Excerpt from Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Midwinter Break

by Bernard MacLaverty

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty X
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 208 pages
    Sep 2018, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt

Midwinter Break

In the bathroom Stella was getting ready for bed. Gerry had left the shaving mirror at the magnifying face and she was examining her eyebrows. She licked the tip of her index finger and smoothed both of them. Then turned to her eyelids. She was sick of it all – the circles of cotton wool, the boiled and sterilised water in the saucer, the ointments, the waste bin full of cotton buds.

She said goodnight to Gerry and, on her way to the bed- room, passed their luggage in the hall. She switched on the late night news on the small radio beside her bed and got into her pyjamas. Quickly, because the bedroom air was cold. She saw no point in paying good money to heat a room all day for a minute's comfort last thing at night.

Before getting into bed she turned off the electric blanket. Now and again she'd fallen asleep with it still on. By the time Gerry came to bed she felt and looked awful. 'Like fried bacon,' was the way he described her.

She loved this hour to herself – this separation at the end of every day. Her hot-water bottle, the electric blanket, the radio voices. Gerry, out of action, in another room listening to music on his headphones. Having a nightcap, no doubt. Or two or three. The storm doors locked, the windows bolted. The place safe. Sometimes after the news she read for a while n the silence. The sound of a page turning. The absence of talk. But of late she'd been too tired to read, even to hold a book. Hardbacks were out of the question. There was a tip- ping point when she knew she was going to 'get over'. Her head would go down on the pillow, her hand creep out from under the covers to get rid of the book or to switch off the radio. The duties and the menus and the lists melted away. Responsibilities were such that nothing could be done at this hour. They were hidden behind a curtain but would return with a swish first thing in the morning. And before she knew, she was sound asleep.

Her insomnia, if it came, happened in the middle of the night. Anywhere between three and six she could be seen curled on the sofa sipping hot milk, nibbling a biscuit. And her wakefulness could continue for hours. In bed or pacing the floor. At such times her worries and angst were on full display. Magnified, like the mirror. A worry in the wee small hours was a different beast entirely to a daylight worry. And that would keep her awake. Maybe she would get over again in an hour or two but there was no guarantee.

There was a blast of music. Her eyes opened. What in the name of God . . .? She closed them again, compressed them. Burrowed her right ear into the pillow. Pulled up the duvet to cover her other ear. But still the music pounded. What in the name of God was he up to?

Gerry sat staring ahead. The television was off and the place silent. There was a cone of light above his head which left the rest of the room in darkness. He considered the sofa a defensible space. It had a concavity which fitted him exactly. Everything he needed was to hand – favourite books – music and film guides, CDs. His architecture books were shelved in the study. In the bathroom Stella had just gone through her pre-bed routine. He heard the snap of the bolt as she came out.

'Goodnight,' she said. She came to the end of the sofa smelling of toothpaste and finger-waved a little before going. 'Don't forget we have an early start.'

He waited until he heard the bedroom door close then went to the drinks cupboard. In the kitchen he filled the Kilkenny jug. Back at the cupboard he poured himself a whiskey in his favourite tumbler and topped it to the brim with water. He liked the heaviness of the Waterford crystal, the heft of it – it made the drink feel more substantial, more potent. He went back to the sofa and set the drink on the bookshelf. It glowed yellow in the light. The shelf was lower than the arm of the sofa so that if his wife came in again she would not see it. Not that he was trying to hide it from her – he would say to anyone and everyone, 'At night when Stella goes to bed I have a substantial dram and listen to music.' But with the glass out of sight she could not see the volume. For her, a small glass of wine with a meal was 'a sufficiency'. And good for the heart. The central heating was set to switch off at Stella's bedtime. The radiators ticked as they cooled. The place creaked and the wind moved outside. He smelled the flowers on the table. Stella had bought stargazer lilies and now that it was night they were sending out their fragrance. He sipped his drink. It was unlike her to have flowers that would waste their sweetness on the desert air when they were away.

Excerpted from Midwinter Breakby Bernard MacLaverty. Copyright © 2017 Bernard MacLaverty. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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