The Day I Lost You - Fionnuala Kearney



There are always before and after moments. Profound instants when, one second, life is a clear, high-pixel image and the next, it’s grainy, less focused.

The day it happened, the seventh of December 2014, had been a normal day – nothing unusual about it. A band of low Arctic pressure produced the sort of cold that froze my fingers through gloves and numbed my toes through sheepskin-lined boots. The winter sky – a perfect, crisp blue – was marred only by wispy white plane trails latticing through it.

Theo and I were on the Irish coffee stall at the Christmas fair all afternoon – the most dreadful baristas, unable to produce a straight line of cream along the top of the coffee and a little too liberal with the alcohol. It was the season of goodwill. Fairy lights flashed: home-made crackers with loo-roll centres were snapped; high-pitched carols were sung; crumbling, puff-pastry mince pies were trodden into the polished parquet floor of the school hall, and the heady scent of festive cinnamon and cloves filled the air.

I remember it being a fun-filled afternoon.

When I got home, I flicked the kettle on and turned the thermostat up. I sat a while, my hands wrapped around a cup of black tea, staring into the garden in the fading light, my feet tucked up underneath me. Much as I loved her, days without Rose were precious. I had so little time to myself that merely sitting, being, just the act of doing nothing was a joy. Right up until the moment the doorbell rang, it’s the ‘ordinary-ness’ of that day that I recall.

When the door pinged, I still didn’t stir – not until I heard Doug’s voice through the letterbox. Then I leapt from my seat.

‘Jess. It’s Doug. Can you open the door?’

I made my way to the hall, heard him moving about in the porch; foot to foot. Doug has not come to my door for a very long time.

From my jacket pocket, my mobile phone trilled. Seeing his number, I realized he would have heard it ring too.

‘Open the door, Jess. It’s important.’

I answered the phone and hung up immediately.

‘What do you want?’ I spoke through the four solid panels.

‘I need to speak to you. Please.’ His voice seemed to break on the last word and I opened the latch.

Doug, my ex-husband, the man whom I apparently ‘strangled with my love’ was standing there, shivering.

‘Can I come in?’

I looked over his shoulder, expecting to see Carol, his wife, there.

‘What do you want, Doug?’ I repeated.

‘Can I come in?’ he asked again.

And that was the moment. I made the mistake of looking in his eyes; the cobalt-blue eyes that Anna, our only child, had inherited from him. One generation later, Rose has those same eyes too. That was the split moment – between what was, and what would be. His next words tapped a slow, rhythmic beat in my head; each one etching itself on my brain like a permanent tattoo. And something happens when the body is forced to hear unwanted tidings; life-changing, cruel words. Adrenaline charges to the extremities, willing the frame to stay standing, despite the urge to fold; willing the heart to keep beating, despite the urge to snap into hundreds of tiny fragments.

My knees buckled at right angles – my entire body felled. An instant sweat oozed from my pores, seeping through to my fingertips. Fear choked me, as I fell into Doug’s arms, as his familiar scent washed over me. And, in an instant, the world, as I knew it, was different.

1. Jess

Ten Weeks Later – Friday, 13 February 2015

I wake to the taste of salt on my lips. My eyes take a moment to adjust to the early morning light; my mind takes a little longer to realize that I’ve been crying in my sleep. With a glance at the neon clock by my bedside, my damp lashes blink. It’s useless – I won’t fall asleep again.

My limbs stiff, I climb slowly out of bed before crossing the landing to check the room opposite. She’s there, fast asleep. I resist the urge to touch her, to rest the back of my fingers on her forehead. It’s a habit; a throwback, I think, to when she had pleurisy as a baby and we failed to spot the temperature early.

Her breathing is soft, regular and rhythmic as a slow beat on a metronome, her chest rising and falling under the duvet. She turns onto her stomach, faces away from