Thunder frightened the car next door and a few in the next street so they all started screaming. And I don’t think many people want to get up at 3am when the neighbourhood’s shaking so the noise went on and on. I sat cross legged at the bottom of the bed with the window wide open so I could watch the electricity make an etch-a-sketch of the sky. Then I thought of you because a blackbird started singing from my rowan tree when the thunder stopped clattering. Have you ever heard thunder try to be a violin? For a moment, that little bird sang his entire heart out as if the whole world depended on it. And I thought about fathers learning sons how to ride their bicycles without stabilisers on. And why can’t a summer night be a car park if it wants, an insomniac bird a father? Because sometimes even thunder has to be taught how to sing with its stabilisers off.
If you ever fell off your bike and split your knee open the way mothers split their huge hearts open to love useless daughters, I would want to lick the wound clean. Not for the taste or some weird latent vampire fetish that slumbers in my genes, but just because I don’t want any part of you having to be lost just because you did something daft and ended up hurt. I can see it already, me down on my knees as we roll your jeans leg up and you calling me an idiot for wanting to do it and not stopping me because you’re laughing too much. Maybe that’s all Jesus needed? Some idiot woman down on her knees wanting to make all the broken pieces of him better with her tongue.
There’s only one box of my Mam’s stuff to go through now before we start on the ottoman. There’s a whole childhood worth of dens folded into those decades-old sheets that live in there. A whole senior school worth of sewing lessons hemmed into the wonky cushions my sister and I embroidered for her. So many extra loops and unnecessary knots. But it’s the boxes of letters and Polaroids that are destroying me. My Mam just smiles from the cracks in her broken chest when we find another love letter from the man that tried to made a ghost of her.
When I found the letter from my long gone Nanna and Grandda, and saw the way his beautiful ink lines steadied out my name and the sentence that followed explained how my father was still away at work, I had to fold the three of them straight back up as the tears woke up. Paper is alchemical. Two days later and years since all three of them have died, and they’re still alive on that single page of words. And as long as I never read the rest, Da is still in Germany and Nanna and Grandda still write letters because they miss me. Even a rain-washed morning after a hard night of thunder cannot undo that.
I wonder sometimes, whether empty egg shells ever miss their long fledged chicks. I have half a robin’s in a jar that I keep in the back bedroom that has to be over twenty years old now. Its siblings inside the glass are a rusted key that no longer has a door to open, an old flea collar that once belonged to a cat struck by lightning, a storm trooper with his feet chewed off that belonged to another bird boy that I love. His feathers have a different kind of strangeness to yours though. Where your wings are able to take us through subterranean caves as well as the sky, his turn to silence when my head goes dark. It’s not that I want to compare the pair of you, it’s just sometimes it’s impossible not to. He is a scarecrow in a field with his stick fingers in his ears whenever I’m sad. You are a pair of hands constructed from spells that know just when to appear on those nights I need my hair held back from my face as I vomit.
What is it with you that so easily has me down on my knees? Your wings are so flighty and contrary though, I’d never be able to properly map you still enough to tame. Scarecrow bird has no legs. His field doesn’t gallivant to other landscapes the very moment I blink. And yet it was you I thought of as the storm said hello. The idea of licking your knees as a way to unravel you. But I’m little more than a pipe cleaner doll these days. And the doll house heart I have twisted in, it rusts a little more whenever there’s a storm. A useless daughter still trying to figure out what it really means to be in love with half an empty egg shell belonging to a robin that has been dead for years and years now.
I thought maybe today would be the day I’d wake and feel like leaving again, so my body decided it wouldn’t sleep. I’d not speak to it for a decade if I had the stamina for that and you’re always telling me I’m already too quiet as it is.
The fog was thick at half past three, so when I walked into the street, I imagined this was how it must feel to live in the ear canal of a giant. Everything had dampened down. Even the fairy lights Mrs. A. has roped around her front wall that are supposed to act as a guide to show her dead son the safest way home, they were shining softer.
Remember when AG laughed so hard after I’d fallen off the outhouse roof that night I swore I was brave enough to reach the moon? And you thought the drop had murdered me, so started screaming for my Mam even though we’d been told no boys were allowed in the tent or we’d get our backsides yarked. And the more you screamed with your boy voice dropping down into those murky fathoms of man that were already on their way to drowning you in good, the wilder she laughed. So even in that moment she ricocheted into her dad’s telescope and it toppled and dinted the frame of the lens, it was as though there was a whole pack of hyenas gobbling up Holmlea so we didn’t understand the damage we’d done until hours later. Remember how afterwards, every time we looked at the moon, it was different? That was the feeling in the street last night as the fog hunkered in.
