“...and then he said the marks were called ‘ghosting’ and caused by ‘burning cheap candles’. What an outrageous slur! Last candle I bought was a limited edition. Fifty quid! I sent him the link... It’s not as if I light it very often, it’s too expensive.”

As Lucy took a breath between rants, Miriam probed further: “So is the issue the mysterious grubby marks on your walls or is it that your letting agent thinks you buy cheap candles?”

“Both,” replied Lucy.

Lucy had lived in the ground-floor studio flat for six years and, as far as Miriam could tell, complained to her letting agent every four weeks. Sometimes justified (when the hot water failed) sometimes less obviously so (when she became convinced someone was living in the garden).


Oh God, thought Miriam, there’s more.

“And...” continued Lucy: “The guy in the garden’s back.”

Miriam sighed. There goes our conversation for the next three weeks.

“What makes you say that?” asked Miriam.

“A white carrier bag – you know the ones they bring you takeaways in...”

“...they bring you takeaways. I’ve never had a takeaway in my life.”

Miriam was a great believer that what went into your mouth could immediately increase or decrease your lifespan. She intended to be around for as long as possible. She was a healthy forty-nine and felt her vigilance was paying off. Apart from the constipation.

“Well a white takeaway bag appeared in the garden this morning,” said Lucy. “Look... it was over there... where the weeds are flat. It had a polystyrene kebab box in it. Nearly empty.”

Lucy pointed through the window to the top of the garden where it met the party wall. Garden was too tidy a word. It looked like landfill. The bushes that abutted the wall hadn’t seen shears in decades. There was no sign of grass. Just dirt and weeds. Miriam wondered why Lucy hadn’t complained about this.

“I went out to investigate,” said Lucy. “ I assumed the carrier bag had been blown in – but it became clear it’d been put there deliberately. And it was next to a big scrunched-up pile of used paper towel. You know, the bright blue stuff they have in industrial kitchens and toilets.”

“What was it used for and what did you do with it?” asked Miriam.

“Didn’t like to look too closely – picked it up and threw it away. My plan...”

“Were you wearing gloves?” asked Miriam.

“No, but I did wash my hands thoroughly afterwards. It was not pleasant. I was fine at the time but after I couldn’t stop...” Lucy did a theatrical impression of retching which turned into actual retching which was also not pleasant.

Miriam passed her a glass of water: “You think it’s a prowler?”

“No, well yes, well no I don’t necessarily think they’re prowling, maybe they’re just sleeping there.”

“I’m not sure people would want to sleep there, Lucy,” said Miriam regarding the opposite of a garden paradise.

“You’re wrong. It’s safe, it’s sheltered between the bush and the wall. And if you had a couple of bin liners, you could make it waterproof.”

“You’ve given it some thought,” said Miriam.

“I tested it out last time he was here. I assumed it was a ‘he’.”

“What do you mean ‘tested it out’?” said Miriam.

“I went out with a few bin liners and my sleeping bag – to see if I could catch him,” said Lucy. “It was quite comfy. And once you’re round the back, there aren’t any automatic lights so if it’s dark, nobody knows you’re there.”

“What time did your experiment take place?” asked Miriam.

“It was just after ten. I waited till it was pitch black so I could do a proper test. Of course, I wouldn’t want to do it in the winter. I feel for the poor people who have to.”

“What? You slept there all night?”

“No well yes but only till five in the morning. The sun woke me up.”

Miriam tried to recall when Lucy had gone from being normal odd to odd odd. Last year, around her fiftieth, she estimated. Miriam blamed the takeaways.

“Funny thing,” continued Lucy, “Gareth, who lives on the second floor emailed the letting agent to say we had a prowler when it was only me.”

“Gareth who moved out last week?” asked Miriam.

“Yes, that’s him. Anyway I know it’s perfectly possible to set up camp in the back garden because I’ve done it and ‘whoever it is’ is back. It’s obvious from the white plastic bag.”

“And the used loo roll,” said Miriam.

“And the used kitchen roll,” said Lucy.

“So what do you plan to do now?” said Miriam.

“I’m going to camp out again tonight. It’s warm for October,” said Lucy. “I know it seems silly but I need to know. And I’ve got the address of a hostel down the road. Thought I’d pass it on to whoever it is.”

“You might want to warn your neighbours this time,” said Miriam. “And, Lucy, I’m not sure it’s safe. If there really is somebody, what if they’re not down on their luck? What if they’re just a run-of-the-mill pervert?”

