Patrick had not gone back to his old home with the intent to inflict violence. He had wanted to talk – had wanted to tell Mary one last time to stop this foolishness. She needed him, he needed her; and now, with the police going crazy and soldiers everywhere, the child needed him too. He had been a bad father, a worse husband, but his instinct to protect those entrusted to his care had grown stronger as the country descended into madness. He needed another chance to make this right, to take up his place as head of the household, protect them. Johnny was gone, probably dead, though no one dared speak it. Grace could be next. The bastards didn’t care that they were children. It was war, and everyone was a target.

He had meant to wait outside until Mary came home, but then he’d caught a glimpse of the child as she returned from God knew where. What the hell was she thinking? The Casspirs were swarming everywhere with their deadly cargo, ready  to shoot in a moment. And here she was, idling about like someone with no cares, a vacant look about her. Was she that stupid?

Patrick knew the girl could be slow at times, clever with book stuff, but just downright stupid with pure common sense. He blamed himself for that. He had left too much of her care to her mother. If she were a boy, he would have taken a much firmer stance, toughened her up from a young age, forced her to think about the world. But she was a girl, and he’d reckoned she would be okay as long as she followed the rules of the house. He had not taken into account this danger, this sickening threat of death that now hung in the air every day.

How was he supposed to prepare a child for this, to survive this? In a sense, he was grateful that she was a girl. Less likely to be noticed, less likely to be at the front of the protests, less likely to be marked as a student leader. But some of the older girls were going at it just as hard as the boys, shouting and screaming and marching like men, imagining they were someone.

Not his Grace. There she was, standing outside the front door with that lost, faraway look in her eye, not even fully conscious of what was going on around her. Like a fucking lamb walking to its own slaughter. It infuriated him – this innocence in a time of evil. It deserved scorn. Punishment. Teach her to be awake, look around, know what’s coming. He’d do it.

His approach was perhaps too forceful, his grip on her too hard. He could smell her fear. It excited him. At the same time, he abhorred this weakness in his own flesh. He wanted to shake it out of her. Wanted to tell her to walk erect and proud, and not put herself in harm’s way in the first place.

He pushed her inside the house after her fumbling with the key. He would wait there for Mary, talk to her, tell her that this needed to end. They needed to be together.

Mary’s appearance through the front door brought a rush of emotions that surprised Patrick in its intensity. Patrick knew these things: that he loved Mary with all his heart but that with all his heart, he hated her too; that he had been with her so long he could not conceive of a livable life without her in it; that children were lying dead, their cold bodies on concrete floors in unknown back rooms, unclaimed, unloved, un-keened over. He knew that their deaths hung in the air like a sickly perfume, choking him, smothering him, inescapable; he had been doing his best to avoid the Casspirs, knowing that his rage against the soldiers inside would not be contained were he to chance upon them, that such an encounter would certainly mean death.

When Mary walked through that door, it was like seeing her for the first time.

Crouching next to the girl on the couch, his hand taut across her face, the silence as Mary unlocked the security gate and then the front door. Her surprise, then fear – a sickening look. It was him, Patrick. Why did she have to act that way? He was not a monster. She tried to look strong, to steady herself, but her lips had always been her weakness. The familiar quivering top lip, which had the unfortunate effect of both shaming and arousing him, and with it the irresistible desire to plant his fist there, right on the sweet, quivering spot, where her full top lip started to curve down.

Her low voice, soothing, calming. Trying to talk him out of it. Why couldn’t she have been like this before? She knew he had the upper hand now, knew she had to speak nicely to him and not scream and nag. Her hesitation, then coming over to sit next to him on the couch, to talk him out of it, talk him down. Sullen black eyes, giving him nothing.

He doesn’t  remember  how.  But then  there  is  blood. Dripping down his right hand, pooling in the cuff of his shirt, the spicy, metallic smell of it overpowering him. Blood on his face, the front of his shirt. The child looking at him with uncomprehending liquid eyes, eyes standing still in her head. Unblinking, unmoving.

Mary, in his arms, shouting his name. Hitting the floor, him entangled with her. “What have you done? What have you done!” A pool of rust spreading below them, outward, lapping against the contours of her face in minuscule tidal waves.

Mary. Mary. Life was spilling silently all around them. Mary in his arms, light as a feather. Beautiful Mary with coal for eyes and perfect throat, skin the colour of tea. The letting go. Her beautiful throat. The darkness, blanketing them forever.


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