“Why don’t you take the kite out?” says dad. I look at my brother, who shrugs. Outside, trees bend in the wind. We have been moping around the house all morning. The novelty of the summer holiday has worn off. My brother and I are in the grip of a lethargic funk. In the first week of the holiday we built a Lego city that sprawled across our bedroom floor. It had alien-looking, flanged and twisted skyscrapers that teetered up to shoulder-height. Now we build monoliths and throw marbles at them from the couch. “Do we even have a kite?” says my brother. For a moment my mind is blank, then I remember. “It’s on top of the wardrobe.” After another minute of dumb silence we slide off our chairs and go to the bedroom. A corner of yellow fabric sticks out from on top of the wardrobe. I feel ashamed. How long has the kite been lying up there, watching us build Lego cities? We put on our boots and head outside. The wind tries to knock us off our feet. We tromp through the fields. Every few steps we pirouette to catch a glimpse of our ever-receding house, or kick at the thick thistles that snap with a satisfyingly wet pop and keel over like dead soldiers. Step, step, kick, pirouette. We must look like a pair of lost automatons. Cinched under my arm, the kite flutters happily. We take it to the Edge, a ten-foot drop between one field and the next. Deep hoof marks score the ground where tubby cows have clambered up and down. I hand the kite to my brother. It almost escapes, squirming out of our hands. My brother grabs at it, catches the tail. “Buggering thing,” he says. We take twenty steps back and rush at the Edge, me in the lead with the bobbin and line, my brother behind, holding up the kite like a sacrificial offering to the sky. We jump. For a quiet moment all is air. We tumble through green then blue then green then blue. Something tugs my hand. The line is taut.
Reflex Fiction Posts
They’re building a new visitor centre down at the graveyard where people can come and buy postcards of the oldest stones and plastic mocked up memorials of roses and angels and even pencil cases with pictures of graves and there on the bottom shelf is a jigsaw for sale with a painting that the city’s famous artist made before she died and was herself interred in the space that is now renowned for its ancient gorgeous monuments to such an extent that you can take a tour around the place for just ten quid and people come from all around the world to do just that though no one scribbles on the graves the way they do in that place in Paris where Jim Morrison is buried and I’ve never quite understood why he was laid to rest there when he was American and surely you want to end up in the place that you came from so your bones go back to the soil you belong to but maybe I’m wrong and we all belong everywhere and even though there’s no one famous in this graveyard with its sparkling new visitor centre couples still want to get married right here in the big room above the gift shop that opens out to yew trees and cedars and rowans that you always used to find in cemeteries because the berries keep evil spirits away though maybe there’s something practical too like something to do with disguising the smell of the bodies which there’s no need for these days with modern embalmment procedures and now the needles fall on brides like confetti, sprinkling down into their ivory clad cleavages as they walk up this strange aisle towards their husbands and the wrought iron gates so stark so strong and so solid you can see why they’d want their photos taken outside them looking like romantic gothic beauties their youthful smooth skin seemingly tinted with gold as they stand there mocking the dead.
Paper-cloud hopeful she was, drawing in a breath to clear herself a blue sky. But the coughing came again, and I had to clutch at her, and give her some of my hope too, until she stopped. I lowered her onto the damp grass, and we just sat there. I can’t remember when her smile first became that weak; like she’d forgotten the mechanics of it. Now she could only manage the first half, and her big eyes had to check with you if that was okay.
I put a parasol in the garden after that so she could still sit outside. Stay warm and dry under all those sheets of rain. I think she was waiting for spring to come, waiting just to see it, the first daffodils.
I’d told her not to sit out too long. She felt as cold as winter air. Like she’d held that breath in so long it had filled every limb. And her cheeks not even wrinkled.
It was me then that resolved to wait for spring, right there with her little body in my arms, crushing her yellow jacket, and pressing her face to my chest.
But the waiting was done.
She stood before him, naked on the train. Beneath her layers of clothes, her straps and zips, the hooks and eyes, her hat, her coat and the scarf around her throat, she was brazenly nude.
The flesh of a generous hip revealed itself, barely held behind thin fabric as she performed her burlesque. She shifted her weight from one boot clad foot to another as the train swayed round a curve less voluptuous than hers.
Embarrassed for her exposure he almost looked away from her bra-cupped bare breasts. From revealed thighs covered by no more than a dress or so. From the most intimate down of her sex exposed to any eye that saw through linen, lace and hosiery.
