Tidal Volume

Definition: the volume of air taken in with each breath.

My ribs move out, my chest expands
The water rushes in
This is the tide of my breath

Waves crashing up the beach and sweeping back
The rattle of pebbles in the current
This is the tide of my death

Stranded in that bed, I dream of beaches
When beeping machines drown everything out
I meditate on sand and summer and you

And just as the tide is moved by the moon
So you orbit my bed and fret
We don’t kiss

My lungs expand, the water rushes in
These pebbles scrape the seabed.

On an aside,
Do you remember the story of the King who tried
To hold back the tide?
He died.

And my darling, I lied.

I won’t survive.

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Harry’s Birthday

Birthday_candles

I wake early and with a sense of excitement, my blood singing in my ears.

What, what day is it? I can’t find myself. Is it Christmas? The first day of the holidays? My birthday?

I feverishly run through a list of dates in my head, searching for the puzzle piece.

Valentines Day, Thanksgiving, New Years Eve…

Then I remember, and my excitement fades away to nothing.

Today is Harry’s birthday.

Memories float to the surface of my mind. This day, repeated back through my life; of cake and candles, of parties and presents. Of his choppy blonde hair, of his obsession with tractors. His swing set in the garden. The love I saw in his eyes when he looked at me.

Of him, toddling around the house, creating wonderful chaos. Without him everything is so cold and echoing.

When will this pain heal? When will this hurt fade? Not yet – it’s still too fresh a wound.

But, one year, I want to be able to wake up on this day and only see the loveliest of lives… and not the hole he left behind.

We Were Together

kids
You were five and I was six, and we were together.
You were a princess and I was your prince. Swashbuckling pirates, the fearless captain and mate. A crime fighting duo, superman and catwoman.
We were always together, two halves of a whole. Joined at the hip.
But then your mum began to get anxious. She said that it was time for me to leave. She wanted her daughter to make new friends, better friends than me.
You were loyal. You stood by my side. We weathered the storms, as we always have.
We were together.
_
You were nine and I was ten, and we were together.
We created our own world and made ourselves Queen and King. Our people adored us, and we had mighty battles against dragons and witches and goblin armies that threatened our rule.
We were closer than siblings, closer than spouses. Two peas in a pod. One person in two bodies.
But then your mum realised I was still around and she was angry. She threatened to stop your ballet classes. She made you go round to other little girls houses, girls that liked pink and ponies and parties.
You were loyal. You stood by me. We survived, as we always have.
We were together.
_
You were thirteen and I was fourteen, and we were together.
You were my first girlfriend; I was your first kiss. We went to the cinema together, to school together, shopping together. You laughed at the funny things I said and I told you that you were beautiful.
We were two halves of a whole, joined at the hip, inseparable.
But then your mum found out I was still around, she was terrified. She dragged her daughter to hospital, doctors, shrinks. “You’re thirteen! You shouldn’t still be doing this!” I was labelled as a bad influence.
You began to waver.
We were together less. You kept giving me strange looks and asking questions that were too near to the truth. As you got further away, I got sicker. I was weak, pale, as though I was wasting away. I felt invisible. I was sure I was dying.
I pleaded with you, I begged you, I kissed you, I told you I loved you, but you had stopped listening. I was a ghost, someone you wanted to forget.
I drifted around in the corner of your vision, watching you erase me from your life. But I was never completely gone. You kept me alive, kept believing in me just enough. I was still alive in your memories of me, but barely. Every day it was harder.
_
You were twenty and I was twenty-one. You were strong and healthy and I was nearly dead.
Your mum approached you and asked nervously, “That… boy. Is he still around?”
You turn and glance at me, the translucent ghost in the corner.
“No, mother, I’ve followed your advice. He’s not my friend any longer.” My heart is shattered into so many pieces that it can’t be broken any more.
Your mum nods, relieved. She motions for you to sit down.
“Well… the thing is, dear… he was not a real boy. When you were five, it was okay to have an imaginary friend. But when you were thirteen…” She shudders delicately, reaching out to pat her daughter’s hand in what she probably thinks is a reassuring way. “I hope you understand now. I did it for your own good!”
You pause. I can see your thoughts churning, but you’re too old now for childhood games.
“I know, mother.”
You turn and stare at me. For a moment, the intensity of your gaze brings me to life. For the first time in months I am solid, human, breathing.
But your expression is flint, and I know that it’s all over.
“We were together,” You inform me, your icy voice echoing through your head. “But I have no need for you now.”
I’ve been on the brink of this for seven years, but the finality shocks me to the core. “No! Don’t!” I cry, running to you. I reach for your hand, thinking that if you felt me, you wouldn’t be able to kill me.
But you draw away with a look of pure loathing and turn your back on me.
I know now that I am dead.
Sinking to my knees, I look down at my see-through fingers. A sharp searing pain tears through me as you rip me out of your head. Tears are flooding from my eyes; everything is a watery blur. I can feel myself being undone by you, my seams being torn apart, the colours under my skin merging with the air.
For a brief moment I am suspended in the air. I am everywhere; and then… I am nowhere at all.

