A mother and daughter circle each other, bound by love, separated by fatal violence.
Dismayed by the indifference she sees in the news to people who die in distant war and terror, Anna writes portraits of the victims, trying to understand the real impact of their deaths.
Meanwhile Anna’s daughter, killed by a violent boyfriend, tells her own story from the perplexing realms of death, reclaiming herself from the brutality.
Anna’s life is stifled by heartache; it is only through these acts of love for strangers that she allows herself an emotional connection to the world.
Can Anna free herself from the bondage of grief and find a connection to her daughter once more?
This is an excerpt from chapter one, describing what lead Anna to writing portraits, inventing the people hidden behind the lifeless telling of casualties in the news.
It began on a morning much like this one, a cold and sunless day six years before and a little deeper into the winter. Christmas, itself a burden, had been passed with relative ease, though the relief of that was tarnished by the anticipation of the greater test to come. The most appalling of anniversaries was looming, a few small squares in the calendar away. Four years since Caitlin’s death, aged just nineteen. On this day, not long before the anniversary, she had not answered the phone or gone out. After cleaning already clean cupboards and shining already clear windows, she sat to read the paper. In her habitual, well-rehearsed way, she acknowledged the dead. There had been a bomb in a distant marketplace, one of several that day. A filament snagged and slowed the story down, her habitual soft focus pulled into unexpected sharpness. Somehow that detail caught her; a marketplace, perhaps the most domestic public space there is. People shopping for food, plastic buckets, scarves, aluminium pans. A place providing easy acquisition of the humbler tools of life: domestic wares, phone parts and gaudy cases, vinyl handbags, eggs, cabbages. Mothers buying an evening meal, teenagers shopping for the excitingly new and obligingly affordable. A man buying a bucket so he could clean his house. These ordinary people doing ordinary things, they would be the dead.
She thought of there being no dinner in some households, because the shopping never came back from the market. A husband whose anxiety makes him fear, as if seeming finally by prophecy rather than grinding habit, that his wife has been killed. A family who wouldn’t know for long hours where their father had gone. Somewhere in a town where death might just as easily come at the hands of a checkpoint soldier, a sniper, a drone. Somewhere in a world where escape from such horror resulted in thousands of drowned bodies day by day, as boats and brutal businessmen cast people to their fate in the deceptive, seductive glint of a blue sea that pretended to show the way to safety.
Over the next days, the people behind the numbers began to materialise when she picked over stories in the news. As she was standing at a supermarket checkout she was hit by a surge of connection to the others in the queue. They were ugly and beautiful, unkempt, elegant, all mixed. Their banal ordinariness for once caught her attention, linked them to those killed by bombs in markets in Iraq or by roadsides in Afghanistan. The young man with a backpack and scraggly beard, buying four hooped-together cans of lager and some broccoli and biscuits, trousers carelessly rolled above bare brown ankles. The woman with tired eyes and pink plastic earrings, grey showing at the roots of her black hair. The old man with beige slacks and an olive cap, a small brown shopping bag ready for his bread rolls and two bananas, a small shakiness in his hands. Anna felt a tender kind of love and sadness for them, those ordinary people caught there in a tiny moment of complex lives, as those killed were caught in what became the last moment of their lives, when a crude bomb exploded near enough to kill them. Any one of them, all of them, could be one of the bodies, a life behind the numbers. She made her way through the queue and looked intently at the young cashier, haunted by a sudden picture of her, dead amidst the rubble of a faraway town, her mouth open, small teeth exposed to the heat and dust of disaster. She felt the upwell of a sob, an echo that pulsed in her chest, an inappropriate urge to shield the unknown girl from a fate that was not hers, from any fate that meant her harm.
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Merry Christmas from Kelly & The Team, thank you for all your support and love in 2017.