“I don’t think so,” said Lucy. “I’m going to make two flasks of tea, one for me, one for them. So they’ll know I’m friendly”.

Lucy was clearly going to do this ridiculous thing and Miriam could tell when protest was pointless.

Miriam and Lucy had met twenty years earlier in the check-in queue at Gatwick. Lucy had dropped her bag. The startling contents had ended up rolling around the airport floor and Miriam had helped to retrieve them. They got chatting and it emerged they were both heading to the same resort in Greece with their respective partners. The friendship had outlasted the then-partners. And quite a few since.

“For goodness sake,” sighed Miriam. “If you must do it, I’ll join you. But I can’t do it tonight. How about Friday? I’ll come after work.”

“Excellent,” said Lucy. “Bring a sleeping bag and a head torch.”

“And a candle?” said Miriam.

“If you like,” said Lucy. “But not a cheap one.”


Miriam had to agree. Once you were wedged in, it was quite cosy. They’d squeezed a yoga mat into the narrow gap between the hedge and the red brick wall to provide a surface for the sleeping bags. Now the two of them were zipped up next to each other like a couple of polyester sardines. It was midnight and, having consumed a bottle of red earlier, they were nearly asleep.

“Sorry. I’m going to have to go,” whispered Lucy.

“Again?” sighed Miriam: “You went five minutes ago.”

“I know. I’m sure it’s psychological. I always have to go when I get comfy.” Lucy switched on her head torch and started to wriggle up and out of her bag.

Miriam pressed herself against the damp ivy-clad brick wall to give her more room.

“I hope this wall’s safe,” muttered Miriam.

“It’s been here for years. Sure it’ll last another night,” said Lucy and dragged herself out of the undergrowth. “I think my knees have seized. And my hips. Change of season...”

“Stop talking and hurry up,” shout-whispered Miriam from the bushes.

With Lucy gone, Miriam was struck by the silence. They were only a couple of miles from the city but they could’ve been anywhere. It was an unusually muggy night for autumn and the air was fragrant with peat and plantlife. Occasionally you’d hear voices echoing from the main road but, that aside, it was surprisingly peaceful.

Generally speaking Miriam was a careful and conservative person. Lucy brought an element of uncertainty that made life more interesting. Their default was to hang out most weekends. Now and then one of them would meet somebody and disappear for a week or two of romance. It didn’t usually come to much. But Miriam had news and, in the silence, was pondering the best time to tell Lucy.

An urgent voice interrupted her thoughts: “Do you want a hot water bottle?” Lucy must’ve been leaning out of the kitchen window.

“No... I’m fine. I’m tired... Get a move on,” said Miriam.

“I’m coming,” replied Lucy. “I just want to change into my onesie.”

Miriam decided her news could wait a while longer.


“What was that? Did you hear it?” whispered Lucy.

“What? Where?” Miriam flailed as she emerged from a deep sleep. She often had nightmares about suffocating. A coldness pressed against her. She couldn’t move. What was going on?

“I can hear something, Miriam,” continued Lucy, unconcerned by the small panic attack unfolding next to her.

Lucy’s indifference brought Miriam back to the present. She listened: “Yes.. yes I can hear something... ”

Something was making its way across the garden. Slowly. Deliberately. And it was getting closer.

“I feel sick,” said Lucy.

“Should we get out? We should get out,” said Miriam.

Suddenly the noise was next to them.

Lucy screamed and started to crawl out of her bag.

The noise didn’t seem to like this and leapt towards Lucy but she was halfway out and it landed on Miriam’s head.

Miriam screamed. She tried to free her arms to fight it off but they were pinned against her in the bag: it was like she’d been vacuum packed. “Help,” she shouted. “Help.”

The more she struggled, the more tangled she became. There was nothing she could do as something yowled and scratched her face. Miriam screwed up her eyes to protect them.

“Lucy, Lucy,” she shouted.

Where the hell was Lucy? thought Miriam. What’s it done to her? Are there more? Then she heard it. Lucy was crying.


Lucy was laughing.

“Calm down, Miriam. It’s just Mr Brown. He lives next door.”

Miriam stopped shouting. The attack on her face stopped too. She opened her eyes to see two amber irises glowing in the darkness. A cat. Of course it was a cat, thought Miriam. Though she had too much adrenaline powering through her body to feel relieved.