Dreaming Adam

Children
I’m at the beach.

The sea is slurping at the sand, toying with small pebbles, pushing them back and forth. The smell of salt is in the cold wind coming off the sea. Children dressed in bright clothes, the only colour in sight, dig and play in the sand. I feel like I’ve been here before, like this has happened before: but I can’t remember when.

“You came.”

I turn.

Behind me stands a young man, his chestnut hair wet from swimming. He’s barefoot, his jeans rolled up to his knees. I know him. He’s Adam. I’ve definitely been here before, I remember this! My sense of deja’vu is making this whole thing feel a little surreal.

“Of course I did,” I tell him, smiling. “You know I can’t refuse you anything!”

He smiles back, but his eyes are worried. He looks like he’s about to say something; but nothing comes, and he closes his mouth.

I feel as though I’m in a play, reading out my lines. This has been said before, done before. “Are you okay?”

He stares at me, his eyes intense and so deep I feel like I’m at the bottom of the ocean.

I feel like I know what should happen next. He’s going to smile, shrug. His line is, ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing’. And then he will take my hand, pull me into the shallows, and we paddle and laugh and get soaked.

I’m so sure what will happen that when he blurts out, “Jenny, you’re in trouble,” I freeze.

Why isn’t he following the script? An odd feeling of fear slides into my heart; by breaking away from the script, he’s broken a rule.

The words jump from my throat without permission. “Don’t say that!” I cry. “Don’t!” If he does, if he does, something terrible will happen, this world will break down…

He speaks over my frantic pleas.

“You thought you’d escaped Dan after New York, but he’s close. He’s right on your tail and closing in. You’ve got to get out of there, now!”

This is wrong. The Adam from this memory couldn’t possibly know these things. This was Adam before any of this started, this was Adam from before New York…

The world feels like it’s spinning. The sound of the seagulls, of the lapping of the sea, children screaming; everything seems to mute. My vision tunnels so I can only see Adam.

“How can you possibly know that? You don’t even know where I am!”

He smiles sadly. “No, I don’t. And I never will. Wake up now, get up and get out! I don’t want you to end up the same as me.”

I’m so dizzy, the world is flying away from me. The bright clothes of the children are so colourful they make my head ache. Adam’s face blurs. The world is pulsing to my heartbeat.

“What are you talking about?” I cry, feeling suddenly alone. My voice echoes in the emptiness of the void.

I can’t see Adam anymore, but his voice is as clear as if he’s talking in my ear.

“I’m dead, Jenny.” He whispers. He speaks haltingly, emotion snapping and splintering his voice. “Daniel killed me. Now stop dreaming and wake up before they get you too!”

The beach disappears; I’m falling through black space, tumbling in empty air, my fingers raking through nothingness for something to hold…

I wake up with a start and tears on my cheeks. Adam’s voice echoes through the emptiness of my head.

Get out… before he kills you too.

Military Brats

Military Brat 3

My seventh school

The sea of strangers surrounds me

I introduce myself to a girl in the lunch queue

“Why did you join in the middle of the year?”

