They stopped for diesel at a filling station outside Longford town. It was late evening, dusk closing like a fist around two pumps set in a patch of rough concrete and a row of leafless poplars that bordered the forecourt. Kavanagh swung down out of the cab and slapped the flank of the lorry as if it were an animal. He was a red-faced, stocky man in his late thirties. As a child he had been nicknamed Curley because of his corkscrew hair and the name had stuck, even though he was now almost entirely bald, just a patch of soft fuzz above each ear.

There was a shop with faded HB posters in the window and boxes of cornflakes on display alongside tubs of Swarfega and rat pellets. ‘Fill her up,’ Kavanagh said to the teenager who appeared in the doorway. Then he spat on the ground and walked around the back of the building to the toilet.

Gerard stayed in the cab and watched the boy, who was about his own age, pump the diesel. The boy was standing well back from the lorry, one hand holding the nozzle, the other clamped over his nose and mouth. When his eyes met Gerard’s in the wing mirror, Gerard looked away.

Three months in and he was still not used to the smell. The fish heads with their dull, glassy eyes; the skin and scales that stuck to his fingers; the red and purple guttings that slipped from the fishes’ bellies. The smell of dead fish rose, ghost-like, from the meal that poured into the factory silos. Gerard shaved his hair tight, cut his nails so short his fingers bled. At night in the pubs in Castletownbere, he imagined fine shards of fish bone lodged like shrapnel beneath his skin and tiny particles of scales hanging in the air like dust motes. The smell didn’t bother Kavanagh, but then Kavanagh had been reared to it.

‘Daylight robbery,’ Kavanagh said when he returned to the lorry. He handed the pump attendant the money. ‘Bring me out two packets of Tayto and have a packet for yourself.’ He shook his head as he climbed back into the cab. ‘Daylight robbery,’ he said again, ‘four cent a litre dearer than Slattery’s.’

Gerard didn’t ask why they hadn’t gone to Slattery’s. Slattery’s had stopped their tab a few weeks back and Kavanagh had been keeping his distance since.

Kavanagh hummed tunelessly while he waited for the boy to return with the crisps and his change. It was a fragment of a ballad he had taken up some time after they passed Gurrane, forty miles earlier, and he had not let it go since. Taped to the walls of the cab were pictures torn from magazines of women in an assortment of poses. They were mostly Asian and in varying states of undress: Kavanagh had a thing for Asian women. A photograph of Kavanagh’s wife, Nora, taken at last year’s GAA dinner dance, was stuck between a topless girl on a Harley Davidson and two dark eyed women in crotchless panties. Nora had blonde wispy hair and glasses and the straps of her dress dug furrows in her plump shoulders.

‘We’re in injun territory now,’ Kavanagh said, when he saw the boy coming across the forecourt, ‘these Longford bastards would rob the teeth out of your head,’ and he counted the change down to the last cent before putting it in his pocket.

It was almost dark when they pulled back onto the road. Kavanagh threw a packet of crisps across the cab. ‘That’ll keep you going,’ he said, ‘we can’t count on Liddy for grub.’ Four miles before Kilcroghan, they turned down a narrow side road, grass growing up the centre. Briars tore at the sides of the lorry. ‘There’s a man in Dundalk runs one of these on vegetable oil,’ Kavanagh said. ‘Did you ever hear anything about that?’

‘No,’ said Gerard, although he remembered reading something in a newspaper a couple of months back. If he let on that he knew anything at all, Kavanagh would have him tormented. Kavanagh had a child’s wonder for the new and the strange. Each new fact was seized upon and dismantled, taken apart like an engine and studied in its various components. He had been bright at school but had left at fourteen to work in the fish factory.

Kavanagh shook his head. ‘I don’t think I could stand it,’ he said. ‘The smell. It must be like driving around in a fucking chipper.’ Gerard glanced across at Kavanagh and tried to work out if he was serious. Kavanagh was watching the road, fingers drumming the steering wheel, humming to himself again. The light from the dashboard lent a vaguely sainted glow to his features. Gerard decided not to say anything. Kavanagh broke off his humming and sighed. ‘You’re all chat this evening,’ he said, ‘I can’t get a word in edgeways. Are you in love or what?’

‘Fuck off,’ Gerard said but he was smiling as he turned to look out at the trees that reached black and tall from the hedges, their branches slapping against the lorry’s window.

