It had been a freakish hit-and-run accident that had taken John Reilly so young and left Rose a widow at the age of twenty-six, with a full-time job and two young children to care for.
The whole town had turned out for the funeral and many weeks later people were still offering their condolences and asking if there was anything they could do to help. As heartfelt as these offers were, they were droplets in an ocean of grief.
As the weeks became months, the concerned enquiries, pursed lips and light touches of the shoulder became less frequent. In part it was just the natural way of things but, truth be told, it was also Mary’s protracted withdrawal into herself. She knew that everybody meant well but how could they even begin to understand? There was also a third, more worrying, factor: the bottles of drink she had been seen with on her walks through the park.
Most frequently, it had been beer, but Ken, the town’s well-respected postman was adamant he’d seen her with a half-bottle of whisky one morning as she accompanied her children to school.
The trouble was, the Reilly family had only recently moved into town and nobody really felt themselves a close enough friend to broach such a delicate subject and so, smile by fading smile, the distance between Rose and the good people of Norbrook grew steadily until a cursory nod was the most she could expect from the same people who only months earlier had been at pains to express their most profound sorrow.
Time passed and the gossip escalated. Rose had been seen walking through the park clutching bottles of alcohol with such frequency by this point that it was generally recognised that she had a serious problem. Something would have to be done.
One Friday evening in the Hare and Hounds, things came to a head when whispers turned to dispiriting sniggers and Rose became the butt of a series of jokes which left the landlord, David, as furious as he was saddened. He threw the culprits out on the spot and resolved to try to help Rose in any way he could, though the truth was he barely knew her - she had hardly ever visited his pub and had drunk a couple of orange juices at most on the very few occasions she had.
Nevertheless, determined to take some kind of action, David woke early the next morning and headed out to the park. Sure enough, Rose was there taking the children to school, a bottle of beer in her hand, making no attempt to hide it. Deciding to wait for her return trip to avoid speaking to her in front of the young ones, he slumped on a nearby bench and lit a welcome cigarette. Twenty minutes or so later Rose reappeared, hands shoved in her overcoat pockets, head bowed.
“Could I talk with you for a moment, please?”
“Well, ok, but I’m in quite a hurry, David. Must get to the recycling bins before work.”
She pulled out the beer bottle from her pocket.
“The local kids leave them in the cemetery every single night. There are one or two left on John’s headstone most days. I can’t bear it. Anyway, what did you want to talk about?”
He pursed his lips and touched her lightly on the shoulder, his eyes softening.
“Oh, you know, I just wanted to know how things are going for you and if there’s anything we can do to help.”