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[End Page 102]
My wife left work two hours ago and still isn’t home, so I’m haunting our back window, watching snow sweep through the ochre cone of a streetlamp further down our block. The streetlamp next to our house isn’t lit: not because it’s faulty but because the County Council has decided to switch these lights off [End Page 103] at random intervals to save money. And because of that, I’m studying this other streetlamp, fifty yards away, trying to gauge the heaviness of the snowfall. There are gritters (what I would call snowploughs) out roaming the roads, but not enough of them. The council is cutting back on highway maintenance, too. They’re cutting back on everything. When it snows like this in rural Wales, the roads are barely passable.
I say these words aloud, even though I’m alone. I’m alone as I’ve ever felt, waiting for my wife on a night like this. The snow has to be at least six inches deep, and piling up higher all the time. I retreat to the kitchen and check the clock on our stove: it’s now quarter to eight, and she left at five thirty. The commute normally takes her about half an hour.
It’s no use phoning her, because for large stretches of road between Llandrindod Wells (where she works) and Llanidloes (where we live) there is no cell phone coverage. I’ve tried several times anyway, and it’s gone straight to voice mail. No rings at all. Just the beep and the melancholy sound of her voice, asking me to leave a message. I have left messages. I have left many messages, more for my sake than hers, uttering my words like prayers.
There’s no point in leaving another now. Instead I try to decide when it might be appropriate to phone the emergency services, or whatever it is they call it over here. When will I officially begin to worry about my wife and what might have happened to her? And as I’m trying to decide that, I hear the rattle of keys in the lock, and the door opens, and it’s her: Lowri. We can call her Lowri, for the purposes of this story.
Lowri is holding a model boat, cradled like a child.
She comes in, bringing the cold with her. I cross the kitchen, shut the door behind her, say that I’ve been worrying about her. I want to hug her, take her in my arms, but that boat is in my way. So I pat her on the shoulders—like a coach encouraging a player—and tell her with too much enthusiasm that I can’t believe she actually got the boat.
“Take it, will you?” she says, offering it to me. “I have to get out of these things.”
I accept the boat, cupping it by the hull. It’s large—about two feet long—but light, built out of balsa wood. It’s a model of a fishing boat, a seiner, with a blue hull and a white cabin. It’s a prop from All Aboard, the first show Lowri performed in with Theatre Taith. In the play, the boat was called the Rebecca, and that name is painted across the transom [End Page 104] of the model. At the helm stands a small figure in a yellow fisherman’s slicker. The captain.
“I never saw it up close before,” I say.
“There’s more, in the car.” Lowri is shrugging off her coat, removing her cap. Flakes of snow linger in her hair like glitter. “Some stuff from Antigone and Of Mice and Men.”
“Should we go get it? Or we could eat first. I made food.” I gesture with the boat at the stove, where a pot of chili is simmering. That chili has been simmering for hours.
“I don’t know,” she says.
Then she puts her hand to her face, shielding her eyes, and her mouth folds down at the corners, and I...