Come my child and dry your eyes and walk the earth with me
The baby is plump and well cared for, giggling and snatching the air with delight as the small words explode their mysterious promise like coloured bubbles above him. His eyes catch a stray thread of sunlight and he stares transfixed into a hallucinogenic web of a priori images, meaningless and delightful. The cat arches and undulates on the window ledge creating shifting inky silhouettes. Crumbling leather bound books, long over due, tower above the table, their lean shadows standing attention like sentries. The baby lets loose with a stream of meticulously articulated babble, addressing himself to an unseen presence. The shadows? The wind?
She opens the old pine cupboard carefully (the door is half hanging off the latch) and removes a softly worn pale blue dress, slipping it over her head, brushing her hair with quick sure strokes, her face before the baby’s—a broad, pale speaking moon stacking words like glass beads on a thread
Not to seek but to speak of kings and fools and thumbnail frogs and Babiroussa Indian hogs and liddle biddle puppy dogs
Three garments hang in the old hutch fluttering like ghosts in the June wind. A smart red coat with brass buttons is folded at the bottom. Once there had been boxes of clothes, colours and fabrics and styles to suit any mood or weather collected from sales and thrift shops, culled from attic trunks, niggling memories settled in the weaves, the lights and shades of strange lives, murmuring against her skin until she felt suffocated, fixed in a kaleidoscopic spiral moving but never changing, no room for the new. One late moonless night she had bagged the lot and dragged it to the steps of Oxfam, came home, her long hair sparkling in the mist, and waited. And waited.
She cleans the table slowly moving to the tune of a silly song lodged in her brain and continually replaying, carefully arranging a spoon, matches, water and a small bag of white powder, onto a white cloth. She tips the last of the powder into the spoon, mixes it with water and lights a match beneath it slowly heating the mixture while cooing to the baby.
Shall we make a cocktail of your tears to sprinkle on the tigerlilies, marigolds and rose? Shall we watch the phantoms evanesce in ochre and vermilion light? Speak to flowers of their purpose?
The baby gurgles as she takes a small wadge of cotton and places it in the spoon, watching it suck up the liquid and grow soggy. She pokes the needle into its centre, pulls back the plunger and draws the mixture up.
She taps the vein in her right arm and then taps again. She takes a stocking and wraps it twice around, holding the end in her teeth inserting the needle into the engorged vein, releasing the stocking with a warm sigh. She pulls back the plunger, the needle still in her, and watches the syringe fill up with her blood with vampiric fascination. She pushes the plunger back in and then pulls it out, teasing it in, a little more each time, booting it back and forth. The stocking lies like an adoring serpent at her feet.
A monarch butterfly circles the room. The baby cranes to watch its flight and bangs his tiny fist with glee. The relaxing heat of the drug spreads through her like soft fire. She sees for an instant the whole net-work laid out, veins, arteries, delicate tributaries pulsating ultra-violet in her mind’s eye. She rolls her head around her neck, empties the syringe into her arm, slides out the needle pressing hard on the spot with a cotton as she does.
She rinses the spoon and the syringe carefully, replacing them in their little wooden box. Its curly veneer forms maiden’s hair, ancient woods, little licking flames. She picks up the baby and rocks his dumpling weight against her, stroking ginger hairs back from his temples and silently thanks Geoff for this numbing gift that now wrapped her days in poppy seed splendour, half-dozing like Dorothy, the land of Oz flickering in and out of view, the dull throb of summer’s days and the grey edge of winter’s melting away.
She rubs her lower lip gently through the downy fuzz and kisses the fontanel, pressing her lips into the delicate trampoline of skin, again and again. She places the baby back in his basket and gives him a bright violet scarf to play with. He holds it above his head admiring it in the light rapidly squashing and opening it like an accordion, wheezing cheerfully.
