Silver Birches

The young man dressed in white helped her out of the car. She didn’t look around, but buried her chin in the collar of her gown.

They walked through the open metal gates together, and in the garden he let go of her arm and stood quietly. The crisp smell of winter filled her nostrils, and another smell, sweet and earthy like tree bark that’s just been ripped off. She looked up.

‘Birches!’ She gasped, her brows folding the ageing skin between them. ‘I know these birches!’ the memory burned her eyes, and she looked away, blinking repeatedly.

She began to walk alone, listening to her feet crush the thin ice on the gravel path. A squirrel jumped from a tree and rustled through a pile of dead leaves, startling her.

‘What is this place?’ she demanded, and the man gestured towards the white house at the far end of the garden. She looked, but her whole body turned around instantly, instinctively. She stood as still as the frozen grass blades, staring blankly.

After a while she cleared her throat and smiled, looking towards the top of the little hill ahead, where an old wood arch stood rotten. She bent over, swiftly pulled off her shoes and socks, and threw them as far as her weary arm could manage. The man rushed to her and grabbed her arm but she screamed and pulled it back fiercely.

She ran up the hill, then down again; spun around and threw herself onto the thawing grass, rolling over and over. ‘I’m the yellow dog’ her mouth blurted out unexpectedly, as if it was another’s. The unclaimed words startled her and her face dropped, as if pulled by a heavy weight hanging from her eyelids. ‘The yellow dog who ran through the arch, when there were roses wrapped around its legs and hanging from the top.’ The mouth continued. She squinted; ‘Yes! There were white roses, big as a man’s fist! and there was a yellow dog..’

Suddenly she laid still on the grass, then curled herself so tightly her knees pressed against her eyeballs. The man came and lifted her, unsettled by the inhuman screeching that now echoed around the silver birches; her legs dragged behind so he picked her up and carried her to the car the way you’d carry a sleeping child. Face buried in his neck, her cry grew quiet and she began mumbling made up words..

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Fires burnt out, the silent warmth of settling ash thaws my fingers – at last. Brown eyes, released of their redness, turn green..

I can finally breathe with your name on my lips and my arms no longer beg do dig your grave. The grieving ends, and having passed through its stages, I can hang the enormous picture of us on the wall and stare at it filled with nostalgia, and not fury.

I reclaim my heart, then wrap it around you – thankful for its strength to hold, and to let go. I welcome the longing as my eternal companion and joyfully drink in its honour.

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Heartbeat

And there, on the edge of the high hotel bed – holding your head against my chest, curling your hair around my fingers – my heart learned a new rhythm. It’s a strange beat, uneven and convulsive. It shoves the blood to my head and halts the air in my lungs, numbs my fingers.

When I remember the look in your eyes or the reflections, the damned thing beats as if it wants to come out. It rings in my ears and shakes in my limbs, turns me stupid. I stand and I stare; I wait for the madness to ease, but lately it seems to grow longer.

I wish I could restore the old rhythm, but it’s lost. I left it at the door when I couldn’t knock. I left it on the bathroom sink when I sprayed your perfume on my arm and it burned; it still burns…

That night – our last – I cried in the shower, watching you wash off my burning skin, not knowing that you had crawled under it. I can still smell the perfume in the same place, where the skin is now peeling.

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I don’t know what to say to you. There are words rotting in my throat that I can’t let go, and they burn my lungs as I hold them. The fire you carried on your skin lit my eyes, but hell bloomed from it when you left..

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Unmummied

A while ago, I turned myself into a mummy. I wrapped my body in a white ribbon; eyes and skin, lips and fingers.

You found the end when you came. And you pulled hard, so I spun. And I spun so fast, and my head fell back, and I laughed…

But my eyes were closed and I didn’t know that with every spin, and with every laugh, you got further, and further.

Now the ribbon’s gone and I’m naked. I have eyes and skin, I have lips and fingers; And for what?

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