I imagined him to be tall and dark, my twin brother, when she told me; similar personality, more confidence. Ma told me she’d bled heavily when she carried me, thought she’d lost me, ‘till her stomach kept growing after the doctor ordered bedrest. Didn’t have scans in them days, she said. Aunt Connie had been drafted in to help. Then I arrived after what I’m told is the longest and worst labour, like it was somehow my fault, that I’d been difficult or might have been responsible for his loss. She looked startled in most of my fading baby photos — the ones in tartan albums, labeled in biro —like she’d birthed an alien. There was an awkward distance between us that looked nothing like Madonna and Child. Ma thought she’d told me once, but with most of her stories, I’d heard this one on numerous occasions by the time I carried my own bairns.
The constant, gnawing gap in my life, the longing, the loneliness, it had always been there. I found his face in a few male friends over the years, the ones that were silly and funny and kind. But, I lost him as time unfurled, wondered whether he might have been a doctor, like my Pops, or a vet, maybe a teacher. Sometimes I would reach out a hand to see if he caught it, or hear his voice in a stranger’s. I’d look at men my age and wonder what it would feel like to have him here in the flesh, if we’d fight the way siblings do. I imagined he’d be a better version of me. We look for better all the time. They tell us in school to do better, be better. Better… (continue reading at Spillwords Press).
I am eight years old and this is the year I learn to float. It is the year I learn to speak Spanish, although I firmly believe floating will be more useful, especially if I want to become a magician’s assistant. You don’t need language qualifications.
“Heather?” Mum yells up the stairs. “Come down and set the table.” I wonder if I can do this by floating, but I will need more practise. She doesn’t understand magic. Not many people do. I set the table and float back upstairs, but I have to stop half way as I lose my focus.
At the dinner table, later in the evening, the conversation revolves around government policies, shopping lists and Harry’s exams. “I can levitate,” I say. Silence falls across the room. Grandpa is snoring in the corner in his rocking chair. Dad gives me an eat-your-food look and that’s all I say for the rest of the evening. At breakfast tomorrow, I will try Spanish. It will be more acceptable.
You fold yourself into tiny spaces, words come at you like rain. You tuck in your arms and feet – soles digging into your calves – so that the words don’t slice your limbs. You hide your competition win in case it’s seen as an indulgence, like the cakes you get for afternoon tea: Miniature, crustless cucumber sandwiches, cakes and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Saliva lines your lips as you imagine this.
You squeeze your words into shorter sentences and, sometimes, single words. Your arms sting with the folding and the tucking. The tiny spaces make her feel bigger, less threatened; more. You listen hard and speak less, reaching a point where the bird flying overhead, beyond the skylights, provides the distraction you need.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ she asks, but you know you can’t give a proper answer.
‘I forgot,’ you say, and take a swig of hot tea, the mug leaving a ring on the mat. This will be noted… continue reading at Reflex Press.