Bright morning stars are rising

Picture Credits: Adina Voicu

The sun is red this morning. You told me to note the colour. Yesterday it was pink; Monday, the same gold as the party. There was music, a barbeque, meat sweated on a platter, and many people came, many people I didn’t know. But Marty I did. I never liked him. He was old, his hair too long, too oily. He said he wanted my mum when he thought no one was looking, whispered it to her by the burgers and the buns. But I saw. He tried to touch her. It was the drink, she said afterwards. By then it was too late. Maybe I did wrong. You said I should think about this. But I see his face now, the way it screwed in pain. I hear the sound he made like a gutted pig. It ended the party. An ambulance came. The garden emptied and was silent.

Mum is on the phone. It’s early but I’m awake. The sun sits gold on the hedges, the garden, the spider’s web outside my window. I don’t know how long she’s been talking or who she’s talking to. Sometimes it’s my aunt. Sometimes it’s you. Sometimes it’s the number she wrote on the kitchen calendar with “24 hour” underlined. She doesn’t know I’m listening. I hear everything she says. I’m trying, she is saying, I’m trying really hard but if I get no response what can I do?

It’s been a week since it happened. The barbeque I mean. You ask me if I’ve thought about it much. I say I haven’t but you frown and tip your head. We’re in my room. It’s warm. You want to open the window. There are sweat patches under your arms and on the moustache you bleach. You ask me if you can. Open the window I mean. I shake my head. I like it shut. Ok, you shrug, we’ll talk about it later. You make a note in your book. Then you give me one. It has pictures of animals. For you, you say, I thought you might like it. I do. I take it and open a page. A pack of lions under a tree. The next page has a hippo rolling in mud. Ok, you say again in your put-on soft voice, what shall we talk about today?

I have scabby hands from itching. I have scabs too in my hair. They haven’t always been there. They came a few months ago. Mum bought me white gloves like a mime artist or baby. They’re to protect my hands for when I sleep. Before bed I put this cream on that smells of vinegar then wear the gloves until I wake up. But last night while I slept I took the gloves off and itched my hands until they bled. I must have shouted because Mum came in. She is smaller than she used to be. At least it seems this way. She wears no makeup and her hair is never done. I’ve heard her say on the phone to my aunt or to you or to “24-hour” that the floor has caved. I don’t know why. Our floors are fine. She sat on my bed and as she does when I shout out, sang to me like when I was little. Once I was calm she checked the window. She told me there was nothing outside. It was after this she saw my hands. The blood on the duvet. She took me to the bathroom and held my hands under the tap. All the time she was muttering I knew this wouldn’t work, I told her, I told her it wouldn’t. To be clear. She meant you.

It’s now been two weeks. I’m in the sitting room. Mum’s in the kitchen on the phone again. So he’s ok? she’s saying, oh thank goodness, thank you for letting me know. I’ve got cottage pie on a tray on my lap. Mum didn’t make it because she never cooks anymore. I don’t eat it but instead stab my fork in over and over until it’s all messed up and the carton breaks. I turn on the TV. There’s a solar storm. It’s when the sun can’t hold its energy and lets it go in big angry bursts. I turn the volume up. There are explosions and white light. If one hit earth, a solar storm I mean, it would take out all power, no microwave meals, no TV, and Mum couldn’t talk on the phone. The world would go quiet except for car alarms. But when they stopped the peace would be giant. I wish one had hit earth as we’d have cancelled the barbeque and Marty wouldn’t have drunk and touched my mum.

I’m looking at the book you gave me. Animals of the Serengeti. I keep it on my bedside table with my gloves. I’ve learned about giraffes and hyenas. But my favourites are the elephants. When they die their families hurt like humans. They sniff their dead. They even have elephant funerals. Yesterday I took it outside. The garden was busy with birds. I lay for a while on the grass. I heard the school bus and an ice-cream van. Our neighbour was putting out the rubbish. They moved in three days ago, a man and woman. There was a van but not much came out of it. It was him putting out the rubbish. She was in the kitchen, the door open, the radio on. He shouted to turn it down so she threw something, a plate or mug I didn’t know. It smashed against the kitchen window. He went inside and shut the door. The music went off. So I tried clicking my tongue. Next I whispered my name. Then I said it loudly because this is what you told me to do. It was going really well until a cat sprang through the hedge. Even though I knew it was only a cat I threw a garden chair at it anyway and caught it on the head so that it whined loud enough for mum to hear. She sent me back into the house.

