I’m sorry for my absence. Just as I hide from my family, to hide from myself, I hide from you. I am fourteen years in age and occupying a mad haze. It is not my age, or lack of it, that brings the fog to me. In fact, everyone I know is engulfed in it. My father pretends he’s blind to it, but he sighs so often, hugs me so firm. My mother sees it plain as darkness, she heaves her heaviness around, carrying the mist in clenched knuckles. All rage. Inside our flat, the bare mustard walls and easy plastic furniture drag their feet, having inhaled too much dread. Our paintings are boxed up to be sold, and the place looked better when they were on display. They give me the taste of rich plum, the smile of stained teeth, and the memory of laughter.
We used to live between the silent river and windless park; in Alexander Avenue. Mother and father used to kiss there, to hold each, to hold me too. In the evenings we would sprawl on the floor with the warm curl of a sheepskin between our toes, the fire reddening our ears, their cheeks warm from sweet spirits. Our stomachs were stretched with beef just dead. I felt full and happy.
We have replaced soft carpets with scratchy interchanges. I woke last night in a crash of sweat. My windows had blown open and the wind was strong, but my body ached of heat. It had taken me ages to get to sleep. I was dreaming of white walls and beds again, and a man named Felix Fixing. He is tall, warm, caring – but sick. Last night, he was swinging his arms back and forwards terribly, cradling thin air and calling out for baby Annabelle. Sometimes I wish I could call out too. I might call out for the old priest and the packed-up paintings. I’d definitely call out for my girl child too; wide of eye, spreading and spreading herself like paint across the soft floor, smiling. I would not want anyone to hear me calling though. Asleep, I see Felix again, shuddering as Doctor Maxime enters the room. Maxime’s herd of feet are so angry as he steps towards Felix.
“How do you feel in the mornings?” he rushes over the word feel, drawing out the morning’s words with his thick heavy tongue. Felix shakes his head, shifting in his seat.
“But your headaches are improving. Don’t forget that.”
“If you say so,” replies Felix, before calling out for Annabelle.
I bang my head against the stain steel metal bed frame, my sheets are unwashed, like me stained with grey. I look outside. It is dark still, the streetlights flicker outside, and I see a cat gnawing through the bins. The light of morning seems to be getting further away rather than closer. I go to my blank mirror, happy to be alone, and in the dark, and for the day to not have begun. “How do you feel in the mornings?” I say to myself as I brush my hair through with a wry, knowing smile.
I reply, “I miss the waning nights when we could walk past the palace from the ale house, and father would carry me in his strong arms. I miss not sighing into bed alone, but having two by my side with stories and soft touch. I wish I could go outside. I miss being wrapped up in soft gloves and hats and playing at skipping and other childish games. But these have gone with our gloves and coats. We must sit inside and bear it all without discussion. My head grumbles, and my stomach too, wincing at how my body has to stop climbing and jumping and must instead obediently trot. My body is now behind the walls – always in between them not outside them.”
I look in the mirror, when I look more closely, I see Felix about to cry. Maxime is going to use cold water to shock him into sanity. He is frustrated that Felix has now been ill for quite this long. He pokes his hands in his wounds. He has to feel them to believe them. Felix begins to cry. I feel him now, all of the time. Not just dreaming, but in the river’s cry, in the bird’s flight, in the friend’s embrace. I see Doctor Maxime too. In the mud outside, in the toilet water.
“Pear!” mother cries.
I’m right here, mother. Under the table listening out for Felix and sinking into the panelled floor sticky with last night’s spills. I feel closer to Felix lower down. My powers of observation are definitely stronger here. Mothers are strong everywhere. Last night, I caught her scoffing up my diary. She slinked out of my room full of shame. She was hot and embarrassed but I found it funny. It was a relief to me in some ways that she knows who I’m listening out for.
I spied on her today, by happy accident. She had left notes on the table, notes on me. Distracted, stubborn, silent. Details of when I go to the toilet and when I brush my teeth. Who for? She kept a note that I had stuck to my mirror weeks ago, I had noticed it went missing a few days ago. It was just to remind me to be more like Felix; kinder, stronger. I tried that today, locking mother and father out when they went to work and drawing all the sun-bleached curtains. They are rarely out of the house, so I was glad of the privacy. I was happy to be free of them, in the darkness, ringing around for Annabelle.
“Her father loves her dearly!” I remind myself, as my mother bursts into the room. My mother, Maxime.
Display Image Credit: Scarlett Croft