Lunch was laid out. Everyone took a baguette from a tray in the middle of the table and then there was pink sauce that dribbled out down the bread, down the fingers & wrists, dripped splashing into a puddle on the plate. It was the colour of strawberry milkshake or, more accurately, the colour of cooked prawns, or, even more accurately, the colour of marie rose sauce. ‘How’d the scan go?’ I asked. My brother and sister-in-law looked up and my brother wiped the marie rose sauce from his lips.
    The snowman in the garden – assembled during high winds and fresh rushing snowfall by my mother, brother and (youngest) niece – although still standing, had tilted at the hands of gust and was very slowly melting, its head shrunk but remained in the centre of its shoulders. It had been a rough twenty-four hours and I had wanted to stay in bed, but my back ached terribly, so I had to get up. When I came down, they were all laughing. My sister-in-law was in good spirits. Making a coffee, I told myself that things would be better today. My brother and my sister-in-law went off to get her belly scanned, both excited about getting out the house and ordering a McDonald’s drive-thru. Things were going bad by the time I was showered; I was a little less hopeful that today would be better. That was when I first bit into my baguette and, wiping the marie rose sauce from my lips, I asked them—
    ‘How’d the scan go?’
    My brother and sister-in-law looked up and my brother wiped the marie rose sauce from his lips. ‘Not as good as we’d hoped.’ My niece was sat next to me; she ate noisily, her little jaw rolling in circles, smacking lips, her eyelids drooped in a permanent expression of precociousness. I looked at her, as though she might understand what was being said, perhaps reminding them that she was there, if they were going to deliver bad news. I let the silence hang in the air as they left it, not wishing to press, but then my sister-in-law spoke up—‘They couldn’t detect the heartbeat.’ It is the size of a blueberry. A blueberry without a heartbeat. Through those inches of skin and sac, fluids flowed and gurgling, within the tiniest Fibonacci spiral there can be a heartbeat detected; how fragile must such a thing be! how almost imperceptibly small! I did not say anything, it seemed such a strange thing to be said aloud at the table where lunch was taken, my niece eating oblivious, a voracious appetite being encouraged by her grandmother—‘You’re doing well!’. My sister-in-law’s face is gaunt. There was nothing to her before the pregnancy, now that she cannot eat, there is even less. The skin is withdrawn to her skull, her eyes peering out. Holed up in bed for weeks now, an excursion to the doctor’s warranted an application of makeup, and I noticed that the trails of tears ran through it, a paler line running from the corner of her eyes, not down but across, from where she had lain on the doctor’s bed, her head tilted back. Then at the end, hopeful like—‘We’re going back on Tuesday for another scan.’
    I stared at the trees that were blown. I did not want to go for a walk, simultaneously I did want to go for a walk. ‘Get out for a walk or something,’ she said. ‘it’s freezing and windy but it’ll make you feel better, I promise. Get a hat and a scarf and go for wander.’ I wanted to listen to her more than I wanted to go for a walk. No hat or scarf, used to own a pair of gloves until they reminded me of a woman who walked away. Everyone warned me against it; the snow had been trampled and compacted. In murky grey, it was now a hazard, they said. No, no-one else would go for a walk, ‘not in a million years’. I went out.
    The snow clung on. One had to carefully pick their footsteps to catch a patch of pavement and avoid falling over. At the main road, I looked ahead and planned my route, not by the half-mile but by the yard. Where and when I could, I would walk in the road. Already it felt a relief to be outside, the cold tongue of air penetrating the lungs, waking you from the stuffy warmth of central heating and a dead Saturday. I came off the main and into the gardens, where it was empty. If it were warmer, the young man in the wheelchair would be taking the young man in the helmet to play with the fallen pine needles. Neither were there. I walked through and the sheets of congregated ice cracked beneath my feet; the mud underneath was soft and uncertain. Often times I glanced down and studied the colour of the mud, wondered what it meant, nutrients or clay or what? There was a deflating balloon in the hedge, contained inside the bare branches, above the fallen leaves, trapped and dying. Getting closer to the coast, the wind picked up and was uncomfortable. My usual route had to be avoided, a ‘hazard’, and those kinds of deviations from my routine troubled me tremendously. I would surely go arse-over-tit at some point, it was just a matter of when. In front of the promenade there was a large stretch of grass where the gulls lingered, each facing the wind, little tufts of feather caught and wobbling off the breast. The grass was mottled in a layer of ice, the prom itself a long stretch of slippery white, uneven and dangerous. A vehicle had driven through, and I found the path I would take between the tyre treads. The wind off the sea struck the right side of my head as I walked from south to north. A headache stiffened there. The froze that sought to freeze the intricacies of my nostrils, whistled as it blew across them. I pressed a gloved hand against my cheek.
    There was no one else about. I kicked the snow, tried to crush the rocks of ice that had formed or been rolled. The roads I would usually take called out to me. The sea-side of my skull had grown numb, I felt around my eye socket, thought that even the bone was cold. A year ago I was boarding a plane. A year ago I had run the same route through Gatwick airport, replicating events in the hope they would become habit, too. I kicked the snow. Tomorrow will be Valentine’s Day. The next day would have been Valentine’s. The last anniversary. Everything will die with the last anniversary! It never really suited the arrangement of things, but Valentine’s Day drew the romance out of me. It was as good an excuse as any to be romantic, or to do romantic things, and yet to say it aloud – Happy Valentine’s Day! – never sat right. Last year I would I been visiting a new country with new feelings. This year I was locked in a land of stale snow, snow discoloured and cracked. I kicked the snow. The mud had squelched up over the toe of my wellies. Turn back in a moment, I thought, you have proved to yourself that you were mad enough to go out in this weather, turn back – but I carried on. Two men sat in a removal van. They stared at me as I walked past, rust dripped from the bolts down the wall and into the white that was no longer white; from where I was it looked like a wound. There is always that desire to pick a point on the horizon and walk towards it, not stopping. By the time I had passed the removal men, and carefully crossed the frozen road with its scattered puddles and banked of separated snow, I would have been in the air, sweaty palms, scoffing mints and gripping the armrest. The sea was tormented and one could see all the sand & silt that had been torn up from its furor, being flung at the banks from which white cowered. Finally, I turned back. The other side of my skull exposed to the battering wind, worked its way into my collar and sleeves. I looked down and kicked up the ice so that it smattered with each swing of my worried shoes. Last Valentine’s Day. The blueberry without a heartbeat. My niece’s new toothpaste, because she is aged six-to-eight now, and she has a new toothpaste that is kept in the downstairs toilet, and its tube is the same colour as snow, blue, colder, colder than it was as green and pink. This Valentine’s Day. Where were things going? My legs were tired from trudging, but! how satisfying to kick the snow as I made my way home. A shard flew up and landed, mid-swing, on my ring finger, where it melted and slowly tickled down knuckled length, coming to flick tiny splashes I did not see on the snow that, in midnight’s showers, would melt before morning.