Anne felt the icy draft sweep in to the kitchen as she was lifting the dinner from the oven .
-I’m going out , he shouted back , which was rather unnecessary as the was already in the car .
- I’ll have the dinner on the table in a few minutes . Will you be long , she went to the yard and called after him .
- no no - just going over to the pond ,- he shouted slamming the car door .
He hadn’t taken the dog who was looking at the car with a heavy sense of dejection .
She heard the car roar down the avenue as she turned back in to the kitchen.
Unlike him to go without the dog, but then what was like him. Unpredictable, selfish to the last ; that was just him . No sooner than she had the dinner ready that was the moment he would be struck with a some new inspiration or just to do some thing impetuously, and with pressing urgency.
He was always the same . As an only son he just became that way , she thought . Would things have been different if he weren’t .
They were a childless couple . She often thought that having a son might have made a man of him. But their marriage was not “blessed “.. And now their marriage was little more that two people facing in to middle age , without love; only companionship. They would grow into their middle years together without rancour ; and they would get old together on the same unvaried route they had travelled thus far.They would pass away without much disturbance in the parish. The lonliness and inevitability of thier lives crushed in upon hersometimes with an anguish as bleak as the leafless trees ; dead before their time .Wandering without purpose from one season to the next in a bland continuoum .,and the despait of it wore her down.
She took a folded note from her purse as he left and sat by the window looking out into the forlorn yard with only the moping spaniel , weary and head down from not being brought shooting, loping disconcertedly back to her kennel. The sky was a that leaden grey in the fading light . A little chill came over her . It looked like snow ,she thought, stoking the fire .
He parked the car and moved across the open field as the dusk gathered more quickly now. The light had just come on in the cottage , and it had just begun to snow.
He and his neighbour frequently went for an evening shot. The sound of shotgun would be muffled over the land with the coating of snow.
- good night Mary , is he ready ? - he asked the cheerful blowsy woman who answered the door.
He caught the smell of drink from her breath even from the doorstep.
He stood in the jar of the door as she bade him cheerfully to him come in.
-No No Thanks Mary .. I’d only be getting warmed up and having to go out again , close the door , and don’t be letting the heat out , for Gods sake ,and send himself out.
Paddy came out stamping the willowy flakes into his packed footprint the better to shape his thick socks into his Wellington boots.
- By God it’s a hardy one Jack - he said ,. His gun was broken over his crooked as he whistled for the dog.
- we wont stay long in it tonight -Paddy said.
- No fear , They’ll be on the pond or they’ll have flown on to the lake ; most likely the pond tonight with the bit of ice in the lake already .
He pointed to the dog
- Will she keep quiet now ? ;
The Red Setter was already aquiver ; ears pricked ; exited at the coming hunt.
- arra - shes a great girl -he said flirting with the dog who came studiously out of her kennel , trying to subdue its nature . Paddy opened to the boot of his car for the dog, as paddy called him back ..
- never mind .. We’d better move on . We’d pick them up just as quick ourselves. Leave her Paddy . It’ll be only the couple of shots.
Paddy looked a little miffed .
- Oh take her so ; Jack said .- I was only thinking of herself.
- Ahh , she’ s a good girl.. - Paddy said in the way farmers have of engaging their fond animals in general conversations.
- I hate to leave her behind.. She hates to be left behind. Never mind the cold.. I feel guilty when I don’t take her..
- I know what you mean..I left my own bitch behind all the same.
- ahh Jack - said Paddy ; - you’re not an old softy like me.
-Maybe not maybe not.. - Jack said blandly.
No.. Maybe not.
They drove across the little track .which was covered blanket of dusted snow , towards the pond.
- want to watch the road . Paddy said
-it’ll be all slush in a while ; easy get stuck in it tonight .
- I watching it - Jack said - I’m watching for that. We don’t want to be hauling some poor devil out tonight to pull us out of the ditch..
- Indeed no - said Paddy.
-no we wont stay long .. We’re a right pair of eegits to be out at all tonight. Jack said, chortling to himself.
- by god we are - said the other laughing .- Indeed we’re that. No doubt.
-Christ but its cold .. its dam cold.! - said Paddy as they pulled up in the ditch.
His voice dropped . The pond was just a couple of hundred yards beyond the wall. They were downwind , and the dog froze immediately, in the lifting fog..
- there’s birds in it - whispered Paddy in the lee of the wall,- look at her - he said looking at the dog. Her nose aquiver , searching the gentle breeze for the direction of the scent.
