Stranger

She was born into our family, but never fit in with the certainty that the rest of us had. She acted and we treated her like a foundling.

But it wasn’t always that way. The first five years we had some hope that she would make herself at home within our distinctly different family. We knew we were unlike others and adopted the appropriate personas when dealing with people outside of the home. She never did. She was the same all the time, ‘just being herself’ our parents said, finally accepted their own diagnosis. The rest of us were uniform in our behaviour when it mattered: we were a model family. She remained the stranger inside. The life we, the other three siblings, had accepted like a second skin was shrugged off by her as if it was an inside out boar’s hair shirt that she refused to ever wear.

By her sixth birthday she was obviously lonely within the family. We all accepted the way things were. She accepted it easier than we had expected. At first we excluded her from make up sessions, shopping trips and late night talks under the covers.

Although without us even realising it she made herself inaccessible to us, her strangeness grew. She decided how much distance there was between her and us.

I secretly envied her freedom, I think we all did. But we stayed in familiar appointed roles.

After years of habitual exclusion when we tried to include her in a family decision she just looked at us as if she had never seen us before. Her steady unflinching gaze felt as if she was viewing our insides, looking through us into our past history and onward to our futures. In the face of our need she refused to return to her childhood. When we were finally away from her we mentioned that her eyes scared us, especially when she leaned her head slightly to the left.

Our weak attempt to reset the family was destined to failure because it reeked of fresh desperation. When she was a child there was nothing between her and the rest of the world, she did not choose to have us as a family buffer, probably because we did not offer ourselves to her.

It is obvious that she was braver than us, we still need each other but she has always been self-sufficient.

That is apart from the short time she altered to accommodate us at Christmas and New Year in 2001. She sacrificed something immense then. It was evident in her eyes, which never shone when she was around our family home, but I saw it one day in some photos that had fallen from her bag. She was strangely alive and vibrant with a crowd of unknown people surrounding her. It was a big event, her name was on a banner behind them all. We didn’t know about it. They didn’t know about us.

We are not her family. They are. 

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

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Moleskin

“Oh. Hello Klay.”

The surprise hung on each word. They hadn’t seen or heard him enter the room. They looked at each other silently wondering if he had heard anything they didn’t want him to know.

Klayton stood still and watched them. He did not respond to their greetings. His eyes were the only things to move, they rapidly scanned both faces that were now looking intently at him. He read indecision in her and anger in him. Nobody moved for a few minutes. The three of them became like breathing statues.

Ever since they had abruptly moved to this new house, just ten months earlier, he had registered an increase in their tightness: faces, bodies, speech. Everything was closed up. Just like their old house and the memories that they had left there.

He had his own secrets now. Scrawled late at night into his moleskin notebooks. One for each month. They thought he was studying, but he had learnt the craft of deception at his own kitchen table.

The last time they had heard him speak was two months after they set up their version of life in this new home. It was a Wednesday afternoon when he just stopped talking to them. His fears had found some grounding that day. He merely looked at them, and since that day Klayton occasionally communicated with sign language or he wrote a note. Mostly he would text or email them, even when they were sat at the same table. The ‘no technology at the table’ rule had been suspended in the hope that they could still connect.

However, his muteness did not extend further than the two of them. His therapist Nancy reported that she had intricate and lively conversations with him in his weekly sessions. They knew she would stop her feedback to them when he reached his eighteenth birthday.

Like origami the truth of who his parents had been was folded away from him whenever he happened upon them together. The first time it happened was after Masie had gone. There was no explanation, just silence and furtive glances. They had a routine, always the same routine. That was his only certainty in the newly unfamiliar house.

Klayton had finally decided to call the police because he had figured out what was about to happen.

They had a routine, always the same routine.

Twenty minutes after he entered the room, when they were both led away in matching handcuffs, they swivelled their heads in unison as they detected his unfamiliar voice touch their ears. Klayton whispered, “I always knew there was something you were hiding from me. Now they know as well.”
He handed the retrieved notebooks full of evidence to the officer who was standing by his side in the doorway.

From the police car windows his parents could see his lips moving rapidly. The dam had finally been breached.

Looking directly at them Klayton noticed an open emotion as she smiled wryly and he cried.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

Mini rulers

the children in your circles –

especially newborn babes

are the ultimate

power lords

and they rule wearing nappies

they dictate the hours you sleep,

the noise you may make,

they have sway over the type of work you do,

they influence the area you live in,

their future, perceived happiness, decides when, if, and where you go on holiday

and they manage it

all without saying a word

their speechless rule

begins

with

their first act of control

the physical rearrangement of the anatomy of a mother’s body

then, like aliens, they

separate from their temporary host

and extend their reach into every part of the family’s life

they are

mini wordless rulers with maximum power

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

Untitled (2017)

Without you

I’d not be here, now

so, thank you.

You have taught me so much,

but now you’re gone.

I’ll never forget you.

Like engineers who daily perform miraculous feats

and build bridges across

the greatest expanse of waters

connecting distant lands

we created something great once,

in the past,

and then we danced together

in the setting sun

awakening at dawn

to feast

our eyes and bodies

together.

Each day was the best lesson

learning was never like that

at school

life, lived

together

opens the mind

opens the heart

life, lived

apart

opens the mind

closes the heart

… for a while

until another teacher

connects on the way

through life

and the engineering

work

of love

and being

begins

on the new project

that is always planned

and that old song

is heard anew

life, lived

together

opens the mind

opens the heart

 

Without you

I’d not be here, now

so, thank you.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

Advertising

Complaints are frequent

when

commercial entities cross boundaries

of decency and good taste

to advertise

their wares

yet

we

oft

remain

silent

upon encountering the brass person

on the street

in our homes

in the mirror

who

does

the

same

thing

behaviour is an advert

of personality

catching the attention

and anchoring in one’s mind

honed from childhood

we become skilled

at

promoting aspects of character

that are appealing to others

burying less favourable actions

for later discovery

once the audience

is hooked

buyer beware.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

Football

Football

football

Lewis is my best friend in the world. Lewis is my longest friend in the world.

