Gororau (Borderlands) | Elizabeth O’Connor | Granta

Gororau (Borderlands)

Elizabeth O’Connor



She leaves the headlight on while she searches. This part of the fferm is full of small potholes and boggy patches and it is easier to have both hands free than to carry a torch. The tryc runs with a low hum and moths gather around the lights, their white bodies knocking against each other. The geifr bleat out, their eyes shining like yellow coins. She feels one sidle up to her knee as she walks, feels its hot breath on her hand, the dry brittle of its horn.

There, she says, There, there, and pushes it away from her.

She is still in her pyjamas and the cuffs are damp and cold against her ankles. She passes one of the puddles and the light picks out a clutch of toad spawn, later in the year than usual. She stands and waits. The headlights only reach so far and the rest of the night seems sealed off from her. She hears the geifr bleating louder, the low hum of flies, and follows them.


The gafr is nestled in the knot of the hill and at first she thinks it is sleeping, that she has followed the wrong sound. It is only when she gets closer that she sees the flies criss-crossing its pale fur, its stomach split open and steaming. She tries not to look above the shoulder, where the jaw is twisted and the eyes black with clamouring ants. She takes the shovel from the tryc and places it behind the spine, pressing down with her foot so that the body lifts, and then drags it into the sack by its back hooves. She makes a note of it: one of the nanny geifr, fully grown, tagged at the ear with green plastic. Tad always said they shouldn’t name them and she is glad they obeyed. She thinks of something her mother used to say when she and her brothers fought: to make an end is to make a beginning. I roi diwedd yw gwneud dechrau.


When she drives back to the house, it occurs to her that the gafr body was still warm. It had not been dead for long. In fact, she had not checked that it was dead at all. She has been driving the tryc since she was fourteen, since her Tad taught her on the country roads, but the wheel suddenly feels slippery in her hands. The headlights catch shapes at the edges of the dirt track. They form hulking bodies, and then disappear like smoke.




Her father is at the kitchen table when she returns, his eyes groggy with sleep. She did not expect him to be up, and his sudden appearance makes her drop her keys. He stirs a cup of coffee in front of him, and lays the spoon down on the wood.

Did you find it?

Yes, Ta. In the usual place.

Did you get all of it? He asks without looking at her.

She nods, picking the keys from the floor. Yes.

Sometimes teeth come out into the grass.

I know, Ta, she says.

I think it happens when the jaw is broken.

I got them all.

You have to let the flies settle. That tells you where –

I know. I said I got it.

Ta knocks the coffee back, gets up and leaves without another word. She hears Malley bark and run over to him, the tryc’s chugging engine start. When she looks at the counter, she notices two empty slits in the woodblock where they store their knives. Ta must have taken them, she thinks. She can see them on the tryc’s passenger seat, the passenger door left open while Tad digs a small hole for the body.


Tad never cried. She knew he didn’t because when Mam died he didn’t. But he did cry when the geifr were killed. Said that the smell of them soured the inside of his nose and made his eyes water. She used to go with him to bury them but they were both embarrassed by the way his nose ran, the way he would feign coughing fits and spit up hacks of phlegm instead of just crying. He told her that she got in the way too much, and told her brothers that she was too scared of the worms that came up through the clods of earth. She let him lie.

She moves a pile of letters towards her from across the table, and starts to look through them. Tad had to remortgage the fferm the previous year, the water-sodden fields stopping anything from being able to grow, and since then letters had come every week, sometimes bills but mostly adverts to insure the house or the tryc. Sometimes they came with plastic credit cards emblazoned with Tad’s name, and she gave them to Peidr to play shop with.

That was the only other time she had seen Tad cry. The man from the bank had been a head taller than Tad, and wore a suit the colour of wet sand. Tad had led him out across the fields and he had written things down on a clipboard. They came back to the house when the land was dark, and the mare in the next field shone white.




Tad returns at midday, when she is making lunch for Peidr, a ham sandwich and onion crisps. The salt of the crisps hunts any small cut in her hand and makes them sting like hell, and so she holds her hands under the cold tap while Peidr eats.

Sissie, he says, his mouth a mess of white bread and corn, I can hear the geifr talking outside the window.

What do they say?

Who is that boy at the window? He replies, in a low bleating.

