3 Pieces of flash from Amanda McLeod

Amanda McLeod is a creative based in Canberra, Australia. Her catalogue of written work includes fiction, poetry, and book reviews; and she also works in the visual media of oils, watercolours, photography, and digital collage. Amanda's flash fiction collection is due from Chaffinch Press in July

Five Stages Of Parenthood

1. Denial. It won’t affect your relationship. This is the ultimate expression of your love for each other; it will be glorious. You’ll take a year to spend with your powder-scented bundle of joy, and when you go back to work your career will be waiting for you. You raised a perfectly waxed eyebrow when Cordelia mentioned being so exhausted she fell asleep sitting up, holding Rex. That will never happen to you. Your baby will sleep in its white railed cot, wrapped in freshly laundered bamboo eco fabric, while the air purifier hums quiet blue in the corner. And you’ll sleep when baby does. The housework can wait, they tell you.

2. Anger. Bundle of joy? More like hand grenade. Nobody told you it would be this way, and you mutter to your equally exhausted partner that it’s unsurprising; the human race would’ve been extinct aeons ago if people knew what they were getting themselves into. The constant judgement sits on your shoulders like a sandbag. Visitors descend, to hold the baby and cluck like disapproving hens at the molehills of laundry and wobbling towers of mouldering dishes. You swallow the urge to spit their words back at them, steaming at how their criticism doesn’t extend to assistance. And you loathe the part of you that once judged other new mothers the same way. After what now passes for lunch, you boss informs you of your redundancy. The baby screams and you scream along with her.

3. Bargaining. You negotiate with everyone. Your partner: If you can look after the baby for half an hour, I’ll have a shower and we can all go out for the afternoon. Your potential new boss: If you can let me start after Christmas and work three days a week, I’ll take a lower salary. Yourself: If I play with her for an hour now, I can have three Tim Tams and a copy of Vogue while she sleeps. Anything it takes, to drag yourself through the monotonous grind of daily life.

4. Depression. Your desire to work part time renders you worthless in the eyes of potential employers, who want you all the time or not at all. Impossibly tiny dresses sit on the top shelf at the back of your wardrobe, forgotten toys you played with in another life. The ‘new’ has worn off your motherhood, and visitors have moved on to the next shiny thing. The baby bounces in front of some demented cartoon as tears stream silently down your face. You’d throw the television out the window if it wasn’t the only adult voice you heard all day; it gives you snippets of headline and solace between purple dinosaurs and bizarre honking trains.

5. Acceptance. A chubby fist reaches out towards a single flame, a flagpole atop a frosted castle. People sing and clap, and you fill bag after bag with crumpled paper and cake-smeared paper plates and haul it out to the bin. As you stroke the silk of her hair, and watch her cupid’s bow purse and release as she dream-suckles, relief blooms in your chest; you don’t have to leave her just yet. You’d planned to, all those months ago, but now you can’t imagine anything else. Your partner joins you, running a finger down the tiny nose, a perfect replica of his own. You lean into him and let the quiet ease settle over the three of you. Your partner leans down and whispers into your ear. Another? Your smile is a beacon.

How to Care for a Christmas Cactus

1. Choosing your spot, soil, and setup

Who the hell gets their girlfriend a cactus for Christmas? You nod, smile, ooh and aah as he explains how delicate and fragile the plant really is, despite its appearance. Like the two of you, it’s not as robust as everyone thinks. It’ll need care. They burn easily with too much brightness. He tells you that with too much water, it’ll drown. You’ll need to find just the right container – one that will stop it from getting swamped. It’ll need fertilizer too, when it’s growing – the joints will break if it sinks into malaise. But just before you want it to blossom, you stop feeding it. Treat it mean, keep it keen, you say. He doesn’t smile back.

2. Watering your Christmas Cactus

You’re careful not to overwater or underwater it. Too much or too little and it’ll struggle. Two or three times a week, no more – about as often as he stays over. As the year advances, you adjust the watering to reflect the season. In the winter, the air takes on a chill and things begin to dry up. By October, you’ve almost given up all together. But you reach out, with one more gentle splash of water, and buds appear. 

3. Getting a timely bloom

He seems to run hot and cold, but not too much in either direction – if anything, it’s more to the cold side. You’re patient. You know that the periods of darkness between the lighter moments are the ones that will encourage things to develop further. The buds continue to grow, and you gently warm the plant, bathe it with a little more light each time, feed it, encourage it. It blooms in time for Christmas, each flower opening like the velvet box you find under the tree.

4. Caring for your cactus post-bloom

After the flush of Christmas and your engagement, the cactus needs pruning like the contents of your apartments. They won’t all fit into your new place and some will have to go. You trim and shove your belongings, but carefully set the trimmed sections of the cactus into pots of the same soil. They take root, and new shoots appear at the same time as the two blue lines on the test. You show him both that night. The smile lights up his face. Both you two and your Christmas cactus will need repotting in a few years, he whispers. 

Whalesong

Did you know whales sing complex songs that can be heard for miles? You can be heard for miles too, but you don’t sing. You scream. At me, mostly, but also at anyone you think has wronged you. Your screams are harsh and monotone – they only change pitch at the end when they either ascend towards answerless questions or drop into the pit of self-righteous disappointment. Nothing you scream about is ever, ever your fault.

Did you know that some whales can live for more than a hundred years? I can’t imagine being trapped here with you for that long. The air around us is stagnant already with mistrust and anger; the taste of your bitterness lingers on my tongue. I ask myself every day why I haven’t left yet, but my reflection never answers me. There is not a fibre of my being that wants to spend my life with you but the ring on my left hand weighs more than a blue whale, and I seem unable to lose it. 

Did you know that whale family groups are centred around the mother? And yet my belly never swells. Would you be different to me if I was a mother? I’ve never met yours. The two of you no longer speak and you’ve never said why, but every Mothers Day you hide in your study with a bottle of scotch and something dark, buried deep within, is allowed to come out. The waters of my womb remain barren and each full moon that passes brings relief at the emptiness.

Did you know that whales never fully go to sleep? They have to surface to breathe, so they rest their brain halves in shifts. I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night. The slightest sound has me upright. I sit in the gloom and watch streetlight shadow-shows, hold my own breath, wait for the next rhythmic rise and fall of your ribcage to reassure me you’re still asleep. Sometimes black spots appear in my vision to remind me that I am drowning and I pull oxygen into my lungs. On the bad nights I take a blanket to the couch and lie there in the dark, try to sing myself the lullabies my mother sang to me, reach for the words in the depths of my mind. That familiar comfort, elusive, swims from my outstretched hands. The notes float away. I’d like to float away, sing myself somewhere new, find a place where I am harmonious.

Did you know whales sing complex songs that can be heard for miles?

Animal Behaviour by Amanda McLeod

Animal Behaviour by Amanda McLeod is out from Chaffinch Press on July 3rd and is now available to preorder. Find out more about Amanda and her book here

Read Denise O’Hagan’s interview with Amanda McLeod Here

Now that you're here

The Blue Nib believes in the power of the written word, the well-structured sentence and the crafted poetic phrase. Since 2016 we have published, supported and promoted the work of both established and emerging voices in poetry, fiction, essay and journalism. Times are difficult for publishers, and The Blue Nib is no exception. It survives on subscription income only. If you also believe in the power of the written word, then please consider supporting The Blue Nib and our contributors by subscribing to either our print or digital issue.

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