Gerard had first been to Liddy’s mink farm back in August, six weeks after he started working for Kavanagh. He had not been able to shake the memory of the place since. It was partly the farm itself and it was partly Liddy’s daughter. She was about seventeen with blue-black hair and a nose stud, eyes heavily ringed with black liner.

When Kavanagh had gone inside with her father, she had taken Gerard across the yard to show him the mink.

The mink were housed in sheds a couple of hundred feet long, twenty or thirty feet wide, with low, sloping roofs of galvanised sheeting. The sides were open to the elements, wind blowing in from the mountains to the west. Gerard followed the girl into the first shed and along a sawdust path down the centre. In wire mesh cages on either side were thousands of mink, mostly all white, with here and there a brown one. They darted back and forth and stood on their hind legs, heads weaving, snouts pressed against the wire. Their eyes glittered like wet beads, and they twisted and looped, twisted and looped, hurling their bodies against the sides of the cages.

Gerard stood in front of a cage and poked a finger through the mesh. A mink stopped chewing its fur and looked at him, a vicious tilt to its chin. It sniffed the air, crept closer and snapped, grazing the tip of his finger. Then it backed away to stare at him from a distance.

The girl was a couple of paces ahead, watching. ‘I suppose you think it’s cruel,’ she said. Her hair was tucked into the hood of her jacket.

Gerard examined his finger and shrugged. ‘It’s none of my business,’ he said.

The girl stared at him for a moment, saying nothing, her dark eyes narrowing. Then she sighed. ‘It’s what they’re bred for,’ she said, turning away, ‘they don’t know any different.’

It was dark when Kavanagh swung the lorry through a muddy entrance with rough concrete pillars on either side. The lorry lurched along an uneven track lined with chain-link fencing. In the distance, Gerard could make out the long, dark lines of the mink sheds, moonlight glinting on the metal roofs, and beyond them a huddle of outbuildings. ‘Liddy hasn’t paid since June,’ Kavanagh said, ‘so he’ll need to come up with the cash tonight. I’ll sort you out then.’

‘It’s alright,’ Gerard said, ‘it’s grand,’ although it wasn’t all right anymore. Kavanagh hadn’t paid him in three weeks and on his last visit home Gerard had to borrow from his father to pay the rent. ‘I’ll sort you out,’ Kavanagh repeated as the lorry turned into the yard.

The farmhouse was a square two-storey building, its whitewash fading, weeds growing from crevices in the front steps. A cat ran across the lorry’s path and hid behind a row of tar barrels. Liddy’s mud-spattered jeep was parked in the yard, a back light broken. ‘It would be easy to feel sorry for Liddy,’ Kavanagh said, ‘but what would be the use in that?’ and they both got out of the lorry.

A light came on in the porch and Liddy himself appeared. He was a stooped, wiry man, a grey cardigan hanging loose from his shoulders, and his eyes darted from Kavanagh to Gerard and back again as he came towards them across the yard. His skin had the waxy, pinched look of a museum doll. It reminded Gerard of how his mother had looked in the months before she died and he knew immediately that Liddy was sick.

‘How’re the men?’ Liddy held out a bony hand to Kavanagh who took it in his own vast paw and squeezed until Gerard expected to hear bones crack. Liddy’s daughter had come out into the porch. She was slouched against the door frame, arms folded, her black hair pulled loosely into a ponytail.

Liddy looked up at the night sky with its shifting mass of cloud. ‘The rain will be on soon,’ he said, ‘you might as well get her unloaded. I’ll put the kettle on for tea.’

Gerard went to release the back of the lorry but Kavanagh held up a hand. ‘Hold on a minute,’ he said, ‘if it was tea I was after I could have stayed at home. Tea is fuck all use to me.’

The girl, wearing tracksuit bottoms and a vest, was coming down the porch steps and across the yard. She had the same black-ringed eyes that Gerard remembered from before.

Liddy had already begun to shuffle towards the house. He called back over his shoulder to Kavanagh. ‘Don’t you know I’m good for it?’ he said, ‘have I ever let you down yet?’

Kavanagh didn’t budge. ‘That’s three loads you owe me now,’ he said. ‘I’ve bills to pay. I’ve this young fellow here to pay.’ He nodded at Gerard who stood waiting by the lorry.

Liddy stopped. He gave a wheeze that shook his chest and caused him to bend almost double, hands on his knees. ‘Sure what could a young lad like that want?’ he said, when he righted himself again, ‘a young lad like that would be happy sitting under a bush with a can.’ He laughed then but Kavanagh didn’t.

