The Truth

 

They look satisfied with themselves. They have every reason to. They have done this before and the results are always the same. They get what they want and how they want it. They all wear smugness before they have even begun.

She looks calm. But inside she is more scared that she’d ever admit. This is not something that they need to know. She has decided to be brave for as long as possible.

Nobody knows just how long this will last but each of them agrees that the outcome will be the same. Even she agrees with them, but they don’t know that. She just wants it all to be over and for things to go back to the way they were before. But she knows that won’t happen. Her immediate concern is how things will change now.

There is a long table that splits the room in two and she is the only one on one side. They all enter the room after her and choose seats away from her. Each of them puts a bag or briefcase on the table. Only one man, sat at the far end of the table, brings nothing with him apart from a pen that he presses off and on nervously. He was never any good at confrontation. She thinks that he is only there to make up the numbers.

Seven of them against just her.

Nobody speaks. They all know why they are there. One of the group looks up at her, she catches his eye and he quickly looks away. She is not sure if he gave a look of sympathy or just curiosity. Shaking away the possibility of more deception she looks down at her brief before her. She knows she cannot afford to be sidetracked from her focus by wondering if she has a silent ally in the group.

It has been months now and not one of them has spoken a word to her since they had arranged the meeting. They had taken the time to prepare their case against her. They are convinced that it is a tight case. There have been no more invites to dinner, no casual encounters in the shopping centre or the park. She feels as if she had been living on a different continent since they openly accused her. This was the first time she had seen them in months and she realises that she has missed them.

Thinking about them as adversaries does not diminish the fact that she has memories of happy times with many of them. They had grown up together. They were as close as family. They had been her only family since she had begun her studies at the university.

The tall man speaks first. He has opened his case and taken out two items that he places one on top of the other directly in front of him. His long fingers caress the black leather cover and the gold edges. She watched him press his curved thumb into the middle of the front cover then taking half of the pages in his hand he repeatedly flicks them downwards. It is now she realises that he is nervous.

“Shall we begin?” He looks at his watch, “I know we are all busy people, so I thank you all for taking the time to meet here to discuss a way forward.” He pauses and stares at her across the table. One by one they all look at her, with unblinking eyes.

“We were all disappointed to hear of this … deceit in our midst. But we are here today to follow the correct procedure to resolve this matter.”

“Let’s pray.” He bends his head expecting total compliance.

“I’d rather you didn’t pray for me,” her voice breaks the silence and heads snap back upwards. They all stare at her for a few seconds before looking curiously at their leader.
“It’s for all of us,” he replies and proceeds in his special intoning voice. She is the only one who does not bow her head. She takes the opportunity to listen to his deep smooth voice and looks at the other six heads bowed like a row of ants each side of him. He is sat slightly to one side of her position. She wonders why he didn’t sit opposite her.
The assault begins as soon as the seven of them chorus “Amen!”

“It has been brought to my attention …” he begins. They all nod, murmur and glare at her for the next hour. He leafs through his book and his notepad as he proceeds. She is silent all the way through. He appears more uncomfortable than he should be, everybody notices but nobody knows why.
It is her turn to speak and she does. She refutes every point he made. Some of them look to him for assurance. He says nothing. He didn’t think she’d do this. He thought he knew her better.

“How dare you think you can do this to me and expect I’d have nothing to say. Did you think I’d be the same as all the others you have successfully bulldozed into silent submission?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but ‘newsflash’, I am different because I have the truth.”
“Truth! Uh?! You disgust me!” One by one they begin to object to her.
“How dare you speak to us like that?”
“You have no idea what truth is, you live in perversion.”

The pastor raises his hand for silence as some of the elders also angrily motion their intention to leave. There is a noisy dragging of wood on wood as the chairs are returned to the table. They all lean on their closed briefcases and glare, with open hostility, across the table at her.

“I know that it’s the people you have been mixing with that have corrupted you in this way.” He shakes his head slowly as he speaks. He seems genuinely saddened by the words that have been shared in anger in the previous hours. “I will pray for you, Mags. You are still a child of God.”

“My name is Magdiel. Only my friends call me Mags.” Her eyes spark with anger. “I’ve told you before not to call me that. You’re not my friend. You’ve never been my friend.”

“I’m still your pastor.” He speaks calmly and the authority and assurance in his voice is soothing to those on the other side of the table. They nod and murmur in the right places. “I am trying to help you.” He looks to his left then to his right with an inclusive glance. “We are all trying to help you. You’d believe if you were also looking for the truth. There is no other way. You know that.”

Nobody spoke for a few seconds. One of the two women who were sat opposite Magdiel shot a look of pure hatred across to her; it hurt. They had been friends for a long time. Magdiel had often stayed at Sylvia’s home and her children had called her ‘Aunty Mags’, they had all loved each other. Then the rumours started and the friends slipped into enemy colours.

“We have no alternative but to inform you that as long as you continue to live a life of sin you are no longer welcome to meet with us.” He closed his bible and pushed his chair back.
“This meeting is now closed.” He stood up and walked around the chair.

“I will make your secrets known,” she speaks clearly, looking directly at him. None of them on the other side of the table needed any legal interpreter to explain her promise. Her law career had once been a source of pride for the church as they congratulated her on each milestone she achieved; she was one of them. She specialised in child law, protecting vulnerable children from abusive relationships. “You’re all living the same illusion, you think that detesting me is logical.”

Now they were faced off against the skill they once admired.

Unused to being defeated they started to shuffle away from the table wearing nervous mystified looks.

Magdiel also stood up, “I haven’t finished speaking yet,” she said loudly. “There is something else you should know as you consider the righteousness of your positions and the so-called truth that you think only you have access to.”

Reluctantly some of them turned back. No matter how they despised her they were enthralled by her knowledge and surprised that she had suddenly confounded them. They wondered, as with one mind, what else she had to say.
She didn’t keep them waiting long.

The internal shaking had begun again but Magdiel forced it into one corner of her heart. She remained standing as six of them resumed their seats. The pastor alone stood, opposite her. He didn’t want her to speak any more. He wanted his group to leave.

“Brethren,” he used his preaching voice to project around the room, “I think we have heard enough of this. No more can be gained here.” Again he had their attention, but not completely.

“While you can believe anything you want to about me – and I know you have already formed your opinions with the false information you have made up or heard – know this, I don’t care what you do any more. I am free from your lies and hold on my life. I know my own truth. I don’t need any of you to fulfil my dreams or my destiny. I have a separate purpose.”

She paused to look at each of them. They exuded impatience. What they wanted was to be out of the board room and back in their familiar lives. They knew she would remain misguided while they remained righteous.

“This man who leads you, the new shepherd to your flock, this … man of God,” she could no longer keep the sarcasm at bay as all eyes turned to their pastor. They were prepared to defend him at a moment’s notice. Righteous indignation was already being manufactured in their guts and they were primed to spew it all over her, if only they had permission.

