Week Twenty

I Tell Him

 

I tell him in the kitchen.

His hands clasp a mug,

and I focus on them.

His pink petal nails

are white with the grip,

and his telephone wire lines

cut across the fields of flesh.

At first, he doesn’t react,

but then the pool of tea

begins to wobble,

and soon he is crumbling.

I crumble too,

and we fold into each other

like an origami swan.

He wets my hair

and all the while I feel it,

beating away between us,

like a giant, rotting heart

in my breast.

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Week Nineteen

We are all bullies

We weren’t mean, but we weren’t kind;

Not unhelpful, but we didn’t go out of our way;

Not irritated, but not welcoming.

 

We all looked away as it happened in front of us,

The images still burned the backs of our eyes,

But we pretended like we couldn’t see them.

 

And all the while, we were the ones that kicked and punched,

The ones that name-called, the ones that laughed.

We were kids, and kids can be cruel.

Week Eighteen

This one is a little lighter than what I usually write.

Big Night

Bright nylon snags

On the hairs of my neck

And the strap of the helmet

Grips my forehead,

Like some poor fella

About to be shocked in the chair

By 2,000 volts.

 

I make the cement,

and watch it churn.

I stand over it, a proud chef,

a pinch of cement,

a dollop of plasticizer,

and, for the final flourish,

a drop more water.

 

Chris, the apprentice,

yells on the scaffolding;

something about a body.

He stares into the house,

a hollow shell,

with its empty windows

like missing teeth.

 

It must be Jack, I think,

he is always pranking the young ones.

But Jack sits on his break,

hot tea steaming his red face,

looking as confused as everyone.

We all run to look.

 

There is a body,

But it is very much alive.

He shifts and twitches,

Topless and trouserless and dusty.

There is old vomit on the concrete,

And some of it crusts his wrist.

 

He wakes up and looks around.

His eyes are wild,

Bewildered, cautious.

He sees us all,

There in our neon and plastic,

And he jumps up and scampers.

 

We all laugh and watch his bare flesh

As it ripples during his escape.

‘Big night,’ Dave chuckles.

 

Week Seventeen

An Accidental Discovery

The hedge I was looking at had a little nest near its roots. The nest contained three perfect eggs, settled like milk teeth.

As I watched, I thought I saw a small movement, a tiny knocking that slightly splintered the surface. I wanted their mother to be there, to watch them break into the world, so I turned my head on the gravel, looking up at the blue for her.

‘Don’t move,’ they say. Something warm and soft is placed over me.

Then, suddenly, she was there, flitting through the sky, hopping among the clouds. A small brown sparrow. She landed by the hedge, looking ready to launch herself into the nest, a security guard protecting precious art.

The hedge was in front of a house, a house I thought I knew. It was white with black edges and I wondered if I was inside the black-and-white TV we got when I was six. The house scratched at the corner of my memory, begging to be lit up in colour.

‘I think he lives in that house,’ they say, ‘I saw him coming down the driveway.’

And of course I do, so I nod, but then my head is pierced with knives. Suddenly, my insides turn to ice and my eyelids glitter and burst with stars.

Later, in the hospital, a nurse adjusts my drip. She sees that I am awake. ‘You had quite a nasty knock,’ she says. ‘How are you feeling?’

I squint at her. ‘You look like my wife,’ I say. And she does. The arm that her clipboard rests on is just as slender as my wife’s, and it curves down into a tiny wrist, like a smooth glass vase for flowers.

She smiles sympathetically. ‘Are you ready for a visitor? He’s been waiting to come in for quite a while now.’

I tell her to let him in and when he comes and sits by my bed I don’t recognise him. He is wearing a uniform, a uniform I know I should know but can’t place. It is black-and-white, like my house.

He tells me that someone at the scene has told the police where I live. No one is at home so they are waiting for my wife there.

‘What home?’ I wonder aloud. ‘What wife?’

He has a wart that bubbles right next to his eye. ‘Not to worry,’ he tells me, and the wart wiggles.

He returns my bag to me, and this I remember. It’s a good, sturdy leather with lots of secret zips for secret things. What I don’t remember is the jewelry that’s inside. I suppose that it must be my wife’s and fall back into the black again.

I dream of my wife. She stands in the door of our black-and-white house in my faded brown dressing gown and her favourite silk nightie. On her feet she wears a slim pair of black heels, the ones she wore for dinner with Tim and Julie the other night, and I laugh because these are the first shoes she has grabbed to come out onto the porch patio. She is waving me off to work as she always does, her hair still static from the pillow. A thin strand snakes down by her ear onto her neck. Her neck is peachy and raw and I can’t help but remember its taste. Bags sit heavy as lead under her eyes and her small hand, frail as a bird skeleton, flaps in the wind. The ring I put there glints in the sun.

I look at the hedge. I will trim that hedge soon, I think.

The policeman comes back with a policewoman and my bag is gone. He asks how I am feeling and I tell him I am fine, a little sore, but fine. He asks if I am ready for a few questions and I suppose that it is about the accident. I remember it now. I had left the house in a hurry, and I was by the hedge, open bag resting on my lifted knee. I didn’t see the bus, I was too busy trying to open one of the secret zips to put my keys in.