In contrast, the cat had decided Lucy’s vacant sleeping bag would be the perfect place to spend the night and had set about its intimate ablutions, inches from Miriam’s face. “Budge up, I’m coming back,” said Lucy, poking the cat out of the way. Somehow Lucy was completely fine after all the chaos.

“You’re going to have to wait,” said Miriam, who was not completely fine, “I’m going inside to the loo and may be some time.”


An owl hooted overhead. A police siren wailed in the distance. A church bell rang out three. Miriam had accepted she’d be getting no more sleep that night and was glad she had nothing on the next day. It was rare she’d get a full night’s sleep these days, anyway. She’d disturb after about four hours. It was handy, really. Gave her plenty of time to review her shortcomings.

“If he doesn’t come tonight, perhaps we could try again next Friday?” said Lucy, who was also still awake.

“I can’t next weekend,” said Miriam. “I’m off to Cardiff.”

“Cardiff? Why?” said Lucy.

“I told you. I’m meeting Paul’s parents,” said Miriam. She knew Lucy would forget. She wasn’t sure whether it was a bad memory or an inability to listen.

“You’re meeting his parents already? That’s weird,” said Lucy.

“It’s not weird. We’ve been seeing each other for six months,” replied Miriam.

“Six months?” Lucy was confused and Miriam remembered she’d kept quiet about Paul for the first eight weeks. She’d wanted to give their relationship the chance to develop without scrutiny.

“Hang on, how old are his parents?” said Lucy. “You’re hardly teenage sweethearts. You’ve got senile warts.”

“They’re not called that anymore,” said Miriam. “They’re called seborrheic warts and I’m having them removed. Not sure about his parents. I think they’re in their mid eighties but they’re quite traditional. He wants me to meet them before...”

“Before they die?” said Lucy.

“Before we take the next step...” said Miriam.

Lucy turned on her head torch and rolled over so the light was shining directly into Miriam’s face.

“Next step?” she said.

“We’re going to move in together,” said Miriam, failing to evade the spotlight.

There was a pause. The owl hooted. Finally Lucy spoke.

“That’s fantastic news,” she said. “You must really like him.”

“I do,” said Miriam. She wanted to be relieved at how well Lucy had taken it. But she’d only told her half the story.

“The thing is...” Miriam took a deep breath.

Before she could finish, there was an almighty rumble from the sky.

“They didn’t forecast rain,” said Lucy, “it’s not due till tomorrow.”

The rain had other ideas and the heavens opened. Once again, Lucy proved herself adept at getting up and out of the undergrowth in record time while Miriam wrestled with both sleeping bags and the yoga mat.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Lucy once they were safely in the flat. “What was it you were going to say, Miriam?”

“What?” replied Miriam, who was now wrapped in several blankets on the sofa.

“You were going to say something... ...before the thunder?” prompted Lucy.

“Ahhh.. can’t remember,” lied Miriam “...obviously not important.”


“Turkeytail... Beefsteak fungus... Hoof fungus... Blushing bracket...” recited Lucy, who had spent much of the previous evening looking at mushrooms online.

“I think it’s a ‘chicken of the woods’,” said Miriam, consulting her shiny new fungi handbook. “Laetiporus sulphureus....”

“Can we eat it?” replied Lucy.

“In theory, yes, but I don’t think we should. I don’t want liver failure if we’re wrong.”

Miriam preferred to err on the side of caution. Lucy did not and was already slicing away.

“This foraging knife is fantastic. I feel like Bear Grylls,” said Lucy.

“You look like Sherlock Holmes,” said Miriam.

“Thank you,” said Lucy.

“Why are you wearing a deerstalker anyway?” said Miriam.

“Foraging feels very Victorian to me,” said Lucy. “Fossil hunting... flower pressing...Thought I’d dress the part.”

“And you bought the hat especially?”

“No, had it in my wardrobe, just in case,” said Lucy.

An emergency deerstalker, thought Miriam. She marvelled at how much stuff Lucy’s studio flat could accommodate given it was about three square meters.

It had been a month since the Cardiff weekend. Paul had moved in with Miriam and, earlier that week, Lucy had been round for dinner. She’d been on form: “This is all very nice but I prefer to see my friends by themselves. No offence, Paul.” A day of Paul-free foraging had subsequently been arranged for that Saturday.

Lucy held up the mushroom for them to inspect.

“It looks a bit old and wrinkly,” observed Miriam. “The handbook says you should aim for ones that are ‘young and firm’.”

“Typical!” said Lucy and dropped the mushroom into her bag next to a handful of chestnuts. “Sure it’ll be fine. I’ll fry it up with some butter.”