Five of them had already decided that they didn’t need permission to say their piece. Each of them would take the first opportunity to speak to Magdiel without holding back on their true thoughts. It would be the truth, not this watered down politically correct way of speaking at this meeting. They were just biding their time. This meeting first, then their time.

“Several years ago when I was just a child really, I was feeling very low, I was at the beginning of my journey to the truth. I knew I was different so I sought help. I didn’t live around here then, as you know, but I came to the church and pastor, yes this same pastor you see standing before you …”

“We’re done here!” He thundered. “Come on brethren, we can do nothing else for this wicked child. God loves the sinner but not the sin. We must go before she corrupts our minds with her filth.”

Magdiel laughed for the first time that day. His fear had a shape. It was her.

Three people got up again and began to move towards the door. The others lingered, not quite knowing why their loyalty was being tested by her.

Before the pastor reached the door Magdiel continued to speak and several heads turned back to listen.

“Pastor Precious here, has been putting his persuasive skills to what he considers good use.”

“Let’s leave now!” He bellowed from the doorway.

They had many reasons to leave but they stayed. Even those who had stepped out of the room came back and hovered in the doorway. Their curiosity was awake now. He hoped she would stop. Reading their faces Magdiel saw the hope some of them carried was that she would crucify herself with her words. They did not expect the truth.

“Pastor William Johns, this highly educated leader of three churches in this area, used his psychological training to identify the weakness in a vulnerable questioning person and he forced her to have sex with him.”

The gasps were accompanied by cries of “Lies”, “Disgusting” and “Not true”, but when they looked at the pastor their protests fell silent.

“More than once as well.” She shudders and looks at his head because his eyes are downcast.

“His lie to me on those many occasions was ‘I’m doing you a favour’. I’m sure his wife will not look on it in quite the same way when she knows that I was just one of many young girls he’s ‘favoured’. Not one of you can judge me – I’m not perfect but I’m not corrupt. I live the truth, openly. I live for equality and justice, as you all know. Can any of you say the same thing? Can you, Pastor?”

His arrogance has been replaced by shock and shame.

She leaves the room and fluidly closes the door behind her.
She knows that now everything has changed for everyone that was in that room.

She does not see how they look now they have her truth.

Marjorie H Morgan © 2018

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Sticks and Stones

Endings.
‘Mummy, what did she mean when she said I was different? What’s wrong with my nose? Mummy? Mummy? Why are you crying?’

‘Mummy? Talk to me Mummy!
You’re walking too fast Mummy, I can’t keep up… Mummy?’

As the years passed me by in the village so the questions dried up. They were never answered anyway. I knew but didn’t know all of it. But I would. Oh yes, I would know. They wanted me to know. And the others didn’t want me to know. I wanted to know and at the same time I didn’t want to know. So this is how I found out with my clumsy discovery. Some people were happy and some were sadder than a farmer in a drought when they knew I really knew.

Rachel Stitch. That was the girl that first spoke out. We were playing Poo Sticks at the bridge near the barley field by Milk Lane Cottage. Rachel was older than me, she was seven and I was only six, but we were best friends. How long do best friends stay best friends? Why are best friends only best for a while? What comes after best? I found out that Sunday morning.

We were on our way home from church, it was a normal Sunday morning; a bright, but cold, spring day, we were wearing hand-knitted hats, scarves and gloves as we crunched through the lanes on the way home.
Rachel and I ran to the bridge, we always did this, it was our routine every week. We hurried ahead missing the puddles, while our mothers talked and walked at a slower pace. At the usual point we grabbed sticks from the hedges at the side of the lane and raced back to the middle of the small stone bridge.

‘Ready, steady, go!’ We shouted together as we dropped the sticks into the fast flowing water. It was fun. This was like the stories we had read together, but it was our special game. Me and Rachel together in our easy intimacy. We had a common past: this was our world. Suddenly a dark shadow made me turn to my right and I looked up; it was nothing more than an old bird, a big old bird. I laughed as a blackbird swooped across the path in front of us. That was when Rachel said it. That was when my world cracked and the fissure never healed. The San Andreas fault originated in my chest after the beautiful music from the church organ had not yet gone to sleep for another week. Songs of the world at one rang in my mind: la la la lah la la la lah. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…

‘You look like that bird,’ she skipped along at my side as we turned to run to the other side of the bridge to watch the sticks appear, ‘but your nose is different. Your nose is too big for a bird. You have the biggest nose I’ve ever seen in my life.’
Suddenly she stopped and looked directly at me. We had looked at each other hundreds of times before, all the days of all the years that were my short childhood, but today Rachel’s eyes were like dead fish eyes to me, they were flat and cold. There was a glaze of distance behind her lids as she blinked. She was somebody else, so was I. We stood two feet apart but thousands of miles away. I did not know what a mile was. It was further than I had ever been. But I felt far away without moving an inch. I was in my dream again. The dream I had before I was here. I was in that dream.
‘Why is your nose so big and why are you so black?’ those were her words. Were they a question or something bigger than a question can ever be? The sticks floating beneath us did not pause except to navigate a rock or clump of reeds.

I thought it was a game and I looked at her with a puzzled frown, I was trying to remember what I was supposed to say next. We always played games together. We read each other’s minds. I was surprised because suddenly all I felt was an ancient yearning for someone I did not know. I moved my eyes to look for the answer. There was nothing in my head. I was lost.
Since she was my best friend, and since that was the last day that she was going to be my best friend, Rachel just carried on talking. She must have been trying to help me out with the game. I smiled at her as I stood opposite her on the cold stone bridge. Our parents had been walking behind us and they were now within earshot of us.

‘You are as black as soot – that’s what my dad says and Mum tells him to be careful in case walls have ears, do wall have ears? And you have a nose like a monkey because you’re the monkey’s cousin…. Is that true that you came from a mud hut in the jungle?’ Paralysed by the absence of joy the gloom of the moment clung to me, it seeped into me like clothes that have taken on the smell of cooking or burning. Unbidden voices told me that I wouldn’t forget this moment in a long while.

‘Look! You won!’ Rachel turned and hugged me. She didn’t know. I wasn’t sure but I felt the change moving in on me and I couldn’t stop it. The tornado of difference lifted me up, flung me around into the star filled night on the other side of the world and then set me back down in the same place as if nothing had happened. The second inside the second that it took for my travels made my feet burn as if I was a Buddhist monk walking across hot coals. I reached a new age but I was harmed.
‘My turn to win next,’ Rachel bubbled as she ran to get more sticks.