We have been friends for five months. He is a boy, like me, he goes to St. Luke’s School, like me. He likes football, like me.

We are different in some ways, but I like to think of the ways we are the same.

I don’t like playing some of the games on his playstation because they make me sad, but I can’t tell Lewis why I am sad, so I pretend not to like the games. I say they are rubbish.

I have other friends now but for a time I didn’t have anybody. No friends, no body. No mother, no body, not even my annoying little sister was there, and I miss her when I can remember her.

I tried to forget everything that happened before. Not before when Mummy and Daddy, and Tania and me were all together, but before I was here with Lewis as my best friend. The in between before time. This time is after my family stopped being.

When I was home I used to make believe that I was a soldier and was fighting great action battles and I became a hero and Mummy and Daddy, especially Daddy, was proud of me. But I don’t play those games anymore.  Mummy would call me from the garden and say, “Anton, come in for dinner now.” I just carried on playing until she came and grabbed me and forced me to wash the camouflage dirt off so that we could sit down and eat together.

I’m not supposed to cry, because boys don’t cry, but I do almost every night because I’m forgetting what Mummy looked like and what she sounded like when she kissed me on the top of my head and told me to go to sleep or I wouldn’t grow. I don’t tell anybody that I cry because I do it quietly when I’m in my new bed.

My new bed is part of my new life, so is Lewis, my new best friend.

At first I didn’t speak. I didn’t speak for a long time. I don’t know how long the time was that I didn’t speak but I was trying to make it old again so I didn’t speak anything new that I’d have to lose. I was good at watching when I was silent. I learned all the new people’s routines even though I pretended that I didn’t notice anything.

On the third day here I saw a boy playing with a football, he never smiled but kicked the ball against the wall over and over. I think he was trying to break the football but he just got tired and sat on the floor holding the ball between his legs while he cried.

I was still looking for my family so I didn’t have time to play football or cry because I had to keep watch. And I couldn’t talk to any strangers because they stopped me from looking, so I stayed near the door and waited. Lots of people came but they weren’t my family.

The waiting was not like the waiting that I had to do in my old bedroom when I was being punished for playing out for too long, I knew that waiting, I knew it would end. This waiting was cold and lonely. I didn’t like it, I wanted it to stop.

It did. But not how I wanted it to. That’s why I started playing football.

I was my old self again and I remembered Daddy kicking the ball to me and Tania trying to get in the way. I pushed her over once – I wasn’t sorry then, but I am now. I just wanted to play a proper game with Daddy.

Lewis plays football with me. It’s good, but it’s not the same. But I am trying not to remember why I try to forget because when I remember I cry or just get so sad that I can’t talk to any one for a long time. In those times I feel like I’m shaking and it’s so cold again, and the soldiers are there with their guns, tanks and loud voices. It is very bright as if someone put all the lights in the world on and made them shine just on my house. Then everything is loud and I cover my ears. The next thing I know is that it’s very dark and I can hear the engines getting quieter as they drive into the distance over the rough roads.

I remember hearing some men laugh, but it was not a laugh that I recognised. I did try to make the laugh sound like the laugh of my cousin Stanimir, or my uncle Franjo. I tried to make the sound into something I had heard when it was the time before the bright light and the darkness – somehow it never works, not even when I dream it.

So, I play football with Lewis, and Ryan his brother, and I am OK for a slice of time.

It’s great to have a best friend. Lewis gave me a pencil on my first day at school, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t trust him, he was a stranger. A boy, just like me, yet I was afraid. Now he’s my best  ever friend and we share everything, except his silly games on his playstation.

The only thing I don’t like in my new house are the combat pyjamas – they’re not funny. I screamed when I saw them on my new bed.

When I was in Serbia my birthday was exciting. I got lots of presents and felt special all day long. I was nice to my sister on that day as well because no bad words were said on birthdays in our house. Mummy always made a cake and Daddy organised the games for me and all my friends to play. It was always a long day full of fun. I loved my birthdays and I thought that they all would be the same for ever: me, Mummy, Daddy, Tania and my friends.

My birthday last week was different – it was nice but empty without my old family, my real family.

My new family, who I call Auntie and Uncle, they bought me lots of gifts, more than I’d ever had before, and they were kind to me all day. Lewis and his brother bought me a mini football – I like that. Stefan, my previous best friend, who lived next door to me and was in the same class as me at our old school, he never bought me a football but we shared each other’s games since we were born. I’d known Stefan for ever. I’d known him almost as long as I knew my mum and dad and even longer than I’d known my sister, Tania. Stefan didn’t make it to the old town hall where I ran to a few days after the soldiers had been. Nobody else from my neighbourhood made it there either.

I’d always been the fastest runner in our class, so I ran and hid until the loud noises went away. Mummy told me to run, she was crying when she called out to me, “Run, Anton, run!” I’d been playing in the shed, and was still hiding there when they  came. The soldiers had grabbed her and Daddy had finished fighting and was lying on the ground.

I couldn’t move at first but her voice begged me to go, and when she screamed I went to help her, but she shouted at me in her angry voice mixed with her sad voice, “Do what I tell you, run Anton!” So I ran away and left the soldiers hurting Mummy. And I stayed hidden in the woods for days and it was scary when it was dark. I was always cold and hungry. I don’t like the dark, it frightens me. Tania doesn’t like the dark either. We always have a light on outside the bedroom at night so the shadows don’t come in.

I still have the light on.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2007

(1,370 words)