- we could be lucky tonight , they’ll surely be there .the lake is frozen and they’ll be in for the stubble fields. We’ll get out at the dyke and cross down by the stream.
- that’s s right . Said Paddy holding the dog. We’ll be down wind girl -you hear..- he said to the dog who looked at him carefully through her rapt attention to the different scentswafting in the whiskers of her nostrils .
As they scaled the crooked wall deftly in the gathering fog, and now thickly falling snow.. Jack whispered urgently.
- what have you in..
- pair of sixes like always..; said Paddy
- take these ..- Jack from produced two stronger cartriges fromhis belt
,- There could be a couple of geese with them..
- Begod youre right.. He said as he unloaded and put in the stronger cartridges in the gun..
Give me that gun of yours… mine has the heavier choke .. You’ll have the first shot if there’s geese in in ..
Righto !! Good idea ..Good man. - said Paddy.
They exchanged guns and they crossed the wall only the faintest breeze blew from across the pond..
- Be careful now Jack - said Paddy , - She has the two hammers ..
- I don’t know why the hell you wont get the new side by side..- Said Jack taking the older gun .
- they’re dangerous gun, Paddy -he said as the other landed the far side of the wall.- I wish to God you got the ordinary side by side.
- I know shure, whispered Paddy - I couldnt pick out one that suited me at all above in Dublin..you be careful with her now mind , he said.
Anne was reading the cards on the kitchen table whenshe heard the muffled shot in the distance . She looked out at the blanket of snow already in the yard,
- about the only time it looks clean , she thought idly.. But he’ll be giving out about all the mess the snow makes on a farm..
Why she had to keep reading the note , she couldn’t rightly tell. It was a simple thing. He’d sent it after their first day in Dublin . Night really . It had snowed that night also. And that was how it happened . They had bloddy travelled up to Dublin together . Paddy to buy a new shotgun and she to but a new coat. They met in Neary’s after the shopping and watched the news together with two hot whiskies in the foyer . The forecast was bad . The Airport had all but closed down. Many rail and bus links were cancelled , some roads impassable and they were cautioning travellers to only use certain roads and only to travel where absolutely necessary. It would freeze later in the night and roads would be treacherous.
They’d decided not to travel home and Paddy rang for the twwo of them .Yes it was the only sensible thing. Stay put . Stay put, was the advice . It was the only sensible thing to do. No point in meeting trouble half way as they say- they said. No . No point in that at all.
And no one suspected a thing.
That was the first time she and Paddy slept together . There were other brief encounters, but they longed to be together again for just a night, her heart quickened again as she took out the note he’d passed her in the pub, after their weekly card game.
My heart aches for you my love , when can we be together in one another’s arms again,, I’m so desperate with love for you, I’m afraid I’ll say something…or go mad with the burning inside me .Christ love, I’d do anything . To make you happy would be my abiding wish.. I wish to God things were different. I pray for you , Dear God I do. I know its not wrong..
My deepest Love as ever ,
And no one suspected a thing.
She was aroused from her reverie with a sudden commotion in the yard.
She went to the door gripped with an immediate and unknown terror.
There were two cars.. The priest’s and Jacks..
Jacks voice was low , and taking off his cap he began to speak slowly through the snow. The priest and the policeman held back in an awkward embarrassment.
- Its poor Paddy - Jack intoned ..
- getting over the wall .. - the hammer gun .. I told him ..I told him..
No No..!! Jesus NO !!.. she shrieked backing into the kitchen , as if her shrieking could obliterate the news.
Jack put his gun on the rack behind the door, and came in .
- The priest was at her side..
- God Love him Anne .We had to call the doctor for poor Mary . Poor thing was in a dreadful state ..
- oh she‘s hysterical.. - said Jack.. - she couldn’t take it in..
No no,, the priest continued ..-. And god rest him.. At least.. - he sighed.
- there would be no pain,, no pain at all.
Her hysteria , placated gave way to numbing shock, she fell back on to the chair..
- Anne , you’ll have to take a little something.. We’re all in shock..Jack would you have a little sup..
- Of course ,, of course,- Jack went to the cupboard.
They sipped the brandy in silence.
- going over the wall -? - she looked from one to the other in disbelief,
- that’s it.. that’s it - poor man .. God rest him .-said the priest , shaking his heavy head.
The policeman who had said nothing was swaying his cap in his massive hands , thought now he ought put some officialdom on the tragedy. He spoke now in a voice which was unfamiliar to himself.
