October 31, 2013 § 7 Comments
She used to say if I really wanted something to happen I should draw a picture of it, close my eyes and wish. So after he died I drew her holding hands with him on the beach. I paid particular attention to their faces. I flushed their cheeks, filled their eyes with light and turned the corners of their mouths into smiles. I made each drawing different because it made the spell stronger. Some had blue skies, others grey, and some had the cloudy stripes of a mirage or a moon rising from the sea. I drew ochre suns, thunderstorms, and rainbows arcing over their heads. I always made the sand yellow because that was my favourite colour.
But the magic wasn’t working so I drew more and more, and the wind blew through my open window and scattered the wishes over the bedroom floor. I left them where they were. The pictures grew old. They curled at the edges and turned yellow.
Each night I traced the shape of my parents on the windowpane with my fingertips, and then knelt by my bed, my hands in supplication. But still my father didn’t come back. I became frightened of the dark after that.
When she wasn’t sleeping, my mother wandered around the house. She peered into dusty corners, pulled open drawers, examined cupboards. She became a hunter. But when I asked her what she had lost she simply shook her head.
Soon she stopped answering my questions, and the edges of her body disappeared like the smudged shadows I made when I rubbed the charcoal off my paper with a rag.
Our days grew still and colourless, and the house took on the faded dullness of a thing aged before its time. My mother let the range go out and the kitchen became icy cold, facing in on its own depths like a cave. The mirrors, the windows, and the silver teapot with the dented spout, no longer glittered when the sun cast its light. Even the flower garden, so beloved by my mother, began to sink back into the earth.
I held images of our past deep inside my body. They were safe there; protected from the misery that filled our house.
But they made me feel disconnected. The kitchen had been a place of warmth where squares of sunlight slanted through the window onto the scrubbed table. My mother would butter my toast. She scraped a curl from the yellow roll wrapped in greaseproof paper, spread the butter so thickly it seeped onto the plate. There was my father’s kiss on her cheek, and the lightness of her laugh as she brushed him away. But the eggs I remembered most of all: almost green in their grassy yellowness. I cracked one open every morning with the silver spoon and watched its slither down the outside of the eggcup.
My bedroom filled with paper, so I drew in the kitchen. Soon a pile of paper grew on the table, the edges curling inwards like dying roses. The chickens hid their eggs in the bushes and there were no eggs for breakfast. That was when her sister Maria came. On the first day she wore a cheesecloth dress the colour of sun. She cleaned and cooked and I knew she understood what would make my mother better. Maria made the house shiny and gave it back its sharp edges again, but my mother stayed in her bed.
I drew a picture of a celandine and left it on the kitchen table. ‘Thank you,’ said my mother. The weak spring light struggled through the window, and she pressed her face against the pane until it grew misty with her breath. She began to cry, and taking the scissors, went to the garden and came back with a single celandine. She put it in an eggcup on the windowsill.
The next day I drew a crocus. Again my mother took the scissors, and this time returned with a bunch of the yellow blooms. She filled a glass with water, arranged the flowers, and took them to her room.
‘And now she refuses to come out,’ sighed Maria. ‘But at least she says she’s hungry.’
Soon the daffodils came, but after a week I stopped drawing them. ‘It isn’t working,’ I told Maria. ‘The more she picks, the more she weeps. ‘What shall we do?
‘Nothing,’ replied Maria. ‘Look what she’s done to the house. She’s filling it with yellow flowers.’
‘But she’s getting sadder and sadder.’
‘No,’ said Maria. ‘That’s not what she’s doing. She’s found the tears she never cried, and now she’s using them up.’
My mother filled more teacups with crocuses and celandines and put them on the windowsills. She filled jugs with daffodils and narcissi, and draped branches of forsythia over the inglenook. And still she wept.
I gathered the drawings from my room and from the kitchen table. ‘I want you to burn these now,’ I said.
‘Why?’ Maria asked.
‘Perhaps she doesn’t need them anymore.’
Maria shook her head and smiled.
‘Where is she?’ I asked.
‘Busy,’ she replied. ‘Look.’ She pointed through the open window to the garden. My mother was digging. Every few minutes she stopped to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
‘But she’s not fine,’ I said. ‘She’s crying.’
‘Listen,’ said Maria. ‘When she’s not crying, she’s singing.’