonight and those memories of stabbing, awful cold have been wiped away.
And now Hettie finds herself in Angie’s room, above the bar. She is standing at the end of Angie’s unmade bed while the barmaid rummages in a closet, throwing clothes over her shoulder.
Angie breaks the circle first, dropping Gerry the Gin’s hand and turning away. Connor watches and sees the woman appears to be crying. He wonders why and then sees Jackie’s face is wet, too. And Hettie’s, and Gerry’s. He lets go of Jackie’s hand and touches his own cheeks, fingers sliding over damp skin, and he holds them in front of them, astonished.
The atmosphere in the bar changes as the snow-wet bodies step inside. Jackie reveals his face first, wiping away flakes that quickly turn to water in the heat of the place.
His gloves feel sodden; he peels them off, gritting his teeth. They fall with a heavy slap on the floor.
A recent post on Facebook made me think about “wrong” words. The post was really a simple test of observation:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Repost when you find the mitsake
I shared this on Facebook and received comments from friends which invariably included a spelling mistake, e.g. “I found it straight away, we must have gone to a good skool” and “I found it in seccunds”.