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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

All We Shall Know

Donal Ryan


From Chapter 1: Week Twelve

Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He's seventeen, I'm thirty-three. I was his teacher. I'd have killed myself by now if I was brave enough. I don't think it would hurt the baby. His little heart would stop with mine. He wouldn't feel himself leaving one world of darkness for another, his spirit untangling itself from me.

At seven weeks or so a foetus starts to move. Imperceptibly, they say, but I swear I felt a stirring yesterday, a tiny shifting, a shadow-weight. I've been still and silent all these weeks, listening for him. I sit here with the curtains drawn and the TV muted, waiting for a hint of something in the soft glow of things detonating, people bleeding, corpses being carried swathed in flags by dark-eyed men, people arguing and kissing and driving in cars, people opening and closing their mouths.

I've measured his time from the actual minute, not from the first day of my last period, like a doctor would, where a woman would be having normal sex, a normal life, and wouldn't know one moment from another. But all my moments now are marked and measured, standing out in unforgiving light to be examined.

Pat came back yesterday evening from weeks of work around the country, installing water meters. They had to stay in digs, he said; the work was round the clock. The day he left he bent and kissed me on the cheek. His lips were cold; he paused before he straightened. I can't remember if I looked at him. That was on the second day of the seventh week.

I stood at the TV-room door last night and looked at him, stretched along the couch in his tracksuit bottoms and Liverpool jersey, barefoot, unshaven, soft-bellied, defenceless. I'm pregnant, I said. He swung his head towards me and there was a sharp light in his eyes - was it maybe joy? - that extinguished itself after a moment, as he remembered. I told him the father was a man I'd met online, in the voice I always use to make him know I'm serious. Low and even.

He sat up, then stood before me and shouted, JESUS! just once. Then he raised his fists as though to punch me, but he pulled back and punched the air before my face instead, and he said, I'll kill you, I'll kill you, and he put his fists to his eyes and cried, very hard, teeth bared, eyes closed, like a little boy who's just felt shocking pain.

There wasn't much more to be said or done then, so he left. He was white as he walked with his gear-bag towards the front door, two small discs of livid red in the centres of his cheeks. He looked back at me from the open doorway. He was ghostly, washed in pale-orange light.

Are we even now? His voice was low, almost a whisper. I didn't reply.