July 4, 2024

Pablo, by Ronan Hart

Pablo, by Ronan Hart

*Featured image courtesy of Ben Hershey on Unsplash*

Everyone handles grief differently, and Ronan manages to capture this excellently in this short story. Enjoy, and happy Independence Day for those of you who celebrate!

He’s sitting at the top of the steps leading down from the decking to the lawn, facing away from us. His head is bowed, showing the bald spot on his crown, ever-expanding, immutable, and I ask mum if he should be putting sun cream on it if he’s going to be sitting out there for so long. She pauses in her plate drying, gripping it so tight that I’m worried she might shatter it, before sighing and setting it on the workbench with a disregard that would have earned my seven-year-old self a stern reprimand. She closes her eyes for a long moment and when she opens them again, they’re shimmering.

“Your father misses him, love.”

I set the cup I’m rinsing back into the soapy water, carefully. My mother might be able to get away with such a blasé attitude toward The Good Crockery, but I still won’t risk it, even twenty years later. We stand over the sink in a silent vigil, looking at my father through the kitchen window, framing him in a painterly repose of loss and loneliness and despair. Thin straps of his too-large tank top droop over his hunched shoulders. Faded sleeve tattoos on each arm, elbows on thighs, head cradled in his palms, fingers splayed across his cheeks like the face-hugger from Alien.

He’s staring at the mound of freshly turned earth under the birch tree at the bottom of the garden. The shovel still leans against the decking steps railing. There’s a crumpled cigarette packet on the decking beside him.

It’s a split tangerine kind of summer evening. A blood-red and fuchsia sky. Sticky air. Sweet aroma from mum’s flowerbeds. The setting sun shining through trees in lustrous bloom illuminating translucent membranes of leaves like emeralds. When I step through the patio door, it feels like there ought to be a reverent silence and stillness over the garden as befits such mourning, but the crows have other ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever heard them so loud. Perched in the tree, hundreds of them, a heavy metal mosh pit; seething, shoving, squawking, sniffing for death and blood.

Pushing himself up and taking halting steps toward me, dad is the apotheosis of grief. Toes poking out from his sandals are encrusted in dirt; he leaves a trail of trampled grass and turned soil. There’s a brown smudge on his forehead where a hand wearing a stained glove wiped at sweat. Streaks below his eyes. I don’t think I once saw him shed a tear when my grandmother died.

I need to go to him, to hold his hand, still his writhing fingers, but before I can even move, the riotous cawing crescendos to a cackling cacophony and a spasm of fury shudders across his face, an agonised mask of wrath. He ducks to the decking where some stone has found itself, serendipity exemplified, as if Destiny itself had waved its mottled hand at the last grass cutting, found the roundness, the size and heft of the rock perfect, marking it for violence, and placing the end of its hurled arc from the lawnmower within easy reach of my grieving, raging father. With speed a striking viper might envy, he spins and launches the stone toward the tree, toward the squalling, squealing murder.

The canopy explodes, a green and black hellfire. The sunset behind the tree is afire as the disturbed foliage snaps and creaks. The birds burst forth as one, seething, pouting, fun ruined, celebrations cut short. Feathery shrapnel and leafy detritus rain down on the lawn.

“Fucking birds,” mumbles my father as he sobs into my shoulder. I pat his back, shush him, whisper nothings. Over his sunburnt bald patch, I look down the cat’s grave, a crude, two-piece cross at its head, two planks of wood tied with wire, bearing the name Pablo.


Ronan Hart lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with his wife and son. His work has been featured on Literallystories, and in the Apiary and Orangepeel. 

Instagram handle is @rowgy_bear 

#grief#Pablo#Pet#Ronan Hart#short story
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