By Avery Mathers
On the last night, Lucy finished Heather’s bedtime story with typical panache: And do you know what, my darling? The bear lived happily ’til the end of his days—which was the following Tuesday. Heather laughed, a seven-year-old Lucy in the making. Unlike Connal, Lucy and her daughter lived in the moment, full of joy and free of sentiment.
Their arrival in his life had made no sense. He’d gone out for a sandwich and came home with an instant family. There was no agreement. For that matter, there was no invitation. It just happened. For two months, he shared his flat with their exuberance and his bed with Lucy. He loved her beyond reason, yet he knew that the curtain would drop. Inevitably, Lucy would take her bow and leave; the natural condition of an actress.
And then her run at the Piccadilly was over. The Pretty Woman was moving on. He said he’d go with her. He begged to go with her. He cried. She kissed him on the forehead and said goodbye. But he could not let her go.
Afterwards, he laid their bodies on the bed, side by side, like effigies on a medieval tomb; Heather clasping her storybook and Lucy her libretto. The silence was unbearable.
The tube was packed, the train was crowded, the bus half empty. The road up the glen was his alone, and he walked it in a haze of confusion. He arrived at his dead aunt’s cottage with nothing but the gun and the stubs of one-way tickets. It was late in the day, and his heart was empty. Perversely, he was too tired to kill himself that night.
The next morning, Connal set out to find a place where his body could rot unfound. He followed a deer-track along the hillside, winding through rock and blasted heather, exposed to the full fury of a Scottish summer. The sleet came sideways, and the wind would only hide a while before it roared back to deafen and confuse.
By the time he stumbled into the abandoned peat-cutting, he’d forgotten why he came. In the lee of its six-foot earthen bank, the blast became a memory. He sat with his back pressed against it, hugging his knees to his chest, gasping in the silence. His breathing steadied. He was alone and spent in sodden square miles of raw hills and hissing moorland. Now he remembered why he’d come. No one would hear the shot.
But he was not alone. The body of a woman from ages long past had tumbled from the robbed-out peat, released at last by pelting rain and the frost’s slow crumble. She rested in a pool of granite gruel, sour and acid and deep dark brown. Her black-leathered face was crumpled and her cheeks hollowed, yet some trace of humanity still clung there.
Connal’s thoughts, brimming with Lucy and teetering on yesterday’s memories, strayed farther into a thickening fog. It was not the sorry corpse he saw but Lucy, asleep at his feet. Lucy, whose joy had instilled in him the hope of a different life; a life without loneliness; a life with her, always. He reached out and touched her face. It was cold.
The bog resisted as he freed her. She parted at the waist, but he took her in his arms and kissed her. He carried her gently to the cottage and, on a rug by the fire, he made her whole again. As the gloaming gave way to the orange crackle of smouldering peat, her skin glistened darker than the shadows it cast.
He awoke in the night and reached for Lucy. But it came to him that Lucy was not there; that Lucy had not been there, and never would be. He had destroyed her and destroyed Heather, and with them his hopes.
There was a smell of peat and damp earth. The cottage. He remembered coming to the cottage. He was on the rug by the fire. There was only the faintest of glows, but he could feel the heat of it. Someone was lying beside him. He pushed himself to his feet and stirred the ashes to life.
He was raving when they came to arrest him; unfit for trial.