Flammable materials

She’s fallen asleep on my chest. Her little arms flop around my sides while I push her up and down with big breaths. I try to  imagine how it must feel; the heartbeat, the airway, the warmth, as womb like as possible since exiting the real thing.

In this moment, I know exactly what I’m doing. No doubts, no distractions, just the purity of looking after a helpless being that needs my care and protection.

Then you come in and I feel tension stab at my bubble. At least you can’t shout at me for not helping, but still it’s there; a flame waiting to spark.

It’s source is tiredness, the deep and withering kind. This is added to by frustration at being denied a life in order to care for another. Additional combustion comes from a sense of guilt about daring to feel that way.

All that’s needed are a few words.

What’s the matter?

Nothing!

And we’re off.

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Not in this family 

Gayle held the pot to her abdomen as she stood in the middle of the front garden.

“How about here, Sophie? What do you think?”

Sophie contorted her mouth and looked down at the gravel space that was plugged with tufts of grass. Then she shrugged.

“Okay.”

“I think this is a good spot,” added Gayle. “It’ll get plenty of light.” She bent down slowly, her hands trembling a little under the weight. But she managed to set the plant down and then straighten up. Only then did she realise she had broken a sweat across her forehead.

“Mum,” uttered Jane, by her side. “You should’ve just let me…”

Gayle hissed and backhanded the air as if preventing the words from ever arriving. Jane shrunk and Gayle had to bite down on the scorn that threatened to leave her lips. Was she ever going to toughen up?

Gayle returned her attention to Sophie.

“You must remember to water it everyday, especially when it’s hot. Then, one day it will grow into a bright, yellow sunflower.”

“Say thank you, Grandma,” murmured Jane.

“Thank you,” replied Sophie, twisting on the ball of her foot and breaking into a grin.

Gayle looked at her fresh, sun-blushed face and then to the gap in her lower front teeth, which Sophie tongued habitually as if it was the source of some new and delightful flavour.

Jane smiled back, feeling satisfied. It seemed the spirit had merely skipped a generation.

“Well, it should brighten things up a bit,” said Jane, with a sigh.

Her gaze wandered upwards to the gritty facade of the new house and suddenly, Gayle wanted to tell her how it was so much more. How the flower was a symbol of hope, of a new beginning and soon, how it would be something to remember her by once the thing or things, growing inside her, took hold.

But she didn’t, of course. It wasn’t the way. Not in this family. She could only give her doe-eyed daughter a hard look as she turned to her, side on.

“Cup of tea?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

Why

 

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“Why?” screams Charlie. “Why?” His little voice wavers into falsetto tones as he swings his bag against a parked car.
“Because I already bought you one, now come on!” She senses eyes on her, but they’re nothing new, like a lifetime of mosquitoes.

Charlie’s wailing seems to take the capacity out of his legs, so she drags his flaying body along behind the pushchair. Meanwhile, Hayley starts to mimic her brother and the noise jabs. “Shutup, both of you!”

The sun is heating up the hard ground and sweat breaks out in the creases of her body. Strangely, the chorus of yelling from behind the gates is a comfort, absorbing her own wretched voice. She watches Charlie traipse into the melee of children with a gaze that’s already fading.

Back home, busted toys and unopened bills pave the way to the kitchen. She finds a half-pack and lights one up, sucking hard at it like its fresh air while she checks her phone for anything. In the background, Hayley is screeching again, but its her own whys that reverberate the loudest against the flaking walls.