by Dawn Rose
The bank here is undercut enough to be able to sit on its edge, feet immersed, toes stirring stones. To my left the arc of the iconic bridge that spans the deeper dredged waterway. To my right the broadening estuary. It’s a beautiful view with the tide high at that still moment of turn. The sun setting behind me, etching lengthening shadows in a shifting gold and orange mirror.
I try to drink it in.
Looking down at my reflection, I appear misshapen, black eyes askew, black scarf almost covering black lipsticked mouth that smiles or grimaces as ripples distort. Glimpses of black painted nails stark against pale flesh. I make myself disappear in a flurry of silt and stone. I wonder how others perceive me.
I lean further forward for a closer look as the water settles.
What does the world know of me?
Only what it sees.
That I’m on the edge?
Was she ever any more than a one-dimensional woman? Totally eccentric but trapped in a single image. One she portrayed unremittingly. Is that what she wanted to be? The lace on her dress was exquisite, and the length, strength and shine of her hair divine.
Was she really only like that? Or did she simply wish to be seen like that, hiding a strange darkness in her soul? A smoke screen. Of fire smothered. Of smouldering frustration. Of burning deep desire.
Life is so busy, so full, that sometimes you don’t stop till you’ve already begun to fall. Tripped up by your own momentum.
I feel the overwhelming rush of utter worthlessness.
Straightening suddenly, seeking to dispel the panicky feeling in my stomach, my nose ring catches on a thread of scarf and tugs, making me wince, and then it’s free. I check carefully. For once I haven’t lost yet another stud. I’ve never forgotten how painful that was. Nose piercing wasn’t the norm back then. I wanted to make a point. Just ask my mum. In a way the pain of it was easier to bear than the tongue-lashing I had from her.
My nose is fleshy. A really thick stud, designed for ears, was shot through with a regular ear gun. A tear welled up and bathed the stab wound. My right eye remained impartial. The whole side of my nose took on a rosy swell. The stud felt at least four feet thick. I had to keep it in for a month. And if I knocked my nose accidentally, the sharp end, the end inside my nose, made a meal of trying to pierce the central septum.
I knew a man once who could put a pencil through his, via each nostril, so it looked like a tight-rope balance. He said he’d been born with a large hole in his septum. I had no reason to doubt him. In my mind it transported him to a place far distant, to tribal beginnings. Hennaed skin and earthen beads and all that. A time concerned only with ultimate realities of survival. He told me of a man who had committed suicide by placing a pencil up each nostril, then falling sharply forward onto a solid surface so that they shattered the base of his skull and entered his brain.
Which is hideous.
If it was true.
And part of me thinks that if it was, that the man may more likely have merely disabled himself. Merely? But then there are some pretty major blood vessels in that area, aren’t there? I can’t remember. Biology wasn’t my strongest subject. I got in a pickle with anatomy. Because each organ was taught to us individually I just couldn’t grasp that they overlaid each other in the small cavity which is the abdomen.
I should have realised that my linear layout would have meant I needed to have been at least twelve feet tall, and very skinny. Which I’m not! Not at all. Never have been. Quite the opposite. No-one was as fat as me at school. Thunder thighs they called me. Made me a strong swimmer, helped by the broad shoulders and builder’s biceps as well.
I couldn’t do it the pencil-up-the-nostril way.
So many things can drive a person to the extremes of sadness and solitude.
Twilight is approaching and it won’t do to dwell.
My feet are shrivelled and cold and so I wrap them in the folds of my long black scarf and hold them in my hands, hunched like a little Buddha on the shore.
Black boots back on. Heavy black boots, my fuck-you black boots, comfy as hell and I’m on my way. I’ve walked this path many times before, in all seasons, and this evening it is beautiful and still.
At odds with my sadness.
There’s a misty glow in the air as I wander through a field of crackling black sunflower heads hanging in brittle shame after their former glory as pure bright yellow orbs. A whole field undulating in unison, bowing and turning reverential heads toward their goddess in the sky as she beckons, beguiling, fantastic, her power to draw attention and adulation unable to be denied.
The flowers in perfect emulation. Yet the fruit of these copycats are black.
Carbon copies of the purest, hottest most radiant role model.
Golden children should surely issue forth from the gods.
An anachronism if ever there was one.
I am reminded of my feathered friend. A robin. She arrived in the spring with every feather immaculate and in place. Sleek and coiffured, her breast was the clear bright red of fresh blood. She nested feet away from the back door in an old pot that had belonged to my Nan. It has no intrinsic value, only priceless memories. My memories, especially of being allowed to be my own person whenever I went to stay.
