Forever and a Day

girl singingBy K. de Barratt

We were there, together, in the big crowded room, I, all sweaty and nervous, Maddy as cool and contented as always. What would Simon say? I wondered. Would he be rude? Condescending? And if he was, what would I do? Not for the first time I wished Maddy had chosen a different god to worship. What she saw in the man, was beyond me. But she truly admired him. More importantly, she respected him. She respected him enough to put her dreams in his hands, to accept he’s learned opinion as law to her future. That much I had learned about my daughter. And after all that had happened, I was not going to question her.

I wish I could say that me and my daughter were the best of friends, but it would be a lie. We were not the worst of enemies, and I guess that was good –up to a point. Enmity would suggest some sort of relationship, a love gone wrong some how. Not that I didn’t love Maddy. On the contrary. She was my sun and my moon and my stars. She was my early mornings and my late nights, my strength, my force, my inspiration. I would have given my life for her, without winking. And I tried. Hard work, extra hours, dreary days in front of a computer meant nothing, if it took Maddy to the places she deserved to be in and go to: the best school in town; the additional classes, the tutors; tennis, ballet, French; the ski trip; the summer in the Loire; the coach trip to Rome. Travel opens the mind, everyone knows it.

Sunday nights were our time together. Quality time, they call it. Sometimes we would talk about her school, her friends, her classes. Sometimes she would gently ask me to take it easy, in that soft way of hers that some how reminded me of the purr of a kitten. Most times, however we would sit in front the TV set, me too tired to really watch anything, she just being, filling me with the warmth of her presence, with the silkiness of her straight hair against my cheek a we sat, head to head, convincing me, I told myself later, that everything was worth it.

I cannot remember exactly when did I find the video. I do remember the cold, however. How each muscle from my head to my toe shivered sequentially. Like a slow, lazy wave from the Artic freezing my heart with fear. What would a fourteen-year old be doing filming herself? Why? For what? With WHOM? Dammed celebrities, I muttered as I turned on the DVD player. Dammed gossip magazines, and paparazis and editors and everyone that thought that girls exposing themselves for the camera was funny and an affirmative action for free speech. As if life was not bad enough! As if I had not gone through enough with that girl, cry enough, suffered enough, now this! When would all stop, dear God. When would You let me be and forget about me? Hadn’t you have more than enough fun with my existence? I pushed the play button. And there she was. My Maddy. My bright eyed, beautiful daughter. Singing.

And what a song she sang!

The same shivers that had turned my soul into stone now brought me back to life, electrifying every atom in my body, like if I had become a universe of Big Bangs.

Maddy’s voice was honey and drums and violins in crecendos and roses blooming and children playing in the park and lovers walking in Paris and little babes laying their sweet smelling heads (melted caramel and toffee) against the palpitating, warm breast of their mothers. It was life and perfection and youth and hope and joy. And love. Maddy did not sing about love. She was Love, somehow, singing.

The recording was some sort of visual journal. She had asked for a camcorder the Christmas before. It took me a bit by surprise. Maddy had always asked for more modest gifts, gifts easily affordable. I felt the slash of irritation against the back of my head. One would hope that the child, in full knowledge of my sacrifices for her, would be more considerate. But I yielded. Mercifully she had asked with enough anticipation for me to join a Christmas Club and pay in monthly instalments. I had never seen use the gadget and for the first month after the holidays, I dropped a few sarcastic commentaries on the subject. All I got were shy smiles and excuses about school work. Then eventually I forgot the whole thing. Maddy, obviously, didn’t.

Parts of the DVD were her practicing, comparing her voice against the background sounds of another singer. Some were messages to herself: what she though she needed to do to improve, pet talk to lift her spirits, dreams and aspirations. And Simon. The apparent driving force behind her efforts. Then there were scenes of her singing, for pure, sheer joy. And then there were the messages. Her imaginary talks to me: her worries about me, her thankfulness for the way I pushed myself to assure her education; her fear that I would no understand her desires to be a singer. There were advices to me also; from shoes to Ray, the neighbour who, according to her, was mad about me and I should start paying attention to. The hardest commentary to hear most have being recorded in a bad day. She basically said that she would had been perfectly happy if, instead of the expensive school and all the extras, she had time to share with her Mum. Actually, she thought, she would have had been more happy.

All this I told Simon, when he asked why I was there, standing on the X. I also told him about the accident, of course. The car, the street, the dead child. And I also asked him to be honest; to say whatever he thought about Maddy’s voice. It was what she had expected of him and the least he could do for her. And me.

