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2019 winner

The Irish writer, Danielle McLaughlin, won the 2019 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award for her story 'A Partial List of the Saved'


'A Partial List of the Saved'

The flight attendant who brought the beer was the same one who’d performed the safety demonstration an hour earlier as they’d taxied down the runway at San Francisco. ‘In the unlikely event of landing in water,’ a disembodied voice had said as the woman popped a lifejacket over her head. ‘Unlikely’ hardly went far enough, Conor thought. He hated to be a pedant, but still. It was unlikely that he’d packed a European adapter, but one might yet materialise among the tangle of accessories he’d shoved in his suitcase as the taxi waited by the kerb. It was unlikely that the man seated to his left would stop talking any time soon, but it was not inconceivable that some affliction of the throat might set in. It seemed wrong, somehow, that the possibility that they would all be plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic to have their eyes eaten out by small fishes should be placed on a par with these other, more mundane, eventualities. Surely, at a minimum, it was ‘extremely unlikely’?

On the other side of him sat his ex-wife, Reece. They’d been married ten years when he’d discovered she was conducting an affair with one of her co-workers at the marine biology centre, a younger man called Dan. Or Quinoa Dan as Conor privately thought of him, with his man-bun and his Converse and his vegan tray-bakes. Conor had been to Dan’s apartment once, in the days before the affair. He’d eaten flourless vegan cake for Dan’s 35th birthday in a loft in an old bottling factory in Mission Bay, an open-plan rectangular space, with up-cycled furniture and cork floors. When confronted about the affair, Reece said that she was sorry, but she didn’t say that she would stop seeing Dan. Instead, she’d quietly packed a suitcase and left. That was in January.

*

‘This might sound a little odd,’ was how he’d prefaced his request when he’d rung her on a Saturday evening in late April.

‘Go on,’ she said.

The affair with Dan had since ended, and Reece was renting a studio apartment in Belmont. They were being civilised about the divorce, because what other way was there to be, Conor thought, at this hour of their lives, him 52, Reece 47. It wasn’t as if they were high schoolers, maddened by young love’s implosion.

‘Remember how my father always adored you?’ he said.

‘Your father’s a sweetheart. I’ll always be very fond of him.’

‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘Daddy hasn’t been well lately.’ He stopped. He’d thought long and hard about this call, but now he feared that he’d miscalculated. ‘His lungs are bad, his heart is bad, his kidneys aren’t too good either. It’s his 80th birthday on July 10th and Joanne wants us all to be there.’

‘Us?’

‘Yes, us. You. Me.’

‘Oh,’ she said. He heard a soft clunk on the other end of the line. He pictured her putting down the phone, winding her index finger round and round in her hair, as she’d always done when puzzled. ‘Reece?’ he said, ‘Are you still there?’ Was she in bed, he wondered? He imagined his voice travelling down the wires, re-visiting his wife in her new bedroom.

‘I didn’t expect to be invited,’ she said eventually. ‘I was afraid your father might think badly of me. I worried he might blame me for the divorce.’

Well who else would he be blaming? Conor thought. ‘You mustn’t mention anything about that,’ he said. ‘My father doesn’t know.’

‘That’s the kind of thing a father should know, Conor. How could you not tell him?’

‘It would kill him, Reece, it would break his heart. He always thought the sun shone out your ass.’

‘Does Joanne know?’ Joanne was Conor’s sister.

‘She thinks we’re going through a rough patch.’

Reece was silent for a moment. ‘Do they still ask after me?’ she said.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I tell them that you’re very well.’ He paused. ‘It’s a lot to ask, I know,’ he said. ‘I’ll pay for everything, obviously.’

‘I don’t know, Conor. Isn’t it a sort of ... lie?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s a kindness. My father won’t last another birthday; he may not even last this one. I want to do this one small thing for him. I want him to die thinking we’re happy.’

She said nothing to that. Are you happy, Reece? he wanted to ask, but didn’t. He wouldn’t have minded if she was. After all the hurt, it would be a shame if neither of them was happy; it would be such a waste.

‘Okay,’ she said quietly, ‘I’ll go. I’ve always loved your father.’