The sun makes me heavy. It’s strong orange and hot. Everything slides and sticks. There are flies that come in and settle on the fruit bowl, the bananas going brown, and on the bin. They crawl under my bedroom door and through the gap at the side. Then they fly and slam off the window. One gets in my water glass. I watch its wings go wild but I don’t take it out. I just watch until it stops moving. Mum brings me lunch, a tuna sandwich. She says I need to eat or I’ll get sick. I tell her I’m already sick. She tells me not to argue. When she leaves I peel the bread from the tuna. I take the crusts off, break them into pieces and feed them to the dead fly. You ring the doorbell. The sound is damp because of the heat. I hear you and Mum talk. You knock on my door and say, it’s time, but I say I’m too heavy, too hot. Mum says, get out here I’m paying for this. So next I’m on the sofa that sticks to my legs. You’re wearing big globe earrings that pull down your earlobes. Let’s try again, you say.

It’s now been a month. This time we sit in the kitchen. The table is between us, on it some biscuits and mugs of tea. One of the mugs is mine, it’s from San Francisco and has a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. In red letters it says “Stay Golden” but the glaze on the “t” has cracked so it reads “Say Golden” instead. I don’t drink tea but I like to pretend I do. You know this so you pour me some. Then you ask me how I am and I say fine. You say ok and write something in your book. Next you want to know if there’s anything specific I’d like to talk about and I shrug, which makes you smile a thin smile. So we sit not talking until you say ok again and reach for your bag. You pull out a toy traffic light and put it on the table. You want to ask some questions using the light, you say, I can press each colour so they flash. I’m to answer red, orange or green. Red is bad, orange ok, green good. How was your morning? Green. Have you been practicing saying your name out loud? Green. Can you tell me how you’re feeling right now? Orange. How different is this to yesterday? Green. That’s good. Then you pause. You do this before the harder questions. And how different is this to what happened at the barbeque? Red. Red red red.

It’s five a.m. The sky is huge and silent. I see the shape of hedges and the garden chair, the one I threw, still on its side. A light is on next door. The window above the patio. I think it’s their bedroom but it might not be. The curtains are open and the man is standing there. It looks like he’s crying. His shoulders shudder hard. He’s also talking nonstop and fast. I can’t see the woman so it might be to himself. But then the light goes off. At lunchtime, he’s talking to Mum by our hedge. She nods then points at me. I’m lying on a blanket on the grass. The sun is firing, stinging my skin. He disappears then reappears again through our back door. He smiles at me. He has a cracked tooth right in the middle of his mouth. I point this out. He smiles more widely and makes a funny whistling sound by poking his tongue through the gap. I laugh. Mum says he’s called Jim and he’s a doctor. She sounds very pleased about this. He says sorry about the plate throwing the other day, his wife was stressed. He tips his head and sighs. My mum sighs. Then he says to me, I hear you’ve been through a lot too. I raise an eyebrow at Mum who won’t look at me but instead offers Jim a cup of tea.

Today is my birthday. I have cake and thirteen candles. My presents are a book about the Amazon, a watch, and a pair of yellow slippers. The book I like a lot, the tropical birds, the giant rivers. The slippers I put on until my feet get sweaty. I didn’t ask for the watch. Mum weeps but I know it isn’t joy. Around midnight I hear her on the phone. It’s “24-hour”. Her voice is all gluey. It hurts, she’s saying, it still hurts so much, I just want it to stop.

Last night the bleeding was bad. Mum took me to wash my hands then when the blood had stopped, dried them and put the cream and gloves back on. She sat on my bed and held me. She smelled of perfume. She was wearing a shirt with roses and a skirt. Jim’s here, she said, why don’t you come out? I shook my head. We’re just chatting, she said, he needs a break sometimes. I shook my head again so she left the room. We’re here if you change your mind, she said. I turned to my light and watched the shadows. In the corner by my desk something moved. Its shadow grew up the wall then went away again. From the kitchen Mum laughed and then Jim did. The shadow came back on the wall and got bigger, round and bristly, and it moved when I did. From the kitchen there was soft music. Mum and Jim talking also soft. He didn’t mean anything, I heard her say, he’s an old friend, he was drunk. She’s a clever girl, she then said, but this has been hard. I sat up, my eye still on the shadow. It grew giant over the door and made my room go dark. I got out of bed and ran into the kitchen where I screamed so hard my ears popped.