I stood leaning on the cold stone bridge afraid to move. I knew I would break into a thousand pieces of dust if I breathed or flinched. My gloves offered me no protection and my coat was like a silk sheet against a blizzard. I stood on the bridge totally exposed: to myself and to Rachel.
My ears were hurting with the words. I didn’t understand. My world was now unstable. I missed what I didn’t know. I understood nothing.
I was startled when I thought I was safe; before I knew what unsafe was I felt it.
I remained fixed to the spot afraid the bridge would buckle if I moved and my mother had to grab me hard to dislocate me. I was torn from the bridge, separated from the skipping child that was me who had run on to it.
I was deaf to my mother’s voice, the only sound available to me was my blood as it exploded and collided inside of me as I experienced the aftershock of seeing myself from outside of myself for the first time. I was using Mr Stitch’s eyes. I was no longer as black as Rachel had said I had turned an ashen grey because I was confused and still only six. I looked up at Mummy and asked her the said questions. Adding ‘Is is true what Rachel says Mummy?’ she never answered me, but held my hand firmly and with a curt nod to Mrs Stitch she pulled me quickly along the lane mumbling something about eggs. That was all she said. Nothing about being black, or having a big nose, or living in the jungle with monkey cousins, all Mummy spoke about was eggs. Got to get to the shop to get eggs. All the way to the shop to get eggs that we didn’t need. We had eggs at home. I knew that, Mummy knew that, but eggs were the first thing she said so off we went, back the opposite way from Rachel and her Mum to get the unneeded eggs. My legs were tired when we got home because we had to walk too fast and Mummy would not let go of my hand. She held it so tight that it hurt a lot but I didn’t say anything else after we passed the church because Mummy was quiet and her eyes had changed to the colour of cold metal.
Mummy was scared, I saw it in her claret cheeks and felt it in her abnormally long strides as I flew along beside her.

Mummy and Mrs Stitch were good friends as well as me and Rachel. But after that day they didn’t like to talk for too long. A whole life of shared memories stopped for all of us after the blackbird. Mummy and Mrs Stitch had longer lives and memories than me and Rachel, but the big people grew as frosty as a winter’s day to each other. They usually only nodded and rushed in different directions. Time made people walk faster. Away, away, away from me. This happened a lot when Mummy and Mrs Stitch were in the High Street. There were only four shops in our village and everybody knew everything about everybody else. But after the Sunday when me and Rachel stopped being best friends, after that day, they, all the people in the village started looking different. They looked whiter and longer than they had before. I felt shorter and darker. I felt black. I was different and I didn’t know what different was. But once I felt it, once the words were out from the plaster on the walls with ears, once everybody knew that I knew, then the sheen of kindness vanished like vapour from an extinct volcano.

I was in a castle all alone. The walls were erected instinctively. I hadn’t been taught.

At six years old I had no insulation against raw hatred for just being me.
I was outside. I was marked from the outside. In my village I was out of place because I fitted better in another country that I didn’t know.

When was I old enough to know that I was not seen as the same and that the grey and blue eyes that saw me didn’t want to see me so close to them? It was on that Sunday when Rachel and I dropped the sticks into the water and after the blackbird eclipsed the light in front of me. I hate Sundays. I hate blackbirds.

Alchemy.
‘Marilyn, it won’t work,’ I could hear the exasperation in his voice, ‘just think about it. It’s the same with the animals, they’ll isolate her.’
I remember when Jeff said that to me but Molly looked so cute that I couldn’t hear reason, I believed that love and understanding are stronger than bad reason so I went ahead. I brought her home. And I was right. And I was wrong.
And Jeff was right and Jeff was wrong.

The first four years were bliss. Nothing better on this earth than being in Flax Cottage with Jeff and Molly. I had friends then. I thought I had friends anyhow. When do you know if a friendship is real? Is there always a litmus test moment? I would have told Molly to look out for it if I had known what I know now. Hindsight is always clear vision. But I had lived in the village as long as I had life. It was my home and now it was Molly’s as well. My little darling, Molly. I called her Molly because she looked fragile like a small doll and she gurgled for hours, content in my arms. Her fat little fingers explored my face with gentleness. I had never had such a smooth innocent touch on my skin before. Molly my angel, my gift from God.

I prayed for a baby and Molly came. God gave me Molly but He didn’t warn me that the bliss could shake after a few years. She was in the paper. Somebody needed me to take care of her. I cried for a week after I first saw her. I didn’t think she would ever be mine. And she isn’t. But I thought she was mine and I sometimes tell myself she is mine even though I know the same as they know. And now, now, even Molly knows, but once she did love me as if she was mine and I was hers. We loved each other without explanation from our first meeting.

I told Jeff that Molly was special and nothing could break the love shield around us three. I was wrong, again. I believed in good. I was too young to know any better. I see that now but I still believe that it is wrong that I could be wrong. I should have been right, love said so. Maybe I didn’t love enough? Maybe it’s my fault … if I had more love then Molly would be safe, not alone, without me, without … anybody.
Molly told me that I lied to her. She said, ‘It’s not true you know, they hurt…’
‘What hurts, darling?’ I knew the answer but as I played for time with my useless question I was searching for another bigger truth to absolve her pain.
‘Sticks and stones do break bones… and names, yes, names always hurt you. I’m sorry Mum,’ she raced on not giving me a chance to speak. I had no words anyway so I was glad for her need to express her anger, ‘But they hurt too bad…’ Her tears and my tears were the same colour. As they flowed they prevented us from speaking or hearing any more. But I could never cry enough to wash away all her pain. She has been gone for fifteen years. Just a phone call at Christmas and on my birthday. She never let me call her on her birthday, but I always sent her cards, for the first years at least. The tradition stopped when the past swooped down and eclipsed the present.
‘It reminds me of what I haven’t got to get a card from you, Mum’. From 1979 I kept the unsent cards that I persisted in buying for her; maybe one day she will see them. My only way through is to look at the same moon and feel her absence. I know I am missing part of me – without Molly there is no point.

Existing in my current lack of her I know I love her more that I did when she was one and I could feel her warm breath on my cheeks. I knew that love got bigger. I was right about that. I grew my love to cover her, and me, and Jeff. But it was not enough.

Molly was nineteen when she first told me how much she loved me and hated me at the same time.

‘You are the first one in the family to ever go to university,’ I proudly stated as I sat at the bottom of her bed and watched her pack to leave home.
‘What family?’
My smile fell like a parachutist without a chute.
‘Who do I belong to … really?’
The pause was longer than my life.
‘I feel… incomplete…’ she faded away with her words.
All the little questions were there. All the protection was blown away. I was exposed as a fraud. My love was ersatz.

I looked at her and remembered the lies that I had told her. They were to protect her not to harm her, but they took hold of our lives and it’s now impossible to go back to where we came from. The truth is back there, the truth is in the past that is a foreign place; it’s here too.
I told myself lies as well, lies to make the truth go away. The truth about myself and about Molly’s other mother. I didn’t want Molly to ever leave me so I made this new world the best place for her to be, with me, with me and not with them. I needed Molly as much as she needed me. We were right for each other, are right for each other. How do I tell her that they did want her back but I couldn’t let her go because I would cease to live without her?
It’s not true that if you love something enough you will let it go because I was afraid that Molly would not ever come back to me. For years I remembered the lies and watched for a word from her world. It only ever came in my dreams.

