The Manchester Review
Kirsty Gunn
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But something had changed after all, something tidy. To do with Uncle Robbie not being there - but not in the way of him not walking in the door any more, or missing the things he did or said. It was more because there was no more mess like there had been mess when he’d been living there, with the blood and bits of killing. No more of him going around the house with his boots and with the mud, bringing inside all that stuff he used to do when he was out amongst the farm, in the cold paddocks by the sea, or up in the hills on his own..” And Aunt Pammy seemed in a way quite happy, I thought, I noticed it, I mean, after Uncle Robbie was gone, that the man she was married to was no longer there to bring mess in that way. The house had no great boots in it, sitting in the hall, or guns, or knives on the bench and with bits of animal stuck to them, or gutted fish in the sink in the scullery… Instead Aunt Pammy put flowers in vases and there were clean, empty rooms. And other things too, like there was one little puppy left from the litter after the mother had been shot who was allowed to come into the house and Aunt Pammy made up a bed for the puppy, in the kitchen where it was warm, and I saw her sometimes leaning down to pat it and talk to in a soft and gentle way.

“Mum’s getting fancy” is all Bill said, when I asked him what he thought about any of this. It was because he was a boy, maybe, and become a half orphan in a way because he no longer had a dad. And so Aunt Pammy turned into this person who wore dresses sometimes and I saw her put on lipstick too, and scent, and she went out of the house without telling any of us what she was doing, just went out into those big summer nights when it never got dark… Maybe that was hard for him to see.

Oh Bill, I don’t know what you were thinking. In your bedroom with all your toys piled up, those boxes of your cars and farm things and your clothes and your drawings, and you slept in there at night with the door closed when before you kept it open for Uncle Robbie to come in, wearing his farm socks he’d had on that day and the old jersey he always wore. He used to sit on your bed and say goodnight and the door was open then, into the hall. But now it stayed closed. So perhaps you just couldn’t see, like I saw, like maybe only a girl might see, though my little sister was too young in those days to notice…

But the killing from before seemed truly gone. And not only the smearings from blood… But the knowledge of it, the dark part of the farm Uncle Robbie always brought in with him, that he sat with his son with, to say goodnight. Now there was only a boy left and a father who was not there. And I thought Aunt Pammy would be sad that Uncle Robbie was gone and that the farm was no longer theirs and that the animals weren’t there… But instead she let the little puppy play in the house and there was a kitten too, from the cat who lived in the toolshed, and she didn’t make Bill take it away and its brothers and sisters and put them in a sack.