You come when you hear. Mum called. She doesn’t know what to do anymore. She thinks I should go away somewhere with better help than her. She said this after she found me in the bath. I was holding my breath underwater but I must have passed out as she was shouting at me and I was choking. We go for a walk, we don’t normally, you normally like to sit inside. But you say it might be good to leave the house and give Mum some space. We go to the park. I’ve not been for a while. It feels strange but also good. It’s the afternoon. The sun’s behind dark clouds. We sit on the swings. The playground’s empty. It’s before school ends when kids come to kiss or fight. I tell you this. You ask how it makes me feel. I shrug. I’ve not been to school in two months. I threw potassium the size of my fist in some water during chemistry. It blew out half a desk and blinded my teacher for a bit in one eye. I didn’t mean to do it but they said I couldn’t go back. A lady walks past with her baby in a buggy. It’s crying its lungs raw and she’s singing Twinkle Twinkle, but the baby still cries and cries. I jump up and run over, ignore you telling me to stop, and sing the song my mum sings to me. It’s a lullaby, an old one from America, Bright morning stars are rising, day is a-breaking in my soul. I sing it very softly. I lean in to the baby. It has tiny black eyes. We look at each other. I keep singing quietly and it goes quiet too. I watch its eyes close. Its mother starts to cry. Thank you, she says, I’d gone crazy. You’re behind me then and place a hand on my shoulder. Let’s go home, you say.

Jim says he also likes elephants. We’re in the garden, just him and me. He says he wants to talk, that he’s a friend of Mum’s, friends only, and he’d like to be mine too. They are very majestic, he says. I tell him they hurt like we do. Then I tell him about my book. He says he’d like to see it so I say he can borrow it if he wants to. He is round at our house a lot, sometimes because Mum asks for help with something, to fix a tap or put up new shelves. But other times there doesn’t seem to be a reason. They also protect their family over anything else, he says. And they hear with their feet. I laugh. We look at Jim’s house. The windows are shut even though it’s July. It’s difficult to live like this, he says, I thought moving might help. I ask why his wife is angry. He looks at the grass and picks a blade. Our son was run over, he says. The driver didn’t stop. He was six. He flicks the blade and picks another. The sun is like an egg yolk. The sky is white with no clouds. My dad left, I say, a few months ago. Just walked out. We don’t know why or where he is. Jim nods. He smiles a half smile. Your mum told me, he says. You must be angry yourself. I shrug. I’m angry, he says, it’s ok to be. It’s ok to miss them too. I pick a blade of grass. Then I think about you saying I need to talk about it. I think about Marty and what I did. I put a man’s hand on a barbecue, I say. And it burned and burned.

We’re sitting in the kitchen again. You’re making good progress, you say. I eat a biscuit then another and another. Perhaps you’d like to talk about what you told Jim, you say. I say maybe, but not today. Later, after you’ve gone I go into the garden. It’s evening but the heat is still close on my skin. Next door is silent and the lights are all off. Jim and his wife must be out. Mum has gone shopping, she said she’d only be an hour, I could call her if she needed to come home. I’ve got my Amazon book but I don’t want to read. I don’t even want to look at the pictures. Instead I start crying and it gets louder and louder and I think the whole street can probably hear. I don’t care though and throw the chair again. It clatters on the paving and I kick it then hard, then again and again until my foot gets caught. I try to free it and something snaps. The pain is sharp and very sudden. I lose my balance and my head hits the floor and I bite my tongue and there is blood. Then things seem to darken until after a while, Mum is there. She’s holding me and crying. I say, I think I’ve broken it, and point to my ankle. She says, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry, and takes out her phone. Next we’re in Jim’s car. I watch streets and people pass. It’s not far, he says, it just looks like a sprain and your head will only need a small stitch. He smiles at me in the rear-view mirror. Do you know elephants can recognise themselves, he says. I bet your book doesn’t tell you that.

The sun goes from yellow to pink. There is dew on the grass and some dandelions. A bird lands, picks at something then flies away. I’m sat by my window. I’ve been here a while. Mum is asleep in my bed. It might be better, she said when we got back from the hospital, though I think she just wants to be close. I stand up and it hurts but I stay standing anyway. When you’re ready, you’d said yesterday, you should just try. I open the window and wait.

Emily Bromfield

About Emily Bromfield

Emily Bromfield lives in Brighton with her partner and two young sons. She works for a storytelling production company, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths University.

Emily Bromfield lives in Brighton with her partner and two young sons. She works for a storytelling production company, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths University.

Leave a Comment