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It was doing him good. He was all set. He liked the word— curfew. He liked the daft importance of it. There was no one else on the street. Then he looked up and saw the woman. There were two faces coming straight at him. A routine check, offered by his health insurer—free. Heart, prostate, eyes, ears.

A woman doctor had her finger up my arse, and she was thoroughly professional. A week after the checkup, his phone had vibrated in his pocket. She told him there were high levels of cholesterol in his arteries. One of them was seventy per cent blocked. He liked the sound of it.

The fact that he had a wife helped. It made sense, somehow. It was almost noble. He was taking the pain for her.

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There was no pain. There had been no pain.

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Not an ache, not a twinge. Stents might be wise. But nothing for now. It was a Teddy bear. They—the woman and the bear—had nearly reached him now. They were between trees, him and her, so there was plenty of room on the path. A Teddy bear—a biggish one; it fit neatly into the sling. A baby-sized bear—a big baby. It was older than any baby who might have owned it. She looked straight ahead.

He felt like a spectator watching her through a window. She passed. He kept going, up to the house. The curfew was coming, the ex-hurricane was coming.

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He wanted to check the wheelies again, he wanted to make sure all the windows were fastened. He wanted to get off the street. Her face was—the word was there, waiting for him—empty. He remembered the weight of his youngest daughter, Cliona, in one of those slings.

There was a day in Kerry, on a beach, years ago. The eldest, Ciara, was the baby in the backpack.

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  6. He reached the sand. The beach was empty, no one else on it at all. The whale, he knew, was to the left. And he kept walking until he could see the whale, and smell it. He was afraid to stop, submit to the feeling, the certainty he knew was false.

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    He found it hard to identify that man as himself now, the eejit stepping over the sand. The mad logic of parenthood. His destination. Unbelievable—ah, Jesus. He knew it had been terrible enough to halt him.

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    He could feel it on his skin, adding oil to his sweat. He was about fifty yards from the carcass. It was different shades of gray; that was all he remembered. He took off the backpack. He parked it on the sand.

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    Ciara was fine. She was sleeping. She was in Vancouver now. He was at the front door. But he stepped off the porch and walked back across the small garden to the wheelie bins—brown, green, and black—and the hedge. He pushed them in farther. He could bring them into the house. The brown one landed on the old witch across the street. The house was still empty. His wife would be home soon. His new pills. His regimen. He put them standing in a row. They looked unfinished like that.

    He needed more boxes. He could make a joke of it when he was telling her later. He got his reading glasses from the table. He could feel her excitement, her legs hopping, the approaching faces breaking into smiles—for her, then for him. Proud of his daughter, proud of himself. Cliona in the sling, Conor in the buggy, Ciara and Maeve on either side holding the handles. Down through town, through the crowds, Henry Street, Grafton Street. People made way, he never lost a child. The doctor had sent him leaflets in the post. Definitions, questions answered, a detachable consent form at the back.

    He took his glasses off the book and went back to Stonehenge.

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    In Postures , reprinted as Quartet in , Voyage in the Dark , and Good Morning, Midnight , Rhys depicted the lives of vulnerable women adrift in London and Paris, vulnerable because they were poor and because the words in which they innocently believed—honesty in relationships, fidelity in marriage—proved in practice to be empty. Creating heavily symbolic novels based on the quest-romance, such as Ashe of Rings and Armed with Madness , Butts explored a more general loss of value in the contemporary wasteland T.

    Eliot was an obvious influence on her work , while Doolittle whose reputation rested upon her contribution to the Imagist movement in poetry used the quest-romance in a series of autobiographical novels—including Paint It Today written in but first published in and Bid Me to Live —to chart a way through the contemporary world for female characters in search of sustaining, often same-sex relationships.