Excerpt from The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The House on Vesper Sands

by Paraic O'Donnell

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell X
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell
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    Jan 2021, 408 pages

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Rachel Hullett
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When it was done at last, Esther returned to the workbench. Settling on her stool, she allowed her gaze to wander. Even without its sleeves, the gown had a sad, vacant splendour. The gloves and the veil had been laid out too, and those few pieces of lacework that remained unfinished.

She would be free of all this, as she had yearned to be for so long. It was not fondness that detained her in these last moments, but some necessity that she could not name. It had not come into her plans to spend time in prayer, but she felt now that it was called for. She knelt before the gown, since it was a way of being near to the one who was to have worn it. And to the others, who had gone before. It was a way to honour them.

Another thought came to her. From the box that had been set on the table, Esther drew out the newest card. However the measurements were taken, it was done with great exactness, down to the eighth of an inch. She scanned the columns, sounding them out in a whisper, and as she did so the girl's slight form came to her, as surely known as if it were cradled now in her arms. Softly, she put her fingertips to the card. They left a dim smirch of blood.

When there was nothing else to keep her, Esther stood for a moment with no particular purpose. She smoothed down her skirts and put a hand to her hair, but did not otherwise concern herself with her appearance. She looked for the last time about the room, and wondered if some great surge of panic would flood her thoughts.

There was nothing, nothing more. It was time.

Esther stooped to retrieve a low wooden step from beneath the workbench, turning it over to inspect its feet. She had lined them with felt so as to soften the noise. She set it carefully beneath the window, waiting afterwards for ten or fifteen seconds, then stood on the step and worked at the catch above the sash. This too had been oiled in preparation, and came free with only a small effort. The sash itself gave easily in its frame, just as it had done when she tried it last.

She could not see the lights of the Walsingham House Hotel, when she had hauled herself out and stood upright. She had imagined she might, but the rooftops opposite obscured the better part of the view. At the end of the street a man stirred in a spill of lamplight. Beyond that, she could make out Piccadilly and the dark fringe of Green Park. Nothing more.

Esther drew the first vessel from its padded chamber and held it before her. She rocked it gently, watching the slow gleam of the resin, then leaned a little way outwards and let it fall. The sound it made was small and delicate. She did not look down. That was the one thing she knew she must not do.

She caught sight of the man again. He had crossed the street, moving quickly now. Esther paid no attention. They had set someone to watch, perhaps. He had seen her and knew that something was amiss. It would make no difference, not now. It was too late. She took the second bottle from the satchel and let it fall. Then the third.

She allowed herself a moment then. It was something she had promised to herself, that before the end there would be an unburdened instant, belonging to her alone. She took a long breath and released it. Her own living warmth, turned to mist in the cold. But it was not as fierce as she had imagined, that cold, and there was very little wind. She took her place on the ledge, spreading her arms a little way to steady herself, and it was only then—sensing its intimate scatter against her knuckles—that she remembered the snow.

It was everywhere, when she lifted her face, falling now with soft insistence. It felt tender almost, like a final kindness, and when the moment came it was not like falling at all. She offered herself, nothing more, and the waiting air was swift and sure, knowing her for its own. It rushed to gather her up, at last, to take her and carry her weightlessly from the earth.

Excerpted from The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell. Copyright © 2021 by Paraic O'Donnell. Used with the permission of the publisher, Tin House. Copyright © 2020 by Paraic O'Donnell.

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