Howard Wright


Time for a family photo. We sit around the table, the snow
falling outside while my father describes his other encounters
with the Devil’s Elbow nudging Castlewellan, the days
when trains weren’t running short. We smile. Tough going,
the sky making heavy weather at every hand’s turn,
and when we finally get to the hotel on the fringe of the Mournes
inevitably there’s an argument over the mulled wine,
though my interest is drawn to the stance of the waitress,
white bra through a thin blouse, ladder of skin climbing the back

of her tights to the eaves of a pencil skirt. Rung by rung it climbs;
everything about her saying exhaustion, though I’m a fine one
to talk – the last of the line, I’ve a name to live up to.
She, however, reminds me what’s important is this time
in a previous year, and the Snowball – Advocaat and Babycham –
waiting a decade to be fused together in my great aunt’s larder –
a high-shelved cupboard storing HP and Cremola Foam,
custard powder and Lucozade – waiting for a proper Christmas,
until the caps melted with rust and the lot was thrown out.

Otherwise, not a drop of alcohol passed our lips.
Ginger wine and Schloer, of course, and cordial for the heart.
Whiskey unopened because we were never that ill. I nurse
the mulled wine; my nieces are taller than my sister, my father
sips his annual Guinness, and my mother is just relieved to be served
hand and foot. The waitress is happy to be included in the photo,
then to be the one taking the photo, twiddling with the zoom,
red-eye and all the choices none of the rest of us got,
needlessly pointing out the day is already dark.

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