Instead of asking about the accident, he asks about me. He asks what I remember about my life.

‘I don’t remember my name,’ I tell him. ‘But I do remember my house: 33 Herbert Street. The black-and-white house. And I remember my wife.’

‘Well,’ he says. ‘We’ve just been to 33 Herbert Street, and when the lady who lives there, Mrs Walton, arrived home, she said that you weren’t her husband when we described you. Mr Walton is bald, you have plenty of hair. Mr Walton is at work at this very moment, like any other normal day.’

I squirm at how patronising he is. ‘Oh,’ I say.

‘Well,’ the policeman says again. ‘We have found no form of ID on you, so are you sure you have no idea what your real name is? Or the names of anyone who might know?’

I want to help him, so I tell him my name is Kevin Green.

‘Kevin, I see.’ He frowns. ‘One final question: do you recognise any of these items?’

He shows me some keys, two rings, a necklace and a woman’s watch.

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘Those are my keys, and that is my wife’s jewelry.’

The policeman looks sad and the policewoman next to him sighs. I had almost forgotten she was there.

‘Mr Green,’ the policeman says. ‘These items belong to the Waltons, and they were found in your bag. Can you explain this for us?’

The wart next to his eye wiggles.

Week Sixteen

Here is the second installment!

The Girl with the Eyepatch

I could remember the day that it happened almost exactly. Our form tutor, Mrs Pence, was calling out the names on the register. She had one eye smaller than the other, and it twitched sharply when she landed on the names of her least favourite students. In fact, she had just twitched for Tyler when she read out Jessica’s name. She was met with silence.

When I got home from school, Carl texted me to ask if I wanted to kick a football around at the park. Mum said I could go once my homework was done, so I did an hour of algebra before grabbing a ball and my keys and slamming the door.

The park was quiet, with a lone dog walker pacing the skirting boards of the field. We played for about an hour or so, before Carl said that it was getting dark and his Mum was going to have his dinner on the table for 6:30.

As we were walking home, Mrs Killing ran up to us and grabbed us by the arms. ‘Carl! Jacob!’ she said, hot spit sizzling onto our faces. ‘Have you seen Jessica?’

Both of us looked at one another and shrugged. ‘She wasn’t at school,’ I offered. Mrs Killing burst into tears. Being fourteen-year-old boys, neither of us had any idea how to handle the situation. She went limp and we held her up between us, which wasn’t difficult as she felt like she was hollow.

We took her to a garden wall and sat her down. Luckily, at this point, Mrs Pence walked by. Although she was so stern in class, she was one of those teachers who had a soft spot for a kid who was crying. She sat down beside Mrs Killing and put her arm around her, ushering us away to our homes so that we didn’t get lost too.

When I got home, Mum looked relieved. ‘Oh, Jacob, thank goodness you’re home, I’ve just been on the phone to Sandra Peckering, and she says Jessica Killing has gone missing! Have you seen her?’

It was then that I realised that I had, earlier that morning.

Week Fifteen

The Girl with the Eyepatch

I always remembered her because she was the girl with the eyepatch.

As a baby, she’d had boiling tea spilt into her eye. I heard this story from my mother. The story she told all of us at school was that a bad, bad, man had come along with a potato peeler in the middle of the street and peeled off her pupil. She would chuckle, a hearty, loud chuckle for a person so small, as all the other girls would squeal and cover their ears and the boys would laugh along with her, trying their best to cover up how uncomfortable they felt.

She was a tomboy, competing with all the boys at how gross and how rough and how athletic she could be. Then, we all moved up to the big school and she became a girl. She grew out her fringe to cover the eyepatch that had been such a great prop in her games with the boys. She budded and flowered and the boys avoided her, because they didn’t want to play with her, and at the same time they couldn’t love her because she was still the weird girl with the eyepatch.

Then, when she was fourteen, the bad, bad, man, with or without a potato peeler, took her from outside the corner shop.

I remembered the posters most of all. It was a photo of her on holiday; long, tanned limbs greasy with sun cream, sand clinging like spray paint on her skin, and a gust of seaside wind pushing the curtain of her fringe aside to reveal the eyepatch. I remember the policeman at the door telling my mum that the eye patch was the most important part of the investigation, it was such a unique characteristic that if we could just get the message out there – to look for the girl with the eyepatch – she would be found in a matter of days. Yet the years passed by, and she was never traced, and the craze calmed down and everyone forgot.

But here I was, twenty-one and still obsessed over what had happened to Jessica Killing.

Week Fourteen

The Caves

The boys didn’t want to be there.

 

They took it in turns to bounce the barriers,

Uncontainable as ping-pong balls.

Their laughter echoed like gunfire,

and the old man nearby frowned.

 

The old man read every sign.

 

His fingers fumbled the guidebook,

Avid eyes inhaling the words

And roaming the hungry teeth

that bit from above and below,

 

The woman knelt on the stone.

 

Her camera a gun, she aimed

For the boys, caught in her crosshair

Height-order, a Russian doll.

She shot.

 

Later, she held the photo.

In the corner was a ghost, a smudge,

A ruffled feather of anorak,

As the old man, a bewildered goose,

Had waddled by.