Come to me, human child.

Posted: October 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

SUMMER

            At first there is the light, a white empty light that covers her, hurting her eyes so much that she must keep blinking to dull its glow.  Then when she has walked some way, the muscles in her legs pulling tight together and a deep pain labouring in her back, she notices the crying.  It comes from all around her and buries itself inside her that she has to stop, squinting hard in the light.  Ellen sees the brown form in the distance, lying heavy like a clump of rock on a sandy shore but as she keeps looking she sees that some part of it is moving.  Hands, she realises, and legs.  A baby, she thinks, drawing her breath in, forgetting to blink.  Mine, she realizes, and then she is running, cutting through the white till she reaches it, her legs sore, but her heart beating in a delicious rhythm.  Ellen bends down to the baby and puts her hand on the small chest, feeling it rise and fall in time with her own. A girl.  Laura, she thinks, after her grandmother. The baby keeps crying as Ellen picks it up and she wraps her small delicate fingers round a lock of Ellen’s hair.  Ellen moves a slow graceful sway as she holds her daughter close to her. 

Then as sudden as a summer storm, a pain begins to clutch at Ellen drawing her again to her knees.  She calls out, yells for someone to help her and then she realises that it is only her and Laura, sheltered and abandoned in this world of white.  She feels the pain all around her, inside her, burning her as it spreads out, bursting through her body.  She holds Laura tighter to her but she can feel the sweat on her palms, her grasp already loosening. She rocks and the baby cries.  She looks down at her child, at the shock of black hair on the wrinkled skin, and then she sees the deep, dark red flowing out of her own body.  It is like a river of pain and she feels her heart beating wildly, chaotically.  She cannot hold the baby and she already feels Laura slipping from her.  Ellen bends over, places the child down and she wraps her own hands round her body, keeping everything in.  Her own head is now level with her tiny baby’s and she tries to keep her eyes open but the light burns them up and she has to close them.

The first thing Ellen sees is the flowers, bright sparkling colours against the dirty window.  She can smell them too, even amongst the harsh smell of bleach that pours out of the hospital walls.  The flowers have a sweet smell which glides through the air with a soft beauty.  But she cannot stand it and it slides up her nose and sits there stinging her.  She pulls herself further down the bed and pushes the covers over her head.  Her world then becomes smaller.  There is a grey darkness around her and she is so close to the soft walls of her world that she can stick her tongue out and touch the coarse cloth.  She feels her breath lingering around as she expels it from her mouth.  It makes her warm and she can feel a hot flush in her cheeks and down her neck.  She twitches her toes, feels them grazing across the mattress, her nails making a low rasping sound as they hit the bed sheet.  She knows that soon she must pull herself up, that Steve will come any minute to take her home but she lies buried in her cocoon, her single useless heart the only sound she hears.

AUTUMN

            The sea laps against the shore line, its frothy trail sinking into the muddy sand.  Lumps of sand stand in the sun, once proud castles now half washed out to sea.  Ellen can feel her feet sinking into the ground as she walks, her footsteps dissolving as soon as she lifts her feet off the ground.  Wet grains of sand stick between her toes and the breeze lifts her skirt a little as she walks.  She feels the lonely desolation of an abandoned coastline as she keeps going, until she sees Laura and then something lifts; her heart maybe or just the tight band of grief that has wrapped itself around her.  As she nears the girl, she collapses next to her, sinking into ground that feels warm despite the breeze.  Laura looks up at her and gives her a beautiful joyous smile that children keep only for their mothers.  Ellen feels her own joy in her smile and she brings her head toward her daughter’s, nudging her nose with her own smelling the scent of the sea in her daughter’s hair.  Laura giggles and Ellen sees in her small face the imprint of all her ancestors, the long trace of the living and the dead, marking the new face with old lines and memories. 

Ellen lifts her baby onto her lap, feels her shifting weight as she reaches out digging her tiny fingers into the soft sand.  Ellen starts to fill a bucket with sand by taking her daughter’s hand and helping her to scoop up the sand.

“In, in,” Ellen says and it is like a chant

“ee…ee,” Laura follows in her high voice.

Ellen nods and laughs feeling like the breeze has climbed into her and made her lighter.  Any minute now and she will float away, taking her daughter with her to a land beyond the clouds.  Laura’s round face looks up at her and Ellen can see the sand sprinkled in her daughter’s hair like fairy dust.