‘Nothing has ever reflected me here in the village… how do I reconstruct myself from nothing?’ What answers were possible to the unknown? My lips trembled as she lowered her head and allowed herself to sag onto the bed. The folded clothes spewed onto the floor as her leg dangled over the edge of the loaded bed.
‘Sorry, Mum. I’m not saying this to hurt you, I know you love me, and have done your best, but I don’t know who I am.’
I was silent. Not even tears helped me through that valley of solitude. I was between the question and the piercing look that was travelling over my face like a solitary searchlight for a lost child in a forest.
‘I’m glad I’ve had you, no, what I mean is that I’m glad you had me, but I have to wonder what was the rest of my past like. Do they think of me any more? Am I missed or loved?… you never told me why Grandma stopped coming. I’m old enough now, tell me today, please. Tell me now. I need to know if I should bother to look for them, if I should bother to expect them to come back again.’
Her call to me receives a sad response. I echo her grief. I know it is no longer hidden.
‘Molly,’ her name came easily to my lips, however, I stuttered on the next word for a long hot moment and eventually gave it up; it was not to be mine. I was grasping for solutions to fix her life. I knew this day was due but it is always too soon when you are not ready.

I had practised this moment for years and never wanted to have to act it out. I started again.
‘You are really special to me…’
‘You are my daughter, Molly…’
It all sounded lame. I couldn’t finish a sentence. Speech was heavy and as sharp as flames.
It was then that I knew there were no words, in any language, in any world, to explain. My memories have found me wanting. They were suddenly upon me like an overtaking car on a hairpin bend.
I felt the greatness of my gift from God was now pure bitter herbs.

We sat in the tense room. The bags remained unpacked.

‘They hated me too you know? That’s why your dad left because he couldn’t stand the ridicule any more. They said you were really mine, for that I couldn’t be angry, but they said that Jeff was a fool to keep us both under his roof and that hurt him more.’
‘Molly, I didn’t know. I can’t be blamed for not knowing people had flint words held in their hearts to throw at us, to throw at you. I did try to stop them, Molly. I tried to keep you safe, but the world is bigger than my heart can reach. I’m sorry I failed you, darling, I’m sorry. I only wanted to continue loving you. That’s what I did, that’s what I will always do, keep on loving you. I did my best and tried to make love grow here in the village; it did for a while then the storm of unpleasantness came and nothing was upright any more.’
‘Was that when we stopped going to church? When all this ‘unpleasantness’ started?’ I tried not to notice the sarcasm in her voice, the dam of her indignation was opened.
‘Yes. That was it. I wanted you to learn from me and not them. It was the best I could think of at the time. I’m sorry, darling.’ Even to me the words sounded empty. I looked towards her with empty hope. Molly rose from the bed and came towards me.
‘Oh, Mum!’ With her arms around my neck I felt able to move again. Thank God it was not all lost, I still had my gift.
‘Sorry is too small for this,’ her voice was low and I realised that she was in the past. I had hoped too soon. She sighed and shook then spoke slowly, ‘you’ll never know how I really feel, no matter how sad you are for me, it never happens to you, the look, the pressure on the word, the loose laugh, it’s not meant for you. Mum, you’ll never know.’
Another long life pause was placed between us.
‘Did you know that the look from a stranger, one who is strange for a multitude of reasons, often by choice like personal estrangement, that look, did you know that it lacks the kindness contained in the look from a friend?’ Her eyes did not meet mine. But her question was like a dagger in my heart: I could not ignore it.
Unknown to me her resolve was already set in stone. She was lost to me and that day Molly let me go to find the missing truths. I was abandoned with my lies and my lonely love as company. I was bereft but I saw that it was Molly who was shipwrecked.
I couldn’t reach her because it was then she turned away from me.
‘I still had to go to school on my own Mum, everyday. I was not OK all the time. There are some things you can’t keep away from me, some things you can never feel. You see, Mum, you are different to me too.’

She let go, and I let go too.
I had to wait from then on. I had to wait and watch for a change. Molly left me. I was alone, with my rock heart.

Beginnings.
My name is… I don’t know the answer to that simple truth. I don’t know who I am. I have a name, in fact I have several names, but they don’t relate to anything I know or knew. I am ignorant of myself.

What is the shape of wisdom?
I knew everything when I was six, or so I thought, then I was emptied of light. I was on a bridge and although I wanted to fly into my dreams I couldn’t move. It was a crisp Sunday. I had started my journey to the underground city of refuge as a creature newly born and blind. It’s hard to find the answer when you never knew the question. Inches of discovery took years as I learned the language of warm stone. I folded up inside of myself on the bridge, like origami I kept folding.
Suspense had hung over me for years. I strained my neck trying to see what was there but it never revealed itself to me in any form and neither would it remove its claws from my back.
I remember standing on the bridge, I remember being ignorant and invalid; I had no capability to alter anything but I was in the last moment of my childhood and I clung on to it; I was unfit for the journey ahead. Are we all unprepared for the wall that slams into us? Suddenly I was in a different land, I had not blinked but I had travelled, there was no going back. In this land I was ignorant of any of the rules. Mum couldn’t help me. The blank times were the most frightening. I tried to map my own facts but had no honesty to work with. My memory was blank. It was that simple. My co-ordinates were lost.

A few times I saw strangers that looked as lost as me on the television, no one similar came to the village after I was nine. The old lady with the skin like wrinkled leather who used to come, she unsettled me with her truth, her tight squeezes and her long bright clothes.
She wanted me to go back with her, but I didn’t know where back was. Rachel could have been right. I was afraid. I had to stay where I was confined and visible. She was my family but still a stranger. I didn’t know what to do, I was a child. But I had to take each step alone.
School was the concentration of terror and loneliness. No more best friends. Even Rachel became distant. But most of all I became distant from myself. I didn’t trust myself to know them. I became a watcher and a seeker.

I grew up as resistant as mountains although I still responded to the yearning in my mother’s eyes because she wore her jagged fear there. When I was at school or in the garden the instant she next saw me she would quest my face to see if copies of Rachel’s words had built a way into my life. I hid the fences filled with poisonous darts away from her gaze.
I kept my face fitted out with clean and simple acts of deceit to salve her desire for normality. We never spoke of the heavy words on the bridge, or in the playground, or those words that hung in the air like slaughtered beasts in the barns. We never shared things she didn’t want to know.
The Jesus who we sang about was absent in our house. Mummy cried but didn’t go to visit Him.
Daddy scowled and repeated ‘I told you so, I warned you!’
Life was reborn each day in a clean and simple smock of innocence. I was six years old and Sunday had not yet come. Then I would open my eyes and the dream would vanish.
When I entered a room too quickly and surprised Mummy I would recognise the same old shadow slipping from her eyes as she remembered and tried to understand where I, the child, was buried.

