Prose

Changeling

21 May 2018

A year from emigrating to Australia, we stayed on the Jurassic coast, wet but green. The soil there is moist with worms and squelching mud in the summer, my sister and I rolling about endlessly, naked and howling. Dorset in the rain smells so alive it’s scary. You scale one hillock, tumble over and then you’re lost in emerald feathers. You cry, loudly—like a toddler at Kew Gardens—to divert the fields’ attention.

I straightened. A boy my age was staring.

He was wearing a coat of leaves, the body and genitals covered in poultice. I’ve always known when mirrors lie. His face, though, was my dad’s fly lure, tremoring over a lake body, my gums reddening when I brushed too deliberately, the desire to chew with my mouth open, the wasps I’d seen fumigated by mum in our roof, their nest like a football. I gazed hungrily as he pointed to a mound of earth on my left—his right—nails bark-splintered.

“Dig.” Obeying, raking fingers. His eyes were yellow. I stopped when the first flash of teeth broke the earth. Yellowing smiles.

“Sometimes you forget,” he said, stepping towards me. “We’re taken, for His tally. You come, but forget.” He was clutching a bluestone rock. “You think you’re the real child,”

The next thing I remember is my mum and dad, red-faced, gasping, swabbing me down with handkerchiefs before gripping me tightly. The rock was in my hand, sticky, smelling funny. The hole in the earth was bigger, white radiating from the mulch like a treasure hoard. I asked who they belonged to. They didn’t look when they said naturally, “It’s a cow, bunny, just a cow.”


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