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Article

Stifling

On Wednesday, we stayed indoors all day pretending we weren’t there. Shadows ran long down the curtained hallways, and we, goldfish yearning for a shaft of sunlight, climbed, twisted, contorted under windowpanes.

content warning: allusions to domestic violence, blood, death

Summer dust settled on the indolent, blue and fair, springing ridiculous and shooting through something. The lilies of the valley sang in open letters, petals closing in on us as we drank iced tea, unsweetened, on the dusky rotting porch. It was when I began to collect dirt that I learned of it, between the frantic blue lumps that stopped scarring Mum’s face. I was taught to remember darkness, how it snaked into our bedrooms with all ten fingers held wide and limber.

The lorikeet’s whistling song woke us abruptly, with Mum echoing in the kitchen I am afraid. It was autumn, and the music slithered through windows in rings of smoke. From the countryside, Grandma stoked the lawn—her face faded and yellowing after dark soil. A grave woman, she said to keep quiet and we did.

Mum’s eyes said child, we are done for, and winter never came. The grasses turned black and tall in the orchid heat somewhere near the year’s end. We came and left by the money which changed hands, red-ripened by the apple harvest on old hills where things used to grow. Grandma’s eyes became milky and fish-like, planting stories in town with turned wrists; we were friends with our neighbours then.

On Wednesday, we stayed indoors all day pretending we weren’t there. Shadows ran long down the curtained hallways, and we, goldfish yearning for a shaft of sunlight, climbed, twisted, contorted under windowpanes. I had my father’s hair, and my mother never kissed my head—not even then, hunkered down with my eyes welled with tears. The sun sliced us sideways while we held the air hostage in our chests. Mum said don’t make a sound.

The summer returned, and Grandma called Mum hysteric. I played with mounds of worms in welters of dried leaves. The earth festered like congealed blood and bugs filled the gutter of my throat. Mum’s face was painted and gossamer by the door, a rabbit in her ribcage, ticking, pounding, and her jaw clicking. Grandma’s nails kept my jagged elbow in hand, and I pieced the slabs together between Mum’s swollen stance and the car in the driveway. Mum made no sound, and she met the steps stumbling.

Grandma yelled at me for acting and making jokes; I was a jester while Mum held court. She would kick me outside, saying she couldn’t bear to look at my face. I liked to stand in the middle of the road and stare down until the street converged in on itself. I’d stand for as long as I could and listen for the rumble, then I’d slap my feet against the bitumen to make a quick escape from the oncoming car.

We had too many chairs in our house after Grandma died. I slept through the wake, but I heard my aunts ask where Dad was in the way old prune-mouthed gossips do. Mum held me and cried through the night. We didn’t call that place home anymore, and even though the backyard was dirty and I never saw my friends anymore, I didn’t want to go. I supposed I didn’t have to worry about where I’d play— Grandma always said the dirt followed me where I went anyway. Still, Mum smacked me when I clung to the front door.

The motel rooms glowed with neon signs. The seasons stopped changing. We didn’t live anywhere now, we lived everywhere now and Mum was afraid of every new car in the lot.

 
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