The October sky was pink and the leaves black, gesticulating against it. A couple were heading home from the park when they saw a bench with a view of the rest of the heath. They had polystyrene cups of tea in their hands from the café. They decided to sit and drink for a while. Before long he ran back to the car to get his new digital camera. When he returned with the camera the evening stillness, which she found herself settling into, was broken with bleeping. As he snapped the skyline she thought, it won’t be long before he turns it on me. It wasn’t. At first she protested and stuck her middle finger up and tongue out but immediately felt guilty.
The bleeping carried on. For her this was disturbing the dusk, the stillness, her ability to hear birds rustling in the hedges or how the trees had turned from russet to black. An opportunity for hope in the peace.
“Can’t you turn that thing to silent?”.
“Let me see," he answered vaguely, absorbed with the machine, scrolling the different settings with his thumb.
Draining her tea she decided to walk on by herself to drown out her irritation that seemed to resurface at closer intervals. He could follow after. She headed over the heath down to the tree where she and many others had played when she was a child. She recalled the games of climbing inside the hollowed guts of the tree where the fairies, they imagined, lived but these memories darted off as fairies might. She couldn’t hold them long enough to recall in greater detail but she remembered a feeling of anticipation. So they had called it the Fairy Tree because one of their parents had suggested it and they believed because to them this was possible. Over the heath came the flash lighting the path, then blinding it in turn.
She got down to a natural dip in the land where the tree stood. The tangled branches stooped low and its hollowed torso bulged. She sat amongst its lumpy body. She was hidden. It was quiet. Some would find this damp and dark place eerie, but not her. This was where she was welcomed in the folding arms of the earth, the place she new we all would end and this is where she was closest to those she remembered loving. She spoke words aloud for their baby”Here I am baby, ssh,ssh, mummy is here”. All that broke the deep comfort of being in the bosom of this tree was the flash breaking the darkness. Here in the damp soil she could rest. She imagined her baby’s head hovering in the sky through the branches instead of the moon. Her arms ached to cradle.
Back on the bench he squinted into the camera but the lines around his eyes were there regardless of him taking a photo or not. These lines were particularly deep even for his age and had become deeper in recent months. His concern had been for her. He praised her when she seemed to be getting better. To him she was quieter recently, which he couldn’t pretend wasn’t a relief, as her habit of mentioning the baby at inappropriate times had become embarrassing. Like with the couple at the service station and their newborn. She found a way in and then started to tell the whole story of how she had lost the baby. The couple looked awkward but she didn’t detect this and kept on until, he, irritated by her lack of awareness and the couples discomfort had interjected. They all found the soonest opportunity to go their separate ways. He had worked hard at looking after her, driving, cooking, sometimes dressing her and escorting her to the endless medical appointments. His exhaustion at night was compounded by her restlessness, which he needed to ignore for his own sanity, to be able to sleep. Some nights he felt her curl close to him but more often they lay without touching.
Before the death of their baby there had been harmony, or that is how she remembered it. But even during this time she had often dreamt of a deep but dry river, which they were standing either side of, inaudible to each other. It seemed easier to be quiet and give herself to this tree? She wasn’t the same and she didn’t know how long it would take for him to realise this. Lying in bed each night her mind would return to the little, waxlike, bloodied foetus in its sack in the white morning on the bathroom floor. After which, she had gone back into the bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed stupefied and the only words that passed through her mind were, the rivers have run dry.
She would find herself, almost involuntarily, raising her arm up to the ceiling, index finger extended, outlining shapes. At first tangible shapes like ceiling cracks then the lampshade, which was a nice big orb like the moon, like a baby’s head. She would outline her baby’s head on the ceiling there in the dark and dot her eyes and the stars around her head.
Trying to ignore the night sounds to concentrate, the lines around his eyes grew deeper as he chased his view through the lens, as though he’d been stifling sadness all his life and there were no more tears to cry, not even for death. Many times she had challenged him as to where his tears were. Were they dammed up or frozen over like the ice age holding their baby a fossil until another era where it would be safer to thaw? He didn’t know. For now though, photos could consume him and he could keep her close in images.
She longed to be full up again, when they might be close, but now there was so little to say. There had only been a handful of words that explained the way each felt and they had more than used them up a long time ago. Grief, loss, sorrow, etc, etc… Words like grief, loss and sorrow were good, the most inept was disappointment, devastation got somewhere close and so did blood, there were weeks of blood.
Never before in her life had she noticed the absolute ineptitude of words. She could say grief, and others would nod but really it was eating her stomach and chewing its way up through her chest and throat and soon into her brain. It was urgent. Sometimes her eyes swelled so big with this hunger that she seemed to plead silently for help. She would look in a daydream out of the window at the sky or the treetops and he would capture these moments from time to time.
So, with the darkness, the tree and the damp soil death was alive and vice versa. There wasn’t any distinction. She could be as dead or alive as the baby. She thought about weaving her hair through the roots, tears replenishing the sods as the baby’s face beamed down instead of the moon. Lost in this merging she found herself pawing the soil gasping for the musty air then pressing her face against the ridges of the trunk and running her fingers up through the moss and wondering about its taste, she licked the crevices. Somewhere in the soil, the bark and the moss she could fill her empty arms and be able to love again. The natural world knew this pang.
All the while the little flash was getting closer. She was hidden by the branches until he stepped through into her spontaneous ritual. He caught her licking the tree. She froze, tongue half buried in the mossy bark, cheek pressed hard against the trunk, eyes wide and blinking as though he should have knocked. He let the camera drop around his neck. They were still. It was understandable, he took her muddy hand and saying nothing, led her back to the car.