Even her best will could not protect me from my life. My portion of it was due, due to me alone. She was not a filter to my safety.
I was not in a position to forget the clear Sunday adventure into my new world. The record was in my face, in my father’s face, in my mother’s face from then until I stopped looking. Even then, when my eyes closed to the brightness of spring’s cruel birth, even then after the sharp shock had stopped stinging my face, I had no luxury. I was not in a position to forget.

I am so tired, so tired of feeling the weight of every second. It’s time to disappear.

I hid myself within myself within myself within myself like a Russian doll. I am successful at hiding from myself. I don’t recognise my true self now; I have gone so deep within.

I am to be found in the centre of granite. I leave the map to me.

My birth certificate says Mariama Nwakwaluzo. Who is she? I know Molly. I see Molly everyday but I am told that Mariama means a gift from God – to who? I ask if I can be a gift to myself. Who do I belong to? Who owns me as theirs? Who do I claim as mine? Will I ever discover myself? Without me my past was invented. I can find my meaning there or make my own here in the centre of this granite.
I have missed the pleasure of belonging to someone. The advantage of ownership was stolen from me. The day will not be created that makes me understand this theft.

Childhood passed years ago but still I cannot decipher the elusive record of my past for I am still blind. Could any missing information have saved me from now?

It took five years of living as a shadow among shadows in the university to realise that I can’t just burn my past away I must salvage it and claim the finders fee to move forwards. My training as an archaeologist proves mysteries remain in stone for centuries. I search deeply to uncover time and remove ancient power from the stones. The silence of now helps to carry the true memory forward. The mystery of myself is less of a mystery now. I am a stoneshaper.
Gently brushing the dust away I sit back on my heels and reflect; the scars from the stones look like tribal signs. We have all been in a battle and are marked.

It’s not what was meant that matters, it’s what was done – that’s what matters. There is no greater truth than appearance; I wonder if Oscar Wilde knew this truth as he was set in his harbour of stones.

My whole existence is like a watermark, visible and distinguished. I feel right, not wrong.

I have sat at the desk and I watch the Sunday morning grow before me. In front of me lie the doodles of my black ink, they are instructions to myself, to be deciphered from within; they are directions from myself before I knew myself.
Rocks and branches populate the paper giving it a black edge.

It’s time to write a letter to my mother.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

Bread

Who knew it could take so long to choose a loaf of bread. She has no clue which one to select. After all the bread is not even for her, it is her good deed but at this moment it feels like a heavy task. She stands looking at the rows and rows of bread before her.

“Why didn’t I just walk on the other side of the road?” Mae questions herself.

It is a cold day, the first week of November. Not autumn but also not yet in the depths of winter. It is the sort of day that warrants a hat, scarf and gloves along with the warmest coat in reach on the hallway coat stand. She is just on the way to the post office, a quick trip and then right back home. But then she thinks it makes sense to stop off at the doctor’s to drop in the repeat prescription form that needs refilling. Over the previous two weeks Mae has recognised that she is beginning to tire earlier and earlier each evening without any corresponding increase in activity during the day. However, it was only two days previously that she remember that she hadn’t been taking her iron and vitamin tablets like she is supposed to.

“That could be why I’m so tired.” She says aloud to herself.

There was no-one at home to remind her or to discuss the situation with, not even a disinterested cat.

At the post office Mae greets Angela with more joviality than she is feeling. Their salutations don’t feel real to either of them. Angela smiles a practiced business greeting back at Mae. They mention the weather while weighing the packages. The woman behind the counter is as slender as she could be without people mentioning that she looks unwell. Angela is printed on her name tag.

Mae stands on the public side of the counter and observes Angela who is focused on her work with the three packages. Her thick auburn hair is always immaculate and her clothes would not look out of place in any of the Michelin starred restaurants in the city centre, but she never goes to any of them. The post office and the shop business, her husband – who may have been acquainted with kindness in his younger days, and their now adult twin children, are the only things that gain her attention, apart from her house and garden. She thinks of the house as just hers because she is the only one to call that place home. It is her area of safety. When she is there, away from the people in and out of the post office all day, she knows she isn’t watched anymore and can take off her carefully coiffured wig and relax to unending reality television in her jogging bottoms, accompanied only by a glass or two of Bombay Sapphire gin on the coffee table. She never jogs anywhere. Chris, her husband, is not in the shop section of the post office today. He is an infrequent visitor, and today he is away on business again, so Angela says. Angela has encouraged him to attend business meetings and conferences all over the country, and to go on regular golfing holidays. It suits them both. They had married before they had the chance to get to really know each other or themselves. They later found out that they had significant differences which did nothing to reignite the attraction to each other after twenty years of marriage. So they slipped into a silent agreement to grow up separately but be together in the same house for some of the time as they got older.

Outside the winter sun and blue skies are co-conspirators in an elaborate lie  today. The fresh cold air burns into Mae’s exposed cheeks as soon as she leaves the house. When she turns to lock the front door she almost goes back into the house, it is only the letters in her hand that force her to walk down her short path to the street and keep going towards the shops.

Mae walks rapidly down to the end of her street, then turns right. This is her daily exercise time; an afternoon walk to the shops and back to her desk. The post office is not even a mile away so she doesn’t want to drive today. It seems like such a waste of petrol to start the car up to travel a distance that is only a brisk five minutes walk away. As she turns into the adjacent street she again muses that the area has the feel of a village, but it is still only three miles from the city centre and yet has a totally different vibe. It is so quiet, both inside the small retail unit and on the bright streets; the day feels like a television weather warning has been issued stating that the cold atmosphere will pervade all areas and therefore people and animals are encouraged to stay inside buildings unless the journey is absolutely necessary.

The months of November through to the middle of February have the tendency to make Mae wish that she once again had the anonymity of a stranger in her recently adopted city. For the first three of the five years she has been here she made it her business to avoid the connectivity of being known as it made her vulnerable to look for and expect kindness. That’s what she had left behind.

Although she has not yet attended any street barbecues or accepted the numerous invitations to birthday drinks from her friendly neighbours, she does now know the names of a few people in the houses linked to hers, and the names of the people in the post office as well since typed letters and packages are now her preferred forms of communication. However it sometimes makes life awkward when she is not in the mood to have her privacy violated because someone knows her name.