I tell her my parents are in the navy.

“Oh.”

She says, her face calculating.

“You’re one of those.”

 

Mother’s eyes are stone.

“Later, I’ll inspect your room.”

Look down, nod. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

Every night, we watch the news.

The war footage is hellish and with every death they announce a fresh terror seizes me.

I keep checking the photos, but it’s never my Father.

Relief fills me… but then I feel guilty;

Somewhere in the world a family is mourning.

What right do I have to feel relieved?

The news theme tune is the soundtrack to my nightmares.

The cycle never ends.

Refugee

I sip the hot drink and feel the skin on my tongue tingle from the burn. It’s heavenly; so rich and strong, the consistency of syrup or melted chocolate. I clasp my hands around the mug and shiver as the warmth rushes up my arms. Raising the mug to my burnt lips, I take another sip.

I close my eyes, and allow myself to think about the others. How cruel this world is, that luck decides who lives and who dies. If one of a million things had happened differently, Randy would be sat in this refugee camp drinking too hot, too strong hot chocolate and I would be the one buried beneath our high school.

If I look back now, I can trace back the cause and effect.

My sister was two years older than me and amazing at everything. My parents adored her and I grew up in her shadow, doing exactly the same things that she had done two years previously; but I could never do anything to her standard.

When she moved up to high school, she joined the school gymnastics club. Soon she was being entered into county, and then regional, and then national competitions and winning everything she tried. She was amazing. When she came home with all her medals and trophies my parents would turn to me and tell me that “if I worked hard that could be me”.

When I moved up to high school, I didn’t join the gymnastics club. I joined the basketball club.

I was the only girl on an entirely male team. At first, I was terrible. I knew nothing about the rules and the boys teased me mercilessly, but every time I felt like giving up I thought what my parents would say. They would compare me to my sister and wonder why I had turned out so badly. So I put my head down and worked like hell. I improved slowly, but a time came when I was officially a member of the team, and we would go and play games against the other schools, and gradually we began to win them.

I wasn’t at school on that day because of a game. It was huge; if we won, we would be entered into the South West tournament, further than we’d ever got. We’d been training for months. I more was terrified than I’d ever been in my life, but somehow, when I stepped into the court, everything fell away. The match was infinitesimally close but we won, and were in the coach on the way home when our coach driver turned up the radio and we heard the news report.

I am alive because I didn’t want to be my older sister. Is that fair? I decided to rebel and my reward is that I get to survive, while my sister, who never did anything wrong, is dead.

Or maybe it’s not my fault at all. Maybe it’s not my fault but pure luck. Maybe an earthquake on the seabed a thousand miles away caused a small disturbance out at sea that became a giant wave that came and swept away our city. Maybe the world is just randomly evil and cares not for who it destroys.

Or maybe we did something wrong. Maybe our city was evil and didn’t deserve to exist, and some God somewhere decided to sweep it off the face of the earth, like a spring cleaner carelessly ripping through the delicate cobwebs of spiders.

Or maybe this was going to happen anyway. Maybe nothing we could have done would have changed the changed the pattern of events. Maybe, in the future, people will look back on this day and say that this was when everything changed, the pivot point on which everything rests. Maybe this was necessary. Maybe all this death and destruction has some ultimate purpose. Maybe there’s some lesson to be found from this mess.

If there is, I can’t see it from here.

 

 

Her Final Dance

The bullet hit her directly between her shoulder blades.

She arched her back, her head thrown back and her mouth open in a soundless scream.

Her shoulders snapped back unnaturally, her arms bent the wrong way and her fingers splayed.

She tried to walk but her knees were buckling. She rose up on tiptoe, silhouetted against the bright city, standing tall and proud for the last time.

Her vision blurred. The yellow streetlights turned into floating circles, swimming in her foggy vision.

She fell slowly, her knees hitting the ground first, and then her stomach and her arms. Her head bounced once, and then was still.

A dark stain was spreading across her t-shirt. The cars roared by, their headlights flashing on her body. The noise of a thousand vehicles was deafening.

But not a single car stopped.