She rummages in the basket beneath her feet until she finds the baby’s flannel all-in-one with the hole in the knee. She threads the needle and begins to sew, rocking herself slightly in time with her pulse. Each stitch like a day in the life, some shorter, some longer, but all inevitably following one upon the other spreading out across the landscape of peach flannel like steps imbedded in the dust of a lane on a fine spring day. The strains of her father’s cello mingling with the crickets and the screeches of manic grasshopper’s staccato leaping as she lay hidden in the grass, limbs careless, sucking on ice cubes, hiding from the call of her mother, first plaintive then furious until the ground shook with gargantuan thuds and a hand swoops down scything the grass and a startled rush swoops high and her scream meld with its cry. Honey, watch out for snakes in the grass, her father had warned.
mama is a gilded thread, her golden web around me woven, her vein the thread, father needle, every swallowed man in foetus form crawls out again
“Mamamamamama” the baby stuffs the violet scarf in its mouth. She grabs it away, limp with spittle and stares at the little clown face with out-sized purple lips. She wets a cloth from the basin and wipes away the purple until a pale lavender bruise is all that remains. The baby plucks the air and wiggles, its face crumples and enflames.
She picks up the bottle from the dresser and plunges the nipple into the silky howling orifice. The baby sucks noisily, kicking its covers and staring at her.
She lays the scarf in the sink and turns on the tap, letting the water rush over her fingers. She closes her eyes and thinks of waterfalls, of cool streams scented berry rich the humid scrumble of black earth between toes…and the newness that had entered her life, the someone, unexpected and dew fresh, untouched by travail, smooth skinned and those seamless irises and the strong arms that had heaved her up like Nuryev and Fonteyn, holding her close in the night, telling her of the orchids of Belize and the volcanoes of Indonesia until the stars faded from the sky, the soft words dropping like blossoms from his silky pink tongue forming paradises of the far away until one day she woke to find him gone and leaned out the window just in time to see his silhouette against the rising sun, his long arms swinging, his kiss still burning on her brow.
Threads of blackout violet swirl in the basin becoming lighter and lighter, forming small hypnotic whirlpools in the white shell. She looks into the mirror and examines herself: plain, symmetrical, round-nosed, round-cheeked and round-eyed beneath startled crescent moon brows, fawn coloured hair radiating a crown of pale plumage.
She watches the clock, its small dividing hands journeying in tandem with the sun measuring the units that form the rhythm of her life. She picks up the baby and places him in the dark blue pram, picks up the half drunk bottle from the floor, rinses the nipple, pops it in the plastic swinging pouch and negotiates the narrow stairs wheel barrow style.
Outside the sun leaps forward then retreats behind the trees. The land swerves out and back, curling up, rolling and spreading like a supplicant beneath it. The clouds move slowly, stunned sheep in the blue sky. She buries herself in a rose.
To her left is a huge hedge row, to her right an expanse of field sloping around the earth. Someone unseen is tuning a violin. She slips off her dress and feels the sun soak through to her bones like an x-ray, the wind lapping at her skin. The baby reaches fruitlessly to snatch the revolving blue and green world. There is the sound of a car in the distance and she slips back on her dress just before it rounds the corner into view. In the distance a violin’s scratchy moan ascends and descends scales. The notes soar up into the rushing leaves.
She arrives before the peeling ochre door of a small farmhouse and knocks softly. Before long the door is opened by a beefy, red-faced man, flushed and solemn. She tilts back her pram and eases it up the stairs, bringing it to rest beside the large oak table in the kitchen. She presses her fingers to her lips. The baby is sleeping. The room is large and bare.
They walk up the stairs to the bedroom: soft floral, worn but basically unchanged by a century of births and deaths, now curling at the edges and weeping with hidden stores of dust for the woman gone to ash.
The man removes his trousers and lays them carefully across the back of a white spindle-backed chair. She reaches for the rope of flesh across his thigh. He moves her hand, taking her hair at the back of her neck to push her down, pressing and pulling, her head bobbing like a wire necked doll, a ball in the road, a rose in the wind. She stares at a worn spot that decapitates a blossom in the ornamental pattern of the carpet. She retreats to wash, looks in the mirror and sees a little clown with out-sized purple lips, pulls her fingers through her hair to smooth it, straightens her dress and thinks of ice skating on a puddle of glass in the cold night air.
He is dressed and waiting at the bottom of the stairs. As she passes he presses a note in the palm of her hand. Their eyes do not meet. She surreptitiously checks the amount, takes the baby and goes.
