A husband and wife have travelled for days from New York to an unnamed town in another country, masked by a blanket of snow. The woman has terminal cancer and they’ve come to adopt a baby before she dies. The anxieties they’ve brought with them wax and wane in response to the alien culture, the frosty weather and the interference of other guests at the strange hotel.
It perfectly evoked for me the disorientation and discomfort of being vulnerable in an alien land. But I wanted a clearer hint of how the theme of adoption was meant to fit. Is this a story of the confusion of new parenthood? What was I meant to make of a couple who ‘buy’ a baby from a poorer country so the man won’t be lonely when the woman dies?
Those uncertainties make it ideal for book groups. Thanks to Europa editions for my review copy.
Having recently published novella about a woman forced to give up her baby for adoption, I couldn’t help wondering about the baby’s natural parents excluded from this narrative. But that’s another story altogether.
At times in What Happens at Night, the man and woman can’t distinguish truth from lies. But, shortly after Remembrance Day, for this week’s flash fiction challenge I’ve drawn on a lie told by a secondary character in my own book. The injustice he suffered took me to the injustice of contemporary Tory politics and the damage done by successive governments, but particularly by the Prime Minister who (fortunately) didn’t last as long as a lettuce on the supermarket shelf.
Their mother would miss them, but the Motherland called. They stowed away on a ship taking rum and molasses to Liverpool and docked the day the country declared war. Eustace lied about his age to join up with his brother. When hostilities ended, he buried his brother in France.
He grieved, but was proud to have served the Empire. Until he learnt the flag that united the colonies was a colossal lie. When riots raged in Liverpool’s docklands, he feared for his life. He learnt that Black men could die for Britain, but they couldn’t live there in peace.
An economics lesson at the food bank
“I don’t get it,” says the volunteer, as she distributes bashed soup tins between supermarket plastic bags. “Run it past me again.”
The politician sighs, but her colleague interrupts him. “Remember Robin Hood?”
“Steals from the rich to give to the poor? Of course.”
“Well, this is Robin in reverse.”
The woman sets aside a tube of charcoal toothpaste. The politician flashes a smile. “We scrap the wealth tax. People spend more. The benefits trickle down.”
The woman surveys the empty shelves. “Can’t see that working.”
“Be patient,” says the politician. “We’ve only tried this method for ninety years.”