I suppose could have told him about the ragging, maddening, tormenting pain. About the overwhelming, overbearing, unsupportable loneliness of the empty house and empty room and empty life. Of my days without sun and moons and stars. Of my Maddy, lost, gone, forever. But it did not feel appropriate to say it on camera, in a singing contest. And more importantly, it was no longer true. No after the DVD. No after hearing God in my child’s voice.

Maddy’s song taught me that love was eternal. That in a way I may never come to fully understand we were still connected; that she was and would be with me, always. And that there were many things that I could do for my beloved daughter. This one of this. Make her dream come true and have her judge by the one she respected. Find peace and joy in my life was another. For she sees every little flower I stop to admire. She inspires every little friendly gesture I give those around me. She reminds me what is significant and what is transitory. She walks with me, with her Mum. For ever and a day.

Simon pushed the play button. There was a second or two of silence. And then the voice of my Maddy was heard again.

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The Shadows

K. Barratt

shadow-figures

 

We move lightly,

The shadows.

On the wall we stretch our fingers

Over the plaster to touch

The flower, whose fragrance

We’ll never know.

We dance with the wind

Scurrying down the door,

And the drapes in the

Front room, pretending

We are the princes and princesses

You read about to your child,

At night.

We hear you.

Intensely.

Hanging on to your every word,

As we squish into the corners,

Droop from lamps and bed posts.

And we follow.

Every step that you take.

We sit on the sofa with you

And see your eyes leak,

For reasons we do not understand.

We prefer the laughter we used

To hear, the morning run

In the early light.

We hardly ever can stay outside,

Yet we enjoyed our jogs,

The dew, the whispering trees,

The lazy, cold sun.

Sometimes we even

Got to go shopping,

Although we disappeared fast

Under the neon lights,

Now we are surprised by

Your choices, every time we return

Home, to the demi shade

Of the kitchen.

We know you love cheese

And dark, melty chocolate

That feels, according to you,

Like a vampire’s kiss.

We know all this and more.

At least we did.

Yet all we see is lemonade.

And cabbage, onions and carrots.

Carrots.

And we doubt.

We have always accepted

Our fate, the illusion we

Are supposed to be,

A dark reflection of the living,

Those deemed to be real.

The child is still real but you,

You look more and more ephemeral.

And angry and mean.

Nothing like the girl who was

Going to take the world and

Eat it with marmalade,

Whilst laughing and dancing

Ballet under the spring rains.

You are fading.

Becoming a mock of the person

You once were.

Is like the real you

Has gone away and left one

Of us, your shadows, in

Your place.

And we don’t want to play

With you anymore.

Not the short shadow

Nor the long one, nor

The tubby one, nor

The perfect fit one.

You are hollowed

And there is no being

In your eyes.

And we get scared.

When you hit her,

Scream at her,

Turn the key of her room

And walk away.

And the shadow children weep

Silently, with her.

Terrified, we are, of the

Ghost we are chained

To, of the world of ashes

You have buried yourself

And our child in.

We cannot longer be -not,

We refuse to be- with you,

Part of you.

We will brake our bounds.

We’ll fight and kick

And roar and punch

And scream and beat

And hurt and kill,

If the need be.

We shall release

Our child to the light,

And be at liberty,

Unbound, unafraid, unlimited,

Body-less shadows,

Roaming bulbs, candles, fireplaces.

Unformed, un-homed, undetected,

Yet, free.

Fully, finally, free.

 

 

 

The First One

@KaremIBarratt

shadow

 

We knew it would be difficult, but that was about it. Most, if not all kids in year 4 and 5 were quite ignorant of what exactly waited for us at the Institute. And those who did know, those who had passed the test, would not speak about it. Some would smile a little. Some would smile a lot. Older pupils would murmur with certain fondness about their time there. Others seemed less incline to even mention their experience. The closest thing to an advice I got came from a boy with a huge scar across his cheek. He told me not to get too attached to anyone until year 6.

We were excited, just the same. Because if we achieved the goal at the Institute, whichever this might be, it would mean that we would be considered proper citizens of our nation, apt material to be part of the glorious army or the venerable governmental offices of our magnificent country. Or, depending on how things went, we could end up as labourers –but it was best not to even consider that possibility, although Father insisted that they too helped make our land great.

Our parents were extremely serious the day they dropped my sister and I at the Institute. Mother hugged me so strongly I felt she was going to break my bones. Then the officials took us to our room. And that night we met our Monster.

I thought I was going to die that very first time. Later I thought it could no possibly get worse. As days and nights passed, I thought I would eventually get accustomed to the pain. I was wrong.

