In Barn Light (extract)

The barn was filled with shoes. Old shoes mostly. Shoes that had been worn until they no longer served the purpose of shoes. They were nailed to the dark streaked wood of the barn. Nailed to the planked walls, to the solid beams that held up the hayloft, and even high up in the rafters, where they dangled like sleeping bats. Brown and black and white leather shoes, some with wooden heels and some with exposed spiked teeth where the sole had been torn away. Shards of sunlight broke in from the wooden slates above. Ruth pointed out her favourite pairs and told Jonah to whom in her family the shoes had once belonged. Grassy tufts poked out from some work shoes where a swallow had made its nest. A pair of her father’s army boots had been bolted into the barn door at the ankle. Jonah flinched, imagining the pain, and looked away. In a corner, tied to a beam, he noticed a pair of ballet shoes. They were a faded pink. The satin straps ran around the beam and fastened the shoes against it with a tight knot in the middle, causing the heels and the toes of the shoes to rise.

‘What about those, up there?’ Jonah asked.

Ruth turned her head in the direction of the shoes.

‘Those belonged to my mother,’ she said.

They had closed the doors and climbed up onto the bundles of hay, golden brown and warm she said because it had the sun still in it. And then they undid each other’s buttons, taking off their clothes. Her dresses were old and threadbare and she was happy to be rid of them. They looked at each other, and touched where the sun hadn’t yet, where the skin was soft and white, and then he dressed her in straw. He told her to stay still – said she mustn’t laugh, because when she did her whole body was taken up with it and the straw wouldn’t stay.

Afterwards he thought about why they never spoke much in the barn. It did not bother him though. He liked the little noises she made as she lay back on the hay, her eyes taking him in, and the rustle of the dry grass moving under her like it was still growing out in the field. He had given her his shirt as a gift because it was her name day. She said it felt soft on her skin and that it smelt of him.

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