Peidr was not interested in the same things as the older brothers, Llew and Cala. Cala often comes into the room and sniffs him, and says he smells like nothing he has smelt before, more plant than person, than animal. They had once taken him along to watch them shoot rabbits with a pellet gun. They returned within an hour, Peidr complaining about the sound of the gun, that one of Cala’s practice shots had sent ash flying into his eye.  Peidr had gone inside and drawn something instead, singing as he did so. He grew his white-blonde hair out long and plaited it until Llew sheared it off for a joke one spring. If she asked him what he wanted for his future, he didn’t mention the fferm, or money, or a wife. He said, without having to think, I’d like to be a lady horse. With a lovely mane. I’d like to eat red apples.


You have to waste the water like that? Tad says, letting the back door slam behind him, the window stained with red roses rattling in its loose frame.

Sorry, she says.

Sorry dussn’t pay the water bill.

He sighs and pushes his hands into his pockets. He moves to the cupboard and brings out a bowl. Inside are plastic tags: red, yellow, blue, green. They are not in a particular order. Tad adds one from his pocket, green, and places it back on the shelf. Then he comes and steals one of Peidr’s crisps, knocks him on the arm and asks if he wants to go and see something he’s found, a young cuckoo living in the nest of two wrens, its fat body spilling over the sides.




Green Tag is the fifteenth in the herd to be killed. She recounts it at the shop to the man serving her. She explains that they don’t name them and so write them down in a book: yellow tag three spots, red tag water lines. The man on the till is older than Tad, with a thick wooden cross around his neck. Behind him are neon stars detailing the shop’s special offers: buy one get one free Fairy Liquid, discounted out-of-date chocolate bars, 3 for 59p, free guinea pig babies down the road.

I don’t know why they leave the bodies behind, de. You would think they would eat them. But, I don’t know how their minds work. How would I know? Cala says there is always a leader but I don’t know if that’s true. Llew said he saw one in the bin! Eating a chicken leg!

She waits for him to laugh. The man scans her cereal box solemnly.  She notes the beige hearing aid clipped to his ear. He has long, white ear hairs that move as he breathes. She thinks of when Mam used to stand her in front of the mirror and teach her how to pluck her eyebrows and upper lip. She’d asked Mam if it hurt, and Mam had said yes. But it’s worth it because people really look at you.

You watching the rugby tonight? The man says.

Huh? She says, passing him a roll of cling-film, a bag of potatoes.

It’s the Six Nations.

Uh, no. Maybe my brothers will.

Maybe your brothers will, he says.

Yep. She nods to the stars behind his head. Are there any guinea pigs left?

He turns, chuckles. Oh, no. He leans in conspiratorially. The mother ate every single one.




They only see traces of them. Tracks of paws leading from the fields to the woods, clumps of torn rabbit fur and grass dark with blood. There are times when the birds go into a frenzy outside the window, their alarm calls dropping like rain. She gathers at the window when her brothers say they can see something, a dark shape moving between the grass, but each time she sees nothing, only mist that had crawled down from the hills.


It is said that the floods had brought them from the woodland out into the open. Made them come close to human settlements in search of food. Tad knew a man down the pub who worked at a university, and he told Tad. He said that wolves hide in any small patches of trees and shrubs. It didn’t matter that the man worked in the history department, and was mostly full of shit. Tad believed whatever he said. He razed the trees at the edges of the field down.




The first time she saw a wolf on the fferm she was with her mother. That had been back when it was good luck to see one, when they kept to the river. She was twelve, Peidr was in Mam’s belly. They had gone walking despite the cold. She had got her first period the day before at school, and a girl had called her feral.

Snow had settled on the ground in a thin, grey layer. Mam noticed the tracks first. She thought a dog from a neighbouring fferm had come onto their land. She was looking out across the fields to the undergrowth beyond. Then her mother grabbed her by the shoulders, and pointed.

There it was. It ducked and fell out of sight.


Tad took down any picture of Mam the week after she died. He said they would bring bad luck to the house. Cala and Llew did not object and Peidr was only a baby. She managed to get one and keep it in a frame by her bed. Mam is young, in jeans, her hair curly. She holds one hand over her eyes, blocking out the sun, which must have been bright that day as it leaves her face as a block of yellowing white. Sometimes she takes the picture and looks at it hard, trying to form her mother’s features over the space, and sometimes she succeeds.





Spring and the geifr multiply. It’s like a miracle: twenty young and every one survives. Ta puts the reason as him and Llew and Cala pissing around all corners of the field to keep the wolves away. Their shoes stay by the back door all season, half-flattened from where they put their feet in and don’t bother pulling up the back.

