March 21, 2021 § 4 Comments
The air is hot and dry, and the lichen-stained headstones are draped with clouds of slow moving pollen. Bees dip in and out doing barrel rolls. She takes photos so she can name them from the poster on the kitchen wall. The grasses and wild flowers are turning brown and the ripe seeds quietly explode. The smell too sweet. It takes her back to honey gathering time when she turned the handle of her dad’s extractor. It creaked and leaked honey and pissed the bees off for days. ‘I’m not surprised,’ she complained. ‘It’s stealing’.
She breathes in deep and wills the pain to stop hurting her head, to stop making her shout in her sleep. The dreams never wake her and she never remembers them, but he does because her sounds wake him. He sits up in bed and watches, his arms open ready to gather her.
The buzzing makes her sleepy. She sinks to her knees between two graves, and lies flat on her back, legs together, arms close to her sides. She breathes slower and slower until she forgets to breathe. She begins to feel light. Unseeable. Invisible. In a place where time doesn’t move. She can’t feel her body resting on the ground. She looks down. It’s there, it’s resting, but the eyes aren’t seeing. The grass is so long no one will see her.
So this is how it’s done. What will she say if he finds her like this? “I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be dead,’ she’ll whisper.
His eyes will look at her steadily and his mouth will say, “And what is it like?’
‘It’s fine,’ she will answer turning her lips into a smile. ‘I like it’.
January 11, 2014 § 27 Comments
A short story: second and final part
The cold winds raced around the garden, and Isabella felt strange.
‘Best place is bed,’ said her mother, tucking her in. ‘You’re burning up.’ But Isabella got hotter. She kicked off the bedclothes and her limbs turned to ice. She made a cocoon of her duvet and her body filled with fire. She tore off her pyjamas and thrust the cover aside. Isabella didn’t care anymore. Everything was muddled. Curling up naked on the bed, she closed her eyes and began to drift. The pain in her body floated away, and she had the oddest sensation she was losing her skin.
Then suddenly she was wide awake. Opening her eyes, she looked down and saw herself lying naked on the bed. ‘You really do look poorly,’ she said sternly. ‘And why aren’t you wearing your pyjamas?’ Isabella’s body didn’t move. ‘Humph. Well I don’t care if you don’t answer me. It’s so nice to be flying again… only Mum said I really shouldn’t, so I suppose I…’
She stretched out her arms and aimed at her body. But like a drifting balloon, she rose higher and higher. She moved her limbs as if swimming in deep water. She paddled harder and faster. Nothing happened. ‘Help!’ she yelled. ‘I don’t want to die.’
Isabella had crashed.
Thump, thump, thump.
High above the clouds, Isabella was hitting something hard and invisible.
‘I warned you before. Come down at once!’ It was her mother. ‘If you go any further you’ll be in heaven – and then you’ll be stuck.’
Isabella looked around and started to wobble. Losing her balance, she began to fall: faster and faster, plummeting out of control. She tumbled past the stars, between the heavy, black clouds, through the cold, sharp rain. And then she saw her street. There was her house, her garden, her swing. Spreading her limbs like a bat, she slowed herself down – pulling up sharp just before she hit the ground. Swooping through the front door, she glided up the banisters, and missing the grandfather clock at the top of the stairs, swerved around the sharp corner into her bedroom. Her body lay on the bed under the duvet. Isabella held her breath, and plunged back inside.
‘You look cold and confused,’ her mother whispered, tucking her in. ‘You’d fallen asleep with no clothes on, and I couldn’t wake you up. You do look much better.’ She put the thermometer under Isabella’s tongue.
‘I’ve had a very peculiar dream.’
‘It was probably the fever,’ she smiled, taking the thermometer out of Isabella’s mouth. ‘Good. All back to normal.’
‘Were you telling me off a minute ago?’ Isabella asked.
‘I was not. I was doing the washing up.’
The hair on her parents’ heads turned silver, and the garden swing was gone. ‘You should come and see us more often,’ her father sighed.
I wish I lived closer,’ she replied. ‘Mum isn’t herself these days.’
Her mother’s mind could only hold the past. The present did not exist.’Someone’s taken Isabella’s swing,’ she complained. ‘Isn’t it time to get her from school?’
‘Sometimes she cooks for three,’ he said. ‘Then worries when you don’t come home to eat. She’s always falling asleep; and when I wake her, it’s as if she’s in a dream and can’t escape. She says she wants to go home.’
Her mother’s mind was dividing itself in two: slipping in and out of the world she knew and shared with others, and another that no one could know but her. ‘I write labels on everything,’ said her father, with a sigh. ‘But she can’t remember what the words mean any more.’
Isabella was waiting for something to happen. She couldn’t settle. She sat bolt upright in bed when the phone rang. ‘You must come now,’ said her father. ‘It’s your mother.’
She drove fast. Kissing the warm, papery cheek, her mother opened her eyes.’She’s happy you’re here,’ he said. ‘She hasn’t responded to anyone. Not even me.’ All that day her mother slipped between this world and the next. As day turned to night her chest stopped moving – then she spluttered, struggling for air. Again and again her breathing stopped for a few moments, then she took a desperate gasp of air.
‘Don’t be frightened,’ Isabella whispered. But her mother lay quiet – her eyes flickering beneath her lids.
