Soon after they left the smile died upon my lips. The flickering lights and easy laughs had all been a guise to offer up disillusionment to those who were taking it too hard. They put on a show for me. Wrapped behind their easy laughs was a strain on their souls, second-hand guilt over a death that shuddered up their bones. Kayleigh, with her sheltered life, remaining innocent and wide-eyed. Life still had wonder for her. Isaac too; despite his all-tough exterior and classic YA novel trope of a dark and mysterious brooding love interest. He didn’t understand. She didn’t understand.
“Sing me a lullaby, baby.”
Innocence had flashed like lightning past my eyes— but soon enough the lightning faded and the skies returned to a malicious grey. Dull, impassive, empty. Eyes forever the gateway to a person’s soul. If I had one. I wasn’t entirely convinced of that either.
A cough through gritted teeth.
The smell of popcorn and sugar hung in the air, floating around with the heat from the fire. It was distant somehow. I used to love the fire, rejoice in watching the flames skitter over hot coals and watching the embers dance and twinkle like city lights refracting off the harbour. Fire was a simple boost of serotonin. I looked away, not feeling its mood-boosting abilities today.
I hugged my arms to my chest, palms cold on my warm arms sending my fine hairs into the stem of a rose. If only I wasn’t all thorns and no petals.
𝅘𝅥𝅮 “I am my mother's only one
It's enough” 𝅘𝅥𝅮
I started to pack up, my movements slow and heavy. Bowls clattered into a stack of other bowls, overwhelmingly loud in the silence. I winced but kept going. Any distraction would do.
I thought of Kayleigh, the epitome of Aryan, a perfect specimen of a human being in the eyes of dictatorship. Blue eyes and blonde hair. And now, I can see… Not an important thought between those beautiful eyes. Such a naive face who had never suffered a day in her life. Mean; true. And bitterness became me. But even ill-founded feelings accelerated by sleep deprivation and alcohol shed some light on the face of truth. In my deepest pit of despair, that’s when the truths would be singled out from the lies.
𝅘𝅥𝅮 “Only love is all maroon
Gluey feathers on a flume
Sky is womb and she's the moon
I am my mother on the wall, with us all
I move in water, shore to shore;
Nothing's more” 𝅘𝅥𝅮
A cough racked her body, sending her spine roiling and tensing, rising up off the bed before thudding back down. Blood came away from her handkerchief and she folded it into her nightgown, every attempt to hide her condition from me.
The bowls had clattered to the ground, smashing pieces across the floor. A ceramic work of art. At some point, my back had also hit the wooden floorboards. I lay sprawled in the dark, nought but the firelight to illuminate the darkness. Golden flickerings licking up my skin, casting the other half in a deeper shadow.
It could have been hours before a light flicked on and Isaac came into the room. Isaac, my longest friend. Not quite the inseparable pair you see in movies, more just a couple of people thrown together out of convenience. Two people that stuck by each other’s side as it was easier that way. Meant I had someone to talk to about light-hearted matters, someone to work with on school projects when the teacher demanded we be in groups.
𝅘𝅥𝅮 “Only love is all maroon
Lapping lakes like leary loons
Leaving rope burns
Only love is all maroon
Gluey feathers— ” 𝅘𝅥𝅮
“Just go, baby girl. I’ll be okay for tonight.”
“Pass me that there water before you go, be a good dear.”
I passed her the glass, my hands trembling and sending the water splish-sploshing like a tidal wave.
“You need your sleep. Look after yourself now.”
A silent tear ran down my face, mama was too proud. My voice was choked and the breath removed from my lungs, I couldn’t speak, only nod.
Hand to her heart ‘I love you’.
Hand to my heart ‘I love you too’.
Isaac murmured some reassurance, but he could have been anyone. He could have been a stranger. He was a stranger. It was not that I didn’t cherish those moments where he stood by me on insignificant matters, but it was just that I didn’t believe in him anymore. He no longer understood me. Just like Kayleigh, he would never really understand what was meant by the over-simplified term “broken-hearted”. In the aftermath of what I had happened, I was realising what I wanted most in life. And it was not him. I didn’t care about him, he was an object in my life. Inconsequential. He made me restless, locked down under ball and chain, unable to move without him moving with me. Every breath I would take would be laboured with him around me. He was suffocating, deafening, in the way of my true successes. He would say I was not thinking properly, that this grief had driven me mad, made me cold and unfeeling. But he was wrong; it had made me feel. Too much, too soon, I could feel it all. The way it unlocked the world’s deepest secrets to me, beckoning and screeching my name, I followed emotions like will ‘o the wisps and sunk beneath the chilling waters of a lake, drowning for all the feelings I had to feel.
I suddenly looked up at him, eyes yanking down their sheaths in a blink to defend themselves from the light.
“I need to be alone.”
Whatever he had been saying was cut short, he was steam-rolled mid-sentence. Mid-‘comforting’. At least he had tried, hopefully that would spare his conscience. After all, I didn’t hate him. No more than a human would hate a fly. He blinked a few times— slowly, before exiting the room without another word.
The next morning I rushed to mama’s room. Too late.
She lay cold and blue like an undersea hag, veins too bright against the too-pale skin. I touched my fingers to her neck, feeling for any sign of a fluttering heartbeat. Checked her wrist too. Double-checking, triple-checking.
There was nothing.
“Mama?” I sobbed.
I broke down against her chest, the soothing rise and fall no longer. I was alone, feeling the dagger of grief ripping into my heart and slicing jaggedly through my arteries, letting the blood spill out through my open chest. But when I looked, no physical evidence of the agony I was feeling was to be found.
Not knowing who else to call, my shaking hands rang for the ambulance…
I put a hand over my heart, whispering into the lonely night, “I love you, mama”.
*The lullaby is Bon Iver's song 'Flume', I do not own it*