‘Leave it for the time being.’ It was the girl, her voice slightly muzzy as if she had been sleeping. She raised both hands behind her head and stretched like a cat. ‘We can talk about it inside.’ She turned and walked towards the house and the three men followed.

The porch was stacked with bags of coal and kindling. A plastic bucket and a yard brush stood in one corner, beside two pairs of wellington boots, caked with mud and sawdust. A picture of Pope John Paul II, arms outstretched, hung next to a calendar from the Fortrush Fisherman’s Co-op, two years out of date, days circled and crossed in spidery ink. Beyond the porch was a dark, narrow hallway. Liddy faltered but the girl pushed open a door into a small sitting room.

There was a mahogany chest of drawers with ornate carvings that must have come from a bigger, grander house. Squares of faded linen were folded on top, next to a family of blue china elephants. The room smelled of things put away, of dust laid down on dust. The carpet was brown with an orange fleck and along one wall was a sofa in a dull mustard colour. On either side of the fireplace were two matching armchairs, their plastic covers still in place. A copy of the Fur Farmers Yearbook and a few tatty paperbacks sat on a coffee table.

Liddy took one armchair, Kavanagh the other. As he lowered himself onto the sofa, Gerard caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror above the fireplace. His skin was still lightly tanned from days spent on the pier over the summer. His shorn hair carried a hint of menace to which he had not yet grown accustomed. He took off his jacket and placed it beside him on the sofa, and as he did so, thought that he caught a faint odour of dead fish. Through the open curtains, he saw the moon reflecting in the puddles that lay like small lakes upon the surface of the yard.

‘You’ll have a drop of something?’ The girl spoke like a woman twice her age. Standing there, waiting for an answer, she could have been the woman, not just of the house, but of the farm and the yard, the dark rows of mink sheds and the wet fields and ditches out beyond.

Kavanagh shook his head. ‘Tea’s grand,’ he said.
Her eyes settled next on Gerard who felt his face grow red.
Kavanagh looked across and chuckled. ‘He’s the strong, silent type,’ he said, ‘he has the women of Castletownbere driven half mad.’ He winked at the girl. ‘You could do worse.’

The girl, momentarily shy, gazed at the carpet and tucked a wisp of hair behind one ear. ‘Tea’s fine,’ Gerard said and the girl smiled at him before going out of the room.

After she had gone, the men sat in silence. Kavanagh was never short of something to say and Gerard knew the silence was a shot across the bows: Kavanagh’s way of sending a message to Liddy.

Liddy stared into the empty grate for a while and then, when there was still nothing from Kavanagh, he addressed himself instead to Gerard. ‘What part of the country are you from yourself?’ he said, ‘and through what misfortune did you end up with this latchico?’

Gerard was a second cousin of Kavanagh’s on his mother’s side and Kavanagh had taken him on at the fish factory after he finished school that summer. It was partly Kavanagh’s way of looking out for the boy after the death of Gerard’s mother the year before. It was also because Gerard’s father had lent Kavanagh the money to fix the factory roof after the storms the previous winter and Kavanagh had yet to repay him.

Gerard could feel Liddy’s eyes on him, waiting for an answer. He was saved by Kavanagh breaking his silence. ‘Isn’t he the lucky boy to have a job at all?’ he said. ‘Every other lad his age is over in Australia.’

‘Luck is a two-faced whore,’ Liddy said, ‘there’s people said I was lucky when I got this place.’

Kavanagh fell quiet and when he spoke again it was to enquire after a relative of Liddy’s who was in the hospital at Mount Carmel. The talk turned next to football and greyhounds and, for a while, a peace of sorts settled on the room.

When the girl came back with the tea she had changed into a low-cut pink top and a short black skirt that clung to her hips and thighs. Her hair, freshly brushed and more indigo than black, hung past her shoulders. She was carrying a tray with the tea and a plate of Club Milks and as she set it down on the coffee table, Gerard’s eyes went to her plump, white breasts and slid into the valley between them. The girl was putting cups in saucers, pouring tea. Without warning she raised her head and caught him looking. She stared at him until, blushing, he returned the stare and he noticed for the first time that her eyes, which he had thought were brown, were in fact a very dark blue, almost navy. Then she straightened up, tucked the empty tray under her arm, and went out of the room.

Kavanagh unwrapped a Club Milk, took half of it into his mouth in one bite and chewed slowly. ‘Well Liddy,’ he said, ‘what have you got for me?’