The geifr settle into their new life of calm, sitting scattered across the fields like white stones, chewing slowly, their ears shivering. The calm feels seasonal and reassuring, like the soft glow of Christmas lights. Their field is surrounded by barbed wire fences, and is on the steep hill of the moor. She goes and cleans out their shelters every day, replacing the straw with fresh straw she had spent the morning cutting. Sometimes knots of weeds came through the floor of the shelter that would poison the geifr, ivy and St. John’s wort and she pulled these out by hand, holding them up to the geifr and shaking her head.

At the end of the day she shepherds the geifr into their shelter with the help of Malley, and clicks the steel gate into place. She clears one field first, and then the next, passing Cala and Llew on the way, whose clothes are crusty, their breath steam on the cold air. Sometimes Llew asks what he is having for dinner. The geifr run from her at first and so she has to go right up to the wire fence and squeeze behind them, pushing them in the direction back up the hill. She wonders if the geifr ever go up to the wire and squint to see something in the distance, the house a few miles away or a car coming across the moors, but normally, by that point, she is too tired to think.

Tad would not be far away, cutting the grass of the field or putting protein pellets out for the geifr, checking them for injury. If he walked towards her in the middle of the herd she could see his movement more than his body and recognised his slight limp.

Tad would not speak to her unless it was about the job they were doing. Llew, who was eighteen that year and had worked on the fferm since he could hold, spoke to her like he did to the dog, Malley. Cala mostly sniggered. She only noticed this after Mam died and the conversations she had with Mam were suddenly gone. Mam would speak to her about all sorts of things when they were together, the behaviour of a dog she had had when she was a little girl, the names of boys she had gone out with, old clothes and records she used to own. Often she said to her, I have never even told your father this, which she took as a compliment, something to carry inside her obedient heart.




Peidr still has dreams about the wolves and so sleeps in her bed. Her lamp is on the floor next to the bed and so she has to bend right down to switch it off. Peidr laughs maniacally at the sight. He says, you’re a clown, sing like a clown. She sings the first thing she can think of, an old song Mam taught her. The song is about a father who is a great hunter. The hunter brings back eight things he has killed, starting with a partridge and ending with a red stag. By the time she is halfway through, and the father has brought a badger flopped over his shoulder, Peidr is asleep, his breath slow and saliva-filled. She sings the final verses to herself, the fox, the wolf, the red deer, until the darkness of the room feels heavy on her, like a body sweating over her back.




When the new geifr are almost grown it seems suddenly much later in the year, the ground hardening slowly and the sky draining of colour. They go to sell the young at the market in the closest town. Llew sits in the front seat with Tad driving; she sits in the back with Cala and Peidr’s small body between them. The geifr cry through the tiny window at the back of the vehicle, their breath fogging up the glass.

Outside the window, the fields begin to flatten and turn brown. She counts five scarecrows, two with axes and one with a carving knife. She sees one with a wolf strung up with a tartan scarf. A painted sign: wolves crossing. And another: turn left 4 food van. A lorry overtakes them, too close, her father shouting Bastard! through the window.

Peidr is silent, and watches the landscape pass in a haze of rain. He had argued with Tad that morning. He wanted to bring his doll with him to the market, and Tad had slapped it from his hands. She notices a flash of something and reaches under the seat and finds a small plastic ring, pink with a cartoon character at the centre, where the stone should be. She pokes Peidr in the leg, and gives it to him. He holds it tight in his fist.


She feels her face burn as Llew laughs when she orders her tea from the van, as she asks the woman to put in four sugars and stir it. Fucking Sissie no-teeth, he calls her, from where he stands with a few other young ffermers, all of them skinny and tall in tracksuits and khaki coats. They laugh. She stands next to them, between Llew and a boy with a fringe cut straight across his head and greasy with gel. Llew tells them about his plans to triple the gafr herd by the next year. He doesn’t tell them about his squeamishness, the fact he makes her birth the mother geifr, or that he almost strangled one of the newborn kids when he held it too tight for feeding. He notices her watching him and turns his back to her.

Behind them, further away, is Tad, a few other older fferming men. One of them wears a double-breasted leather jacket. Leather Jacket man has a hand on Tad’s shoulder. Tad tries to move away but the hand must be there tightly. Tad holds out money in his hand, spread like a fan.