*

The plane entered a pocket of turbulence and the fasten seat belt sign came on. Unlikely. Conor gripped his beer more tightly. The man next to him was a barrelly, red-faced man from Delaware who exuded heat like one of those bricks the Victorians had used to warm their beds. Delaware man worked for a company that installed panic rooms and he detailed the intricacies of these spaces, every strip-lit passageway, every trompe l’oeil, in a wheezy patter half way between sales pitch and sonnet. ‘How the other half live, eh?’ he said to Conor, and Conor was briefly offended at being so speedily, and accurately, consigned to a particular half. They were flying economy class, and the man’s considerable frame overflowed the space allocated, his arm, leg, belly, the whole sweaty bulk of him, committing one trespass after another. On the other side of Conor, Reece had carefully arranged her limbs so as not to touch him at all.

*

At Dublin airport they hired a car and took the road north. The last time they’d travelled this road it had been summertime, not a dull day like this one, but a glorious day with the sun beating down, rugs stretched in front of bungalows, and bodies, eerily pale, prostrate on front lawns like pieces of salt cod left to dry. Today the fields were shrouded in drizzle. The light was otherworldly, silver on the distant surface of the bog lakes. The previous autumn, Reece had gone to Lake Merritt for a training weekend with a group of conservation volunteers that included in their number Quinoa Dan. All lakes now held for Conor embedded images of Dan and Reece in a boat, Reece wearing shorts and a bikini, the sun browning her already brown shoulders as the boat carried them out to the eelgrass beds, or the nesting places of rare birds.

Reece fussed with the radio channels. She talked about eel grass conversation, and about a new kind of solar panel they’d had fitted to the roof of the marine biology centre. Then she lapsed into silence. ‘Don’t you want to know anything about me, Conor?’ she said eventually, ‘Don’t you want to know how I am? I acknowledge my part in how things ended, but ten years of marriage and in the past seven hours you haven’t once asked how I am?’

‘How are you?’ he said.

Reece sighed, turned to look out the window. ‘Never mind,’ she said.

His father lived in Listrane, with Conor’s sister Joanne. A mile before the town there was a monument, four busts carved in marble and set on a limestone base in memory of four local men captured by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence. He remembered as a child being told how they’d been taken to a shed, shot in both legs and the shed set alight. The window of the rental car was open and as they drove by, Conor thought he sensed the air grow denser, heavier.

‘Is it possible, do you think,’ Reece said, ‘that something so terrible can inhabit the ether of a place?’

He had told her about the men, and the shooting, the first time he’d brought her here. ‘You mean like a ghost?’ he asked now.

‘Maybe not a ghost, exactly,’ she said, ‘more like the way one photo can be super-imposed on another.’

On previous visits they had always stayed with his family, but this time they could hardly share Conor’s childhood room with its one bed. And he could hardly sleep on the sofa downstairs - Joanne was already asking too many questions. He’d told his sister they’d be staying at the hotel because Reece needed wi-fi for work.

‘We have internet here,’ Joanne said. ‘I got one of those dangle things.’

‘Reece needs a high speed connection,’ he’d said quickly. ‘She’s terribly busy at the moment.’

‘I hope she’s not going to miss Daddy’s party,’ Joanne said.

‘She wouldn’t dream of it,’ he said. ‘She’s very fond of Daddy.’

The hotel, a small, family run affair, was the only one in town. To book separate rooms would have been to give themselves away, and so he’d agreed with Reece that he’d book a room with twin beds. But when he turned the key in the door, he saw that instead of two beds, there was one. Reece followed him inside, set down her suitcase. He stared at the neatly dressed bed with its scatter of cushions. He wondered if Reece would make him go down to the foyer and insist to the receptionist that they required separate beds. Perhaps he could persuade her to be pragmatic about it; after all, they had plenty practice of lying next to one another in bed without having sex. It wasn’t exactly outside their area of competence. Things had not been unequivocally good in their marriage in the year preceding Quinoa Dan, a fact he’d only recently conceded to himself. He might even make a joke of it; ‘It’ll be fine, Reece,’ he might say, ‘Just like old times.’

Reece sprang open the locks on her suitcase. ‘It’s fine,’ she said. She unpacked a change of clothes, and her toiletries bag. ‘I’m going to take a shower.’

He was surprised by her lack of fuss about the bed. Perhaps, he thought, it was a sign that she still had feelings for him. On the other hand, it could mean that sex was the last thing on her mind, and she was presuming that it was also the last thing on his.

The house where he’d grown up was in a cul-de-sac. It was pebble-dashed and had a garden to the front and a yard to the back, a respectable smattering of flowering shrubs, a square of gently aged tarmac where Joanne parked her car. When he rang the bell, the door wasn’t answered immediately, but the curtains parted a fraction and an elderly woman Conor recognised as a neighbour, Mrs Dillon, peered out. The curtain dropped back into place and a moment later his father was at the door. ‘Reece!’ he said, ‘Welcome, welcome. Come in.’