“Is this going to be like the car-park-barrier incident?” said Miriam.

Lucy had once insisted that a car park barrier could never shut on your car because there were automatic sensors that would prevent it. To prove her point, she’d parked her car under a barrier and waited for it to close. Thankfully the garage was able to get the dent out without too much trouble.

“Ahhh.. these are pretty. Can we eat them?”

Miriam followed Lucy’s gaze to a set of old wooden steps. Along the edge of each step, where it had become saturated, there was a delicate line of white mushrooms. The stalks were cress-like and it was a wonder they could support the bulbous heads. Some were already bowed.

“I can’t find them in the book but they’re tiny, Lucy. It’s not worth it.”

“Hmmm... you’re probably right,” said Lucy, putting them in her bag.

Once she’d picked a few, she headed up the steps into the woods. Miriam followed. It was darker here. The crowns of the trees nearly touched, preventing the November light from making much headway.

“Look at this,” said Lucy, pointing at a particularly huge oak tree. Above their heads, where the trunk divided, was a cluster of soft spongy bracket fungi. They looked iridescent in the half light.

“More wood chickens,” said Lucy. “These look fresher.” Miriam agreed. They looked exactly like the ones in her book.

“But how are we going to reach them?” asked Miriam.


“Keep still, Miriam. I don’t want to drop the knife on your head,” said Lucy.

Miriam grimaced and tried to remember everything she’d learned in Pilates. Be strong. You have a core of steel. Miriam’s hands were laced under Lucy’s feet. She’d managed to lift her high enough to reach the lower brackets of fungus. Lucy was now pressed against the tree, merrily slicing away. Bits and pieces of mushroom fell like confetti around Miriam’s ears.

“I’m going to drop you,” said Miriam.

Lucy dismounted: “Let’s give it five minutes then why don’t you touch your toes and I’ll climb on your back? You know, like a human pyramid?”

“Why do I have to be the bottom tier?” said Miriam.

“Because you’re sturdier than me,” said Lucy.

Miriam opted for the least offensive response she had in mind: “You can stick your chicken of the woods up your...”

Suddenly the late afternoon sun found a keyhole through the foliage and a stream of golden light illuminated the area. It’s like a fairytale grotto, thought Miriam. And took a seat on a tree stump to properly take in the view. And give her back a rest.

“It’s lovely this time of year, isn’t it?” said Miriam.

“Magical,” agreed Lucy: “And I love that bonfire smell.”

“Be Christmas soon,” said Miriam. And regretted it. Because it reminded her she still had something to tell Lucy and it was better said sooner rather than later.

“Let’s head back,” said Lucy. “I wonder if we can get a mulled wine at The Bear?”

“Great idea,” said Miriam. All news is better in a pub.


Two mulled wines, two pints of tap water, two cups of tea and a bag of crisps to share. “No wonder I have to get up twelve times in the night to wee,” said Lucy.

They’d bagged a lovely little table in the corner of a sixteenth century pub on the edge of the woods. A fire was crackling in the grate. Local legend insisted it had been burning for over a hundred years. Miriam was not convinced this was either possible or true.

“See that lad, serving behind the bar. It’s busy. Do you really think he’s going to make the effort to stoke the fire if it goes out?”

Lucy regarded the fireplace: “Maybe the embers have been smouldering for a hundred years. They wouldn’t necessarily need to be burning brightly, just hot enough to ignite the next batch of kindling.”

Miriam had to concede this was a reasonable point. Sitting in the pub, discussing important matters of the day, she would miss this.

“Lucy, do you remember last year when I applied for that in-house marketing job?”

“The one that was double your salary and half the hours – that you didn’t get,” said Lucy.

“Yes, that’s the one,” said Miriam. “Well, they’ve offered it to me.”

“Amazing! I told you they’d realise they’d made a mistake. When do you start?” Lucy lifted her mulled wine: “Cheers!”

Miriam cheers-ed back as she continued: “I start in January.... the thing is... it’s not in the city. Well... not this city. It’s in Cardiff.”

“Cardiff?” responded Lucy. “Will you be working remotely?”

“No,” replied Miriam. “I’m moving... we’re moving at Christmas.”

“Then I rescind my cheers,” said Lucy.

For the next five minutes they sat in silence. Lucy glared while Miriam focused on her mulled wine. She knew nothing would help so she said nothing. Till her glass was empty. “Another?” said Miriam, indicating the bar.

