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Ground Truth by Fiona McKay

The hail is coming down the size of unripe grapefruit, smashing into the roof of the van like mortars. The windscreen has shattered in one corner, but you can still see out. The road is empty, strewn with irregular white orbs that make it look as if the gods have been having a snowball fight, and don’t know their strength. Our instruments are telling us that the centre of the storm is close, and Greg wants to know if we go into it, or retreat and limp off to get the van fixed.

You’ve never liked that I worked with a man, with Greg, despite the fact that he and I make a wonderful team, and our meteorological specialties complement each other. You're always suspicious of any time we spend together outside the university, calling us ‘storm chasers’, and not letting me explain to you the necessity of obtaining ground truth in our work: data from the field, not just other people’s studies. I've tried to explain the science to you; tried to convey to you my love for this field of study, shown you photographs of fist-sized hailstones striped with clear and cloudy ice, explained to you the reasons, the fast or slow speed of the freezing water leading to those outcomes, I’ve drawn you diagrams, showing you how a hailstone is like a pearl, starting small and then accumulating layers, and, though not fished for, falling gracefully or spitefully to earth once the thunderstorm can no longer hold it up.

You don’t listen. You don’t care. To me, those are the same thing. The hours I've spent, listening to you talk about your poets, the books I've read to keep up with your work. I've been sympathetic when your applications for tenure went unrewarded. I've taken my own good news and buried it deep where it won’t upset you. Those times at drinks parties, when people have drifted over to congratulate me on my professorship, I've swerved away, embarrassed by my success standing next to your perceived failure, or stood my ground, mutely begging with my eyes ‘don’t mention it, don’t mention it, don’t mention it.’

And don’t get me started on our endless rows about kids. You don’t think kids should have a working mother – it’s like we’re still in the 1950s and everything is sweet like apple-pie. The years tick by while you invent excuses: the time will be right when you’re head of department, or I’ve found a safer line of work. That time will never come.

I think about yesterday: your side of the bed not slept in, the note on the kitchen counter, our never-born children drifting further away. Now I’m nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother; I have this chance in front of me and I'm not sitting on the fence any longer, worrying about what you think. I'm all in. I look into the eye of the storm. I look at Greg’s exhilarated face. And I say “Drive!”.


Opera-loving Mom to a Tween, also a recovering lawyer, Fiona McKay lives and writes beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland. Words now or soon in Blinkpot, 50wordstories, FlashFlood Journal, 5minutelit. Tweets at @fionaemckayryan

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