Snowdrops

Read an excerpt from ‘Snowdrops’ – a short story:

After the funeral she packs off her son and his sad-smiling wife and goes to bed.  She lies like a pencil under the summer-weight duvet pinned down by layers of grey, heavy as army blankets.  She stares at the ceiling, focused on the cracks in the plaster.  Only a throat as dry as her eyes and the chill of the empty bed bring her out of there.  She slurps water from cupped hands and stares in the bathroom mirror at a woman she might have seen somewhere before.

Next come the days of watching the sheep in the field across the river.  Sometimes she wonders why they don’t move.  They’re as neat as hay bales, set in the postcard picture of a place she has no wish to visit.  My word, what a view!  It quite takes your breath away.  Quite.  Yes, quite.  You can never stay angry for long when you look out over the water.  Will that still be true?  She glares at the sheep and a vague doubt shivers her mind, a breath from some sleeping beast she lets lie.

She patrols the rooms picking up objects that do not seem to belong to her, baffled by photographs of people she knows she should care about.  When it rains and water sluices against the windows she envies the glass panes their wetness.

One day she will talk it all through with herself, take stock.  But now there seems to be nothing to say.  Always she is cold.  She refills her hot water bottle constantly, hugging it to her, fingering the differently textured sides, running a nail across its ridges to send a rubbery vibrato into the silence.  She stares at the ash in the grate and knows that flames are possible.  But neither her mind nor her hands can put the necessary parts together.  She hasn’t enough spark to make fire.  Instead she curls into the sofa cushions, pulls the neck of her jumper up over her face and snuffs up the musty smell of herself in the woolly darkness.

Eventually she has to go out.  The walls are falling in on her and there is no more bread, no more little tins of baked beans with the clever ring-pull lids.  There are only cans of sardines left.  Don always ate the sardines.  Oily fish, good for you.  Except they weren’t good enough.  She’s never liked them, but now she won’t ever be able to throw them out.

‘A potato,’ she thinks.  ‘I want a potato.’  The image of a potato floats into her consciousness, baked and steaming with knobs of butter melting into its craters.  Her mouth waters and she observes the process with interest.  It’s the first message her body has sent her.

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