Every night we would hold hands, my sister and I, and look at the long shadow that slithered under the door and swung to and fro, like the pendulum in a grandfather clock. Some time it would stop, right in the middle, and stand still -so still that it would melt with the darkness and disappear, as if she were not there on the other side, waiting, smiling, her long canines ripping the edges of her full mouth. That’s when we would stop breathing, my sister and I. We would stop shaking, and thinking and praying and living. The blackness of the room would seem to swell as our heart beats became audible and she sniffed the air, on the other side of the door, smelling our terror. Then the door’s handle would come down, slowly (oh so excruciatingly slowly!) till the click liberated the beast and the wooden door creaked, letting her in. And we would wish we were dead, like the ones before us. But it was not to be. Not yet.

We did not plan to kill her. Not what you would call real planning. I don’t believe we even thought she could die…or that she was even alive for that matter. She just went one step too far, did a hurt too many and we finally fully lost it –our last trace of fear. I stroke the first blow, literally. I took one of the chairs and crashed it over her head as she leaned over my sister. She did not scream. For a moment, everyone stopped moving. Then my sister punched her, hard, and as she bend in two I broke the chair onto her back and we stood up, my sister and I, and kicked her, once, twice, one more time, you bitch, now you cry, now you beg, now let your blood paint the walls red, now let it be you, again and again, you, pleading, crouching, crying, your tears washing the floor, watering their bones, becoming the only sign of mourning your death shall ever get!  

It felt good.

Empowering, my mother would later say. The whole family was waiting for us on the other side of the door the next day. Grandmother had a beautifully decorated cake on her hands and Father beamed as a high street on Christmas Eve. They waited for the officials to enter the room and confirm our killing. Then they ran as a pack and embraced us, cleaning the blood from our face and hands with their kisses.

‘Two weeks!’ exclaimed uncle Hoover. ‘It only took you two weeks to destroy her! Girls, that’s remarkable. I am so very proud of you both!’

‘Your first monster! Oh, my babies are all grown up now’ Mother said, wiping away a tiny tear.

“It took uncle Hoover and I a whole month to get rid of ours, remember Hoov? asked Father.

‘How can I forget?’ uncle Hoover replied, pointing at his empty eye socket.

We all laughed.

‘I think is time to take them home and let them have a good rest’ Grandfather said.

We all agreed.

Behind us, the officials were busy, putting the body of the woman in a black sac. Nobody knew for sure were did they get them, these monsters. Some said they were bred; others said they were hunted from alien worlds. They looked just like us. And like our enemies. Father thought that we should erect some sort of monument in their honour. It was thanks to them, he said, that our nation was grand; that we could walk into battle without trepidations and had been able to conquer and obliterate those who endanger us and our illustrious noble land. Mother believed that there were better ways to spend money than to glorify animals. As we left the Institute, a boy and girl of about nine were being brought in by their parents. I thought about the bones in our cell room.

I wonder if they ever made it.

Under the Brazilian Nut Tree

Brazilian Nut Treel@KaremIBarratt

 Lights die in Santa Barbara when it rains. Prepared to the end, Grandma finds the match box placed next to emergency candles, while we kids get into our drill: find the plastic covers under the beds and place them over the mattresses. Mama, Auntie and Uncle move sofas and chairs away from the waterfall building on the top of the lounge’s ceiling. Grandpa, paced and yawning, puts the water to boil and prepares the coffee and chocolate. Afterwards we sit, nesting our warm drinks in our hands. Then comes the never–failing ritual. It starts with the adults complaining about the electricity company and it ends with the adults talking about their ghosts – literally.

‘Remember, Paula,’ says Grandpa, his face glowing over the embers of his pipe, ’when your father used to haunt the backyard?’

‘Sure. It started when this young lady was born,’ she says tussling my hair, ‘and it took years of rosaries, masses and an exorcism by an Italian priest to convince him to get out.’

I shudder and look at the watery darkness of the backyard, resembling a painting inside the window’s frame.

‘So Mariana came to this world with a ghost, uh?’ teases cousin Pedro.

‘Shut up, you moron!’ I replied with all the eloquence of my fourteen years.

Uncle clears his throat and we hold our tongues, throwing angry stares at each other. Grandpa continues.

‘He used to come everyday, around six, mumbling and grumpy – his natural state, really, since that day his Isabel ran away with the Portuguese merchant. What was his name, Paula?

‘Joao Something…’, says Grandma, her mouth twisting into a dried fruit.

‘Who’s Isabel?’ asks cousin Leticia, sitting on Uncle’s lap.

‘She was Grandma’s youngest sister.’ answers Grandpa. ‘A real pretty thing, sweet and shy, like a bird. It was a real shock when we received the letter, saying she had left with…Joao, is it? She was so young, no more than fifteen at that time.’