The market is out in the open, a series of small pens filled with pigs and sheep. The air is full of animal noises: braying, snorting, the chatter of hens stacked in their cages. She goes to their pen, where Tad has put the young geifr. They run over to her, then grow bored and butt each other with their heads.

Cala brings over Al, a man with a large industrial fferm a few miles away from theirs. He often buys baby geifr from them, says they go nicely with his alpacas. Cala says he skins the geifr after a year and sells them as rugs, to which Ta says, so long as he pays the same for them, I don’t care, now shut up about it.

Al wears a pink shirt under his coat, which is sharp-cut tweed and expensive. His breath smells strongly of peppermint. He shakes her hand.

Your brother was telling me about your wolf problem.

Yes –

Yes, Cala says. But they didn’t get any of this herd. We’re hoping they’re gone. We cut down a lot of the trees around the river, because we thought that’s where they were living.

She watches Cala, his smooth skin turning pink in the cold. He is a head smaller than Llew, and makes up for the difference by talking non-stop.

They were at the edge of the fferm for months. Weren’t they, Sissie? We had to go out and bury the dead. I read that if you dig ditches around the field, it stops them from following the geifr’s scent, so we did that as well.

Sissie had been the one to read it, and she glares at him. Cala looks straight through her. Al laughs.

Me, Al says, I’d just kill them on the spot. You know I got a slaughter-man’s license from when I used to work at polo games. I’d go and find them, and –

He mimes hauling a rifle to his shoulder and aiming it.

– right between the eyes. Of course, you have to. Or you won’t have anything left.

Silence hangs between them and Al sniffs loudly, feigns looking down at his collar and rubbing something out.

I’ll be at college soon enough, says Cala.

Your Tad got much to say about that?

He has Llew to help out on the fferm for time being. Then I can come back and do the accounts.

He nods.

And you? He turns to her, his arm around her shoulder. How old are you now?


Off to college?

Sissie failed her GCSEs, Cala pipes up.

I’m not very academic, she says.

I’m sure you’ll be marrying soon, he says to her.


You’re a good-looking girl.

Thank you, she says.

Cala mimes sticking a finger down his throat, turning so that Al does not see. Al makes a show of surveying the animals in front of him.

Suppose I’d better buy a few of these, then.

Sissie can write you out the receipt.

She brings a notepad from her pocket, a candy white with pink copy-paper underneath. She asks Al for his bank details and he leans close while Cala takes the two kids over to Al’s trailer, one under each arm. She watches as his glasses fall off into the mud and, hands full, he stalls over whether to try and pick them up again. She feels a surge of tenderness for him as he decides not to, looks up and squints, and places the kids gently into the vehicle.

She feels Al’s hand slide down over her back, like the men do with the cattle. He looks at the receipt pad as he does so, continues reciting his account number, drawing no attention to himself, ready to deny it if she spoke. She does not speak. She looks down. She notices his boots are sprayed with blood.


She waits for Tad and the boys in the car and watches the windows slowly steam up. The steam reminds her of a greenhouse. When she was younger, she had a friend on the fferm opposite. Mari. Mari had prescription glasses that she was ashamed of, that made her eyes look far bigger than they were. She met Mari when Mari’s Tad gave them lifts to school, which was on the way to the meat market. It was not rare for her to sit with a dead sheep on the back seat, its eyes glassy and dark, its mouth curled around its brown teeth.

One weekend last summer Mari’s Tad came and knocked on the door, and said that their springer spaniel had had puppies. She heard Mari’s Tad lean in and say, we thought, after her mother, that she might like… And Tad and cut him off and said, well, just ask her. She’ll tell you if she wants to go.

The puppies were inside a greenhouse near Mari’s house. Most were liver and white, and one was black and white. The black and white puppy was very aggressive and did not stop growling. Mari’s stepmother was sat with them, and beckoned the girls over. The puppies crowded around her knees, making loud squeaking noises. They kept pissing bright yellow streams onto the floor and the bed stank of their pale shit. Mari’s stepmother made cooing noises, and Mari mimicked her. Above her head were the fronds of a huge lemon tree, the leaves tickling her head, which made her think that she had never realised lemons grew on trees, never even considered how they grew or where they came from. She remembers thinking, This room is very hot. I think I’m going mad.

She does not remember much after that, but must have taken her clothes off, because she arrived back at her own house in just her leggings and shoes. She found scratches around her wrists afterwards, going up her forearm. Tad phoned Mari’s Tad who said that Sissie had done something nasty to the puppies, to this day she does not remember what, and though the puppies were okay she was not invited back.




