If I Can’t Find You, I’ll Try To Find Myself

Everything is hushed, even the waves hemming the sand seems to hold their breath. Dawn is breaking and teasing the horizon. The world seems warmer. Tiny orange  crabs scurry sideways into jagged rocks and now I am alone. I feel naked. Alive. All that I hold are my most intimate thoughts and a new respect for life.

Visiting the Maldives had been a distant dream of mine, since – well since forever. I had lost my mother seven months earlier. Her sudden departure from my life was not only tragic but deeply confusing. Life as I knew it had changed. I found myself searching for answers instead of comfort and could not see beyond the noise. Seven months had passed and I found myself frustrated. I spent too much time sitting on my doorstep, looking to the sky and searching. I found nothing. Waiting for nothing is the most desperate way to pass the time. You feel the outside expanding rapidly from your doorstep while you slowly shrink inside your own head. After receiving a small windfall, it didn’t take me long to find my escape. “If I can’t find you, I’ll try to find myself.”

I watch the sun climb. Shocking red and orange slices flash upon the placid sea. Blood rushes around my body; my head feels light and my skin tingles. I want to grab this vision and stamp it urgently in my memory; nothing had been or ever could be this beautiful.

Sunrise is followed by nature. The salt water and wet sand creep up and swallow my legs. Schools of fish swim daringly close to me examining by pale white limbs. I enjoy teasing them with my toes.  A stingray skims the surface of the shore, round , large and flat like a piece of old leather being carried by the waves. I stand up and follow it until it disappears into deeper water. “Time is irrelevant. Time is unconnected to the world outside. The world outside is now extinct”.

I am walking. My island has opened up to people. Swimwear –  bright and cheerful which somehow looks dishonest here. Every soul I see equally treasures the silence. I see the emotion on every face that turns toward me. Passion has touched their soul. Passion has touched my soul.

I find a spot under a palm tree. It is a light relief from the burning sun as the fan like branches shade my skin. A tiny lizard scurries up the rough bark and hides from me. I have stolen its place. I close my eyes and breathe in a smell of warm salty sea and dry foliage. It is the pure and clean smell of the natural world, stripped back to its rawness, undeveloped and unpolluted.  Unspoiled.  All of my senses are kick-started. I am alive.

Hours pass, or perhaps it is just seconds but the next thing happens alarmingly quick. The brilliant blue horizon turns charcoal grey. In the blink of an eye the neighbouring island vanishes. The atmosphere feels instantly charged. Excitement and fear presses heavily on my skin and I watch in wonder as the sea trembles and spits out her waves as she chokes in the dense air. Colossal globes of water pelt from the heavens onto the world below. All at once I am alone again. Noise booms in my ears from the waves and rain and the intense screeching from the unhappy bird high above my head in my palm tree. I am motionless. I watch the storm gather itself, teasing my island with its wildness and ferocity, and I long for it. My heart pounds in my chest, my ears scream as I suck in the humid air and hold it as my body wretches. My eyes explode with tears cascading from deep inside my broken heart. I clench my fists and my eyes stare ahead, finally seeing myself through my blurred vision. I sob for my mother, I weep for the loneliness I feel without her and for my uncertain future.

Almost as quickly as it begins, the rain stops. The world stops. Only for a moment.Like I am caught between when time began and when time ended. I am nothing but am everything. The sea throws its last wave onto the wet sand then lies still,  tranquil. Silent.  Before my eyes is a florescent sea. A bright shocking bath of glory against a cruel bleak sky.

My eyes dry. The grey moves along the horizon until all that remains is a flawless sky that never ends. The sun lies down  on the clear and rested water and time resumes.For the first time in a long time I understand. My close encounter with a tropical storm has awakened me. Like the storm, my grief is fierce but beautiful and will eventually pass. I am alive. I can be whole.

©Eilidh G Clark

It’s Always Night Here

Everything is dark. I wonder if the orange heat has burned my eyes out. Some of my whiskers have fallen off because I keep banging against the dark. The night has grown walls all around me. I am normally free when the sun goes to sleep. It is the time when we own the world, when we can stretch our legs and run and play with hardly any fear.  You see, before the orange heat, we could see quite fine when the day turned black. I need a diddle but I keep banging into darkness and there is no room.  I want my Mummy.

          I had thought we were together, all seven of us, and Mummy. I guess I was wrong. Everything had felt confusing, with all the orange heat mixed up with the night blackness, which turned into poisoned air, and made  seeing and breathing ever so hard.

My tail is all cramped and curled up and it stings from top to bottom. I cannot sweep it out for relief and I have to sit on it which makes it feel burny and sore . The dark is like shut-eye and I feel confused. My fur is all itchy and sticky. I want to ask Mummy what to do. I am afraid. Wait. There is a little stripe of light in a part where the dark isn’t mixed up. I press my nose really close to it but the tip of my nose nips so I shuffle onto my side and stretch my paw out and scrape. Everything smells wrong. There is a scratchy smell and it bites my throat. I push one claw into the light stripe and it gets stuck. I think maybe the world has shrunk.