The house is ballooning with children.  They lie hidden in darkened rooms the glare of the TV screen reflecting off their faces, sprawled on the lounge room floor half buried under mountains of brightly coloured blocks and loitering outside in the courtyard, their skate boards tripping expertly over concrete bumps.  Ellen keeps herself in the kitchen, trying to pull herself into the walls of her sister’s house.  But since she can’t quite manage to be invisible despite the noise and the chaos, she tries to make herself useful.  Her hands feel dry and cracked from all the dishes that she has washed and she slaps some hand lotion on, rubbing it in, hoping that the lavender smell will seep into her making her seem softer and kinder than she really is.  A child runs by her, briefly grazing her side as he skirts by.  She holds her breath, letting it out slowly as he disappears into a room.  She feels the hot imprint where he bumped her and she sits down wanting a cigarette, but she gave up smoking a few months ago and she can’t quite bring herself to start again, remembering why she stopped in the first place.

Almost all the adults have moved to the lounge room, she sees.  She pulls herself up and out of the kitchen, her eyes focused on the only wall that has not yet succumbed to her brother-in-law’s frenetic renovations.  She sees a couch half hidden in the corner and she walks towards it, carefully stepping through the minefield on the lounge room floor.  When she gets to it, she sinks herself down, her heart beating hard against her chest.  She sees Steve and he is holding her nephew who lies cocooned in a lacy white christening gown.  There is a soft contentment about him as he cradles the baby, his shoulders slumped, his face relaxed.  Ellen can feel an anger in her, a sharp slap across her heart.  She grasps it, digs it in, lets it find root.

Steve sees her, comes towards her, his body suddenly graceful.  When he sits down next to her, she moves away, pressing her knees together, a crack of space opening up between his knees and hers.  He says something to her that she doesn’t quite hear and so she leans into him, looking away as she does. “They change so quickly, don’t they?” he says to her.  She looks at him then, sees how his black hair has grown so much lately that it curls around his ears, small ringlets on its ends.  She remembers when they first started seeing each other, how after making love, she would wrap herself in his favourite red jumper, loving how it brushed the bottom of her naked knees, how her arms disappeared in it but most of all how his scent would settle from the jumper to her skin.  Her angry roots run down her and she thinks then of how he doesn’t wear red anymore.

WINTER

            A frosty draft slides through the open door and Ellen digs her hands deeper into her pockets, trying to shake the chill from them.  The classroom is empty except for Laura who sits at a table in the middle, her head bent over a drawing, her legs tucked up under her.  Ellen stands by the door, letting the draft blow through her while she looks at Laura.  Her hair is the same dark black she has always had but it is so long now, coiled tight in two braids down her back with blue ribbons at their ends. Ellen moves up to her, puts her hand slowly on her daughter’s shoulder.  Laura looks up.

“Mum! I’ve been waiting for ages. I’m doing a drawing.  See?  Here’s me and here’s Eloise and Tyler and Jamie.  Do you like it?”

 Ellen kneels down next to her daughter and takes the picture.  It is filled with flowers, a field of pretty flowers resting amongst an expanse of green.  She sees the tiny figures, standing together, their hands clasped, their dresses blending into the field.

“Who are they again?” she asks Laura.

Laura rolls her eyes.  “I already told you, Mum.  Me and Eloise and Tyler and Jamie.”

“Who are they?” Ellen asks.

“They’re my friends.”

“There are other children here?” Ellen asks her daughter, feeling her voice becoming light and unsteady.

“Yes, heaps,” Laura responds.

Ellen glances up at the quiet classroom, seeing for the first time the opened pencil cases, the bags lying on the floor and the artwork on the windows.  She tilts her head and she can hear something faded in the distance.  She realises then that it is the sound of children, a messy wave of children’s voices.

“Are there grown ups here too?”

“U huh.  Some,”

Ellen draws her coat closer to her and she wipes a tear away with an icy finger.  The muscles in her legs have begun to seize up but she wants nothing more than to stay here, watching the grey clouds in the sky, the cold wind on her back and ice running through her veins, leaving a trail of tiny crystals in its wake till she is finally frozen, her hand halfway round her daughter’s shoulders.

“Mum?” Laura asks bringing Ellen out of her imaginings.

“Where’s Dad?”

Ellen does not move.  She feels heavy, weighed down into life.  When she answers Laura, her voice is old and steady.  “Gone,” she says and then the rain starts, falling to the ground in wet sheets. 

