at Length

Small Mercies

—Tim Winton

An excerpt from “Small Mercies,” by Tim Winton

Peter Dyson came home one day to find his wife dead in the garage. He’d only been gone an hour, kicking a ball in the park with their four-year-old son. The Ford’s motor was still running, its doors locked, and even before he knew it for certain, before he put the sledge-hammer through the window, before the ambulance crew confirmed it, he was grateful to her for sparing the boy.

“He held himself together until the funeral and then for a few weeks he lost his mind. His mates avoided him, but their wives rallied to save him. He drank alone until he blacked out. When he bothered to eat he forked up food straight from the casserole dishes his friends’ wives left him when they dropped Ricky back in the evenings. One morning he woke beside one of those wives and she was weeping.

Thereafter Dyson endeavoured, for the sake of his son, to lead a decent, stable, predictable existence, something as close to normal as a ruined man could manage. Though he hated the house now and the city around it, he was determined to stay on in Fremantle for Ricky’s sake, so that his year of kindergarten might proceed uninterrupted.

And somehow the better part of a year fell by. Ricky smiled, unbidden, and seemed to forget his mother for weeks at a time. It was a mercy. Dyson worked a couple of days a week. He did not see friends, he wasn’t sure he had any left. His life was not joyless yet its pleasures were close to theoretical. He appreciated more than he felt. Still, he believed that he was making progress. He was not reconciled but he was recovering.

What undid him was not the approaching anniversary of his wife’s death but the onset of winter. He was, quite suddenly, overtaken by disgust.

“Small Mercies” originally appeared in its entirety in the print version of At Length, which no longer exists. To read the whole story, check out Tim Winton’s The Turning: Stories. Winton has been named a “Living Treasure” by Australia’s National Trust, and he has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

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