I guess that’s why I couldn’t stay there. All the heads of the roses looked too big, too defeated. I never understood that about flowers until last night. How sometimes, even when all they’re doing is sleeping, they can look overwhelmed by the sheer, sad weight of trying to be nothing more than themselves. So I took myself off to the comfortable solitude of the Road Ends.
By the metal seat where the family planted a silver birch and small, wooden cross for their lad who came off his motor bike, I’m sure I saw the ghosts of us at fourteen years old. Lying on the grass verge all those Augusts ago, when we’d sneak up there to watch the Persieds bring some far off shimmer into our already dimming lives. As I sat on the damp metal and felt it reaching for some semblance of warmth in my tired bones, I’m sure I heard the echo from T as she whooped after smashing ten snails in her stupid pixie boots. I hated her then. The little cute blonde that was a notorious bully and the most dedicated sadist any of us knew. That was the summer after her father started making her do things to him as her older brothers slept in the room next door. Even cardboard walls can keep secrets when forced.
We all had our secrets by then, of course. All the ghosts in AG’s attic that still cause so much havoc in every house in the street even though there’s never been a Ouija board done in there for years. S’s dad with the metal in his head, how he had to fight every day just to stay alive. My beautiful Redders with so much blood on his hands he’d never get it clean even after begging and begging his own bairn not to join up. Me with my whole family of monsters. A silent lass doesn’t get to this place without a whole library worth of history strapped in her always busted-up heart, of course.
There were three slugs on the gatepost as I arrived back home, arranged like startled eyebrows or the peaks and troughs of a life support machine depending which way I looked at them. And then back in the warmth of the belly button of the living room, I thought of calling you just to hear you whisper hello before I hung up. But it was that halfway voice I needed. The one that broke itself completely when it imagined me murdered by an outhouse roof and my stubborn need to be forever proving a point. And neither of us are those bairns any more, I know. But it’s still you I imagine running to whenever this need grows to just be gone. Threatens another disastrous spilling over.
To whichever Bird it may concern,
He wants to take me to a teapot making class. And he knows I have this thing about hands, the way certain palms can cup a whole ocean even when their hearts are desert dry.
And he says love rewires our brains and then wanders off right in the middle of Northumberland Street when he notices how I stare and stare at the back of strangers’ heads in search of the tangled wires that must be sticking out if all the stuff he discusses has even a tiny current of truth running through it.
I think he can smell the electricity in me from that night the storm tried to get in when Shelley was up to her necromantic fiddling again. But a monster raised by monsters knows there’s no excavating certain wildnesses out of bones and skin.
He’s convinced I’ll paint daisies on my teapot if I let him mould it. Moon Pennies by the bunchful even though I was brought up with the dog heart of them chained through the tongues of the fells.
I’d much rather snorkel with giants among the deep armpits of the valleys. Massacre a whole battalion of dragon slayers play acting at friendly comets.
I am no moon to be worshipped from a meadow full of flowers until some fickle would-be lover decides on a waning again. I’m bindweed and ivy, a forest floor worth of brambles. Blackberry stains that haunt a favourite t shirt until the guilt of it has to be thrown in the bin.
Have I the soft patience for teapot handles lying somewhere latent in my fingertips? The delicate way of turning something lumpen into an object worthy of a central place on a forever kitchen table? It’s unlikely.
Why risk thirty nine pounds for the sake of an afternoon in the hope I offer to carry the boiling heart of you until it needs to be poured into someone else’s cup. So it can sit there all sweetened as it cools, and she decides she’s ready to drink you.
Screw that, whomever it may concern. I’m going back to the woods where I will strip back down to the vixen reek of me so I can urinate unapologetically between foxgloves and birches. Sing to the true moon that never abandons my sky for the whims of a china cup that’s never going be large enough to hold every over spilling ounce of you until you cool. Become ordinary – a man safe enough to be gulped down in two mouthfuls rather than the risk you have always been and should remain. Full-on, delicious burned lips with every miniscule, boiling sip.