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Cover image: 'Death in Florence' by Pauline Bewick

Centre of a Small Hell

The morning after his wife's ashes were brought back home, Bernard Curran took a sledgehammer to the hunting table, out there in the yard where the air was still enough for snow. He grabbed the end of it and dragged it across the stone tiles, the door slammed behind him and the commotion woke the house. Keeper started barking.

Hansie was down the stairs first because that's where she spent the night, asleep on the third step, refusing to budge when her father didn't come back from the fields. Carmel was fast after her.

The weather hit Bernard as soon as he touched outside. The children came out after him, crying as the cold came up through the soles of their feet. Colder than the day before, and the pain sliced across his forehead. He shouted at them to stay back so they all stood some distance from his rage, shivering. He swung the hammer in an arc above his shoulder and brought it crashing down. Keeper whined, straining at the bit of baling twine that Bernard had tied him with to the barn door. He took no notice of them as the hammerhead struck the beautiful wood, gouged into its sheen.

Then he struck it again.