This story was my first submission towards my literature with creative writing degree! For this portfolio we were asked to write 1500 words on any subject matter and in any style. Of course, this led my mind to wander down some questionable paths.
A smile bled from her lips the moment I pushed her. My little sister. Her nimble limbs collapsed before she hit the floating shore. There was a crack and something of a splutter between the screams and the waves that began to claim her body. The air was thick; I imagined her splitting it in half, like Moses and the red sea, when
she fell through it. Like a curtain call, the roaring sun played a spotlight to the show.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen her covered in blood and grasping for life. Her birth was disgusting. When she came out she was as pink and as raw as undercooked chicken; wailing as though entering this world was a punishment beyond all that Hell could muster. Babies are perceptive like that. I would wail too if my first encounter with world included a television screen playing the Sound of Music, as she did. That day was when I became aware of the human tendency to mask what is undeniably hideous for the sake of politeness; a convention for the civilised. I watched my mother writhe and howl for eleven hours only to be handed the consolation prize of a squirming gory infant. Yet, the audience cooed and cackled over the ‘miracle’ that was wrapped in the parcel of my mother’s own shining guts.
I was not supposed to be there. My father was due to arrive in time for the birth of his second child but he was seven hundred and sixty days late. I knew that because I’d been counting down the days to his return from the moment I knew how time worked. I had never met this man but my mum reminded me to call him dad despite this fact. He was a sergeant in the Vietnam War. He’d often send letters telling of his heroic endeavours. One tale, in particular, still clings to my memory. My father was in the jungle, he wasn’t a descriptive writer but in my head this jungle was like the picture books I was given at Christmas, full of wandering shadows and towers of green, teeming with creatures of a child’s nightmares or effervescent fantasies. He was alone until he heard a scream. A mother carrying an infant, not unlike my baby sister, and running. Her clothes were so ripped her naked flesh beamed through the tears of cotton. My father noted the terror on her face; the helplessness of a mother who couldn’t save her baby. For it was only a second or so later that her body turned into a cloud of
burning ash, an explosion so hot my father said he could feel it hit the ends of his own skin. Strips of red flesh fell from the sky. The particular letter ended there.
My grandmother did not want me at the hospital during the recovery of my mother’s own exploding body. She said little boys did not belong in wards where women’s screams bled into a chorus of an unforgiving pitch. She said to my mother, just loud enough for my child’s ears to hear, that I was in the way. I would be better off elsewhere. Her nose sat above a cup of tea as she spat the demands of my leave. But an old hag bound to a wheelchair had no chance of standing in the way of me meeting my father. And so I waited beside my mother’s bed. Her head rested like the moon, cratered and blotched with unfamiliar shades as she cradled the new-born beneath her breath. A vacant air possessed the sadness on her face. An obnoxiously large clock face was floating on the wall, distorting the silence with its regimented ticking.
We had been in the hospital a total of five days when a faceless nurse handed us the letter. The foreign stamps and half-assed handwriting revealed its sender before my mother tore the envelope. The rattling of the paper unleashed a screaming outcry from my little sister who had yet to learn the art of receiving bad news. My grandmother shooed me out of the room with her plastic bag arms. Her sickly-sweet scent was enough to coax me, but I already knew what the foreboding papered rectangle meant. ‘Daddy won’t be coming home for a little while yet darling, but you know our country needs him more than us…’ My mother was fond of this platitude. My father –her husband- was a hero who did heroic things in a country that needed heroes. He was my hero, this man I’d never met, and for almost three more years I carried on waiting.
When my sister became vaguely aware of her own existence, she took a fondness to the park. She gargled at the ducks especially, the curves of her mouth would grow wider as they waddled closer to her outstretched limbs. I did not like the park. It was a breeding ground for pre-digested amusement. It made me wince to watch children greedily run for the swings and bundle down the rusted slides. Some of the boys who did not like the park would protest their boredom in the form of mass slaughter behind the nearby cabin. They would take it in turns to rip worms from the ground and pull at the bright pink ends until they broke in half. Their eyes gleamed like little red sirens watching the worms writhe. Some days it was spiders. They took it in turns to pull out a leg until the winner pulled the leg which finally left the spider unable to walk. But they did not kill the spiders. On her second birthday, after a breakfast of waffles and ice-cream cake, we took my sister to the park. At this point her legs could almost keep her sufficiently balanced to let her play at running around. The sunlight danced between the trees that day. My mother had received a parcel from my father the day before, it was full of little wooden trinkets for my sister, her favourite of which was a little brown duck, and a pack of playing cards for me. My mother still wore the smile that parcel left her as we settled on the park bench. As soon as a chorus of quacks fell from the lake my sister leapt from her diapered behind and hurried towards the birds. On this particular occasion my mother left her to run as she pleased and my little sister chirped like she might too have had a little bird’s beak. The ducks appeared to play with the little girl. They were quite far into the distance when the slaughter boys headed over. Their tall, overshadowing bodies made the ducks scarce. My mother didn’t sense the trouble of these boys and besides, it was too late. The tallest boy plucked one of the frightened ducks from beside my sister and without even a murmur, twisted its neck. Scream.