They have to wash their clothes when they are home. Tad says that their clothes will hold the smell of the animals for days, weeks, and bring the wolves right up to the house.

She rubs Peidr’s feet vigorously with the towel until he giggles, he falls asleep at her shoulder and she stays sitting in the armchair, the gas fire slowly turning. She wakes up and it is late, the room filled with flickering blue light. Tad sits opposite her in the leatherette armchair, still in his outdoor fleece and boots.

What time is it? She asks.

About one, he says.

Why are you down here?

Couldn’t sleep.

Peidr wriggles in her arms, but does not wake. They whisper.

Malley is crying outside, Tad says. He’s cold I think.

Let him in, then, Tad.

I don’t know.


Don’t look at me like that, he says.




She finds Al’s phone number in a drawer, on a cream business card. He calls himself an Agricultural Consultant. She writes out a text to him.

hello its sissie.

She goes out to meet him when the hills are covered in mist. She does not take the car. Her jeans rub uncomfortably against her, where she has shaven the hair from her body.


When she returns, it is morning and Llew is standing at the window, as he does when he first gets up. She waves but he does not wave back. When she opens the front door, the weight of letters piled behind it make it seem as if there is a small person on the other side, one who has fallen asleep against the door.




By the autumn every patch of shrubs and trees on the fferm is gone, yn bennaf because the wolves bred and started coming closer to the house, Tad says, but also because the wood can be sold for a good price. Tad makes his children sort through it all, and place anything with rot or worm into a separate pile that they can keep for their own firewood. It barely works as the nights draw in; the wood sputters and steams where she throws them onto the fire, and barely light for longer than a few minutes. They take to wearing their dressing gowns indoors.

They decide to mark Mam’s dying for the first time this year, by catching a partridge sat on one of the dry stone walls, plucking and roasting it. Shared out between them they have only a small piece of meat, but it is soft and rich and they drink it with wine their neighbour leaves on their doorstep, diluting it pink for Peidr.


In September Cala quits college to work on the fferm. It rains heavily most days and the geifr do not stray far from their shelter, so there is less work to do. Most of the work goes to Cala, as he quit college to be there, Llew because he is older and strong, and Tad because he has the most knowledge. These are the reasons they give Sissie, yn onest, along with the reasons they gave for stopping her going over to Al’s: someone needs to watch Peidr, someone needs to watch the house.

She stays on the sofa and draws shapes in the condensation on the window. Sometimes she draws out maps of the fferm and the things she will do with it one day, the vegetables she’ll grow away from the river, the trees she’ll let stretch out, the geifr and the mare and the house all to herself and Peidr. She tells Peidr that he can sleep in her lap but he doesn’t want to, says he is too big. Sometimes she walks past his room and sees his standing in front of his mirror, naked, his small hand tracing a line across his growing belly.

She asks for jobs to do at the house, a door that needs fixing or a hole in the plaster, but Tad shrugs and says, what did your mother used to do? and she realises that she does not remember. She waits until her brothers’ torchlights appear at the edge of the evening field, and then she runs downstairs and tidies up as best she can, and puts pasta on the hob.


On one of these evenings only Cala returns, panting, his coat gone, his underarms and chest stained with dark wet U shapes. He beckons her out and she follows him, leaving Peidr drawing at the kitchen table.

They have found a young wolf in one of the old hay barns. They have caught it in an old cat basket. Cala explains that he heard something skittering across the corrugated iron wall, and that he thought a cat had got in, or that the rats were breeding underneath the hay bales again. Cala spends a long time – so long because he is out of breath and takes deep breaths between each clause – telling her about how they caught it, how Tad gave up quickly and stood outside the barn while Llew pounced on it with Cala’s coat, and then Cala held the basket open while Llew shoved the creature in.


They meet Llew as he is walking towards them, the carrier at his side.

I had second thoughts, he says, about leaving it here. We should keep it in the house.

In the house?! Sissie says.

For the time being. Not forever. We thought we could take it out tomorrow and see if its mother comes back.

She crouches down to see it through the bars. The creature is small, thin, and sits glowering in the corner. It sees her and flips over, tries to dig its way out. It turns back and starts to gnaw its back paw. She sees that it has pulled an old tissue from one of the coat pockets around it, and the tissue strands are around its feet like snow.


