‘Until the Girl Died’ by Anne Enright

Anne Enright is unmatched when it comes to writing anger and forgiveness and getting on with things and the triumph of the everyday. In this story, a woman’s husband has been having an affair, as he has done several times before, each time returning home contrite and armed with suggestions for a weekend away. This time, however, the girl in question died in a car accident. The man is stunned, chiefly by his own ageing, while his wife is left to reassure the girl’s grave that she mattered to him.

The story shows how complicated ordinary life is. How savage, how careless we are with one another when we think we are invincible. How much we can hurt others in the pursuit of what we think we deserve. With typical Enright acerbity, the woman says, “It’s the great mystery, isn’t it? What men ‘want’. And the damage they might do to get it.”

It is possible to live and to love someone from within that crack between generosity and vengeance, the story tells us. Time may not heal, exactly, but it passes and we run out of steam, which can amount to the same thing. “How did we get through the next week?” the woman asks. “Normally, at a guess. We got through the week in a completely normal way.”

First published in Taking Pictures, Jonathan Cape, 2008. Also available in Yesterday’s Weather, Vintage, 2009

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