20th December


The rain was on again. Three o’clock and dark already.

He had half a white loaf in the cupboard, six tins of tomato soup. He was sick of soup but it would have to do. He opened a tin, emptied it into a pan on a low flame, took out two slices of bread.

While he waited, he thought about getting two heats from the soup. One: pour it into a mug and hold the mug in your hands. Two: when it’s cooled enough not to burn your mouth, drink the soup.

Three heats, if you counted standing over the gas, stirring the pan.

He’d never been one for conversation, but he spoke now, to keep himself company.

‘When we were kids,’ he said, ‘all we wanted was to escape from this. Boys played football to escape. They went to the gym and boxed. Joined the army. Girls went to be nurses. Folk emigrated. Half our street went to Canada, first one couple, then the cousins, then the neighbours. I don’t remember anyone coming back except to get more folk to leave.’

The orange soup bubbled round the edges. He gave it a stir.

‘We had an electric fire. One bar or two bars, that was the choice. So long as you didn’t fall into it you were okay, you could sit over the one bar and get a heat even if the rest of the room was cold. You could give yourself a quick two-bar blast, then switch it back to save on the cost. Now it’s all central heating. What are you supposed to do? Turn all the radiators off except one and stand against it all day?’

He could go to bed after the soup, but he’d only just got up. His spine was sore from lying too long.

‘How did this come back to us, eh? For a while we had it on the run. The population had thinned out so there was enough to go round. Now it’s back.’

Four heats, if you counted imagining it before you felt it.

Five, if you counted imagining it again later, after the soup.

By that time he’d be in his bed.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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