I think my foot is broken. It won’t move and it feels like it is facing the wrong way. There is a sharp stretchy feeling wrapped all around it. When I try to press it on the floor I feel my head go all wishy-washy and I nearly get sick. You see, I think it broke because I was looking at the light stripe and I nearly pushed my paw right into it but then everything started to move. My body flew  upwards but the night has grown a roof and I was crashed back down hard onto the floor and it kept happening over and over. I tried to get my paw out of the light stripe but it stayed stuck and I tried to shout out but I choked. I think my head is still moving up and down. I’m really too hot and I need something to drink. I think I diddled on the floor, it smells really horrible and it’s in my fur.

Everything is noisy. I can hear my heart beating really loud like it’s outside of me. As well, there is a loud squealing sound that I think is in my brain but its outside of my brain too, squeezing me tighter and tighter, and I have to breathe proper fast to stop it crushing me. I don’t understand where I am. Is this the world? I’m scared and I can’t run because there is no forward or backward, just a solid end in the darkness. I think my breath is the only air around me and I have to keep sucking it back in just in case it goes away and I can’t breathe anymore.

I wish Mummy was here, or my brothers. Callum is the oldest, he is three and even though he bites my tail sometimes he is still big and strong and could easily push hard into the light stripe. I think the light stripe is where the world used to be and I am stuck outside of it. I know I’m trapped or stuck or something. Billy is the same age as me; he can chew his way through everything. He once chewed a whole white shiny bag that flew into our nest and got stuck. Only instead of spitting out the shiny stuff he ate it and was proper sick then pooped out white curly snakes; it was rotten. I bet he could chew a hole through this outside world and let me back in to the proper one. Philip, Lawrence, Salvador and Russell are all my age and we cuddle lots. We had only just got our brown fur when the high sun came last week. It’s nice to nuzzle your nose into your brothers soft warm belly. Mummy has the best fur though. It’s long and white and smells like grass and corn and sunshine, even in the night. It’s always night here but it’s not freedom. This night blinds me, it is a prison with walls and a roof and no day, except the light stripe. Perhaps the sun has been folded up and the dark has squeezed it so tight it can only peep through the edges of night.

I don’t know how I got here. We were playing just outside the nest. Mummy was having a snooze, and the daytime was nearly packed-up. The field was all soft and swaying. The corn was making lovely long grey shadows on the ground that were shaking and shivering, and we were trying to catch them. The field was swishing and whistling and Mummy was snoring in the nest. Then all at once we stopped. There was a new sound. It was like a hissing and crackling and we could hear screaming and laughing from the people folk that pass by outside of our field.

“Stay away from the people folks,” Mummy always warned us with squinted eyes which meant ‘no joking’.

“They can never catch us Mummy, we are too fast,” Callum said with some reassurance.

“Keep away,” she just kept saying, “Them people folks don’t like us mice.”

So we were standing listening to the crackle and hissing and snapping when the air started to get terribly hot. Through the grass and corn, the air looked thicker as if it was not clear and see-through anymore and it made my eyes water. We ran to tell Mummy, her nose was already twitchy because the air smelled thick. She woke up just as we were about to shake her and her eyes were the biggest fear balls I ever saw.

“Fire!” she shouted. “Run.”

None of us knew what to do except trust in those big round fear eyes and follow her. I looked behind me and saw the orange heat. I think that’s what fire is. It was big and fast and chasing us. It swayed and stretched higher than the corn and spat little pieces of orange heat up into the sky, then angrily grabbed them back down again. It whipped and waved and grabbed the corn and grass into its belly which just made it bigger and angrier.

We were fast but the orange heat was faster. I ran and ran. I couldn’t see my family anymore because we were running in black air. It wasn’t just the dark, the dark was our friend, it was the night, the night had come down too quick and it got mixed up with the orange heat. It made my breathing hurt. It’s hard to run with your tail off the floor but the night had attached to my tail and the orange heat was nipping it. I ran faster and faster until I was up on a hill outside of the field. I felt like my eyes were going to pop right out of my face. I stopped to look at where our little nest was but everything was orange. I was about to carry on running when I started to fly. It was like my tail was pulling my up to the sky. I wriggled and shook my body and closed my eyes tight to stop my brains falling out of my ears. Then I felt floor. The orange heat was gone and the world had gotten so small that I couldn’t move.

I think I am outside of the world. I think I flew into a pocket of the mixed up night by accident and I got stuck. If I go to sleep, maybe when the day comes the light stripe will grow and melt the night away and I can find my family. I miss my family. I diddled again and my paws are dipped in it. I feel really hot but I can’t stop shivering. I will try to sleep, if only I could stop shaking.

It’s still dark but I cannot see like I normally can. The light stripe is fading away and I think perhaps the weird darkness has stolen me and I am sinking deeper and deeper into it. The squealing isn’t so loud anymore but my heart has moved from my belly to my ears and I can feel it just as loud as I can hear it beating. If I push my face right up to where the light stripe is fading, I can smell something new. It smells like turnip or cow droppings or both mixed up and made worse by the warmth. It isn’t a good smell but it feels cooler that this dark pocket which smells of diddle and orange night and rotten skin. My paw is still very sore but I can move it so maybe when you’re lost you can’t be broken because you don’t really exist in the world. I wish it would make the pain less though. I want to sleep again but my tongue is stuck to my teeth and I need to hold it inside my mouth to make a little wetness, otherwise it might fall off. Besides, if it hits the floor it might taste diddle and then I might die.

