Writing

Other Stories

I’ve got branches, the kind that should be firmly on trees, growing left and right inside me—it’s like always sleeping with the light on, Earth seen from the air at night in there, flesh and blood and young, softly-spoken green leaves. I wonder whether they will know what to do when October arrives, if they will turn to paper and fall at my feet.

I don’t remember who, but I was talking to somebody about the hardness of water, the softness of it, the way it can take things over with just atoms in space, in time. Watching them peel back the thin metallic paper that wrapped around the butter, thinking that must hurt, thinking of how awfully cold everything in the fridge must be. I rest my head, heavy from the dense leaves and ripening fruit inside it, on the warm wooden countertop, feeling small crumbs and other fractions of breakfast press their sharp edges into my face. The discomfort is comfortable, and I stay there while the world rotates, while people drift in and out of the room, picking up knives and plates and feelings.

Someone has washed strawberries, and they lie in a red heap, water collecting underneath and running towards the edge of what must feel like the end of everything. I select five, the slightly bruised ones that will otherwise be left behind, and eat them slowly over the sink; it is hard to get the permanent taste of sap off my tongue, but their late summer sweetness manages to linger for a moment, and it stains the tips of my fingers vermillion.

I was still sitting in the kitchen with my back pressed against the fridge handle when the streetlights went on outside. They wait all day, I suppose, to be told what to do. You perhaps know that time passes very differently for all of us, and because I’m full of root and branch and budding things, hours can often seem like small minutes; I will not notice the sun going down,  although the greenery inside me does, and quite without explanation I will sometimes find myself standing next to a window, as everything in me strains to catch the last of the daylight. But it is not so beautiful as it sounds, we argue all the time, and I’m beginning to see the dark outlines of flowers underneath my skin as a chlorophyll-rich foliage gradually replaces whatever was there before.

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At the beginning of the year, when I was too often finding myself tired, forgetting to return phone calls, they told me that whatever it was would pass as surely as a season, and then when those came and went and my hair grew longer, they looked inside and found saplings, shoots. A determined and widespread greenness, from ankle to hip, reaching for lungs and for the light. For months I had been growing gardens instead of growing up, arms full of apple trees and pines to keep my knees company. Heads were shaken in bewilderment, hands clasped and then unclasped again in attempts to understand, checking and double-checking and wondering at what point I had started to go quite this wrong.

It became apparent very quickly that there was no getting rid of any of it, deciduous or not. Instead they adopted softer voices when speaking to me, patted me on the arm, put their hands on their knees and leaned forwards into the bright fluorescent lights to explain a decision they had made, as you might when addressing a small child or an animal that you think unlikely to fully understand.

But on the Tuesday I step outside, body frantically reaching outwards and upwards as it tries to absorb all of this excess afternoon sun, and then I walk—first to the right, then over the bridge that crosses the sad-looking river before turning to follow the water for as long as my legs want to. Heron, circling above terraced houses, the sting of green whenever I inhale through my nose.

Back from walking and fed up with oxygen, I soak my limbs and my leaves in the bathtub in the half-dark, eating clementines. Lately I’ve been dreaming of deserts, desolate and harshly-carved landscapes devoid of water and life, ears covered in dust, in them the sound of strong heartbeats and locusts. I wonder if anyone is going to come and stop me from losing my mind, but the house sings with a honey-like emptiness, and so I count off the names of twenty-eight different train stops, the route that runs like a panicked creature, middle of the city out to edge of the island.

In between water and air, somewhere in between the person they say you are and the person reflected in the chrome taps. How can you keep one eye on the clock face and the other on the Jacaranda trees in your left forearm? 

Daytime Visions

I don’t remember who, but I was talking to somebody about the hardness of water, the softness of it, the way it can take things over with just atoms in space, in time. Watching them peel back the thin metallic paper that wrapped around the butter, thinking that must hurt, thinking of how awfully cold everything in the fridge must be. I rest my head, heavy from the dense leaves and ripening fruit inside it, on the warm wooden countertop, feeling small crumbs and other fractions of breakfast press their sharp edges into my face.

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(Extract from a longer piece, which I'm looking forward to sharing with you.)

You Must See How I Walk

We will travel 1,004 miles in less than three hours, and I’m certain I forgot to pack my heart, again. This arid country, so unforgiving in its perspiration and glare; how something can look so astonishing in one light, so sickening in another. I watch as only the shadows of birds move across the hot concrete, in straight lines and towards that which only they can know. Give it some time, give it some revolution, a few revolutions of the sun—if these good intentions won’t last a lifetime then at least sit with them for now.

You suit me, and I do not need to look in the mirror as I leave the house.

