Mum opens the windows each morning to let the birds in and closes them at night to keep the darkness out.
The window in the boys’ bedroom is shut. Oliver’s attention strays from the Lego tower he has been studiously constructing, tongue twisted against cheek in concentration. Gabe is on his bed, turning the pages of a book, too fast to be seeing, belting out baa baa black sheep as he goes. It must be day because of the yellowy-green light. Unless it’s one of those days that mummy tells them is actually night. Confusing. Like when they have a day off school but it’s not the weekend.
“Mummy mummy mummy.”
He needs to know if yellow and green make blue, what do red and blue make?
He leaves his post at the tower not before yelling to Gabe, “Touch it and you’re punished. No surprises for you.”
Off to investigate the silence.
As usual she’s lying on her bed reading a book. She reads a lot. When he says I’m bored mummy, the solution is always “read a book”.
“I hate people who don’t read. I want sons who read books.”
He can’t read yet but he knows how to look at pictures.
“Come mummy, come in my bedroom. I made a tower, it’s taller than Gabe. But not taller than me because I’m so tall.”
“You are tall. And muscly.”
She doesn’t look up from her book to see if that’s true. Although she has her shoes on she’s still wearing her pyjamas, the silky blue ones with shooting stars and a stain from where Gabe choked up his banana. The plush toy rabbit she sleeps with at night is lying face down, next to her on the bed.
“Why do you sleep with a rabbit, mummy?”
She looks up now.
“Because I like to do that. Why do you sleep with Alvin the chipmunk?”
“Mummies and Daddies aren’t s’posed to have toys.”
She’s lost interest now, back in her book with the photo of a blonde lady on the cover.
“Why is that lady smiling?”
“I guess she’s happy.”
“Come and see my tower.”
“In a minute.”
When he’s gone she looks at the cover again, the sun-scrubbed face of the bottle blonde poet with a smile she should have bottled.
The window is shut keeping climate neutral. She has no energy to open it. Paralysis has set in. The room stinks of lethargy; of unwashed sheets and matured bananas. She feels heavy, closes her eyes to think about her feathery past.
Always smiling loudly. Running on the driveway, sandaled feet jumping shadows of red brick. Mum always in the kitchen in long, hibiscus-print skirts making trays of heavily buttered fairy bread. There were always nut-hard beetles to give swimming lessons to and oh so many cartwheels. Mum was always pointing out rainbows after storms. So many rainbows in this epoch, and how about all those solar eclipses? It seemed like once a week she had to hold her eyes to the ground so as not to make direct eye contact with the sun and be blinded forever. Where did all that go? She never sees those brown beetles any more, was shocked when she tried to demonstrate a cartwheel to the boys the other week and couldn’t. Nothing is ever the shade of indigo these days. She only heard the thunder the other night because it had scared Gabe. Thunder had been so prominent in her childhood, after the zig zag of light she would wait so expectantly for the low rumble, and it always came. So reliable.
Just like mum. Always in the kitchen, until one day she wasn’t.
“Mummy mummy mummy,”
She can’t do people who need her today. They’re always interrupting her, only allowing her to float in the basin of her thoughts, never giving her time to get sucked down the drain, to find those wasted thoughts too deep for tears.
She’s been having those impulses all morning. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s had them. Urges which never overpower her, well, which haven’t overpowered her up until now… When the subway bolts into the station, screeching, a death could easily be lost in that noise. Or when she sees her razor on the sink, the jamais vu of this object makes her pick it up, fascinated. What is it? Was it always this pink? She has the urge to test its use, make a nick of blood pink in her skin. That nick could become a gape if she worked on it long enough. This would be a gentler form of departure than the shock slap of the subway.
Now the little one is calling too, bringing her back, an off key chorus of mummy mummy mummy.
They crack up. Both on Gabe’s bed now. How loud their mummies sound. They try to out mummy each other.
After what seems like a long time, Gabe has enough. Too abstract. Needs a concrete reaction. He gets up and runs to her bedroom. Pushes the door, not quite closed. Steps back. Covers his face shyly for a second but Oliver jostles past him laughing when he sees.
