‘Sky’ by Donal Ryan

William has lived in the same house all his life, which he sees as normal and others see as suspicious: “Did you never want to have a look at the world? No, faith, I did not,” he says. “This road is as good as any, or as bad.”

(I think I might have picked this story for that punctuating “faith” alone, for the rural life it conjures.) 

William tries to reach out, phoning a helpline, taking computer lessons, but his efforts fail at the last – while he can look with wonder at the vastness of the world, he cannot engage in cutting it down to fit himself. For William, the world is real and tangible – the road, the crows, the sky. Everything else is, he says, “a world of knowledge and nonsense”. The beauty of the story is that William might be absolutely right or he might just be bound by fear. His invisibility is at its most heartbreaking when his sister moves away, taking his beloved nephew Billy with her. “I’m only a ghost to him now, and he to me,” William says. 

Ryan is at his best among the broken and the wistful, and here he writes with just enough sentimentality to tighten the cord between your brain and your heart, but without leaving you feeling cheap afterwards.

First published in A Slanting of the Sun, Doubleday Ireland, 2015. Also published in Irish American and available to read online here