With quick forceful steps she pushes herself through the air, faster, faster, faster, her muscles tightening and lengthening, the baby blinking back the light. At the shop she buys eggs and milk and wholemeal bread and apples and cheese. She breaks off a piece for the baby to suck. She buys an Italian ice from a local boy’s cart and looks away when he winks at her cheerfully as he gives her change. His pale freckled face flushes.
She takes the baby to a small wood near the edge of town, places him on his belly on a carpet of lavender bluebells. She nestles up against her favourite tree, its ancient roots curve ‘round her like arms. She lifts the baby up and breathes in his vanilla milk scent. The moon is ringed and writhing like Medusa. The ground is stone cold. She gives him his bottle rocking him up against her as she carves her name in the shelf of fungus spiralling up the tree.
The baby laughs at a magnificent unknown joke and bangs the earth with his bottle, carving a circular dent in the velvet moss. She pulls a blanket from the back and tucks it around him and then tilts and swerves the pram over an obstacle course of bramble back to the street. She is sniffling now, in need of a fix. The temperature has dropped and she is trembling and sweating. The cars veer perilously close in the dark.
He is sitting there, waiting for her on the steps of the rooming house. “Hey, I was just about to leave.”
“Good thing you didn’t.”
“Yeah, you don’t look too good.”
He grabs the front of the pram and they angle it up. He sits down at the table sliding aside books and cups with his black booted foot, stretching out his thin black-trouser legs. He pulls out a small plastic pack and flicks it with his middle finger. “Good stuff, this.”
She stares greedily, wiping her nose. His eyes glitter and his small tongue flicks across his teeth like an asp’s. “I’ll give you a hit gratis, if you let me do it.”
She offers her arm. He caresses the soft alabaster, pale as a trout’s belly. “A new set of works, just for you.”
She nods impatiently. He prepares the mixture deftly, pulls it up into the syringe and then holding it up with the practised expertise of a doctor, presses the liquid up until a tiny drop escapes, squeezing out the air. He flicks the syringe. His fingers are long and heavy with silver. Two fingers nails on his right hand are longer than the others for guitar plucking and cocaine snorting. He pulls a thin gold scarf from around his neck, twists it in a tourniquet around her arm, then expertly pops the needle in. The scarf falls away and slithers to the floor, a sliver of gold in the dark room. His jaw drops heavy with desire and his torso moves with the rhythm of the plunger, booting the blood and the dope. His shadow looms huge against the wall. Her eyes roll back in her head. “God. It’s strong.”
He empties the syringe inside her and slowly withdraws it. She stumbles and falls back on the bed. “The room is moving. Where’s the vertical hold button?” He laughs. “I’m serious,” she says.
He hoists her up and wets a cloth to place on her brow. “Better now?”
“Good stuff, hey?”
“If you like a little hemlock with your tea.”
Her nose was dry now, her eyes glazed, the pupils contracted to reptilian points, the irises hazy yellow in the dim light.
He entwines his skinny arms around her waist and presses his flaccid lips to hers. His shadow enfolds her on the wall like Dracula’s cape. She feebly pushes him away.
“So, you’re too good for me?” He says, inferring the opposite.
“A kiss is for love, Geoff.”
His eyes lengthen and go hard. The baby begins to whimper. “You’d better go, now.”
“Aren’t we forgetting something?” He tosses a small white pack onto the table. She fishes in her bag and hands him a wad of bills. He counts. “Not quite, but it’ll do. You’re lucky I’m a nice guy.”
He tips an imaginary hat and saunters out the door. She watches him walk down the lane, his shadow stretching like daddy-long-legs behind him. Her head begins to nod. She can’t keep her eyes open but feels ill when they’re closed. The drug is pushing her down, like a diver too far below sea. Panic bubbles in her chest and subsides. The baby has fallen asleep against her. She moves towards the bed swimming in cool light, slips under the covers pulling the baby close, anchoring herself against the rocking room. “Shh. Shh.” She hushes the silent sleeping boy. The moon stares down in the blackness. She burrows her nose into the baby’s soft hair and drifts on the scent. Vanilla milkshakes. Sugarbabies