Ellen has never realised how much noise an empty house makes, there are hums and ticks, taps and creaking sighs.  She sits there, the lights dimmed, a bottle of wine at her feet.  She has put the fire on and it spits and crackles in front of her.  She can do that easily now, piling the rough bolts of wood up, sprinkling kindling over them, lighting the match and holding it close to a splinter of wood till it lights.  When Steve first left, she could never get the fire going, the wood never seemed to catch alight or when it did, the fire quickly faded into a smoky cloud that poured out and wafted up her nose, stinging her eyes.  But now she sits with the glow of the fire across her face.  When she hears the car, she uncurls herself from the chair, stepping over her wine glass, her blanket falling around her feet.  She opens the door before he knocks, letting the cold night air in.  Through the dark, she sees Steve’s frame uncoiling from the car.  When he gets closer, she notices how he hasn’t shaved and his eyes have a worn tired look about them.

They stand in the hallway for a little while, both looking at the towers of boxes that stand against the wall.  “This it, then?” Steve asks into the silence, and she nods back at him feeling lonelier than she has in weeks.  There should be more boxes, she thinks, rows and rows of them stretching from the door right out to the other end of the house.  But instead, there are only about ten or so, neatly lined up, a marriage full of clutter.

“Right, well, I’ve got a trailer so I’ll just load them up,” Steve says to her, slowly running his thumb over the edge of one of the boxes, picking up the dust.

He starts to carry some of the boxes out and Ellen helps him by carrying some of the smaller boxes.  They are heavy on her thin arms but she keeps them close to her body like she has been taught.  She does all the right things, back straight, knees bent, load close but when she is finished, her back still feels tight and her arms still ache.  She still feels the weight of the boxes on her body as she stands in her driveway watching him drive away.  But then maybe she has always felt this heavy in that dark, dark place.

SPRING

            It is a field of gold, blooming in the sunshine.  Ellen can feel the sun on her back and it is good.  She walks through the overgrown park, her legs itching as  they swipe past the blades of grass.  There are bees dancing close to the flowers.  She knows what has drawn them here, she can smell it too, the ripe smell of flowering life.  She bends down, plucks a flower and brings it up to her nose and like her buzzing companions, she drinks it in, inhales it, lets it seep into her.

“Mum! Over here!” Laura calls and Ellen follows her wave.  Ellen looks at how much she has grown, how the baby fat has fallen away so that her daughter sits with lean legs dragging across the ground as she sits on a swing.  Ellen sits on another swing and for awhile, they swing, back and forwards together, their joint laughter ringing across the wide open field.  Then Laura stops, bringing her swing to a holt with her legs.  Ellen stops too then and suddenly, she can feel a quiet that is deafening to her.  The bees have stopped buzzing, there is no quiet breeze, the leaves do not move.

“Mum.  You don’t have to come here anymore,” Laura says to her looking Ellen clear in the eye.

“You don’t want me to come?” Ellen answers, her voice has an injured quality to it, hard but soft.

 Laura shakes her head. “No, no, its not like that.  Its just that… I don’t really need you here anymore.”

Ellen swallows, feeling each muscle as it contracts in her throat.  “You don’t need me anymore? You don’t?”

Laura shakes her head and she is suddenly very solemn, very old.  “Not really.” She gets off her swing and moves to her mother, wraps her fingers round her mother’s hands, whispers into her ear. “And anyway, grandma’s coming.  She’ll look after me.”

Ellen starts to cry and feels her wet tears on her daughter’s cheek.  “This is too much,” she says and Laura starts to wipe her tears away, sliding them off with her sticky hands.

“It’ll be OK, Mum.  She wants to come.  And they need you more,”

“Who?” Ellen says, breathing into her daughter.

“Daddy.  And Daniel.”

“Who’s Daniel?” Ellen asks her but Laura has already got back on her swing.  “Who’s Daniel?” she asks again but Laura has pushed herself off the ground.  Ellen tries to grab hold of her but she can’t for her daughter is swinging high into the sky.

 

The tips of Ellen’s toes touch the edge of the open grave.  She digs her feet into the ground to stop herself from falling in.  A crowd of people have turned up and she can feel their suppressed rustling behind her.  Her sister throws a rose into the grave followed by some dry earth.  Ellen stands there a moment before she draws the picture out of her pocket. She keeps it folded up as she brings it to her lips and gives it a light kiss. She can see the mark of her lips on the white paper.  She lets it drop and it falls into the grave, resting next to the lonely rose.  She steps away, moves to the back of the crowd, feels a breath of fresh cool air as they surge forward and away from her.  She turns away from the grave and as she does, she catches a glimpse of dark black hair, neatly clipped on a tall body, a bright red rose tucked into a pocket, the sunlight on his face.

 

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