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the sounds of blood and air

she could have kept going

the days of the first plants

the opposite of dancing

engines above the clouds


always wolves

a stone falling

beginning to drown

the audacity of small craft

bones of skin coracles

other silent swimmers

the weight of water

once there stood

where the bodies lie

what it’s like being

beginning to rise

hold off your tornados

flights begin

shadow people

maybe they dream

a woman sitting on the edge


noise in his body


the sounds of blood and air

Dawn. There’s no sunrise, no birdsong.

Light seeps over the water, through the branches. The sky is lying on the loch, filling the trees, heavy in the spaces between the pine needles, settling between blades of grass and mottling the pebbles on the beach. Although there’s no distance between cloud and land, nowhere for rain to fall, it is raining; the sounds of water on leaves and bark, on roofs and stones, windows and cars, become as constant as the sounds of blood and air in your own body.

You would notice soon enough, if it stopped.

she could have kept going

JUSTINE HAS SLEPT the way she used to sleep before taking a morning flight. You wake to check the time, reach out in the dark for your phone, for the button you can find in your sleep. It tells you not yet, there are hours still, hours you can spend warm and oblivious, almost as many as when you last looked.

You dream of packing and hurrying, and wake again: it must be nearly time, might even be late, but only twenty minutes have passed. Sleep again, wake again, the short summer night lasting implausible hours, something deep in your brain, some ancient bit of wiring or plumbing originally developed to deal with the beginning of the salmon run or the week the berries ripen, unable to settle. She can’t set an alarm because it would wake Steve, but something in her mind – in the part that looks after the breathing and the heart and the listening for the kids while she’s asleep – knows the time, reads the tilt of the earth and the turn of the sky.


She opens her eyes, looks at the pine panelling not a foot from her face, at the knots in the wood and the bubbles in the varnish rough to the touch, like scabbed skin. There won’t be a plane this summer, or next. Who could afford to travel, now? If she’d known, she thinks, if she’d known that she wasn’t going to achieve financial comfort or even security as the years went by, if she’d recognised the good times when she had them, she’d have travelled more when she was young, she’d have bought one of those train tickets, those passes, and gone everywhere, northern Norway to Sicily, Istanbul to County Clare. She’d have taken a year out, several years out, before settling for Steve, worked her way round waitressing or whatever. If she’d had the confidence then, if she’d known how to apply for a passport and buy a ticket and board a plane when she was young enough to walk away. She should have gone to Paris and Vienna, to Venice. It’s hard to imagine now how she’ll ever see vineyards terraced above a sparkling sea, olives ripening silver-leaved or a sunlit orange grove. It probably doesn’t matter, really. But she would have liked the kids to hear languages they don’t speak, or don’t speak yet, to eat food they don’t recognise, to cross roads with the cars on the wrong side, see with their own eyes that the world is wide and ways of doing things mostly just habit. Not that you can’t still hear languages in Manchester, of course. Not that there aren’t strange things to eat. Not that her kids will eat strange things, not that they’ve shown any interest in languages.

Anyway, here it is, 5 a.m., as planned, daylight already. Time to get out and back and showered before the boys are wanting breakfast. Other people lie in, on holiday, especially after being kept awake half the night by those selfish fuckers with their loud music who must have known they were ruining the sleep and hence the next day for all the little kids and their parents and the old folk and all. Justine didn’t much mind, just read on her tablet until she was sleepy enough not to be bothered, and the kids slept right through the way they sleep through the smoke alarm at home – always cheering, that – but Steve got his knickers in a bit of a twist and Justine bets that family with the baby had a bad night, right next door to it as well. They’ve had parties twice this week, not really a problem you expect out here, away at the end of the road, it’s where you come for peace and quiet – anyway, she inches herself to the edge of the bed, not turning or rising or disarranging the duvet in any way that would subject Steve to a draught, not that it ever occurs to him to moderate his own insomniac walrussing to save her rest, coughing and scratching and throwing himself around. He won’t even sit down to pee now he’s started getting up in the middle of the night, would rather wake her pissing like a horse than sit like a woman just the once. It’s a thin partition, she says, I can hear everything, it’s not nice. It puts you off, lying there listening to aggressive peeing from someone who could perfectly well just bloody sit down but won’t because in his head the masculinity police are watching even in the middle of the night, hiding, peering in through the windows or crouching in the laundry basket. Which is admittedly big enough for a couple of coppers. She has no idea how she’ll get all the clothes dry in this weather, not that you come to

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