I focussed too much attention towards his premature attempts of family décor to listen entirely to the fodder flowing from his mouth. My wife, on the other hand, appeared to be entirely enthralled by the vaunts of his career. At the time my disgust was targeted exclusively at photographs of grinning toddlers and not my wife’s lewdness. Her lips were a darker shade of red that night.
The following Autumn I was struck by my wife’s infidelity. It was no cause for concern that she had spent a great deal of time helping the Merriweathers move in. Yet, before long she became their reliable babysitter, an occasional dinner guest and a mandatory cog for the family Bridge games. With every one of these frequent jaunts, my wife’s face grew less recognisable as she became more generous with her powders and lipsticks. She was hiding; covering herself and her wrongdoings.
It was a Tuesday when Martin Merriweather lowered our garden fence in order to ‘gather more sunlight for the primroses’; even when the sun was setting. It was my rose which he had his eyes on, though. It wasn’t long before watching them chatter across the splintered wood became a visceral pastime. I imagined the words that escaped her wandering mouth. Words that she no longer had time to spare for me.
On bonfire night the clouds were fresh with bursts of flame as fizzled light danced beyond the darkened sky. A neighbourly celebration was taking place at the Merriweathers’ residence and the invitations were plenty. My wife wore a suitably fitting red dress together with a black satin shawl that caressed the arch of her smooth back. Pearls hung close to her neck and lit up against the fireworks. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to gather her so tightly in my arms that she would forget the outside. I wanted to envelop her entire body like a rapacious clam hides its only riches. I wanted to protect her.
It took only a thought of my wife holding on to a single word of that Martin Merriweather’s for me to torch their house. Red filled my eyes. Screams echoed in the burning. An accident. No one was hurt but the house which fell to the Earth like an unfolding rapture. My wife did not scream at the burning or at the sight of the wreckage. She accepted this fate but turned a shade of pale that I had never seen before.
I did not murder my wife. But I could not save her. Only a single month after the fire, she grew so weak and fragile that a limp beyond her mattress became virtually impossible. Her jaunted face was full of shadows when she finally uncovered the nature of her sickness. Her womb had given birth to tumours that had taken hold of almost every organ in her body. She explained how Martin had accepted her as a patient to a heavy programme of experimental drugs that had a chance of saving her life, if only for a little longer. A sickness tugged at my throat as she delivered a truth I could not swallow. Her love was never questioned and yet I had burned her hope in a fire of jealousy. The medicine had all been lost in the ashes that wrote my name. She crumbled away like the walls of the house next door. My helplessness was my foreboding punishment.
And here I stand, looking at my dead wife. Every inch of my honing gut begs that she might wake up with those blushing eyes that still belong in her skull. But she lays still. I close the coffin lid; covering her body for the final time. She was always mine to protect.
My wife had never looked better than when I saw her lying in that box. Its hard edges appeared to soften her soured milk complexion and gave in to the heavenly emanation of her bottomless sleep. I looked down on her and smiled.
The funeral was damp with artificial light; shadows played ghosts down the church pews. Feeble coughs and quiet mutters shook the silence as I waited for my cue to leave; I was in a hurry. For twenty two years I haven’t missed a single episode of Count Down on channel four and my wife would surely not rest in peace if she knew I had missed it on her behalf.
In my façade I said goodbye to the crinkled, throwaway sweet wrapper that once contained the woman I loved. The church was the finest theatre of all but I never would allow my own body to become a prop for the wicked.
Still, I had played my part in this tragedy.
This is the first draft of a short story I am currently working on. I fear I may be a little out of my depth in certain aspects of its tale but, as my first proper attempt at any fiction, I’m trying to hold down all expectations!