11 June 2019

(Content Warning: mention of drowning)

First they asked me about the pigeons. They were always running away, and we were always chasing them. Why do we always chase them? Why do the trees stoop down in cold weather, then stand up straight again? Why is night dark, and morning bright? I told them, I don’t know. I don’t know. What am I, a scientist?

I found a boy sitting on my verandah one day. He was different from the others because he was calm. Crimson scars climbed his skin. A sort of hum escaped his lips, a bit of rumbling and a bit of whistling. Melissa was also humming, although a different song. A sadder song, something like ‘Lover By The Sea’, her body swaying gently. She was small, and the pot she cradled came up to her neck so it looked like her head was bobbing inside, resurfacing and drowning again.

“Soup? It’s good for the soul, you know,” she said, still swaying, still carrying. The contents careened dangerously to one side, then the other. I was tempted to shout at her, Jesus, woman, put that down, but I didn’t.

“I don’t like soup. The children used to smell it on me and joke that a witch is softening me up for dinner.”

I sighed, raising a cup to my lips. The girl named Sarah was the worst of them all. Upon first sight, she was the typical angelic child with curly pigtails and big, blue eyes. Her parents were kind and warm, telling me I seemed like the perfect teacher, ‘so young and talented!’ On the first day, however, she came over and smiled at me before vomiting on my pants. There was a book called Aesthetic Nudism that I kept in my bag, and she stole it and began ‘reading’ with much vigour, and when I confiscated it, she seemed to decide I was her mortal foe. She called me Mister Dragon and explained to the others in a loud, honeyed voice, that dragons always die in the happy endings. She told them this with her palms clasped, like a mother passing on some solemn news.

I was tempted to smack her across the head, but of course I couldn’t. Someone would have arrested me. My life would have crumbled. Still, I was almost convinced that something evil lived inside her—like a leech sucking out a poor child’s thoughts and replacing them with corrupted ones. Maybe it was her smile, the way it stretched a little too wide—or maybe it was the darkening of her eyes while she watched me, something flickering in their midst.

Halfway through the year, one of them stopped coming to school. There was an unattended stove. We went to his house once to pay our respects and everything was black, as if a hole had opened up and swallowed all the colour. I quite liked him, although I couldn’t now recall his name. Sarah took over his seat—which, she claimed, was the best in the whole class—and the boy’s best friend burst into tears.

“Mister, why aren’t you doing anything?” she cried to me. “Look at her, look at her!”

And I did look, and Sarah looked back, and she giggled. I left the next day.

“Oh, honey.” Melissa pouted her lips, giving me the same sympathetic look she always did when I talked about the school. At the same time, her eyes were laughing. It was a little unsettling, and I edged away from her.

“They need an art instructor at the campus, I’ve heard. What do you think? It might be good for you to get out of the house again.”

But I was shaking my head before she finished her sentence.

“Too many things, Melly. They’re waiting for me, all of them. I told you this before.”

“Oh, honey, facing fears is a part of life. Why don’t you try walking out? To our front porch? Just a few steps out and then you can come back in again. Please. Do it for me.”

I felt it at night, her silent fuming, the anger rippling off her skin like smoke—her husband, a coward, a man who could do nothing, somebody for her friends to laugh at. If only I could have died at sea! The brave, noble warrior contending those tempestuous waves, writing letters filled with poetry to my lover, being conquered by a force of nature and mouldering on the ocean floor tangled in kelp.

I looked at the verandah and he was still there, half staring at me and half not, his lips puckered in a silent hum. There was no mockery in his gaze. Just waiting. On a whim, I walked toward him, searching those eyes which were never a particular colour. They were dark under the shade. Golden when the sun hit.

But sometimes also grey, and when they were grey I had a feeling he was turning to ash and everything was fading.

The glass door slid open and I stood beside him. There was a rustiness to the fresh air that struck at my nose, an icy dagger digging deeper.

“What song is that you’re humming?” I asked, and he stopped, then started again. It was like bees but also a machine rumbling. A roaring something.

“You’re not supposed to be here. You’re all just taking turns to terrorise me, I know. But I won’t take it anymore. I won’t!”

I took a step back, almost gasping. My chest throbbed.

“You’re dead goddamnit and you’re not supposed to be here…”

He giggled.

“But I am here, aren’t I?”


“Did you wish for her to die?” he asked, his voice sing-songy but also deep. I was still thinking of Sarah so her image floated into mind. How long had it been? There was a newspaper article, just a small section about the drowning accident. I never left the house. How long had it been?

“Why would I wish that? Jesus.”

But he smiled, humming again that weird sound. A bursting something. A fire crackling.

Why do we chase birds so much? We like to watch them run. Watch the fear reach them and consume their shivering wings. They can escape at any time. They can escape.

Why do the trees stoop down in cold weather, then stand up straight again? It’s a secret but the trees bend down to sleep. They are too tired.

Why is night dark, and morning bright? Sometimes the being above closes his eyes to stop seeing.

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