Leaving the post office her mind is crowded with regrets. It is a convenient location for both her business of writing greeting cards and the private post that she has to send. Now she fears she has become too familiar and caused friction. She asked where one of the clerks was that afternoon and had tried to make a joke about man flu but the person in question was Angela’s adult son Jason. Mae did not know they were related when she first encountered Jason a few weeks earlier. He bears no resemblance to his mother that she could see. He has the physique of an international rugby player who has retired early because of injury. He recently returned to the city without his wife and would occasionally work with his mother behind the post office counter. He coughed continually when Mae was in the post office the previous Tuesday, and he had remained huddled in his coat and scarf as if he was about to leave, although at the time he said, “I’ve just got here, but I’m not feeling well.” Any hope that he had had the Monday before that it was a 24 hour bug had been replaced by the firm resignation that he would have the cold for the rest of the week at least. His rugged face had started to show signs of calm since he settled into his own flat, but all sickness has a way of reminding people of their mortality and isolation when health matters occur. In a hurry to get away Mae proffered the usual sympathies and platitudes then left the post office without the new book of stamps that she needed. Today she chastens herself for forgetting that no matter what age someone’s offspring is she should always remember not to make any jokes about them to their parents. Now she will have to use the other post office for a while while they both forget her faux pas. The distance of the nearest alternative means that she will have to drive there regardless of what the weather is.

It is this error that causes her to be forgetful and leads to her standing in the shop looking at white bread. Wanting to rebalance her day and remove the guilt and negativity that was suffocating her brain Mae reduced her pace and spoke to the man sat on the wall. He always smiled at her. Ever since the first day when she had seen him standing in the supermarket car park by the trolley bay they had connected in the way that strangers sometimes do – usually across the road or as she rushed by on her way somewhere else, like the doctor’s surgery. This time, distracted from the negative post office interaction, she is walking more slowly than usual. He catches her eye and arranges his face in a big smile.

The wall around him shows that he is sat on several layers of free supermarket magazines. They are his buffer from the cold she supposes. Guilt surfaces again and she tightens her grip on her coat. He isn’t even wearing a hat, but he does have a warm coat on she thinks as she assesses him from head to foot. He looks better than he looked the last time she saw him.

When she is parallel to him she stops.

“Hello Joseph,” she says. He had told her that was his name about six months ago. He never looked like a Joseph to her, he said he was from Romania and staying with a friend a few streets away, but he is not allowed to stay in the house in the day, so he stays outside the local supermarkets smiling at people with hope.

“Any change?” Had been his first words to her at the trolley bay the year before.

“No, sorry. It’s a token.” She gesticulated to the slot near the handle of the trolley. “I haven’t got any cash, sorry.” It was an easy lie. Her wallet was bulging with money. It was the act of a coward, an act of self-defence because she didn’t want to explain herself to a strange man or open her wallet. She lowered her head and struggled as she pushed her trolley back into the row of returned trollies. Then she pocketed the token before leaving him standing there as if they had not just spoken to each other, and walked away to her car. After that encounter she avoided eye contact with him around the local supermarkets for months and judged him from afar.

Today he looks up at her, the smile had not moved.

“How are you?”

“O.K. O.K.” He says slowly, he shakes his head from side to side while talking. His actions confuse her. Was he O.K. or not?

“You must be cold out here …”

Feeling stupid at stating the obvious she looks at her feet. Her boots are warm, but then so are his. At least they appear to be. He has on a nice pair of yellow and black new trainers, they don’t really go with his brown puffa jacket. They look at each other in silence. They are both thinking.

Mae’s thoughts are all questions. What is he doing out here in this weather? What should she do? How is she supposed to walk away now?

“I wish I could help you, but I don’t have any change on me. See, I’ve just used my card for these few things from the chemist.”

“O.K.” Joseph responded. The smile is now reducing to a thin line on his face, but his eyes still shine – they are somehow reflecting the cold sun in the sky. He has a half empty cup of tea or coffee in one hand and the other is hugging his waist in what appears like a desperate attempt to give himself some warmth and comfort. Mae thinks, “I wonder when he was last hugged or touched by another person?”

He looks isolated the way a statue is on a busy street. People see him and walk pass him as if his humanity doesn’t exist.

“Why did I have to stop?” Mae questions herself again.

Hesitantly she speaks to him again, this is the only way she can feel less awkward about standing there and she cannot bring herself to walk away just yet, “I’m going into that shop, can I get you something? I’ve only got my card with me so I can’t give you any money.”

“Please. Yes. Thank you.”

“What would you like? What can I get you?”

“Anything good. Thank you.” Joseph is shaking his head again, his curly black hair has a tousled look to it. It appears clean but uncombed, it is not the sort of hair that you would regularly comb really, unless you use your fingers. It falls loosely to just below his ears. He looks about the age her son could be now if she had had children when she had the opportunity. He has a light scattering of facial hair that is trying to form a moustache and sideburns, however it was obvious that he will not be successful in growing enough hair on his face to style into even the smallest goatee – his face will not be blessed with anything can be used for a temporary disguise or even warmth on a cold day.

“Tea? Bread? Milk?”

“Bread. Please.” More head shaking accompanies his sparse words.

“What type of bread do you like?” Suddenly Mae recognises that she is talking quickly and is probably not making herself clear to Joseph whose mother tongue is evidently not English.

“White, brown? What bread?” She asks again.

“White? Please. Thank you.” Joseph’s smile has now completely gone after the flurry of words directed at him and he looks concerned. Mae is worried that she has offended him by her offer of food. She feels hot, despite the cold. Maybe he was cold. He must be cold she thought.

“O.K. White. O.K. I’ll be right back.” Mae nervously still speaks rapidly.

It has been years since she has picked up a loaf of white bread. She wants to get a loaf of multigrain brown bread for him because that is what she always buys for herself, but she had asked him what he wanted and he said white. There are so many white loaves on the shelf. Thick cut, thin cut, half loaves, full loaves, medium slice, toastie, old English, so many different brands and choices. Mae just wants to go straight home and get on with her work and not think about white bread or man flu, but she knows Joseph will be out there on the cold wall expecting her to come back. Or maybe he won’t. She remembers the last time she bought something for someone she’d talked to outside of a shop, and when she had paid for it and come out the woman had gone, and Mae had been left with a pack of energy drinks and some donuts that she would never drink or eat or have a chance to offer to anyone – especially as at that time she hadn’t had a visitor to her home for two years. 

At the till she unloads the contents of her basket onto the conveyor belt. There is broccoli, carrots, brown basmati and wild rice, onions, garlic, red peppers, tofu, blueberries, bananas, oats

and a loaf of thick cut white bread in a bright orange and white packet. Just looking at it makes her feel bad because she knows she is being judgemental again.

She puts the bread into her bag last of all because it is coming out as soon as she exits the shop, but she doesn’t feel good about it. Even when she hands the loaf to Joseph she feels unsettled.

“Here you go, “ she says triumphantly, “one loaf of white bread. I hope you enjoy it.”

He takes it, shakes his head in the confusing way that means neither yes or no to Mae, smiles a small smile that does not reach his eyes, and says a muted, “Thank you.”

Neither of them look happy.

Before Mae turns to head back to her warm centrally-heated house she sees Joseph put the loaf of bread onto one of the opened magazines on the wall to his right. Then he looks straight ahead of him like the statue that he has become, with the now empty polystyrene cup held out in front of him.