Peidr asks constantly if he can dress it in his doll’s clothes. She fries bacon on the stove and he picks off the rinds and leaves them across his plate, then takes his plate out to it, where it turns its head sideways and curls them up onto its tongue. She puts Peidr to bed, and on her way across the landing Llew presses a bundle of his clothes into her hands.

What am I to do with this?

Wash them? I need them for tomorrow.

She puts the clothes into the washing machine and slams the door. She runs the tap again, feels it gently heat up. She keeps her hand there until she cannot bear it anymore.




This winter, the wolf she had seen in the trees with her mother comes back. She knows it because her mother had said it was limping, and while it didn’t limp anymore she knew from the geifr that in animals broken bones don’t heal straight, and make the creature lope from side to side, move like a puppet.

It has fat pink teats, which almost graze against the floor. Then the night falls suddenly, and it is too dark to see the wolf clearly, and it fades into the hawthorn. The moon comes out and shines like a green stone.


Mam came from a village over on the coast. When she wanted to scare her children she told them of the things they did there at Christmas time: digging up old horse skulls from the earth, decorating them with bells and then talking to them. Tad had said, love, isn’t this the twenty-first century?

On the day she died she had a terrible fever, and the border between her sleep and her waking had been thin. The doctor was stuck at the end of the lane, where the river had stopped and laid across it, deep enough to get into a car’s machinery and destroy it. He had something with him that was heavy to carry, so Tad and Cala had gone down to help him walk.

Mam said, there is wolf. At the end of the bed. There is a wolf come for me.

Sissie shushed her, stroked her hand, but Llew had got up and pulled the room apart. He pulled the wardrobe open, the sheets up, the coats from the doorhook, drawers from the dresser, even pulled the mirror from the wall and cracked it. When Sissie finally got him to stop, he was panting, tears striping the dirt of each check.

There it goes, her mother said, it is showing me the way.




Llew and Cala call Al in the morning, and he agrees to meet them with his rifle at the bottom of the lane. They sit at the foot of the stairs, Llew’s phone lit up between them. The connection is bad so she cannot hear Al exactly, but she hears the word ‘scent’, and then ‘mother’.

Peidr ties a ribbon around the wolf’s neck and it looks furry and fat like a kitten. She begs for Peidr to stay behind with her but Cala tells him they have sweets for him in the car, foam prawns. And so Peidr says, let me go Sissie, I don’t mind, and he trails the wolf out behind him.

She waits on the sofa, stroking its velvet fringing between her nails. She wonders if Al will ask after her. There is a knock at the door, a feed salesman, who asks to speak to the fferm’s owner. She says, they don’t live here anymore, and shuts the door on his wide, expectant face.





She remembers Mam teaching her how to birth the kids. She was ten. It was early morning, dark. The gafr lay between them, her mother at the spine and her at the heaving stomach. Her mother’s hands would disappear beneath he gafr’s tail and come out black and she’d wipe them on the straw next to her, leaving a dark slime trail behind.

Are you watching? Mam said.

She peered over and saw a grey stub coming out of the gafr. Then it disappeared as her mother’s hands went in again. The kid was pulled out by its feet and lay in a puddle of mess, slick and waiting for its mother to clean it. Her mother had to reach back into the mother gafr to pull out the placenta. The place stank of blood, body.

I need the light, Sis, Mam said.

She moved to the back of the gafr and held the torch still over it. She wrinkled her nose and asked, why do you keep putting your hands in there? Her mother had said, irritated by the question, because we owe it to them, they’ll die otherwise.


About a week after that, there was a fire at the fferm next door. Her mother saw the smoke of it and they went out to help, and it was spring, the crocuses turning to mush under their feet. Someone met them at the end of the lane and said all was under control. A barn fire, probably started by youths. When the danger of it was over, Cala and Llew became excited and demanded they stay and watch the fire burn.  They whooped, pretended to be cowboys, pretended to be fire engines, pretended to be dead.

She watched the stables, where their neighbour was leading the horses to safety. It was next to the barn and the fire was catching the edge of the stable roof. The horses were led out with their heads covered so as not to spook them. They came out of the smoke calmly, thin as ghosts. She watched her neighbour’s hands on the reins. What they can’t see or hear can’t hurt them, he explained to her, later. And she had said nothing, because she thought it was true.


Photograph © Street Donkey

Elizabeth O’Connor

Elizabeth O’Connor is a Birmingham-based writer. She has a PhD in modernist literature from the University of Birmingham, and currently works there. She won the White Review Short Story Prize in 2020.

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