I feel like I am moving but I haven’t even sat up. I might be dreaming. But the light stripe is bright again and I think I can smell the world, the real world.

I’m falling………

I felt  like I was falling forever but I have landed exactly where I was.  It hurt, my bones are shaking and I can hardly stand up. It is still night and I am still almost blind. I bundle myself tight into a ball and cry. I want my Mummy so bad.

Just when I thought I was lost forever, the day came again. I was sucked back out of the mixed up night with my tail, and I seemed to hover in the air upside down for such a long time. I squeezed my eyes shut but when I didn’t move, I opened one of them just a little and saw a giant eye with long wiry eye-lashes blinking at me. It was huge and green with a giant black circle in the middle that grew and grew. I twisted and shook and screamed so hard because I had never seen anything so awful in my life.

I am falling to the ground, like in slow motion. The grass is warm but ever so short and I can’t even hide. My eyes sting and my legs are shaking but I manage to run a little.  I have to keep going forward and never stopping for fear of the orange heat and tangled darkness catching me again. Maybe if I can stay in the light long enough Mummy will find me and take me home. I wonder if I have a home.

©Eilidh G Clark

Free Day

I sat on the doorstep. My head was filled with a itchy buzz that drowned out the noise from the road fifty yards away. The afternoon was damp and humid and a smell of rotten leaves hung thick. The air licked my skin and my scalp prickled as I sucked life into my lungs, attempting to clear the fog that stifled  brain. I had been grinding my teeth ever since I received the phone call at 11am that morning and now my jaw ached. Outside, the doorstep was my reprieve, a place to escape. The mourning. It was the crying; the fear, it was the look of desperation etched on faces; pale, ashen and distorted. Outside I was alone, raw and separated from the solid hugging arms of collective grief and crumpled bodies. Fat blobs of rain began to fall, and I looked up to charcoal clouds scribbled over the sky.

“This,” I thought, “is how the sky ought to look today’.

From behind the rooftops of an adjacent tenement block of flats, a single black helium balloon appeared. I watched it stagger over the sky, bashing into thick air then sucked into jets of cold.For a moment it hesitated.

“Where are you Mum?”  I shook my head and watched as the balloon skittered off into the distance. The world above was black and white.

How was I meant to feel today? How are you supposed react when you get a call at 11am on a Sunday morning telling you that your Mum is dead?

Death.

Grief.

I had often tried to imagine how I would feel when this day arrived, especially more so in the last year as I noticed how fragile my mother looked and how tiny she had become. One thing was certain; I had always known my heart would break.  What I did not expect was confusion, fear, emptiness and a feeling of no longer being safe. I got up and went back into a house that was no longer home.

Loss. I had experienced it before.

***

It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was off school. I wasn’t even sure why my Mum had let me have a free day but it was bound to be great. I got to pick my own clothes because Mum had gone out to see Granny in hospital. Before she left, Mum told me to be good and remember to brush my teeth. When I went downstairs to see who was looking after me, loads of aunties and uncles had come to visit. I felt really excited because that usually meant a party. The room was filled with pipe smoke and old lady smell.

“I got a free day off school,” I said, and tried to squeeze in between Uncle Jimmy and Auntie Agnes.

Everyone was looking at me and pulling weird faces. Auntie Phamie was crying. Auntie Isa had a crumpled up face and was looking at the floor. Uncle John coughed and left the room. I was afraid I had done something wrong.

“Your Granny died this morning,” Auntie Isa said, looking up.

I laughed because I didn’t believe her. My Granny was in hospital. Auntie Phamie started wailing so I turned around and stood in the corner.

“Poor Eleanor, not getting there on time,” Uncle Roberts voice came from near the kitchen.

I knew my Mum was called Eleanor, and I wondered if she had missed the bus this morning.

“And Chic, poor man, going home to an empty house,” one of the Aunties said. I wondered who Chic was and if he’d been burgled like the folk on Jackanory yesterday. I nervously picked wood-chip off the wall, and it fell in between my feet and on to the green carpet. I was hungry because no one had made me anything to eat. This didn’t seem like a party to me at all. I was scared to turn around, partly because I could still hear Auntie Phamie sniffing and grunting, and also because there was now a pile of wood-chip on the floor at my feet. I stood and looked at the mess for ages and thought about my Grannie. Why did they say she was dead? I thought this was a nasty lie to tell.

After what felt like hours, I heard the front door open and turned around.  Mum walked in with Auntie Nan and Papa and everyone got up and started cuddling, just like at Christmas, except no one was singing. Papa was crying, and I felt like I should be crying as well but didn’t know why. My Mum took ages to come over and see me and when she did she crouched down so her face was close to mine. I wondered if my Mum would like what I had picked to wear.

“Your Granny died this morning,” she said.

I frowned and turned my back on my Mum, then felt warm pee dribble down my leg and into my sock.

©Eilidh G Clark