Her father rested in the next room, and Isabella sat by the bed. Exhausted, she passed fitfully in and out of sleep. Her father came with a blanket, and Isabella began to dream. She was alone with her mother: standing close by her side facing a closed door. She took her mother’s hand. It trembled slightly beneath her touch. ‘Soon it will be time, Mum. You can leave when you’re ready.’
‘But I want to be here. And I’m afraid. What if I don’t like it on the other side?’
‘Come with me,’ Isabella whispered. ‘We’ll go together.’ She opened the door, and their bodies flooded with a clear white light. ‘Look Mum. It’s beautiful.’
Her mother’s hand became firm. ‘Yes,’ she said. Now I remember. And it is time. And do you remember too, Isabella?’
‘What should I remember?’
‘That you are staying here. I’ll come and tell you when it’s your turn.’
Her mother untangled her hand from Isabella’s grasp, and walked into the light.
January 10, 2014 § 18 Comments
A short story in two parts. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.
Enjoy – and any feedback, as always, will be appreciated!
The first time it happened, Isabella was playing in the garden. She’d fallen off the swing and landed upside down on her head. A feeling of lightness stirred in her solar plexus, spreading through her body until the tips of her toes tingled with a pleasurable kind of emptiness. Isabella looked down and saw herself lying crumpled in the grass. She was floating – or to be precise – something that had been inside her body had got out and was cruising around in the sunlight in a rather disorderly fashion. Isabella had left her body behind.
She hovered for a while trying to keep her balance, then discovering a pair of invisible limbs, moved them back and forth in a kind of frenetic breaststroke she’d been practicing at swimming club. The air was slippery and heavy like water.
‘What are you doing up there?’ her mother yelled. ‘If you go any higher you won’t come back, and you’ll stay dead forever.’
Isabella looked around but couldn’t see her mother anywhere. She pointed herself sleek as a shark, and swooping down into the garden slipped back inside her body. She had found the sensation of lightness utterly delightful.
Isabella came round and opened her eyes. Bright lights flickered at the end of her bed, and machines were clicking like the crickets that hung upside down on her bedroom ceiling. Everything echoed and was making her head swim. She closed her eyes tight shut.
Her mother sat by the bed squeezing a handkerchief.
‘Where am I?’ Isabella asked.
‘In hospital, my love.’
‘You had a little accident.’
Isabella blinked, and squinted at her mother. ‘What did you mean about me staying dead forever?’
‘I said nothing of the sort. All I did was shriek and dial 999. You must have imagined it.’
‘But I didn’t.’
‘Have a little nap, sweetheart,’ her mother sniffled. ‘They think you’ve got concussion.’
Isabella never forgot that day, and on the way home from hospital she decided she’d never, ever go flying again in case she got stuck and ended up dead.
But she wasn’t altogether successful. It started happening again. If she was cross, or frightened – or just wanted to be somewhere else because she was bored – she slid out of her body and cruised around for a while. After about five minutes – although she was never sure how long it really was as time was passing in a rather peculiar way – she slid back in again. Although it was a nice feeling, Isabella found being in two places at once rather confusing.
Nobody seemed to notice anything strange, until her mother made an announcement. ‘Your father and I have thinking,’ she said. ‘You’re always falling asleep these days. It might help if you went to bed earlier.’
Isabella rarely argued with her mother – it wasn’t worth the trouble when she used her slow, loud voice – so she went to bed half an hour earlier every night. It didn’t help. She still fell asleep without warning in front of the telly, and however hard her mother shook her, Isabella wouldn’t wake up until her body had joined itself up with the rest of her.
She didn’t really mind about the early nights, because she could go places without anyone noticing. She kept an atlas under her bed, and was soon travelling the world. She flew around corners and saw things that were supposed to be private, like next door’s baby being born; and she flew so high she could see the whole planet revolving in front of her in bright shades of green and blue. If somewhere took her fancy – like Italy because it was shaped like a boot – or the Horse Latitudes where she could hunt for her favourite animal, she would point her arms into a dive, and zoom in like a telescope to get a better look.
Isabella stayed tired, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. ‘Must be psychological’, he said. ‘I recommend lots of sleep.’ Then it happened: Isabella stopped leaving her body.
That winter the dog got sick. Titus was old and stiff, and could no longer climb the stairs to sleep in his favourite place on Isabella’s bed. He got thinner too, because he forgot to eat. He lay in his basket all day, and even refused the chocolate she saved for him in secret.
‘His body’s wearing out,’ said her mother. ‘Soon it will be time for him to go to heaven.’
‘Is that where I nearly went?’ Isabella asked.
‘I really don’t know, my love. But it’s alright now because you don’t go there anymore, do you?’
‘No, I don’t, she replied.
Every night for a week, Isabella stroked the old dog’s bony frame. ‘It’s probably very nice in heaven,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sure you’ll like it.’
On the seventh day, his breathing slowed down to a whisper, and the air around him turned dark into a grey cloud. He opened his eyes wide, looked hard at his mistress, and breathed out a loud, slow sigh. A shiny, bright shadow rose slowly from his body and hovered above his head. Isabella put out her hand to catch it, but it floated through her flesh – like her hand wasn’t there – and was gone.
She put her lips to his ear. ‘Are you coming back, Titus? If you don’t do it soon, you might get stuck there forever.’ Titus paddled his front legs like he was having a chasing dream, then lay perfectly still.