- God bless him .. But it’s the commonest accident.. Happen to any one …those hammer guns .. - he trailed off
- that’s right - ; Jack breathed heavily - that’s right ..- crossing a wall ..
- the simplest thing - the priest said shaking his head
- But , - the policeman said again in an intoning voice,-
- he wouldn’t even know it , would he Father .. I mean , he’d feel nothing .. Would he ?
- Lord no.. No no.. ! all he knows now is he’s in heaven..- He paused before going on;,
- He was very spiritual you know.. No. no. He’s gone straight to God.- he said with a solemn but firm wisdom.
_- A very spiritual simple , good man . God rest him
-God rest him they all said ..
The funeral was held back for three further days on account of the snow and people travelling. But it was the biggest seen in the parish since the monsignor died.
The priest spoke endearingly about Paddy’s spirituality, and told the congregation that just as sure as the snow had melted, he knew that Paddys soul was at peace in Heaven.
Jack spoke movingly about his old friend . His shooting and fishing partner in so many years.. And maybe it was now time for himself to put up the gun. No doubt Paddy was looking down on all the faces now . Now he knew - Jack said - - Now Paddy knows who was cheating at their card games ,( polite laughter) and now he knows all our little secret.. ( puzzled laughter)
.-. But there was nothing more certain,., there wasn’t a bad bone in that mans body , he concluded to a muted and respectful applause, which rippled like a little wave around the church.
It was a lovely funeral. The choir sang Hail Queen of Heaven.. The Ocean Star .
And as the coffin was carried out - the Ave Maria.
It was a sad but beautiful funeral - the devoted congregation agreed .
The snow cleared and a freshness came into the air, as the Spring finally arrived. The farmers were busy with the lambing season. The ducks and geese had migrated north again and the crocuses were just blooming under the oaks and elders.
Mary was stacking plates in the kitchen which opened onto the breakfast room ; Jack was reading the local paper.
-I see Paddy’s obituary here -Jack said , .
- didn’t they leave it a long time before putting it in all the same.?
- read it out - she caalled back in a voice more enfeebled of a sudden ,He waited and heard the reaction. Silence. She’d stopped stacking plates.
- well it’s a longish article, - a nice article. I’m mentioned my self- he smiled ruefully to himself.,
She had come in from the kitchen .
-read it Jack , she said , in a low plea sitting at the table . A thoughtful distraction was on her features , and she clutched a dish cloth showing a frail and trembling fist . Like a snipe’s little claw , he thought as he proceeded .
_- wait till I see .. Ahh yes .. Come to the part.. .. Its very nice he said.. Very nice..
- read it please - she said again.with more urgency now.
- well. It says let me see ; ….. My heart aches for you my love , when can we be together in one another’s arms again,, I’m so desperate with love for you, I’m afraid I’ll say something…or go mad with the burning inside me .Christ love, I’d do anything . And so on.. And so on.. My deepest Love as ever ,
He looked over his glasses , as if in disbelief.
-That’s what it says.- right here , he said in his calm distant voice , - see for your self..
The pain that gripped her heart unsteadied her. She stood up of a sudden as if struck by a bolt . Her face was suddenly ashen . She threw her hands up to her mouth to suppress the animal scream. No sound came at first .Then a piercing sound like a primeval wail filled the house…
No !!! No ..!! you did it !!… Christ.. You monster.. Jeesus No!! - she screeched.!!- the ferocity of her own voice seemed to enrage and disable her at the once.
- you bastard .. You vile bastard..!!! You knew.. !! May you rot in hell.. I hate you !! I’ve never loved you like I did him.. !! .
The sentences came in quick punctuated gasps , between untamed sobbing .
-. And yes I loved him.. My heart did ache for him.!!. Dear God I lived for him…..Christ God.. You’re evil.. You’re the devil himself.. She said throwing herself in abandon back on the chair,; spent ;- her head beaten down ; Her was ear to on the table in her deep agony, and she groaned deeply and hopelessly ; like a sound from the abattoir.
Jack folded the paper .
- I told you .. Paddy knows all our little secrets now.. that’s what I told you that on the alter..- he said with a simplicity which was like vinegar on her open wounds .
- We all have our little secrets. Mary- He said and began to read again.
- And Jack is in Heaven now , because there isn’t a crooked bone in his body. Is’nt that right love, -he said turning back to the paper again , as Anne dragging herself to her feet went back to the scullery clutching the wall for support.
Some time later he heard her go out the back door, and a little later again he heard the single shot.
He’d been expecting it for some time and got up slowly , and without looking out into the yard he dialled the police station.