The homestead towered over him, cold and impressive. He was too close to make out the stone chimneys or was it that the house was leaning in on him? He estimated its path of destruction in the event of collapse. Him, the rent-a-car and the ancient oak on the other side of the road all buried under new and ancient rubble. No-one would come, not in this weather. Then, as if to put him in his place, the hum of an approaching car, moving way too fast for the conditions, broke the frosty silence. You always saluted in these parts – even enemies and troublemakers were acknowledged. He shot a gloved finger into the air. At least now they’d know that he was back.

He secured the gate with a deft lift, sliding the icy bolt back into the slot which was still too small. Stepping forward, he regained an old stance, instinctively diving at the door with his key in hand. Just as it tested its measure in the lock, he knew that it wouldn’t fit. Marie, down the village, had been doting for as long as he knew her but to give him the wrong key was just plain stupid. A furrow of anger ploughed across his brow before he took a breath and grinned – the hand trick! Blessed (not that it had many advantages) with small hands for a man, it had been his wont, on his return from a late disco, to unlatch the front door by slipping one of his diminutive hands through the parallel letterbox. Often times, his grandmother would greet him and she parked at the range side: ‘Wisha, you’d’ve made a proper burglar.’ So said the Old Lady, the woman without a proper name. Every time she uttered a biting barb, they both knew that her witch’s tongue spat with a deeper intent.

In the kitchen now, he could see her still, bent over, peering into her cauldron, mumbling, forever stirring. A mighty thirst came over him and with his glass at the ready under the tap, he twisted the valve. A drop, then a gurgle, before the gush approached like the underground trains of his adopted city. He hastily put the glass to his lips and drank his fill.

‘They were right to bury the pipes an extra two feet that time of the hard freeze,’ he said to himself. He hadn’t expected a reply.

‘There wouldn’t be a drop only for it.’

The owner of the voice stepped out from the pantry before placing an unlit cigarette between her lips.

‘You took your time, brother.’