Funny old mummy has managed to hang herself from the curtain rod with what looks like the flowery scarf that dead grandma gave her. The one he likes to play dress ups with. Mum’s knocked over the desk chair in the hurry to trick them. She has her jokey zombie face. She’s trying to scare them.
“It’s not funny, stop. Stop!”
They both move toward her and start to tug at her legs, a couple of little men amok, mugging her from below. They crack up again now, more than they do when she tickles them. Her shoe comes off and laughing harder Gabe pulls off the other one. They look up at her again, expectantly, waiting for a reaction. Usually she likes to be in control, likes to tickle their hot little bodies so they feel uncomfortable but hates it when they pull on her dresses or muss her hair.
But there is no reaction. The scarf has pulled her face into a grimace, up close she’s purple-pink, eyes rolled to white, she looks like a….
“Monster!” shouts Gabe and runs from the room. Oliver waits a moment longer hoping and then runs too, turning back to check she isn’t following with her zombie drag.
Gabe slams face down on his bed and bangs his head against the mattress, up and down, rhythmically, a soothing mechanism leftover from when he was more of a baby. He shouts mummy mummy mummy over and over again in time with the beating of his head.
Oliver picks up one of his books and starts to look through. Let’s see Batman’s enemies are the Penguin, Catwoman, he has to skip past Two-face with his bulging eyes and warty face. Even the Joker is too much for him today so he closes the book.
What do purple and pink make?
The room is darker now. He knows that’s just because the sun has gone behind a cloud. How long will it stay there? Hiding under the covers.
Gabe is quiet. He has fallen asleep in his tears.
Oliver picks up his book of planets. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and …
He always forgets the last one.
He ignores the silence. Automatically calls again.
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus….
One day she wasn’t in the kitchen. She wasn’t anywhere. Until Dad found her. The kids never went under the house because of the bogeyman. She’d been sure to warn them off. Knew it would be the best place to do it. Only her husband would venture down there. He wasn’t afraid of no bogeyman. He was tough enough to handle anything, didn’t share her DNA, would have a new wife within a year. She was hanging for a day before he found her. That seemed to be proof of how little he cared. Justified her death and punished him for not seeing the signs. Did it with the garden hose. The grass dried out that summer.
She usually thinks in sharp segments that don’t allow for too much pain, but she’s gone too far, further than she was planning today. She gets up and opens the window. Not sure where the force comes from. But it’s one movement at a time. Always has been lately. Open the window. Wash her face. Peel apples for the kids’ lunch. Each task completed is a prize-winning moment. She will dutifully note them on her list of achievements for the day. She is getting better at this. More self-congratulatory. Before she was super critical, felt pathetic if she didn’t manage to achieve anything extraordinary in a day. It was world peace, a finished masterpiece or bust. She would crumble in the afternoon, at midday even, if she hadn’t learnt a new language before lunch. She only remembered recently that she caught her mother crying one day because she didn’t have the energy to sort out the Tupperware cupboard. All that rainbow spotting had been hope. In the end there wasn’t enough.
She won’t be as hard on herself. As small task follows on from small task she gains momentum. Each completed action, window open, dirty pyjama top exchanged for fresh t-shirt, encourages more actions. They spin off from one another and now anything seems possible: blowing up balloons, completing 600 piece puzzles, helping birds build their nests and trying to stick around for as long as she can.
She will not gas, slash or hang herself. She has repurposed her genes. She will keep her kids within her attention span. Not wander off to the basement where she can’t see them and they won’t find her. She’s proud of her ability to stay alive, it’s not for everyone.
She puts her head in the boys’ bedroom.
“That one is Neptune.”
She starts to walk away and he scrambles for something that will keep her there for just a tiny moment longer, bring her a centimetre further into the room.
He looks towards his tower, growing in the renewed light of the sun. Towards his books, stacks of them.
“I love reading books.”
But she’s already somewhere else.