By: Gabriella Symss
One eye began to come unglued from sleep and punitive morning light struck with raucous determination through the crack. A wad of cotton sat inside her skull accompanying the mildest taste of bile at the back of her throat. The room smelled like old fever and underwear.
There were voices outside the window falling like wrapping knuckles against a door. She wanted to move away from them all and retreat to a corner where the light would not stretch. She tried to turn over but couldn’t. The smell finally came to her along with the damp heat of the rubber guarding the mattress. With a sigh of submission she closed her eyes and felt no more guilt for peeing the bed.
When she was five years old she would often watch her father shave before work in the mornings. He had one of those blades that looked like mini butcher’s knives. He was clean and exquisite about it, sliding the razor’s edge along his skin in identical, halting motions, letting his pale wrist create the only movement in the green tiled bathroom as honey coloured light fell from a small window overhead, his watch dial catching it and sending a subdued beam into her eyes, twinkling, as her father’s upward stroke made it vanish almost as soon as it had appeared, his skin looking more and more like freshly plucked and washed chicken.
She loved the stories he would tell her on Sunday nights as a bargain to get her to attend church on Sunday mornings. He made them up on the cuff, stories about little girls who rowed boats to the point where three rivers met to find a gate to another world. Stories about talking kitchen utensils or birds that built nests made of enchanted spider’s thread. Her mother thought it was sweet sometimes and at others complained about how much the girl was being spoilt. It depended.
The story telling always made her feel like her bedroom had become detached from the rest of the house. Now they were far away in a field somewhere. At times it was a field and at times it was a beach with calming waves crashing imaginarily just outside her window; the one with the peeling drawing of a parrot stuck on the right hand corner of the pane. This one time it was in the middle of a corn field and even she didn’t quite fully know why.
Now both eyes come unglued. The light outside is no longer pale but burning with the uncomfortable edge of a summer afternoon. She counts to three in her head and forces herself to roll. She claws at the bed sheet and peels it back, but as it meets her body realises she is too tired to continue. She needs help. Assistance.
The lady her children arranged must be running late. She hopes that she gets here soon. There is a deep pain in her legs, making her close her eyes once more. She grits her teeth and feels the full weakness of her limbs. The same limbs that propelled her through running track in high school and wrapped tightly around the two men she had loved and the two she had not. The same limbs that had danced awkwardly at every social gathering she had been railroaded into but kind of ended up enjoying. Her beautiful and oldest friend standing off to the side but somehow wrangling the limelight with her wherever she went.
The first time she truly knew the meaning of the word enraged was when her father left her mother. Her mother crumpled into a quilt on her spring mattress with the springs half gone. Her aunts came to the house nearly every day and said they were there to help her mother and herself but she suspected half of them came to sit and shake a metaphorical head at the cautionary tale of a bad wife, allowing herself to sip on the terrifying thrill of what-if while scampering back to the safe alcoves of ‘not my husband, he’d never’.
There was a lot of food being made but not a lot of eating so most of it was later packed away neatly into plastic containers whose colours changed the look of the contents into something sickly and inedible. But then everything looked like mush at that moment.
The woman breezed in apologising over and over again. She said she had been held up in the hospital with her son who had fallen and split his lip and needed stitches.
The bed linen was stripped and she was given a sponge bath. She was placed back in bed softly but with an assurance of body that this was her world now. This was where she belonged, the whole sphere of one’s existence shrinking to this adjustable hospital bed that her son and daughter had brought in many months ago. She had begged them to let her die in her own home but she should have also begged them to let her die in her own bed.
They liked to go to the movies once a month. It usually happened the day after payday. She remembered dragging her mother to go see Jaws. Her mother hated sharks but loved Robert Shaw. Another thing she hated was chewing gum but they each bought a stick in peppy pink before leaving the theatre anyway. When they were home again they sat in the kitchen with the back door open and her mother said that since she was going off to college it was okay that she smoked her first cigarette, not knowing it wasn’t the first.
The kitchen had faded yellow curtains the same colour as the dishcloth that they used to wipe down plates. There was the faintest trace of something stale in the air when they entered but the open door combined with just sitting there was making it disappear from sense. She had the urge then, for the first time since he had left, to ask her mother about her father. But the whole thing felt like too much of a betrayal so she held her piece and poured them both the last of the lemon juice they had squeezed in the afternoon and left in the fridge inside a glass jar with the peeling, spread out print of geometric orange flowers that made her want to throw the thing violently against a wall.
The indigo evening is the subdued whisper of a newly hushed circle of secret tellers. She hears no noise outside her window except the distant scrapping of some helpless female cat trying to get away from its rapacious male. The window glass is not too frosted but she can tell that it is cool to the touch.
Her son has just left to have dinner with his pregnant wife. The woman is pregnant for the fourth time, which she thinks is a bit much, but they all expected her to show some type of joy when they told her. She does not expect to live to see this latest grandchild, who her daughter-in-law keeps assuring everyone feels like it’ll be a girl.
The other woman from the care agency that comes to stay the night is already here, in the living room. She is pouring over some files and won’t be in to start ‘putting her down’ for another hour. That’s the term she heard her use on the phone with someone once. The use seems apt to her now as she feels the unavailing weight of her infant-like limbs once more, existing mutely under the thick brown blanket.
The yowling of the cat has died at some point without her full attention. A wind picks up and grows steadily outside. She sees this without feeling it, the budding gale gathering with intent over the rooftops and trees whose leaves are now just beginning to slip away. Her hand lays on her deflated body, against a paper skinned torso that once armoured two human beings who grew and yelled and made a small piece of the world their own, being terrified of it all the while. She had acted like she wasn’t terrified too. Now the silent omens of rain raced before her eyes, letting the black umbra of tossed branches twist themselves defiantly. She stared hard at the window hoping it would shatter. She ached underneath more than she had ever done in that familiar room; needing the beating of the timeless night winds against her finite face.