‘Hello Daddy,’ Conor said, handing his father a bottle of whiskey.

Joanne came running out then, gripping Conor by the shoulders in greeting, kissing Reece, rolling her eyes in the direction of her father as they followed him down the hall. His father held the bottle of whiskey in front of him like a torch. He was wearing brown creased slacks in a style he’d adopted some twenty years previously and a grey Aran cardigan buttoned to the neck. His gait was slower than Conor remembered.

In the kitchen, his father waved a hand in the direction of Mrs Dillon. ‘You know Agnes,’ he said.

So that was Mrs Dillon’s name. Conor couldn’t recall ever hearing it before.

‘Of course he knows me,’ she said, ‘don’t I remember him when he was in nappies!’

Conor gave a tight smile. ‘Nice to see you again, Agnes,’ he said. ‘This is my wife, Reece.’ It felt almost blasphemous, addressing Agnes by her first name. He couldn’t remember ever calling her that as a child. Even to his mother, she had always been ‘Mrs Dillon.’

Reece and Agnes shook hands. ‘New tiles?’ Reece said, tapping her foot on the kitchen floor.

‘Yes,’ his father said, pleased. ‘Agnes thought they could do with replacing. And they’ve turned out very nice, I must say.’

Conor noticed the ease with which his father and Agnes navigated each other in the kitchen, his father’s indulgent smile when Agnes knocked over the little porcelain salt dish. Joanne meanwhile was slamming plates of salad onto the table, cherry tomatoes rolling around like little red snooker balls. He kept expecting Agnes to leave, but it seemed that she was joining them.

‘What’s San Francisco like?’ Agnes said. She’d taken a seat beside Conor, across the table from his father.

‘Great,’ Conor said, ‘San Francisco’s great.’

‘Any Muslims?’ his father said.

‘There are Muslims, yes,’ Conor said.

‘We have them here now too,’ his father said. ‘In the full rig out. Turbans, beards, the works.’

Conor cleared his throat, willed a suitable response to present itself. He was saved by Mrs Dillon who just then emitted a small hard cough, followed by a choking sound. Her eyes grew watery. She inserted a finger into her mouth and brought out something green and stringy, celery possibly, and placed it on the edge of her plate. She reddened as she stared down at it. Conor watched his father reach across and pat her hand. There was something troublingly intimate about the gesture, as if they’d engaged in some sexual act in front of him. He felt something else too, something he couldn’t immediately identify, though after a moment, it came to him. Jealousy. He was jealous of his 80 year old father and Agnes Dillon, Agnes who must be 75, at least, and who was currently wiping saliva from her finger onto her plaid skirt.

‘Daddy,’ Joanne said, frowning, ‘perhaps you could get Agnes a glass of water.’ She turned to Reece. ‘Any plans for tomorrow?’ It was Friday, and his father’s birthday wasn’t until Sunday. Officially, they were on holiday.

‘We’re going to Belfast to visit the Titanic Museum,’ Reece said. ‘One of my ancestors sailed on the ship from Cobh. I’d invite you along, except I’m guessing you’ve seen it a million times.’

‘I’ve never seen it,’ Joanne said.

‘Never?’ Reece said. ‘Then you must come with us!’

‘I’ve never seen it either,’ Agnes said. She looked across the table at Conor’s father. ‘Have you seen it, Dennis?’ Dennis, it turned out, hadn’t seen it.

‘The more the merrier,’ Reece said. ‘There’s plenty room in the car, isn’t there, Conor?’

He rested his fork on the edge of his plate. A car trip with Mrs Dillon. What fresh hell was this? The first he’d heard of the Titanic plan was when they were waiting for the clerk to fill out the paperwork at the car hire desk. ‘Plenty of room,’ he said, nodding.

Joanne stood up, began gathering plates, dropping them noisily into the sink. ‘It’s very kind of you, Reece,’ she said, ‘but I’m on the altar flower rota tomorrow. Anyway’ – she looked pointedly at her father – ‘I expect you and Conor would prefer to have the day to yourself.’

Agnes followed Joanne to the sink, began lifting out the plates again, stacking them neatly to one side. ‘Never mind, Joanne,’ she said, ‘We’ll bring you back a stick of rock.’

*

Lunch finished, his father and Agnes went to fetch groceries for Agnes’ sister, and Conor, Reece and Joanne moved to the sitting room.