When Liddy leaned forward in his chair, his collar bones jutted like scythes through the thin wool of his cardigan. ‘We had the activists a while back,’ he said, ‘Ten minutes with a wire cutters and I’m down a thousand mink. Next morning, I’ve a farmer at my door with a trailer full of dead lambs, all with holes in their throats.’ Liddy shook his head and brought a hand to his own thin throat.

‘Those fuckers should be shot,’ Kavanagh said, ‘Thundering bastards. I know what I’d do with their wire cutters.’

Liddy’s hand left his throat and settled instead on his knee which immediately began to jig. ‘We had a cull last month: Aleutian disease.’

Kavanagh sighed and put his cup down heavily on the table. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘Do I look like Mother Teresa? There isn’t any of us has it easy.’

‘If I’d known what I was letting myself in for,’ Liddy said, ‘I’d never have come out here.’ He seemed to be talking more to himself than to Kavanagh. ‘I’d have stayed in the city and saved myself a lot of trouble.’

‘Trouble knows its way around,’ Kavanagh said. ‘I’ve the bank on my case, I’ve the wife on my case, and I’ve this young fellow here to pay.’ He pointed to the pile of Club Milk wrappers that had accumulated in front of Gerard. ‘Look at him, he’s half- starved.’

Apart from the crisps in the lorry earlier, Gerard hadn’t eaten anything since they left Castletownbere shortly after four o’ clock. He was about to open another Club- Milk but now he put it back on the plate.

‘I’ll have it in a lump sum next time,’ Liddy said.
‘You’ll have it tonight, or I’ll turn that lorry around and drive back the way I came.’
‘I’ve a man coming for pelts on Tuesday. Call in the next time you’re passing.’
A flush was edging up Kavanagh’s neck, spreading over his cheeks. ‘There’s nothing for nothing in this world,’ he said. ‘You can pay me tonight or you can go to hell.’
‘I wouldn’t have to go far,’ Liddy said, ‘look around you.’
A sullenness had come over Liddy. The forced banter of earlier had disappeared and in its place was a sour obstinacy that hardened into bitter lines around his mouth. Gerard had a sudden vision of how Liddy would look laid out: his body sunken in a too big suit, a tie awkward at his throat, even the silk lining of the coffin pressing heavy on his arms.

There was a noise outside in the yard; the clank of metal on concrete. Kavanagh was first on his feet, the others following behind. The girl was on a forklift. She wore no helmet and the wind that blew across the yard snatched at her hair, snaking it in black tails about her face. She had released the back of the lorry and was unloading a pallet of fish meal.

Kavanagh crossed the yard like a bull. The girl stopped the forklift but didn’t get out. Her face was pale in the light of the porch lamp. ‘Fucking cunt,’ Kavanagh was roaring and he started to swing bags of meal from the forklift like they were candyfloss. Liddy watched from a distance. Gerard went to help but the girl had been intercepted early and already everything was back on the lorry. ‘I thought I’d make a start,’ she said. ‘It’s getting late.’

‘Do you think I’m some class of fool?’ Kavanagh said.

The girl’s voice was soft, measured, as if calming a small child. ‘You’re no fool, Curley,’ she said. ‘Come here and talk to me.’ She patted the passenger seat of the forklift. Kavanagh looked away and shook his head. ‘I’ve enough time wasted,’ he said, and began to walk towards the lorry.

The girl called after him. ‘Hey, Curley,’ she said, ‘don’t be like that.’ Her voice dropped lower. ‘You can’t go yet, you haven’t seen the silver foxes.’ She was leaning out of the forklift, her shadow stretching across the yard. ‘We brought them over from England last month. They’re still only cubs.’ She was looking directly at Kavanagh, her head tilted slightly to one side, her lips parted. ‘Come down to the shed and I’ll show you. You’ve never seen foxes like these.’

Kavanagh had reached the door of the cab. He stopped, one foot on the step. In the forklift, the girl patted the passenger seat again and winked. Kavanagh appeared to be considering. Liddy was standing by himself, staring at the ground. For a while everything was very still and there was only the sound of the wind rattling across the roofs of the mink sheds and the cry of a small animal in the trees beyond. Then Kavanagh strode across the yard to the forklift and climbed in. They drove off, the girl at the wheel, the wind whipping up her dark hair, Kavanagh bald and stocky in the seat beside her. The forklift went to the far end of the yard and disappeared behind some outbuildings.