“No, I have to go,” said Lucy. And she picked up her coat and exited the pub.

Then she came back. Because she’d forgotten her mushrooms.

She gave Miriam a look, grabbed the bag and exited again.

Well that went better than expected, thought Miriam. And ordered another mulled wine.


Miriam messaged Lucy twice a week to check in and see how things were going. It had been four weeks now and Lucy was yet to respond.

‘Hope all good with you. Any more nighttime visitors? Mx.’ Send.

Miriam removed her glasses and squinted myopically at the phone: Single tick. Did that mean it had gone? Shouldn’t it be two ticks? And weren’t they supposed to be blue rather than grey? Or was it the other way round?

She hoped Lucy was all right. Miriam felt terrible leaving but they couldn’t live like a couple of bookends forever. She checked her phone. Still no reply. This was the longest they’d gone without speaking in twenty years. Even if it was just an observation about the rain (loved by Lucy, hated by Miriam) they’d chit-chat most days.

Miriam felt Lucy’s absence like the proverbial missing limb. It was an annoying limb that would frequently trip her up but she missed it nonetheless.

With so much to organise and already halfway through December, most of Miriam’s time was taken up with the imminent move. Her flat had sold quickly but trying to find somewhere in Cardiff was proving impossible. Paul was going to head down there tomorrow to do the rounds of the local estate agents. Their plan was to rent for a while to get the lay of the land and work out exactly where they wanted to live. It’d be nice to have somewhere with a garden, thought Miriam. A proper one, though. Not a potential crime scene like Lucy’s.

Miriam was also fighting with the digital onboarding process for her new job. They seemed to need to know everything – up to and including where she went to primary school and the name of her first pet. And the volume of documents she was supposed to read and sign... She mourned the time when all you did was turn up on your first day and chat to Doreen in HR. This was the kind of thing she and Lucy would dissect for hours. Walking, talking, ascertaining exactly what was right or, more usually, wrong with the world.

It was while Miriam was trying and failing to log back into the onboarding site that she got a call. It was an unknown number. She wouldn’t usually answer but she thought it might be the IT department.

“Hello, is that Miriam Green?”

“It is. Are you IT?” said Miriam.

“Sorry? No, I’m Christopher Hendry. I’m a nurse at the Royal George Hospital. Do you know a ‘Lucy Parker’?”

“Yes,” said Miriam. “Why?”

“Lucy was admitted yesterday. She was quite unwell.”

Miriam’s blood pressure plummeted. Her head swayed. Suddenly nothing mattered except that Lucy was okay. What if they never got to talk again? What if that day in the pub was it? What would she do without her friend?

“How... how is she?”

Be alive, thought Miriam. Please be alive.

“She needs some pyjamas,” replied the nurse. “What?....Pyjamas?” said Miriam, confused. “So she’s okay?”

“Yes. She’s fine. But we’re keeping her in for observation. She has a list of things she wants you to get. She doesn’t have her phone so she asked me to call you directly – your number’s in her medical notes as an emergency contact. Have you got a pen? The list is very specific.”

“I can imagine,” said Miriam, who was both relieved and annoyed in equal measure. “But before you give me the list, what exactly is wrong with her?”


After a lengthy trip to town to buy the requisite items, it was evening by the time Miriam arrived at the hospital.

As she passed through the sliding electric doors, she found it was surprisingly welcoming for a clinical space: a Christmas tree twinkled in the corner of the reception area while an energetic group of volunteers sang carols and collected for charity.

Miriam approached the receptionist to find out where Lucy was residing. The receptionist named the ward and advised Miriam to ask one of the singing volunteers to take her there. Miriam suspected this was a ruse to stop them singing.

After the longest version of Good King Wenceslas she’d ever heard, Miriam was chaperoned to a ward on the eighth floor.

The volunteer had tried without success to get a singalong going in the lift. Now they indicated Lucy’s bed in the far corner of the room. Everybody else in the room was asleep. At least, Miriam hoped they were asleep. Lucy’s privacy curtains were drawn but Miriam was assured it was okay to go over.

“Knock knock,” Miriam said from outside the curtain. “I’m not in,” said Lucy.

Miriam tried to pull back the curtain but it was annoyingly stuck. After testing the whole perimeter she gave up and resorted to lifting the fabric and bending underneath.

“Feels like some sort of test,” said Miriam, joints groaning as she became upright. “Reminds me, I must get more glucosamine tablets. I’ve run out.”