‘What’s going on there?’ Conor asked, as lightly as he could manage.

‘Love,’ Reece said softly, ‘that’s what’s going on.’

Joanne poured coffee, passed around cups and saucers and a plate of biscuits. She sat on the sofa beside Reece. ‘I’m at my wits end,’ she said, ‘The latest is that she has him on some new kind of tablets.’ She put a hand into the pocket of her dress and produced two capsules, dented and squashed, one of them leaking fine silver granules. She held them out on her palm. ‘What would they be, Conor?’

He’d tried, and failed, to explain to his sister that as a high school chemistry teacher he knew no more about pharmaceuticals than the average teenager; less, probably. ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he said, ‘I’d need to see the box.’

Joanne sighed, slipped the pills back into her pocket. ‘I don’t know where he keeps the box,’ she said, ‘He left these beside the telephone.’

‘But it’s sweet, isn’t it?’ Reece said. ‘I think it’s sweet.’

Joanne put down her cup and saucer. She blinked furiously, and for a second Conor feared that she might cry. When she spoke again, she addressed herself to Reece. ‘You know what she has him doing now?’ she said, ‘Elder Yoga. I walked in on them the other evening. And now he’s started talking about marrying her. It’s galling, when I think of how she used to look down her nose at Mammy. At all of us. Wouldn’t speak to us if she met us on the street. If it were anyone else it wouldn’t be so bad. It wouldn’t be ideal either, I’ll grant you. But Agnes Dillon! She’s after the house, of course, we all know that. And I haven’t figured out how to tell Daddy that he can’t marry her. Thank goodness you’re here, Conor.’

‘Me?’ he said.

‘Yes. I thought that you might have a word with him. He’s always listened to you.’

For a second, he felt proud that she imagined him up to the task. And there were indeed plenty of warnings he could issue about marriage. How it had broken his heart, had left him a shell of a man who needed two different kinds of pills to get to sleep at night. But he couldn’t say any of this to his father, who believed his son to be happily married.

Joanne was looking at him, expectantly.

‘All right,’ he said, ‘but I’ll need to wait for the right moment.’ He excused himself then, and went outside, walked down the back lane that ran behind the houses and later joined the main road. He walked until he reached the monument to the dead patriots. He hadn’t noticed before, but several of them were sporting expressions that could only be described as smug, though it was hard to see what they could have to be smug about. It was getting late now, the light seeping out of the day. He turned and began to walk back. He was no clearer about what he should do concerning his father and Agnes Dillon. A breeze rustled the trees that stretched green, luxuriant branches out into the lane, causing him to duck. It seemed to him that the evening possessed that exact combination of shadow and solitude that might reasonably be expected to deliver wisdom, or if not wisdom, then at least a practical answer. But nothing presented itself.

*

That night in the hotel bedroom, they climbed into their one bed in the most matter of fact way possible. When the lights went off and there was only the soft illumination of the street lamps, Conor sneaked a look at his wife, if that’s what she still was. She was lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. Her face looked calm, relaxed. It was impossible to guess what she might be thinking. Nobody gave herself away less than Reece; the apocalypse, or a crack in a mason jar bought at a good will sale: both of these happenings would cause the same quizzical but otherwise impenetrable expression to settle upon his wife’s face.

‘It’s not for you to interfere in your dad’s life,’ Reece said, ‘it’s not for Joanne to interfere either.’

He felt as if she’d caught him staring. ‘He’s our father,’ he said, ‘If we don’t interfere who will?’

‘He’s an adult,’ Reece said, ‘He’s free to marry who he likes. Anyway, I still don’t see what the problem is.’

Earlier, when he’d arrived back from his walk, Joanne had spent a further half hour attempting to explain the problem. She’d made what, in Conor’s opinion, were several very good points. Reece had been un-convinced. ‘Gold digger?’ she’d said, laughing, ‘Oh come on, Joanne, hardly!’ and Conor had seen his sister’s chin jut outwards, the way it did when she took offence.

‘This might be the best thing that ever happened to Joanne,’ Reece continued now. She was still staring at the ceiling. ‘It might be the saving of her. She’s in a rut here, looking after your father, has been for years. This isn’t about your mother’s memory, Conor. This is about Joanne not wanting to change, not wanting Agnes coming in on her patch.’

‘Maybe Joanne is quite happy here on her patch?’ he said, ‘have you thought about that?’

‘Does Joanne seem happy to you?’Reece said.