‘We were living in the Capital then.’ Grandma adds, a sadden note lingering in her voice. ‘We have asked Father if Isabel could go with us, telling him it would complete her education, but he would not hear of it. Maybe if he had she would still be here, wrinkly and grey like the two of us.’

An angel passes over our heads. At least that is what they say around here when people become suddenly quiet and noises mute to nothing. We turn into a family portrait, painted in the golds and shadows of the candles’ light.

‘Anyway,’ said Grandpa, breaking the spell, ‘Old Baltazar’s ghost would circle the house, looking like he always did – cropped hair, khaki trousers, a lighted cigar hanging eternally on his lips- and go through the hen house, making the poor birds soil their bottoms and run as if a falcon was gliding nearby. He would pay no attention to them and continue his way, past the vegetable patch, to the Brazilian Nut tree, where he’d disappear.’

The hairs in my arms do a unison stand. I could see this man – had seen this man, through the panes of the bedroom I shared with Mama.

‘When did your father die, Grandma?’ I ask, drawing my skinny knees under my chin.

‘I don’t know… about thirty years ago? But we are interrupting Grandpa, again. Go ahead, Alfonso.’

‘Thank you, darling. We thought Old Baltazar had buried some sort of treasure. People used to do that a lot in those days, with all the revolutions and counter-revolutions shaking this poor country – until the arrival of General Montenegro, God rest his soul.’

‘Amen,’ mutters Grandma, as Mama and Uncle roll up their eyes.

‘Did you find the treasure?’ asks Pedro, his eyebrows arching.

‘No’ smiles Grandma, ’but your grandfather here had the time of his life trying. He dug the backyard for years!’

Everyone laughs but me, as memories gust like a gale on my head.

***

I was six or seven, sitting at the desk by the window, doing my lines (ma, me , mi, mo, mu ) when I saw him go by. He puffed and mumbled, his khaki shirt dishevelled, sweat falling from his forehead. And then I heard it: an “eee” or “peace”, something like a whine, like the plea of a mouse dragged by a jaded cat. Finding the perfect excuse to abandon my tiresome school work, I tip-toed out the hallway, crossed the kitchen where Auntie and Mama separated beans, and scurried out the backyard, hurrying behind the trunks of the mango and guava trees, to make sure he wouldn’t see me.

He stopped and I stopped with him, finally having a good look at the thing he was hauling. It was a girl. A big-bellied girl, kicking furiously, her pale lips slashed by a black cloth.

I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. The rosy evening turned into moon-lit night. There was a square, no, a rectangle, opened on the ground, right by were the Brazilian Nut tree was supposed to be, it’s absence filled by a scraggy twig poking from the grass.

Isabel saw the unearthed grave and shrieked, uselessly, as her father rolled her into the void, and somehow me with her, attached to her, enclosed in her, the fall softened by something supple and still warm. It was a body. She did not need the pale light to realise it was Joao, his torso caked in blood, his hands tied, his open mouth a centipede’s nest. Earth began to rain as she wept, sodden clumps of mud, pebbles and roots cramming the space, licking her feet, her calves, the baby, swimming desperately inside of her, the dirt walls closing in. Isabel screamed, begging her father to stop, please, stop, Papa, stop, STOP! But the earth rose, mercilessly, burning her lungs as she breathed it and petrified into it – her bound hands touching the damp night air, the last thing she was to remember.

***

‘Nope,’ sighs Grandpa. ’There was no gold, no silver, no jewels – nothing.’

‘Not even bones?’ I whisper.

Grandpa inhales his pipe, his eyes fix on me.

‘No’ he says, his words floating in the grey smoke. ’Not even a tiny, wincey monkey bone.’

There is a flash, and the lights come back. The kids clap, the grown-ups smile, the plastic covers go back under the beds. Grandma turns on the TV to watch “Nobody’s Daughter”, the new prime-time soap she’s already addicted to. Mama and Auntie herd us to our rooms, amid protests.

I pull the covers to my nose and study the marks on my wrists, which no one has been able to explain. Mama thinks they are abrasions from some forgotten Indian and Cowboy game and Auntie believes they are scars from the time I fell into the thorn bushes, behind the park. They resemble faint, rusted braids, circling my hands like a ghost.

‘Have you said your prayers, Mariana?’ asks Grandpa when he enters the bedroom.

I nod.

‘Good night then,’ he whispers, kissing my forehead.

‘Grandpa?’

‘Yes?’

‘About that story…’

Grandpa halts my fears.

“It’s just a story, nothing more” he says, as the cropped-haired man walks by the threshold behind his back.