She found Lucy propped up in bed, wearing a surgical gown, reading the newspaper. “Did you get the cotton pyjamas?” asked Lucy.

“Yes,” replied Miriam.

“And the silicone earplugs?”


“Silk pillowcase?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes.” Miriam handed over the bags. “How long are you going to be here?”

“Oh, till tomorrow,” said Lucy. “The consultant has to sign me out and she’s not back till morning. Otherwise I’d probably be home now.”

“How do you feel?”

“Empty. Reminds me of the time I had that colonic.”

Miriam winced: “I told you to be careful with the mushrooms.”

“Yes, I could’ve done with your handbook. No permanent damage, thankfully...” Lucy started to take things out of the bags, placing them methodically in front of her.

“Everything you asked for is there,” said Miriam, removing her coat and heading for the plastic chair next to the bed: “It was quite the treasure hunt.”

As Lucy reviewed the items against her list, Miriam nosed at the array of objects on Lucy’s bedside table: the paper she’d been perusing earlier; a glass of water with a slice of lemon (Miriam wondered how on earth she’d wangled the lemon) and a get well soon card.

Miriam picked it up.

“Whooooo... who’s Ryan?” she asked.

“My letting agent,” said Lucy.

“What?” said Miriam.

“It was him who found me. He was coming round to check on the ‘ghosting’ and I didn’t answer the door. He had a key and let himself in. Found me on the floor, collapsed.”

“That’s awful.” Miriam hated to picture her friend lying there helpless. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“I couldn’t call anyone. I was virtually unconscious. I’d been on the toilet all night. That’s why I asked you to get these...” Lucy held up the moist wipes and relief cream.

“As long as you’re all right now,” said Miriam. “Though I doubt your letting agent is. He’s going to want danger money.”

“He did look a little green,” agreed Lucy. “Sweet though. And when I’m better, he’s going to send in a decorator to paint over the ghosting.”

“What is ghosting anyway?” asked Miriam.

“Mmm.. something to do with hot air hitting cold areas on the plasterboard and condensation leaving sooty marks,” said Lucy. “And we’ve agreed it was not caused by my candles, cheap or otherwise. My flat is wee. The heat from my body is probably enough to cause it.”

A voice outside the curtains declared visiting hours would soon be over.

“I’ll come back tomorrow and drive you home,” said Miriam. “I’ll pick up some bleach too. Your bathroom must be a warzone.”

“Let’s just say I’m going to have to light the expensive candle,” said Lucy.

The voice was now bellowing. Visiting hours were over. Everybody must leave. Miriam stood up and grabbed her coat.

“Oh, Paul sends his love. He would’ve come but...”

“...I prefer to see my friends by themselves,” finished Lucy. “And how is the move?”

“Going slowly,” said Miriam.

“But it’ll be nice once you’re settled,” said Lucy. “I’ve had a look online. We can go hiking in the Brecon Beacons and there are quite a few beaches within driving distance. I’ll come down in summer.”

“I’ll make sure your room’s ready,” said Miriam.

From beyond the curtain, the voice was making it very clear malingering visitors would be dealt with.

“Better go. I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Miriam.

“Yep, see you tomorrow,” said Lucy, before adding: “It was a fox, by the way.”

“What?” said Miriam, who was again struggling with the curtains.

“The guy in the garden... it wasn’t a guy, it was a fox. I saw it twice last week. It’s taken a liking to that spot – nice and sunny, I guess – it brings its stolen takeaways to the same place to tuck in. I sent you a picture.”

“I don’t think you did,” said Miriam.

“Must’ve forgotten. I’ll show you when we get home,” said Lucy.

With that, the curtain was suddenly and violently pulled back. How did they manage that? thought Miriam as the non-singing volunteer frogmarched her out of the ward.


Forty years later in a care home somewhere in Wales...

“Squirrel? Badger? Weasel? Coyote?” recited Lucy.

“I don’t think it was any of those. Besides, you don’t get coyotes in the UK,” said Miriam.

“Not any more you don’t. Everything’s extinct,” replied Lucy. “All that’s left are genetically-modified chickens.”

“Shame Paul’s not here. He’d remember,” said Miriam, smiling to herself.

“Told you he’d leave!” asserted Lucy, triumphantly.

“He died, Lucy. We were together for 35 years.”

“Excuses,” said Lucy.

Miriam tried to recall when Lucy had gone from being odd odd to completely departed-the-planet odd. Last year, around her ninetieth, she estimated. Miriam blamed the takeaways.