Mae turns away from him, quickly dodges past a group of school children who are looking at her and Joseph curiously and proceeds to hurry home with her bag of righteous shopping and a heavy guilty judgemental conscience.

As she closes the door behind her she drops the shopping bag by the hall radiator and leaning her back against the warmth rising from the panels she silently wishes she never wrote those letters or went out.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

September

“Can’t you manage a single act of kindness towards him?”

“Why should I?”

“Because he’s your father. He’s your blood.”

“That doesn’t mean anything to me. Not after what he did to mum … and me.” I sat still with my head bowed down to my chest. I hated September, especially this day. Every year I dreaded it and trying to forget it meant I thought about it more than ever.

“Harrison Stern! Please stop it. It’s time you grew up and faced the fact that you are his only living relative and he’s not getting any better. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t give him a chance.” Chloe’s voice softened as she finished talking and sat beside me on the sofa tenderly holding my hand.

When we walk into his room in the hospice I’m startled at how old he looks. The illness has added at least twenty years to his real age of sixty-five.

I stand back while Chloe talks to him. I’m looking out of the window as my heart is rapidly palpitating.

“Sit here,” Chloe says as she gets up from the chair and moves it closer to the side of the bed.

He looks at me and knows it’s me.

“Harry.” He exhales with relief.

Then he starts talking, and keeps talking. It’s as if he has words stuck inside him that need to be released.

I listen silently. I still hate him.

Then he says,  “I remember that one time when we built the kite. Do you remember that, Harry?” Words were not available to me. My throat is able to manage a hard swallow but nothing else. I feel afraid that if I speak I will splutter or choke on my own saliva.

John, my dad, continues, “It was your seventh birthday I think. No, your eighth. That’s right. It was supposed to be your seventh, but … well, something happened the year before. I can’t quite remember what that was.”

I remembered. He was with her. Not my mum, the other woman. That was when I started hating him, although I didn’t know about her until Mum died 10 years ago. All I knew was he broke his promise to me and never said why. I’d boasted to all my friends about the kite that we were going to make, so when my birthday came and went without it, I was called a liar. He totally destroyed my trust on my birthday –  it’s the same month as his birthday: aka sad September.

“I’m sorry, Harry. I’m so sorry, my boy.”

Finally.

“It’s OK, Dad,” I sob and lay my head on the side of his bed. He places his shaking hand on my head and continues to talk.

I hear Chloe quietly leaving the room and know I love her even more than when we married 12 years ago.

She was right, she’s always right.

Dad and I are finally free to love each other, even at this desperately late stage.

© 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)

Lilly Coleman’s Masquerade

 Lilly Coleman’s Masquerade

by Marjorie H Morgan

‘I can remember you, and I want you to remember me, the way it was in the age of the rituals and normal time …’ my thoughts are interrupted by your movement across the room. This is part of the conversation that I plan to have with you later.

You stand beside me, staring at me. I saw your shape cross the shaft of light through the red vessels in my eyelids. I know where you are even when you do not speak. This is the way we have always been. Connected. Full of energy we chased each other around the house always managing to evade capture until we reached the bed, then we fell, laughing together in entwined limbs. Sensing the lightness below the surface and urging it out. But now, in this world of burnt orange I cannot see you anymore. Your eyes still speak the truth. I don’t want you to know me now. I am tired and weak. I was sick again in the night. I moved quietly to the bathroom to avoid disturbing your sleep. The doctor said that I would have pain; he didn’t say that you should share it too. I want you to see me then. Look back, please. That is where I am. There I nearly found freedom.

‘Lilly? Lilly dearest…’

I can hear you. But I will not answer.

It is not time to speak.

‘Lilly? Lilly?’ You refuse to be refused entry to my world. You wait for me. The sigh is unusual. It almost breaks my resolve. Maybe you can see my pupils dashing around under my closed lids. I will not view you. My dreams are my life. I have no other.

I am dancing. I am dancing.

In the wings I pant as I regain my breath. The orchestra soars. I take my position and am revealed.

Plié follows two grand jetés and I stand with attitude as the music breathes.  Mercury approves. Seconds later my body responds on cue to the music that soaks through my mind.  From centre stage I jump and twist. Electricity soars through my veins. No blood remains. The strength in my limbs is due to adrenalin manufactured by nerves. I am free.

As my dancing self I laugh: loud and long. Drinking champagne between rehearsals to remain focussed and relaxed. The future was far away then. We smiled through our eyes. Our ordered lives regulated by fixed music and performance schedules. Bliss. Tchaikovsky and Bach were never far away from our thoughts.

As my sick self I stay silent. The time has caught me. Present.

My beauty is gone. I refuse to wear the wig you bought me. You lie to my face. Aesthetics evade my bone-house. You are not blind. Neither am I. I choose not to see while you lie.

I am a rebel at 31; though not in the Cuban sense. My defiance may not fit with usual patterns. I am well acquainted with familial etiquette. This is not it. My parents still do not understand me. Father refuses to visit any longer and I am glad. I surprised myself when the diseased person took control. I let me do it. I had the choice and I accepted the invasion. I was suddenly tired and willing to rest. I am now a disappointment to my family, except for Jonathan, he smiled at me. He approves of dissent. He was the only one who confirmed that I existed as me, so I will not miss the withdrawing parents.

I know I still have you.

‘Lilly? Dear Heart … Please talk to me. I know you can hear me. I know you are not asleep. Please Lilly!’ The sound of your desperation jars me for a smooth second. Why are you crying? I am well. I am not here. You are here with my sick self. I am dancing. I am dancing.

Only 10 days remain. Are your days longer than mine? Do your hours drag while you watch me appearing to be still? My hours have a different shape. They enthusiastically invite me to touch and be renewed by each moment… and the moments between moments.

I have no penance… except the sorrow I sent you.

Even though misery has made us strangers yet still you linger at my side taking my hand and my heart in hope. I only resist to save you from the dissension within my body. I alone will handle that. I am not used to doing things by myself.

Since we met at the dance academy, in the corridors between classes, 17 years ago, alone has been a thing of the historical past. Of course, neither of our families thought it would last; a teenage fancy was their definition on kind days. But we found each other and persevered. My ego bowed to yours and in reverse I accepted your praise. We made it this far, we made it this far. I love you.

It changed when you went for a walk 30 days ago.

‘Here you are my darling,’ you whispered as your lips brushed my ear, ‘it’s spring already.’

The daffodils were beautiful. The crystal vase was prismatic. And after the door had closed I opened my eyes and savoured them. I said ‘goodbye’ but you could never hear my voice behind my closed heart.

Your fingerprint was on the glass and I caressed it. We no longer touch each other. My body is an aberration to you. And to me. I saw the yellow reflected in your clear eyes the last time I looked at you. Your fear shows in my skin. I lay here matched by daffodils and the new bed cover.

You left the bedroom window open to give me some fresh spring air. Thank you. You changed my lives. My soul responded to the sound from a neighbour’s stereo. My body was invited to move. That was to be the last time.

