Chapter One

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'Hey, birdy babe... You got nice feathers, birdy...'

'Sorsha.'

My head jerks back from the window as I come out of the dark dream.

A warm callused hand pushes my shoulder. 'Sorsha, wake up, we're coming into town.'

'M'kay, I'm up.' I press my knuckle into my cheek, which is sore from where it was lying on the door edge. I scrub my face with both hands and push back my hair.

'There's coffee in the thermos,' Colm says.

White-walled houses flash by out the car window. Neat weathered gardens and salty red sand line the road shoulder. 'We've made the coast?'

Colm nods, both his hands back on the wheel.

'Coast. Okay.' My throat is still muddy. I fumble the pannikins, get the thermos lid unscrewed. 'How far have we come?'

Colm waits until we're past the bend before taking his mug. 'Not far enough.'

Steam condenses on his upper lip as he blows on his coffee. It looks just like nervous sweat.

*

The first night after fleeing, we sleep in the car.

We've locked the car from the inside, so it's safe. Colm reclines the front passenger seat and worms deeper into his sleeping bag. I cocoon myself in blankets in the back. The upholstery doesn't retain heat, though. Mosquitoes hum in the confined space, and we're too aware of each other, squeezed in like pickles in a jar.

Colm keeps turning, trying to find a position that works. I jerk awake three or four times, shivering, but that's not just from physical discomfort. By morning, I wake up exhausted, and Colm hasn't had enough sleep to drive.

'You'll just have to crack out the tent tonight,' Morry says. She sounds younger over the phone, when I can't see her wrinkles. 'Just pick a spot and camp. You'll have to go hard today, though. Get a bit of distance.'

I feel maudlin all of a sudden. 'Do you miss me?'

'It's only been a day and a half, love.' Morry's grinning, by the sounds of it. 'Of course I miss you. We all miss you. Oona and Rionach send their love. Alby and Ceilidh, too. Niamh was whinging about being over-worked last night, which is her way of sending love, I suppose.'

'Who's gonna do trapeze aerials in March? Ceilidh's on light work already...'

'Let us worry about that.' Morry's tone is firm. 'You just worry about getting south.'

Homesickness slaps me with sticky hands. Suddenly I want organ music, sawdust, a confusion of fire, audience noise... I want these things more than I ever have before. I want my own bed, in the van Aunt Morrighan and I share.

My voice wobbles. 'Morry, am I doing the right thing?'

'Yes, Sorsha,' she says, firmer this time. Rock solid. 'You did the right thing. Don't you believe otherwise. Don't you believe it for one second.'

Colm comes back from the roadside kazi block, his face damp. He dries his fingers in his hair, tugs his tank back on. 'What'd Morry say?'

My eyes are prickling; they feel burnt dry. God, I'm so tired. Colm looks worse – drawn out, stubbled, pure grey-blonde. In his jeans, with his boots on, he looks like a six-foot-five farm boy after a late night on the sauce.

I put the phone back in the glove box. 'She said we need to make more distance.'

*

'You feel that, birdy? Got me all razzed up...'

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