'Cold Earth' by Jules Anne Ironside
We found the bones underneath the hearth stone. I had wanted to keep the original fireplace but Daniel wanted a modern wood burner. We’d squabbled about it but then we’d squabbled about everything since we’d bought this cottage. Wedging in modern conveniences so that they didn’t look too out of place in a seventeenth century building was a challenge.
Heating was an issue though. A cold winter was predicted and this needed sorting now.
I had the strangest feeling as I helped Daniel and Parry - our nearest neighbor at two miles away - lever up the hearth stone. Like vertigo. Falling into the dark, whilst knowing you’re still standing. I blamed moving-house stress. I wasn’t normally given to flights of fancy.
“Course,” wheezed Parry, his thin turkey-wattled throat straining in his seventy year old neck, “this ‘ere is part of the original house.”
“Original house?” I raked sweat off my forehead, hoping Parry wasn’t about to have a heart attack. He was keeping the massive slab of stone up at an angle, the tendons in his wrists standing out, taut as harp strings.
“Ar. What was ‘ere before this ‘un.”
“And this stone was part of that house?” Daniel sounded patronizing with his over-cultured voice. Another thing that made me want to swipe at him.
Despite the physical exertion, I felt cold. Sweat beading down my spine prickled icy pins. God, I just wanted to get this over with. A flash of instantly suppressed anger at myself. I would let Daniel bully me into things. Or wear me down, at least. It needn’t have been just the two of us moving in here. But then Daniel didn’t want children. However I felt about it, I still wanted Daniel. That was the price of admission.
“There she goes.” Parry said. The age smoothed stone tore from my hands, as the two men shoved it aside.
The scent of four-hundred year old undisturbed earth hit my nostrils, cold and musty. My pelvis heated with pain. I wasn’t due a period for another three weeks but my womb was suddenly bloated, heavy-full. A balloon stretched with water. Just like it felt for weeks after the procedure.
Daniel had said I’d get over it.
I looked down into the space where the hearthstone had lain. A tiny skull and delicate finger bones. A hank of long dark hair. Four years old maybe? An unwanted child, buried here as a hearth guardian.
My arms cradled only empty air. My grief was sharp, immediate. I looked into Daniel’s cool eyes and I knew.
I wouldn’t get over it.