March 8, 2017 § 21 Comments
Part of a novel which turned into a very short story…
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 by the sea. I concentrated on their faces, flushing their cheeks, filling their eyes with light and turning the corners of their mouths into smiles. I made each picture different because it made the magic stronger. Some had blue skies, others grey, and some had the cloudy stripes of a moon rising from the sea. I drew yellow suns, and grey thunderstorms, and rainbows arcing over their heads. I always made the sand yellow because that was my favourite colour.
I wished and wished but the spell didn’t work, so I drew every day until my table overflowed. One day the wind blew through the open window and scattered my wishes over the bedroom floor. I left them where they fell. After a while the pictures looked old and worn out. 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 got frightened of the dark after that.
When she wasn’t sleeping, my mother wandered around the house. She poked her head into dusty corners, pulled open drawers and examined cupboards. She became a hunter. But when I asked her what she was looking for she said she didn’t know.
Soon her voice went away, and the edges of her body disappeared like the smudged shadows I made when I rubbed the charcoal off my paper with my fingers.
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 grew 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 head. They were safe there, protected from the misery that filled our house. But they made me feel disconnected. The kitchen had once been a place of warmth where squares of sunlight slanted through the window onto the scrubbed table. My mother used to butter my toast with the old silver knife. She scraped a curl from the yellow roll wrapped in grease proof paper, spreading the butter so thickly it leaked onto my plate. Then 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 and watched the yoke slither down the outside of the eggcup.
My bedroom filled with drawings, so I spread into the kitchen. Soon a pile of paper grew on the table. The chickens hid their eggs in the bushes and there were no eggs for breakfast. That was when her sister came. On the first day Maria wore a cheesecloth dress the colour of the sun. She cleaned and cooked and made the house shiny and gave it back its sharp edges.
I drew a picture of a celandine and gave it to 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. Then 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 flowers. She arranged them in a glass of water 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 all up.’
My mother filled more teacups with crocuses and celandines and put them on the windowsills. After they were over she filled jugs with daffodils and narcissi, and draped branches of forsythia over the inglenook. But still she wept.
I gathered the drawings from my room and the kitchen table. ‘I want you to burn these please,’ I said.
‘Why?’ Maria asked.
‘I think 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.’
July 21, 2016 § 6 Comments
he’s leaving –
October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
A moment in time. A mother relives the last day she spends with her young son…
It had been a year since James had woken her with a question. ‘Mummy. Where does the rain go when it stops being rain?’
‘To the sea,’ she replied sleepily, moving over and lifting the bedcover for him.
‘And how does it get there?’
‘I’ll show you.’ She folded him close.
‘When it isn’t dark. Tomorrow. Now go back to sleep.’
‘The river’s different today.’ She spoke the words carefully as if they might break.
‘How?’ Robert probed gently.
She gave no sign she had heard him, but began to scratch the dull orange lichen lacing the parapet of the millpond bridge. Her fingers bled into the crumbling brick.
‘That must hurt,’ he said.
‘What?’ she answered distractedly. ‘What must?’
She didn’t answer but suddenly leaned too far over the parapet. Robert jerked as if stung, his hand flying to the small of her back. ‘Look,’ she pointed. ‘The trout are back.’ An arc of sunlight streaked through the crack willow leaning away from the bank as if it must surely fall, and the bright patch of water glittered as the river trout flickered silver in the light.
Robert held her tight. ‘They like the warmth,’ he said.
‘No, no,’ she insisted. ‘They’re playing.’
He breathed in deeply. ‘So how is the river different?’
‘That day it was screaming,’ she said. ‘Today it whispers.’
Robert had become her bridge to before. Every week he sat stiffly on the hard cane chair in her white hospital room and read her poetry; and then, as the pills began to shield her from the past, he took her walking amongst the trees. Today, she had asked to be taken out. ‘To the river,’ she breathed.
‘Shall we walk now?’ Robert slid his arm around her shoulders and eased her away from the bridge.
‘No.’ The skin around her eyes wrinkled into a smile. ‘It’s quite safe. I won’t do anything silly.’
She took a small square of white paper from her pocket and began to fold. Creasing and tucking – the blood from her fingers staining the paper – she folded again and again. She blew sharply on a seam and flattened the shape with two fingers. ‘Look,’ she smiled, holding the boat in her palm. ‘That’s what we were doing.’ She blew again and the boat fluttered from her hand and rocked through the air into the water. It landed on its side and drifted beneath the willow.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Now I remember. The river was full after the rains. It screamed at us to stay away. It spat at us as it spewed itself out from under the bridge. We stood there.’ She nodded towards the crack willow bent over the water. ‘We took no notice.’
‘You were on the bank to float paper boats?’
‘I was showing him what happened to the rain on its way to the sea. James thought the river was angry. He wanted to placate it by giving it our boats as a gift. He didn’t hear my warning. He slipped, and the current…’
The boat hit the bank and quivered. Again and again the ripples pushed it into the bank. ‘It will surely sink,’ sighed Robert.
‘Wait,’ she urged, tears trickling down her cheeks. The breeze suddenly changed direction, lifted the boat upright and it floated downriver.
‘I am finished here,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘We can go home.’