Stealing Snowdrops by Beverley Byrne

I was stealing snowdrops when I decided to murder Neve. In the graveyard beside the rectory, they grew so thick it appeared snow had fallen. When I crept into the dawn mist, David was still asleep, his crucifix tangled in grey chest hair. Slipping through the lychgate, my nightdress catching round my ankles, the shivering flower heads reminded me of my daughter. I took it as a sign. 

I was spatch-cocking a chicken when they brought Neve back that last time. Killed fresh that morning, the bird was plucked, entrails removed and glinting knives lined up ready for butchering. I opened the door with bloodied hands. The two policemen supporting Neve by knobbled elbows, glanced at the culinary armour and the splayed bird resembling a sacrificed baby. 

‘She’s been lucky to get away with a caution this time,’ one policeman said. ‘If she’s caught soliciting again, she’ll be prosecuted.’ 

‘You stink of the sewer,’ I hissed, hearing their retreating boots crunch across the gravel drive. 

‘Sorry Mama,’ she slurred. Neve was a missing an eye tooth and barnacle scabs clung to her lips. She held out twiglet arms, purple road maps of needle pricks. Disgusted, I pushed her from me and wiped away her filth on my apron. Turning, I caught our twin reflections in the gilded vestibule mirror. Her almond eyes were mine. The weak chin, her father’s. Her figure which David once, to her blushing embarrassment, described as a ‘Botticelli Madonna’, was an abandoned wreck. 

‘Don’t let Daddy see me like this,’ she whispered, her remaining teeth chattering. ‘As if I would,’ I snapped, ‘It would kill him.’ 

From the minute I’d given birth, our daughter would do anything for her father. When first he held her, the jagged cries instantly subsided into contented gurgles. 

‘You are my little snowdrop,’ he whispered, stroking a tender finger across her white cap of hair. We called her Neve, Irish for snow. Throughout childhood, he tended her like a rare species. And Neve blossomed until she discovered taking her name in vain. 

I’d watch them from the shadows. Locking her diminishing frame in his arms, she’d stare blank eyed over his shoulder. 

‘Why are you doing this Snowdrop? 'he wailed. ‘You know how much we love you.’ I crept away, remembering when I’d been the object of such anguished passion.

David could not stand seeing Neve suffer. Once, I persuaded him to lock her in her room and wait out the maelstrom. But the profanities, crashing and sounds of splintering furniture broke him. I tried to block his exit but granite faced, he’d pushed me aside. He told me later, he’d driven to a graffitied squat where syringes lay in the gutter to buy the snow she craved. She ran away again two days later. 

A year passed. Now, Neve was back begging for help. 

‘I’m doing this to spare your father,’ I said, picking up my mobile. Neve stared at the floor, revealing a bald patch on the side of her head and nodded like an automaton. I made calls. I moved money. I drove in silence. Neve sniffed beside me and scratched behind her knees. 

Tall walls topped with barbed wire. A scythe shaped driveway led to a low grey box of a building. I pushed Neve out of the car saying, ‘Don’t come back until you’re purged.’ 

Two men wearing stubble and mandarin collared tunics guided her, a bag of twigs, gently up the steps. She didn’t look back as I drove away. 

When David came home from the Synod, the spatch-cocked chicken steamed on the table. Wine was poured. Fire crackled in the oak fireplace. 

‘How was your day darling?’ he asked, placing a gnawed bone on the side plate. ‘Any news?’ ‘No. No news.’ 

Months later Neve returned home from rehab with glowing skin and fattened limbs. David fell to his knees thanking God. We became a family again and I too thanked God. 

That winter we went skiing. David, never confident on skis, preferred reading in the chalet while we took to the slopes. Skiing was one of the few pleasures I shared with Neve although she was more proficient. I was happy taking my time while she carved swishing tram lines through virgin snow and disappeared over crevices. 

Clad in padded neon, the group gathered round the base of a towering pine, reminded me of a festival. Ice diamonds showered in an arc as I came to a halt beside them. Neve lay on her back, an X shape in the snow. Her helmet lay beside her. Trickles of crimson, like tapestry thread, were woven through her white hair. I bent over her. ‘I can’t move Mama’ she said, her eyes darting left and right. 

When she first asked me to kill her, of course, I refused. Every day, the same plea. Every day the same answer. She knew better than to ask David. His back was hunched, his shoulders rounded through bending over her supine frame. His knuckles were white from gripping the hand that couldn’t feel his. His eyesight

weakened through reading to her. Once I stood in the doorway listening while he read her the story of Pandora’s Box. 

‘And the only thing left was Elpis,’ he said, ‘The spirit of hope.’ He held the open book over her porcelain face to let her see the illustration. 

‘No hope for me, Daddy,’ she whispered through desert dry lips. The bleeping monitors and mechanical sighs keeping her alive almost smothered the sound of him weeping. 

I lugged the trug filled with snowdrops back to the Rectory. Leaving them in the hallway, I stood at the foot of the stairs and wondered how silence be so cacophonous. I ran to our room. The rumpled sheets, empty. On her neat untroubled bed, Neve was a marble effigy. David lay beside her, a syringe dangling from his arm. I went downstairs, picked up the trug and stepped into the garden to plant my snowdrops.

Published in Issue #22

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