I had a little den at my Nan’s. It was grandad’s old shed. In it was an old oak trunk full of discarded and mildewed satin dresses. The pot sat next to it. Every year it would gradually fill up with grasses collected on our weekend walks to tend grandad’s grave. I don’t remember him. She nurtured her memories of him. He took more than a little of her with him. But he left enough for me and she gave willingly. Each spring the dusty seed heads were scattered to the wind, the pot dusted and fresh stalks gathered as time moved on. Just a piece of junk to everyone else, it was put out as rubbish. It’s practically all I have left to remind me of how I miss her. I swear she took part of me with her. So close. She taught me about the birds in the garden, and those of the fields. How to recognise them and their songs. They had resilience in common, those birds and my Nan. For a while I thought I was resilient enough for the world.
My poor wee robin could hardly cope when her brood hatched. I think she tended them alone. I’ve no idea what happened to the cock. The demands of the four frenzied gaping golden beaks put her under severe strain. She learned quickly to trust my outstretched palm laden with crumbs and seeds.
Easy, energy efficient pickings. Her breast dulled and she lost control of her downy underskirt. Little tufts protruded from her mantle but her eye remained bright. Every so often I would curl my fingers around her, knowing to crush her featherweight frame would require little force. There have been times that temptation to kill her, to put her trials at an end, almost overwhelmed, but I didn’t have the will.
The nest is empty now. All chicks fledged, sent out to cope alone. At first their song is of hope. It will change. My ragged robin rarely sings now her work is done. When she does it is with a plaintive tone. Maybe too, she senses that next year, or even tomorrow, may not come. Ignoring her plight, I’ve seen the fledglings scattered among the golden leaves of the orchard, singing their hearts out to the sun. Around them, huge juicy red orbs gleamed in the setting rays. Winter Pearman. Fancy having ‘pear’ in the name of an apple tree… The apple fruits beckon like beacons to lost ships in the dark, waiting for the right moment to let go, to plummet down, completely free and at the mercy of decay. The lifeline broken forever. Not quite yet.
Timing is everything.
Even as they hang the apples attract a host of humming winged things intent on devouring the flesh. They munch ever deeper and create great caverns under the skin. In a hole in gleaming glossy gorgeous peel, the thick hide conceals wasps gorging themselves to drunkenness. Their strong brittle little bodies boozing away on natural fermentation. Wings folded neatly, the torpid torpedoes lurch when finally roused to come out, not capable of recalling the potency and pleasure of the chase and the sting, only drunken oblivion.
The unmistakable whiff of cider in the air tempted me likewise to numb my despair. I’m feeling it now, the pleasure of the golden nectar turned to thumping pain behind my eyes. It hurts like hell just like a black-banded sting.
My bottle is drained and empty.
How I wish Nan was here to hear me out.
I turn my brooding thoughts toward the sun, the bright, bright sun, so hot it must surely explode. I wonder at its power to hold the broiling mass within itself in check. The sun, which is slowly setting for everyone.
The very thought releases pent up anguish. It’s as if I want to vomit, to vent all these hideous parts of me. The sensation rushes up my gut and I clamp my hand over my mouth. A pointless thing to do. I swallow deep, and deep again. Gulping air, I choke, and huge balls of air go down the wrong way painfully.
Eyes burn shut, forced to look only inward. Probing deep recesses too unseemly to be seen. I try to avoid the gaping hole in my core. A black hole bored through the very essence of me so my life juice drips away. It may cling but its grip is weak. As the droplets grow heavier they abandon any will that could bind them. Down, down into the chasm toward and into the black sun. My memories hold a concept of what once was fun. Now I’m no-one. A dried and drooping stem, seed-head intact, sterile and withering in a darkened space I’ve made my own.
My head feels heavy and hurting. I am consumed by the hurting.
The air chills and I open my eyes. Holding myself together, I trudge on into the cold shadows beneath the bridge and head up the steep steps to the top.
From high up, the water sparkles and it’s tempting to lose myself in the millions of twinkling diamonds beckoning me from the depths of the running tide far below. Behind me, cars speed by, oblivious to my black thoughts, in a rush to be where they have to be. The sun is slanting across the water from my right and as I look down river, I see it lit as a shimmering golden, silken ribbon blowing in the wind.
Looking directly below, the dappled twinkles are extinguished and drowned by the deep encroaching shadow which turns the water to a bottomless black hole, sucking me in.
My phone beeps the alarm I have set. It tells me I’ve taken sixteen thousand, three hundred and forty-two steps to reach this point. How many, I wonder, have I taken in my lifetime? I turn off the phone and take a long look at the blank screen before letting go. I watch it drop silently into the dark water below. No splash as it slides through the surface and is gone.
I have reached my destination.
Fear, I feel none.
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