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Fireside

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The fire burns in the grate.

The fireplace is carved and painted, flowers and vines looping round in patterns that she used to trace with her fingers, back in the days when she wandered this room alone. When she sat on this very sofa and read or daydreamed while she watched the flames dance.

Anna is far from alone now. So far from alone that she can barely see the fire; the rug in front of it has been spread with an old sheet, and holds her husband, her two sons, and a dismantled toy steam engine that is in the process of being cleaned or upgraded. Or possibly broken down for parts, since she can’t see how they’re going to make it back into a steam engine again. The book Karl was reading has been abandoned on the table; he’d initially insisted that he had no interest in Anders’s ‘kids’ toys’, but after a few minutes he had become convinced he could see the problem and gone to ‘help’, and was now completely engrossed.

Her daughters are sat on the opposite sofa, embroidering. Adela’s movements are graceful, almost serene; Lilly’s are somewhat violent, stabbing at the linen with her brow creased. She had been insistent, however, that she wanted to learn, and Anna knew that it would be good for her (even as she smiled to herself and remembered being made to do things that were supposed to be good for her).

It’s only 4pm but it’s already getting dark outside; a dry day but a cold, bitter one. Soon the curtains will be drawn and then the room with the six of them in it will seem all the cosier. Anna still hasn’t quite got her head round the idea that she has four children, and by the spring she will have five.

She winces and puts down her book to press gently on a little foot - or maybe an elbow - that is lodged under her ribcage. Anders, her last baby, is eight now, and for a while she had thought he really would be her last, but apparently she’d been wrong. Not that she’s complaining. Each of her children had not just added to her joy, but multiplied it, somehow; and it’s fun, too, to see what you get each time. Not just boy or girl, but hair colour and eye colour and the shape of the features, temperament and abilities and likes and dislikes. She can’t wait to meet this one.

A brief altercation on the hearth - a small but essential piece of metal is lost, and the two brothers blame each other. Further investigation reveals that their father is sitting on it. Anna leaves her book on the sofa arm and rests back against the cushions, lets herself doze as she listens to the group by the fire, to her daughters talking as they work side-by-side. Not alone any more. Never alone again.