Freewheeling around the bedroom I was engulfed by the immediate vatic power of this vibrant work of art. Redemption. It discovered me and I wondered why it left it so late. My senses were a pincushion to the fluid rhythms. Instinctively I responded. No thought was necessary; it was release and acceptance all within the moment between moments. I am now relentless for that joy. That fix has fixed my mind and my body always follows. I was suspended behind time, almost resistant when consciousness struck me with my true weakened image through the mirror, but the music continued to creep upon me with its sweet air. I closed my eyes and I moved by heart. I laughed myself inside out. My passion can no longer be held within my frame. New life has come to me.

The discovery shifts my memory to when I first met you. The same wonder and rightness mounts my heart.

But I know that you are with her right now. Do you walk together and drink champagne from the single glass as we once did?

Light on your feet you plunged into my heart.

‘Hello,’ you blushed as you pretended to retrieve the invisible dropped item from by my narrow legs. You forced me to stop and wait. I would have done that willingly if you asked. Your hair was damp from the exercise. At sixteen you were one of the oldest pupils. All the girls talked about you in the changing rooms, they had plans for you. I had you wanting me, without even knowing it. Instantly I reflected your glow. Petronia and Felicity giggled behind me. I did not know how to dream before you taught me how to see.

‘Hello,’ I responded to your call. Despite the heat surrounding us the coolness of surety pierced me, as it has never done since that day: 25th July 1981. It became our first anniversary. We had so many firsts to celebrate together. ‘Our firsts’ we called them. Who will celebrate them now?

My heart is cold … The moment that held almost two decades of life has passed.

The week that Mother stayed, while you were away for that important meeting in Moscow, that was when I decided. I boxed up the pink satin pointe shoes that I wore for the final performance of the Nutcracker in September. They had been mocking me from the stand.

My only possession, my body, has failed me. I am used to perpetual motion but the sacrifice was too great. The kingdom of dance gave me no reward for my years of barre work, for my precision arabesques and pirouettes. I eat now, but my bones and liver do not care. My efforts are too delayed. My body belongs to my sick self now.

I spoke to her. I told her that I knew. The shock that sat on her jowls was fleeting and painful – for us both. She cried for me. She cried for herself. The sun moved in the sky as we saw each other for the first time. We had never had a conversation before. That afternoon my mother and I began to know each other, but it will always be too late.

Mother never missed a performance. Her bridge group accompanied her to her act in the stalls: proud mother. She was always magnificent and kept all the reviews. I was on stage. So were you.

Together – then.

Mother understood and promised never to breathe a word. She sat scarred by comprehension of history’s joke.

‘Father was the same,’ she paused, ‘is, Lilly; Father is the same.’

‘The increase in flowers are usually the sign…’ she continued, ‘then he wants to talk. Something we are not practiced at. He constantly asks me how I am. Who have I seen recently… he wants to know my solitude is in tact.’

‘Yes, Mother. I see the signs,’ then reluctantly I added, ‘and I knew about Father.’

The gasp escaped before she could control it. Behind her rouge the blood vessels reddened. Quickly she walked to the window. Always so elegant, my mother. I admired her as I sat up in the bed. I wondered how long she had known and performed so well. I would never know.

‘How long have you…?’ hesitantly she did a half turn to me, not daring to finish the question.

‘Not long,’ I lied. I am used to lying. You both taught me so well. I have only known of three of Father’s ‘friends’, but I guessed there were many more; belief created many shadows. He began to get careless when I was at home on rare visits. The study door was not always closed and I have constantly walked quietly. Nancy, Clarissa and Charlotte: the names of the shadows. Charlotte. Father whispered your name and the surprise brought me to a halt outside the door. When I heard him speak so gently I believed you had fallen in love for the first time. But you were in the conservatory when I bounced through the house.  Although seeing you reading while the sun freckled your face through the window made me sad, I pasted on my performance smile for your continual loss. You wear oblivion well, Mother, you wear it so well. It must have been easier for him to finally have someone with the same name as you. Pretence comes naturally to us all.

You will never leave him; I know that. I will never leave Stephan. Not today, at least.

I danced to forget. To avoid it all. To avoid you, yes, even you Mother. You took away my life and gave me ballet – it was your dream. I hated every position and combination until they suffocated me with routine and I forgot. Then I could really smile. Forgetfulness is like madness; you live as a different person. Eventually the exercise became my drug and it took me over giving me a new dream: if I was thin enough I could disappear. Away from you all. Food was difficult to control at first, but envy and hatred were stronger impulses. I desired to be the leanest dancer, to be like Marie Carmago: perfect.

Jonathan was sent to boarding school. His letters were short and infrequent but he remained closer than you or Father. He knew too. I missed him more than he missed me; he soon replaced his void with others. He was also natural. Naturally disobedient, you said, although with a penchant for sports. Always running, as if to escape. The holidays at home were too long for him; he preferred to stay with friends. He had his friends. I had my competition from the age of three. Before I went to school I could bend and stretch better than Mrs Cuthbert’s daughter, Amanda. You appreciated the status that I gave you. You prompted me each day to practice. You said I was born with this ‘natural ability’ to be a ballet dancer: I was thin and small. I expected to like it, as you did. I missed that inheritance. I was weak and afraid to disappoint so I complied without complaint. There were years of moonshine in your eyes when you watched me dance. I did it for you.

‘Mother,’ I think this because I can never ask you, ‘Mother, what were you afraid of? What was absent in your life? Did I succeed in making you happy?’

I am doing this for me now. I am dancing. I am dancing.

Stephan, my long love, you gave me my last first: the freedom in my soul. You did not intend to deceive me with your tears; I sense that. You have found a different future. I am now exiled from our unity. I thought we were for keeps. But tomorrow will go like yesterday. There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me. But Lilly is a love memory from your distant past. I am not her. The teardrops have started as I unhook your heart. My sensibilities prevent me from denying you your responsibilities to yourself: be happy, my love. I am. Now, I am.

Thank her for me; your new premiere danseur. Without her taking you for walks, I would never have known that I was understood and belonged. This is a new language that I identify. I know certainty and am safe inside this sound, this world of measured recklessness. I have become me. I claim myself.

I thought I knew music until my contaminated frame heard and understood ‘The Dream’ of David Sanborn. I comprehend and am no longer a divided person. My parents chose the music that had framed my mind for these past 30 years. I was not independent. This new life is pleasure. My mind accepts. I believe because I feel the proof …and still the wonder grows. I will share with you, my darling Stephan, the conviction. This is my destiny: jazz. My light has arrived to snuff out the darkness of my sick self. I don’t feel lost any longer.

There are no further collisions as my first and last carnivals combine. With joy I realise that I am impenitent for my other life. My masquerade is complete. There is life after life…

I am dancing. I am dancing. I am dancing in my head.

(2003)

Copyright © Marjorie H Morgan 2017