I smile. I can hear those paws in the snow, padding over to where I stand. Sure enough, he’s at my feet. He sits. The pads of his feet are thick but still, it makes me shudder to think of him out in this. Mammy says I’m not to give him the bones, but that’s why he’s here. He knows I will. Every Sunday afternoon, I bring the bones to the bin. There are other bits, too – the eyes from the potatoes, the hearts of the cabbages. He’s not interested in them. He wants the bones.
Such a fine beast in the snow, I always think. He’s black, with chestnut ripples, here and there. Against the white, he’s like a black bear. A cub, maybe. Daddy told me once, that a bear is as big as a vardo. He’s not that big. Nowhere near. A cub, though, he’d be a fine cub. Cubby.
Mammy says bones are no good for him. These bones are soft, though. They’ve boiled for hours. There’ll be no splinters from these. No. She doesn’t like Mr Peel, his owner. He lives across the way. We’ve been here on this site a fair few months now. He didn’t travel with us, before. His uncle died, left him the caravan.
I’ve seen the way he looks at Mammy. It’s the way Cubby is looking at me, right now. Not me, so much, as what’s in my hands. Every Sunday, I strain all the bits, so there’s just the honey-coloured stock left. Then I carry all the leftovers out here, in the cloth. I look over at ours, just to make sure she’s not watching me. She’s scrubbing the steps. Since Daddy left, she’s never still.
And on the seventh day, he rested. Not Mammy.
I can feel his eyes, so I turn to look and see the glistening tendrils of saliva slacken and stretch all the way to the snow then snap.
Go on then, I say, letting the cloth tumble open and shed its bones across the slush. He’s on them. I watch the back of his neck and his shoulders as they bounce, while he scoots between morsels.
‘No wonder he likes you.’
I look up. It’s Mr Peel.
‘I’m sorry,’ I start, ‘they’re-’
‘Angela!’ Mammy shouts, ‘What have I told you? Get inside!’
I do as I’m told, running past her, up the wet steps. She just manages to catch the backs of my bare knees with a snap of the rag, scolding me with something I don’t hear, because I give a wee squeal.
Inside, I scramble up so I’m kneeling on the seat just under the window, hiding behind the netting. Mr Peel is walking over. Mammy stands up, brush in one hand, rag in the other. She pushes her hair back from her eyes with her forearm. I can’t hear what he says, but his smile fades when she says something back. Then neither of them say anything, they just stare at each other.
I climb down and take my chance. There’s marzipan, rolled out, on the side. If I’m neat enough, she won’t know. I take a pinch of icing sugar and cover my tracks, then squish the strip into a ball. I put it in the pocket of my cardigan but it’s too obvious – a great ball of sunshine paste. I glance at the door and retrieve the ball, squash it down flatter, until it looks like the record Mammy plays when she’s had a whisky. Dream Lover, by Bobby Darin – that’s what I have in my cardigan pocket now. I heard Mr Peel play that record, just the other day.
It’s safe now, my little bit of sunshine sugar. Later, when Mammy falls asleep, I’ll take it over to Cubby. We’ll share it. Tonight will be bitter. Mammy will let us keep the fire in the stove going. Not roaring, mind, just glowing. So when I go, I’ll untie Cubby, bring him back. He can lie on the rug and warm his feet.
Just a wee bit of sugar and sunshine, of a cold winter’s night.
Amy Stone lives in Sheffield, UK. Her first novel, The Raven Wheel, was published in 2019. Her second novel, Strong Stuff, will be published in April 2021. Both books are available through SRL Publishing under A F Stone. Amy is new to flash fiction and is excited by the possibilities this form presents.