Gerard and Liddy were left standing in the yard. Liddy looked like a man who had been struck. He did nothing for a moment, then turned and began his stooped walk back to the house. Gerard was about to go to the lorry and wait when Liddy shouted to him from the porch. ‘You might as well come in,’ he said.

This time, instead of going into the sitting room, they continued down the hall and into a small wood-panelled kitchen. A table and two chairs were pushed tight against one wall, a cooker, a sink, and an assortment of mismatched kitchen units against another. There was a wooden dresser stacked with old newspapers and chipped crockery. The stale grease of a fry hung in the air. To one side of the back door, in a glass display cabinet, was a stuffed brown mink. It was mounted on a marble base, which had an inscription that Gerard could not read. The mink stood on its hind legs, teeth bared in a rigid grin, front legs clawing the air.

Liddy took a bottle of whiskey from a cupboard beneath the sink and wiped two glasses on the end of his cardigan. He sat at the table and gestured at Gerard to sit beside him.

‘She’s gone five years now,’ Liddy said, pouring the whiskey. Gerard didn’t understand at first. He had been thinking of the girl behind the outbuildings with Kavanagh. The white breasts, the dark eyes. Her mouth, wide and loose; her red lips and the stud on her tongue that had flashed silver when she smiled at something earlier in the evening. Then he realised Liddy was staring at a photograph high on the wall above the dresser. It was of a woman, tall and angular, with straight brown hair, her hand resting on the shoulder of a girl in a First Holy Communion dress. ‘I’m sorry,’ Gerard said because he couldn’t think of anything else to say and it was what people had said when his mother died.

‘Oh, I’m not sorry,’ Liddy said, throwing back his whiskey and pouring another, ‘there’s a lot I’m sorry about, but not that.’ His weariness had been replaced with anger. ‘She took herself off to Belfast. She told me she was going to stay with her sister but you can be sure she had a man waiting. It was always the same with that woman: she’d tell you that day was night.’ His head jutted forward and Gerard smelled the sourness of his breath. ‘I asked her to take the girl with her,’ Liddy said, ‘but she wouldn’t.’ He put down his glass and spread his hands wide, palms upwards, in supplication. ‘What sort of life is it for a young girl out here? I asked her, but she left us to it, rosie and myself.’

Rosie. The girl’s name didn’t suit her, Gerard thought. It was too tame, too domesticated. It was a name for a spoilt poodle in a wicker basket, not a girl with a tongue piercing who could drive a forklift. Liddy drank more whiskey. ‘rosie was twelve when she left,’ he said, ‘and what did I know about raising a child? A girl needs her mother. Boys are different, boys can make their way, but girls need mothers.’

Liddy fell silent, swirled whiskey around the end of his glass. Gerard wanted to get up and leave but knew that he could not. It was a moment before Liddy spoke again. ‘It was coming out here did it,’ he said. ‘She was always a flighty woman. She had one eye on the door from the day I married her, but we got along well enough up to that. A couple of winters here and nothing could hold her.’

Liddy was becoming more and more agitated, his hands moving incessantly, almost knocking over his glass. Gerard’s own glass was barely touched. He thought of Kavanagh and the girl in the shadows of the outbuildings. He wondered if silver foxes were the same as ordinary foxes, only silver, or if they were some different creature entirely, and then he wondered if there were any silver foxes at all. He imagined the cubs in Kavanagh’s rough hands and Kavanagh, awed and silent, turning them this way and that.

‘Her mother, bitch and all that she is, would make a better hand of her,’ Liddy said, ‘rosie’s a good girl, a fighter, but what chance has a girl out here?’

Gerard knew that he should say something but had no idea what.
‘Rosie will be okay,’ he said, ‘Rosie’s a smart girl.’
Liddy stared at him, his eyes bloodshot. All of the anger left him and he sagged over the table. ‘She is,’ he said, ‘she’s a smart girl. And a good girl.’

He set his glass down on the table and buried his head in his arms. The kitchen was utterly quiet, nothing but the sound of the wind whistling under the back door. A strange sound came from Liddy, half cough, half sob. Then another that caught and lengthened until it became a wail. Liddy was crying, his shoulders quivering, the top of his head shaking. Gerard took a mouthful of whiskey, felt it burn the pit of his stomach. Liddy was bawling now, his head still in his arms. Gerard pushed his chair back and stood up. He went over to the sink and placed his glass on the draining board. He took one last look at Liddy crumpled over the table, then left the kitchen and went back down the narrow hall and outside to the yard.