Outside on the street, someone smashed a bottle against the footpath, and a dog took up a half-hearted wail. ‘But where would she go,’ he said, eventually. ‘What would she do, if she were to leave? A woman on her own, at this hour of her life?’

‘I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,’ Reece said, turning onto her side to face the wall. She tugged the duvet closer around her shoulders. ‘Promise me,’ she said, with her back to him.

‘What?’

‘Promise me you won’t say anything to your father.’

Who was she to talk about promises, Conor thought? ‘I promise,’ he said.

*

The Titanic Museum was appropriately huge, eight stories high. From the outside it looked like an ice-berg. Inside, the first thing that caught Reece’s attention was a framed print from an old newspaper, an article headed ‘A Partial List Of The Saved.’ Humankind had always pandered to hope, Conor thought, regardless of whether there was any basis for it. When did they publish A Definitive List of the Saved? To whom fell the task of deciding when hope had ended? He thought of the passengers bobbing about on that dark water, waiting to be rescued, and then he thought of the bodies that had settled on the sea floor and were no longer waiting for anything.

Reece’s ancestor had drowned in the Titanic, but in the gift shop she bought a copy of the print anyway. ‘Do you think your father would like one?’ she said. He knew what his father would say about such things: a fool and his money are easily parted. But that was his old father. The new incarnation of his father was at this moment examining silk scarves with Agnes, taking one to the till in spite of her protestations, arranging it, lovingly, around her neck. They were like a honey moon couple. Joanne was right, something would have to be said. Yes, his mother had been dead a long time; she had died the year he graduated college. But since his father had waited all this time and since he and Agnes hadn’t experienced any crushing need for one another in the intervening years, was it unreasonable to ask why they should go upsetting the apple cart now, when it was hardly worth their while?

There was a ride on tracks where visitors were ferried through a reconstructed boat yard in brightly painted carts. Each cart held two people. Agnes wanted to go on, but Conor’s father was worried about his heart condition. ‘Where’s Reece?’ his father said, looking around, but Reece was nowhere to be seen. ‘Conor will go with you so,’ his father said, and Agnes smiled and proffered her arm.

As she climbed into the cart ahead of him, he noticed for the first time that she had a little bald patch on the top of her head, pink scalp surrounded by a white ring of hair, like a medieval monk. This close to her, he noticed that her elastic support stockings lent an orange hue to her legs. He remembered her scolding him for running on the street when he was a child, and her air of superiority when she spoke to his mother about Residents Association business. Now look at you, he wanted to say, not so bloody superior now, are you? But he didn’t. It wasn’t kindness that restrained him, but fear of what she might say back. He was aware that he hadn’t aged well; he was no Brad Pitt or George Clooney. He was no Quinoa Dan.

A staff member pulled the safety bar into position and the cart trundled off. Was it possible, Conor wondered, that this might be an opportunity in disguise? A chance to have a little chat with Agnes while Reece was otherwise occupied? It would be a reasonable chat. He’d tell Agnes that she was a lovely woman, but that unfortunately – was ‘unfortunately’ the word? ‘regrettably’ perhaps – regrettably, she couldn’t marry his father. He forbade it. But ‘forbade’ had a thwarted lovers’ feel to it: Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere; it might only encourage her. He’d have to think of a better way of putting it.

‘Is everything okay, Conor?’ Agnes asked.

He became aware that he was drumming his fingers on the safety bar. ‘My father is vulnerable,’ he said, ‘my father is old.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ Agnes said.

He didn’t like the way she used ‘we’, didn’t like it one bit, but he was in no position to argue. He and this white-haired, slightly-whiskered woman inhabited more or less the same space now. Being a high school teacher, he’d long ago come to understand that there were no meaningful degrees of old.

‘I don’t want anyone taking advantage,’ he said.

‘Anyone?’ Agnes said.

‘You,’ he said, ‘I don’t want you taking advantage.’ And then because she was looking at him strangely: ‘I don’t want you to marry my father.’

‘Ah,’ she said, in much the same way Reece sometimes did. She went quiet then, and looked away, seemingly absorbed by an original set of gates from the Harland and Wolff shipyard that the cart had halted at. ‘I won’t pretend he hasn’t asked,’ she said.

Conor experienced the same feeling he got when he arrived at the metro just as the doors slid shut. ‘What did you tell him?’

‘I told him I’d have to think about it.’

He gripped the rail tighter as the cart trundled on. What was there to think about, he wondered? ‘My father is a good man,’ he said.

Agnes nodded. ‘A lovely man.’

