Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) wakes up next to a man with a wedding band. Carefully prising herself from bed, and treading lightly so as not to wake him, she makes her way to the en suite bathroom. She is surprised when she sees a grown woman’s reflection in the mirror and a wedding band on her own finger. There are photographs of her and the man she shared a bed with, taped to the wall. Yellow Post-it notes tell her that his name is Ben (Colin Firth), and that he is her husband.
Putting together this collection was time-consuming and difficult, but reading the submissions and working with the authors was the opposite of a burden. Selection was the burden. I narrowed it down to fifteen, then seven stand-outs. I did all the usual things: lying awake in the wee small hours, annoying my partner, comforting myself with clichés. You can’t please all of the people, et cetera. Then I got over myself long enough to choose four.
Things at the house were different to how they’d been before: the shapes of light on the lawn, how short her father cut the grass, where they taught the dog to climb the stairs, where she pushed her sister into the dirt, where she let her high school boyfriend fuck her mindlessly and without care, where she had thrown cigarettes onto the neighbour’s roof. Now there was no dog and no daddy.
On their third day without food, Billy shows his sons how to draw the symbol. He takes a handful of charred kindling, burnt out in the pot-bellied stove, and gives a piece to each of them. He uses the bottom of a mug to make the outer circle, shows them how to hold it steady against the plasterboard wall and trace around its rim. He should have a compass but he sold his, borrowed the boss’s when he had to.
The snow has stopped falling when we approach the old bus, although the motionless air stings perhaps colder than when it snows. Some boys throw stones up at the bus windows; their arms wave strange circles over and again as though motioning to someone we cannot see. Clumps of snow leap up from their shoes as they run off. We too used to throw stones, when we were young boys ourselves.