This is not love, my sweaty lollipop.
Feathers of light drift from the metal spider looming over your cradle, dance in the pudgy folds of your shining skin. Kaleidoscope patterns paint lurid strokes joining the dots between your black eyes and the thin curve between your nose and the tip of your round chin. Winnie the Pooh sings sickly songs over your bedside.
No. This is not love, my deflated dirigible.
My fingertips touch prickled coarse blanket, alternately red and gold under the spinning orbs, as my hands pull threadbare corners closer around your neck. Your bonnet is askew, you clumsy thing. You’ve been wriggling, straining against your cushioned bonds. Your tiny left hand, five puffed caterpillars exploding from a pale baked potato, waves a frozen greeting.
The front door cracks loud through the house. Its thunderclap growls along painted plaster walls, happy picture-frames manically swaying. I guess you’re now privy to his final farewell. Do not blame him, your father. He loved you in his own way. But it was not love. Not real love.
I probably shouldn’t say this, it isn’t nice, nor ladylike (one of the many qualities your grandma foresaw would not be inherited from my humble shell-hole); there is a smell.
A trickle of hair, free from the guard of your crocheted hat (courtesy of Honorary Aunty Margaret), reaches defiantly into our shared stale air. It drifts one way then the other, twitching as a sniffer dog that discovers the path of a murderer’s stinking boots across a brambled forest. I pat it down for you, my baby. Just for you.
Did I show you these? Such lovely cards. Written with ink siphoned from the dredges of purity we adults still find lurking within us, even now. The pink one, signed in flowing fountain pen by Aunty Simone, decorated in purple hearts and milky stars, glitters roughly. Others: one pale green with a cartoon rabbit from Aunty Eva, one egg-shell blue with raised cardboard cloud cut-outs from your Grandpa John. You’d have liked Grandpa John. He keeps a Werther’s packet with your name on it locked in his desk drawer. He’s been waiting to meet you.
And then there’s the gifts. All the shiny, sterile gifts. They’re all here. Carefully arranged around your cot. Building blocks of well-wishes and happy-birth-days grow like tumours of Lego walls, garish and flamboyant, reaching ever higher to hem the hamster in. And you its oblivious prisoner, my sweet eructation. My bundle of burden.
A tissue, softly entwined around my forefinger, mops the quiet trail of saliva traversing your previously full cheek. Its fibres drink crimson.
This is not love, my furious pheromone.
Why were you shouting? What brought you to a place where you would force your fresh, innocent chords to play so shrilly, gadding through the air and racing to crash against wearied drums? What did you possibly want for?
You should know this. I would have died for you. I nearly did. Even now, the diamond white leer of the scalpel rises above my stomach at every ebb of my eyelids. Now, wistful darkness induced only by sleep, heralds only pain, and then even more pain; cuts, slices, peels, pulls. In this blackest of places, from out of my own cavernous fleshy gorge, out of that road kill that previously undertook itself to be known as my belly, your greasy scuz covered face emerged. You came, and you came screaming.
You should know this, too. Your dad held you then as a king holds his finest pearls. His figure coalesced through a thousand whispers of agony writhing over my inert frame. His face a gurning mask of happiness, beaded with ten-day bristle and hospital soap sheen. He was, in that moment, the greatest of men basking in the whole world’s potential. You were a singer, a film-star, a dancer, a footballer. You were a definition, defining us. You made us what we are today.
And do you like what we are, little one?
I probably shouldn’t say this, it isn’t nice, nor ladylike (one of the many qualities your grandma foresaw would not be inherited from my humble shell-hole); there is a smell. It reeks of something dead, or dying. Something rancid – drifting from the shadowed caves of your fluffed sheets. Is it uncomfortable? Does it scratch uneasy against your pale thighs? Perhaps I could help if you let me. Why do you hate me so much?
Don’t you remember the days I whittled away the finer hours of the clock; tending your bedside, absorbing excrement in soft white paper, wiping green mucus from your mouth? Didn’t you notice my hooded eyes struggling beside you through your relentless nights of pig-squealing? A loyal soldier. A barren, lead-pecked soldier who never leaves his crucial but rotten, forgotten outpost.
Don’t resent your dad. Don’t project your bile for me onto his clean white shirts and worn cord trousers. If I can request just one thing of your perfectly formed conch ears it’s to love your father. He never had the courage for this.
There’s not long now, my lovely cuckoo. Your father will soon have completed his Judas journey; his statement feeding eager-faced authority, his words a fiercely misunderstood slant on my character.
They think they know what love is. But that was not love, my screaming seraphim.
In my lap the smooth pillow rests, content in a job well done, soft indents recording its precious history across your face. A feather clings to your nose, embracing the tender curve, motionless.
Blue flashing lights in the street play discordant with the dancing sprites of your swinging mobile, waltzing erratically across the freshly painted ceiling. Monotonous drones leak through the windows, rudely hee-hawing over Track 17: Never Alone (Eeyore’s Lullaby) without consideration for the nuances of tone, the emphasis of character.
Remember me. Remember the tenderness, the calm – despite your craving for chaos. I smooth the blanket over your chest, touch my dry lips to your cold ones.
Remember me. Remember me, and know now what love is.
© Tamara Rogers 2014