But he would not desert her. He did not avert his manly gaze as they pulled into the station. Not when she stepped, naked, from the train. Nor as she strode, stripped of all but clothing, along the busy platform.
Not until she became another fully dressed woman, like his wife, his mother, his daughter, did he look away.
One and one becomes two and two four and four eight and eight sixteen and sixteen thirty-two and thirty-two sixty-four and sixty-four becomes unimportant because numbers don’t matter when it’s life or death and this is, life or death. My father’s mother’s sister told us numbers matter. Sixteen is too young for marriage, sixty-four isn’t enough in English, four is the perfect number of kids to have but don’t start till you’re thirty-two. My father’s mother’s sister was smart as she could be having been married at sixteen and having four kids before thirty-two without the opportunity to get any grade at all in English, sixty-four or more. A smart woman with much wisdom and little knowledge and a cross around her neck she wore religiously. But facts like that don’t matter when it’s life or death. And this was life or death.
Caitlin NíShochrú’s father’s sister’s husband was the one with the knowledge. Sixty-four is considered old to live and young to die and the perfect time to make friends with the man in the sky. Numbers can matter, when sixty-four becomes one hundred and twenty-eight these are cells unable to control the rate at which they mutate. Cells that due to this uncontrollable rate control the fate of the owner of the cells. One hundred and twenty-eight of my own cells and counting. That’s how my father’s mother’s sister broke the news. I’m sixty-four years learning, and I’m still none the more knowledgeable. Numbers matter but not when they’re that size. When the object being counted is but a mass of things you make and culture yourself working solely and ultimately towards your untimely demise.
Numbers matter. Six becomes twelve and twelve twenty-four and twenty-four becomes the date etched on granite in the rain to sit on the site of the beloved and disgraced and misplaced for days innumerable and nights intolerable of why this, why them, why now?
They were children of the valley. They did not talk of the past or the future but only of the present. When they moved they moved slowly and with purpose. They lived in the sun and slept under the moon and stars. In spring their bed was one of celandine, and they swathed themselves in comfrey and borage for warmth and to bring sleep. It was her custom to spend the night lying against his body; his to sleep with his hand on the soft curve of her hip.
One night he awoke and gazed into the red black sky, at the moon and stars, at the valley sides, the escarpment beyond it. He was restless and left her side to climb the valley slopes, to scale the rising ground. He returned before she woke.
He began to rise each night to explore what lay between him and the moon and stars. The time away grew longer. Until one night she woke alone and called his name. The sun was in the sky when he returned. He held her, reassured her.
But nestling in his hand was a cultivated rose—its petals rouge and fleshy—which he had taken from the escarpment. He breathed its perfume. On each petal was a droplet of the night’s water. And in each droplet the moon and the stars.
She took the rose from him. A single thorn pierced her hand. She dropped it to the ground. Dark liquid flowed from her skin. She brought her hand to her lips relishing its earthy taste. Placed her mouth on his, so that he would taste it too. He turned his head away. She looked into his eyes and saw a distant light burning within him—as distant as the moon and the stars.
It is tea-time when the sun arrives: hot, bright and determined. The storm that has battered the island all day leaves with the speed with which it arrived: all full throttle and drama.
I grab my rucksack and head out towards the cliffs, the ground steaming as the sun bakes the sodden earth: a squelching sponge beneath my boots. Cold droplets flick onto my calves but as I set into a rhythm and my momentum increases, the coolness refreshes my warm skin.
When I reach the highest point I stand for a moment, watching the gulls rising high into the deep blue bottomless well of sky, their dazzling whiteness a showy salute to the retreating clouds.
“This time I’ll do it,” he’d slurred, his breath stinking of stale ale and whisky, a trickle of drool spooling from his livery lips. I had laughed incredulously, cruelly. My raised eyebrows egging him on. Go on then, do it. He’d stared at me for a moment, and I’d backed away, sure of the swipe that was coming. But he’d wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and pushed past me, leaving the door to bang in the wind.
The path ribboning down the cliff doesn’t quite reach the sand and, careful not to look at the scene to my right, I jump. Something stirs in my memory. A leap into the air; strong hands reaching out, catching me, holding me close. Laughter as I’m twirled around, legs and hair flying out as I arch my back while sea and sky race by.
There were no hands to catch him in his resolve to be free. No arms to hold him as he fell. But I hope the gulls swooped down and clutched his soul, and at last he found release.