‘You’ll break his heart.’ It occurred to him that he was supposed to be on the other side of the argument, but he knew that what he’d said was true.

‘I’m going to live with my daughter in Canberra. She’s been asking me for a while and I thought, why not, I’d like to see another part of the world before I die, and I’d like to see my grandchildren. I haven’t told your father yet. Not until after his birthday. Maybe I won’t have to tell him at all, he hasn’t been all that well recently, and you know...’ She trailed off.

The cart had travelled up an incline past a replica of the Titanic’s rudder. Conor looked down, saw Reece waving. Reece’s other hand rested on the shoulder of his father, who was beaming up happily. The cart rounded a corner and when he looked down again, Reece had gone. His father was still standing there, his head tilted back, grinning like a child.

When the ride ended, he stumbled as he dismounted and his trousers snagged on the edge of a barrier. He recovered his balance in time, but now he had a loose flap of fabric on the front of his left thigh, a perfectly rectangular tear several centimetres wide. He frowned. His father rushed over to help Agnes out of the cart, and she dismounted with the air of a 1920s starlet. Reece had arrived back and now she took Conor’s arm, pulled him to one side.

‘Did you do something terrible?’ she said.

‘No.’

‘Did you say something to Agnes about her dating your father?’

Nobody had ever been able to figure him out like Reece did. When he didn’t answer, she sighed. ‘I really hope you didn’t say anything inappropriate, Conor.’

She took something out of her bag. It was another piece of merchandise, this time a postcard designed to mirror the Partial List of the Saved, with a blank space added where presumably, one wrote the name of the recipient. Conor thought it in bad taste. But Reece had bought a whole bunch of them, and now she offered him one. There was something ceremonial in the way she held it out to him, and he thought he detected a rare shyness as she watched him take it. He turned the card over, saw that she had written their names - Reece and Conor – just that, in the space provided. She had drawn a circle around the names. He looked closer. Possibly the circle was a heart.

In the car on the way home, he drove, while Reece sat in the passenger seat and his father and Agnes sat in the back. He glanced in the rear view mirror and saw that his father looked flushed, happy, as he talked nineteen to the dozen about what a great day it had been, what a good job had been made of the museum. ‘Say what you like about the Titanic,’ his father said, ‘but it was some ship.’ He paused to adjust Agnes’ new scarf that had slipped from her shoulder. Agnes was quieter than usual, gazing out the car window, and for a moment there was only the back and forth squeak of the windscreen wipers. It had started to rain as they left Belfast, a light drizzle that had gradually grown heavier.

Conor found himself hoping that at the birthday party on Sunday his father would strain so much to blow out his candles that the breath would become his last, and he would die happy in love and ignorance. It was unbearable: the thought of his father, once more, losing love; goodness knows, it wasn’t as if the man had much time left for finding it again. He would persuade Joanne to light all 80 candles, he decided. He would not tell her why.

As if the thought had summoned her, a text from his sister pinged into his phone. ‘Still at the church. Chicken sandwiches in the fridge.’ What would Joanne do, he wondered, now that the thing that was to save her was not, after all, going to happen?

And now they were nearing the war memorial again. They were almost home. He eased his foot off the accelerator, let the car slow, though he didn’t stop. He desperately wanted to keep his father in the car as long as possible; to cocoon him in this space where nothing sad could be said as long as the drive had not yet ended. He would drive forever if he could, if it would save his father from anything. Reece reached across, put a hand on his leg, her fingers resting on the patch of bare skin where the fabric had torn. They were at the monument now, and this time he kept the car window closed. He had no desire to invite in those dead men with their bravery and their firm jaws. The wipers swept back and forth, sluicing water and, for all he knew, the invisible atoms of dead patriots off the windscreen. As they drove past, he nodded curtly to the four bronze heads, lucky men, Conor thought, who’d only ever been asked to prove themselves in war and insurrection, who’d never been asked to account for themselves in the more fearsome matter of love.

A little bit about Danielle McLaughlin

Danielle.jpeg

Danielle McLaughlin’s short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Stinging Fly, the Irish Times, and elsewhere. They have also been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. Her debut collection of short stories, Dinosaurs On Other Planets, was published in Ireland in 2015 by The Stinging Fly Press, in the UK and US in 2016 by John Murray and Random House. Her awards for short fiction include the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition, The Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize, The Merriman Short Story Competition in memory of Maeve Binchy, and the Dromineer Literary Festival Short Story Competition. Her debut novel A Retrospective will be published in 2020.