When he got to the lorry he discovered that Kavanagh had locked it and taken the key. The night had grown colder. Gerard remembered his jacket, still in the sitting room where he had left it earlier, but thought of Liddy weeping inside the house and decided to do without. A light was on in a prefab but the door, when he tried it, was padlocked and he took shelter instead beneath the overhang of its roof, next to a row of barrels. He wrapped his arms around himself and hoped that Kavanagh would not be long. Something warm brushed against his legs and he saw a cat dart from behind a barrel and streak across the yard.

He pressed his face against the prefab window. The walls were hung with pelts: thousands of headless, bodiless furs, their arms spread wide and pinned to wooden racks. On a bench was a machine with long silver-toothed blades and beside it, a pile of dead mink. He noticed a smell coming from the barrel nearest him and lifted the lid. Inside were the skinned corpses of the mink, pink and slippery and hairless. Gerard remembered a day in the woods near his home when he was a small boy. He had found a bald, half-formed baby bird beneath a tree, the egg shattered on the ground beside it, and had slipped it into his pocket, all dead and grey and slithery, to take home to his mother. He dropped the lid of the barrel and stepped back from the window.

The wind carried fragments of laughter up the yard and he saw Kavanagh and the girl returning on the forklift. This time Kavanagh was driving, the girl beside him, an arm flung across his shoulder. They slowed as they passed the pelt shed and waved. Gerard stepped out from the shelter of the building and walked behind the forklift to the lorry. A drizzle blew in from the mountains, stinging his face. Kavanagh, pink and sweating, jumped out of the forklift. ‘Give us a hand,’ he said to Gerard without looking at him and together they began to unload the lorry. Gerard shivered in his shirtsleeves but the cold, like the smell, didn’t seem to bother Kavanagh.

Gerard felt someone touch his arm. The girl was behind him, holding his jacket. She didn’t say a word but Gerard held out his arms and allowed her to slip the jacket on, let her zip it up and smooth it down over his shoulders.

Afterwards, as they turned the lorry in the yard, Gerard noticed Liddy standing alone in the porch. Gerard raised a hand and waved but Liddy didn’t wave back. The girl was by the forklift, hands in her pockets. Gerard watched her in the rear-view mirror as the lorry drove out of the yard, saw her turn and walk towards the house, saw the light go out in the porch.

Kavanagh didn’t speak until they reached the end of the muddy track and were back on the road. ‘I’m calling on Clancy tomorrow,’ he said, ‘He owes me a few bob. I’ll sort you out then.’

‘It’s alright,’ Gerard said.

They drove in silence for a while, the only sound the relentless squeak of the wipers as the rain grew heavier. ‘Tell me,’ Kavanagh said, ‘did you ever see a silver fox?’ Gerard shook his head. Kavanagh let out a low whistle. ‘Beautiful animals,’ he said, ‘beautiful. But why do you think their fur is that colour? Aren’t they foxes at the end of the day?’

Gerard shrugged and looked out the window. Kavanagh kept talking, his voice becoming more animated, his hands restless on the steering wheel. ‘They weren’t silver exactly,’ he said. ‘You’d be expecting silver but it was more…’ He paused and his eyes scanned the cab—his wife’s photograph, the pictures of the Asian women, the collection of knick knacks on the dash. When his surroundings failed him, he clicked his tongue in exasperation. ‘They were a sort of bluey-black,’ he said, ‘white bits on their tails and faces. Little balls of fur.’ He went suddenly quiet, as if he had embarrassed himself.

Back on the main road, the lorry picked up speed as they headed south. A few miles on, Kavanagh spoke again. ‘What kind of life is it at all?’ he said, ‘weaned at six weeks and shipped off in a crate?’

It was cold in the cab and Gerard pulled his jacket tighter around him. He put a hand to the inside pocket, felt for his wallet and realised that it was gone. Shadowy trees and ditches blurred past. The wind blew dark, shapeless things across the path of the lorry, things that might have been alive or might have been dead: tiny night creatures and flurries of fallen leaves. They drove on through small, half-lit towns, through dark countryside whose only light was the flicker of wide-screen televisions in bungalow windows. Kavanagh began to hum. It was the chorus of a country and western song, full of love and violence, and he kept it up until they reached Bantry and took the dark coast road for Castletownbere.