People, small in their surroundings, made smaller still by the glare of the sunlight; they look for weightlessness but it’s as slippery as that green water you swam in. Cultivation has turned the landscape below us white, and we will later eat these things grown in straight lines, under hot dripping plastic. I want to follow rivers, but I also want to know what it feels like to be one, and actually we want too much, so I’m quiet as I keep my hands underwater until they crumple, protest. Higher now, the mountains look like the paper I routinely screw up and throw in the bin, all sharp creases and shadows. 

Haunted by how quickly somewhere, anyplace can feel like home, as long as it has feathers and water, rain even if it’s only a few days a year, so wholly unfamiliar that you can feel like yourself. Wondering how long it would be possible to live without green and preoccupied with the pursuit of falling.

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Last night, heat in the fingers making it harder to bend, done with dinner and the kind of conversation you could accidentally stick to. I walked down in the humming dark to the water, fearing that under the stars I might stand on small creatures, or things that bite but do not linger. Slipping my shoes off and holding my skirt above my knees I step down into a shining black; nobody else is down here, and that is how I want it to be. The water is not cold but I shiver because why not, dizzy and headsick as I try to look up and down at the same time. A single cicada is throwing itself repeatedly against the light at the top of the skin-coloured stairs, its body sounding heavy and lost (at the same time I think that you do not think enough).

The lights of lives on the other side of the valley get carried into the night, filtered through lemon trees and the likelihood of you reading this. Feeling resoundingly human, alive in all corners, I step out of the water one toe at a time and walk up and down the warm grit-covered ground to dry off my legs. Tired from looking at all those tiny lines in the sky, I try to put my fingertips among the stars one last time (I do not get very far). Feeding feet into shoes I walk a slow five minutes back to sleep, trying to make out the dark shape of things, trying not to wake up the dogs. The cicadas are now overpowering, a chorus of something I don’t understand and would be scared to decipher. At intervals they will decide to talk more quietly, going from screaming chatter to a low murmur before reverting back to their alien loudness. Has the world ever felt this small, this close to hand? Perhaps not, perhaps you will not be able to hear me breathing. Perhaps I will send you a cicada in the post.

Earlier that day I had leant forward from page 151 of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things to notice whether the dragonflies ever really landed, but was distracted by the sweat and salt and suncream running wildly down my chest, and this was accompanied by the uncomfortable realisation that we were tied to hours like those forms that you must fill out in block capitals, and bleeding, black pen. Clouds looking like when flour and water don’t mix, curdled and impossible to ignore. I wonder whether you count forwards or backwards when figuring out the other side of the world.

How many mountains do you think you could fit inside your lungs? Skin tight, your edges pressed against by altitute and all those trees you don’t know the names of. When that feeling gets too heavy maybe you can try carrying me instead.

From this height there are stretch marks on the Atlantic, and tiny ships that look like stitches, not really holding much together except men because there is little reassuring about deep water. Doesn’t it bother you, that there are likely to be pieces of yourself in places that you’ll never see, never set foot in? Colours run here and they say it’s possible to catch them—I know this to be true because I’ve seen some of them in your eyes. Put them back with paint and cheap felt tip pen, careful not to go outside of the edges of this country, that country, their country; they aren’t going to know the back or the front of your hands.

Say what you mean but say it slowly, so that I have time to run away. What was it? Yes, I wanted to tell you just how blue it is down there but don't have words that could even begin; it makes me feel thirsty and worried and like I might need to turn around and leave again soon. The sky looks good on you though, I can see clouds where your stomach should be and oceans reaching their arms around your back.

Citrus Fruit

August 15th. Cabo de Gata-Níjar National Park, Espagne.

It is quiet, except for the occasional whine of a mosquito, the noises carried on the wind from the village across the valley. The sky, which has been alight with pinks and oranges so vivid I swear that I could smell them, is now bruised with 10pm clouds. Silhouetted is the mountain we climbed years ago; it has not moved, and although it is miles away it looks like I might be able to stroke it from here.

I’m sitting with one foot in the water, my left, the other leg bent to support this paper, these thoughts brought on so suddenly by the stillness that I feel quite panicked—I don’t know if I will be able to get them out of my head fast enough. I’m leaning against an uneven stone wall in a thin blue shirt but I am not uncomfortable; when you surrender your flesh completely to the hardness of the ground, of the architecture, you are met with surprisingly little resistance.

If I am being bitten I do not know it, but it is getting steadily darker and soon enough I will not be able to see—what I am writing, or anything else. I think that I can taste Morocco, Algeria, a scent of the most unlikely home as a single star becomes visible in the sky. And it is shouting at me, wanting me to gaze at it open-mouthed and awestruck—I do, of course, it would be rude not to.