The last of the logs crackled in the fireplace. A bone-piercing chill steadily embraced the once warm and inviting front room. On the coffee table a bottle of our favourite cheap red wine was missing only one large glass, the take-away pizza less than half eaten.
This was supposed to have been our chance to talk, to patch things over – perhaps our last chance. He should have been here well before eight, been off the roads long before the storm passed across the valley floor.
I had red wine and pizza while waiting that night too, and every year since.
Kelly’s feet ached. The soles on her shoes needed repairing; Frankie Jr’s front teeth needed straightening.
‘Five minutes, Kelly.’
The manager’s words were sympathetically delivered, but she knew she couldn’t take advantage. Not if she wanted to keep this job.
There was one last card to write – it was always the hardest. Christmas was just about the only time Kelly and her mother acknowledged each other’s existence these days. Some years she wondered why they bothered at all. But then she would remember the times before it went bad, and then she’d cry, and then she’d write the card.
We hadn’t advanced in weeks. My fingers and toes were turning black with frostbite. From somewhere deep within the freezing mists came the unnerving echo of enemy gunfire. This cursed weather didn’t seem to affect them as much as it did us.
Despite everything, my letters home had remained defiant – they had to be. We knew that all of our personal correspondence was reviewed by increasingly paranoid eyes. If I told the truth, If I said I thought the Fuhrer was wrong, I’d never see my wife and son again.
I steadied my rifle, despite trembling hands, as fresh snows began to fall.
Colin lives in a tent at the bottom of his mother’s garden – down there between the gnarly old fir and the stream. It may not seem like much of a home, but to Colin it’s his sanctuary. His place away from the darkness and the doubts. He couldn’t live anywhere else, not now.
Colin is 59 and his mother passed last month. Colin’s older sister inherited the family home and wants him gone. Colin and his siblings drifted apart after what happened with their father. His mother though continued to love him as only a mother could. Colin is lost and scared without her.
Sophie stood out from even the most glamorous of crowds. Her glistening blond hair, the immaculate make-up, the perfect poise – the unmatched grace and style. Everything she wore was made to measure. Nothing but the best for Sophie, only the most famous of labels would do. At times she could attract attention, receive lingering looks from passers-by. Yet, it never made her feel uncomfortable. Instead it made her feel wanted. It made her feel real.
Back in their small home town, Sophie’s father may still mourn for his lost son, yet there isn’t a prouder father alive. Sophie had become the perfect daughter.
From the shadows at the top of the staircase I could see the fireworks reflecting in the lens of her black spectacles, almost smell the starch on her featureless, grey uniform.
‘Liberation Day’ they hailed it. Liberated from the now elitist burdens of freedom, choice and democracy.
My sister was too young to understand as they looked out over the city together. But I knew what our mother had done – what all those of newly acquired status had done. It was in that moment that our future fates were formally and fatally entwined: I would have to kill her.
Three red lights shimmered in the summer haze. The cars on the start line continued to rev, golden licks of flame shooting from the silver and black exhausts. One by one the lights went dark. Both cars screeched from the start, flame and smoke trails in their wake. Before you could wipe the heat and dust from your eyes it was over. Dad had won again.
‘Well, he’s only gone and done it, Brad.’ I turned towards my little brother, but he himself was already turned away – lost in his own world. Brad had never really shown much interest in racing; he’d never really shown much interest in most of the things our family was known for in the county. I though loved all of it: the cars, the competition, the noise, the excitement. But I was a girl and girl’s don’t race.
The fans in the stands cheered as this year’s champion made his way back towards the pits. In a few years Brad would be expected to take over the family concern – expected to become the next champion to raise the family name high. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Dad would be heartbroken, but in time I hoped he’d understand.
A ewe and her lamb huddled together for warmth in the darkness of the crumbling cottage. Last night the rest of the flock had followed each other into the temporary pen readied behind the farmyard, but at least one wary mother appeared to know what this meant.
As sunlight crept over the hills a red quad bike approached the cottage. A young collie crept inside and chased the two shivering occupants out into the open field. The farmer looked at his watch. Over his shoulder he could hear the lorry approaching: the spring lambs would soon be on their way.