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Slow Poison - Chapter Twenty-Five

by David Philip Ireland about a year ago in fiction

Chapter Twenty-Five

...waiting...

Chapter Twenty-five

Stonehouse 

The old man was a prisoner once more. His kitchen was the one warm place in the apartment. The familiar ice-scapes had masked the view from the bedroom windows, and there were crystallised plumes of frost spreading out in all directions on the inner walls of the toilet and the stairwell. The old man huddled close to his gas stove, an old grey blanket wrapped around his shoulders. A tin of Co-op soup stood in the pan of water, its paper label floating helplessly in the bubbles. The air in the kitchen was humid and reeked of tinned tomatoes.

The diary lay open on the kitchen table before him, the Formica cold to the touch. His bony fingers followed the lines of frail script that tested his failing eyesight. Each word he read still held the pain and passion that had driven the brain, the hand, the pen, all those years before. Time meant nothing; the light that woke the summer cottage flooded the room with warmth. Her gentle touch as she woke him. She bore herbal tea to his bedside. He stirred from sleep. She was awake. Alive and awake. Full of the day ahead.

“Good morning, Papa. Tea. It is the most beautiful day. I think I could stay here forever. I love it so much. Just the two of us, Papa. Do we have to return to the city, Papa? It is so perfect here. I wish we could stay forever and ever.”

“We must return sometime.” 

“Oh, why, Papa? I wish we could stay forever.” 

And off she had run, back to her books and her pressed flowers.

‘We should have stayed. Could have stayed, should have stayed. Forever and ever, amen.’

The boy had said he would come. Had he? No, the boy had already been. The biscuits. He had brought biscuits. He had returned the book, the diary. Yes. He had already been. The Husband had been too. But not the Mother. Or had she? Yes. But when? It was so hard to keep track. At least the pages of the diary were headed with dates and places. But in the here and now the days seemed to melt into one another. An old man? A little child? Which was he?

He was three. He was three, clutching at Grandmother’s skirts. Listening hard. Grandmother had never learned the new language. She had doggedly retained the old language, and with it, all of the old habits 

“Babushka, will you tell me a story?”

“Of course, Izzy. Come, come and sit here beside me.”

“The one about the Snegurochka. The Snow Maiden.”

And the old tale would unfold. The pale girl with the coal-black eyes would stand before him, Lel, her lover. But she was saddened by the spring sunshine and her tears melted into the damp earth, rising as vapour into the sun. And with the sun, the Snow Maiden vanished too, as her lover looked on.

“Oh Giselle, Giselle.”

And there was no one there to witness his grief.

“Papa…” 

But the voice was trapped within him. Suddenly the little tin of tomato soup began to rattle with annoyance in the quickly boiling water, reminding him, at last, of the present.

fiction

About the author

David Philip Ireland

David Philip Ireland was born in Cheltenham in 1949

David has published work in music, novels and poetry.

To discover David’s back catalogue, visit: linktr.ee/davidirelandmusic

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