Prelude 11

He lay in the gutter, rank and disgusting, the stench of filth and cheap alcohol about him. The respectables walked past, looking the other way, tut-tutting and glad they were not he. The wind tugged icily at the ragged clothes of the man in the gutter, but he did not move. He would not move - he was done.

Joe found Aaron sleeping rough after months of tramping the streets, asking anybody who would stop if they'd seen the man in the picture. Joe was sure that Aaron, if alive at all, would not look anything like the well-dressed executive in the picture but it was the most recent shot of him Fiona had.

"Aaron, its me, Joe."

"Aaron looked up, unable to focus through the alcoholic haze."

"Aaron, its me. I've come to take you home."

The broken man before him sobbed, "No. I can't. No more."

Joe replied, "You'll die if you stay here - you can stay at my place", and with that gently lifted Aaron up and took him home.

He called Fiona but she refused to come. She and the girls were better off without him, she said.

Prelude 10

The bed next to her was empty. Aaron hadn't come home last night.

It had been a terrible argument, about the usual things: his frequent absences, his drinking, his shouting, her spending, her dissatisfaction, her coldness towards him. They screamed at each other, neither listening, the kids huddling together in one of their bedrooms.

He had eventually stormed out as many times before, but this time he was gone.

She called Joe to see if he was there but Joe hadn't seen him either.

Prelude 9

Fiona watched Aaron and the girls as they built the snowman. Aaron was more like his old self and she was glad she had insisted on this holiday in Scotland - he needed the break.

The front door suddenly opened. "Muuuuum, we need a carrot! Do we have any?"

Fiona smiled and got a carrot from the fridge. She also dug out a scarf and hat which she knew would come next. Aaron didn't think about such things, he just saw the snow and like a little boy ran outside. They had gone sledging yesterday and Aaron had stayed out long into the afternoon, hurtling downhill at breakneck speed, ramping over the road onto the next hill. She didn't like snow, too cold, but loved to curl up in front of a roaring fire with a novel and welcome her family home with a good meal. The domestic idyll appealed to her romantic nature, whereas she found day to day mothering a bit of a chore if she was honest. She couldn't wait to finish her marketing course and get a job. The girls were very self-sufficient now so didn't need her that much any more. As for Aaron, well he was never at home, either physically or otherwise.