by Claire Loader
The storms came in the spring, slipped the waking earth, hushed her back to sleep again. We scraped the bottom of our winter bowls, stagnated hours lingering, listless – lips parched with thinning prayers. I saw their mouths in the darkness of my eyelids, their shrivelled cheeks, cracks of the walls leaning in like fissures, threatening to crush us like twigs.
I have forgotten the names of my children, though I remember one is a boy, the other a girl. Names harbour little use when there is barely skin to hold together a letter, not strength enough for a sound.
“Stop playing with your sister so roughly, you will hurt her.”
It has rained all May and June, and on into the summer months. We started to eat the seed grain, slaughtered the mule, but there was no salt to cure it. I have sent them out to find berries but even the wild plants cannot find the strength to lift themselves to their task, the bark on the trees already stripped by desperate hands.
How long have we been lying here, listening to the patter of gentle rain? The rain does not care for anything but falling. So determined, it pays no heed to nature’s patterns – does not allow us to breathe.
“Husband will you not stop them from playing so, I cannot count the days.”
He barely moves. Have I spoken at all? The stones in his hands like little crumbs of bread. I ask him to share them, but he will not. I try to reach his arm, but I cannot. I wonder has the house swallowed us already.
They tell it now as if I was not their real mother. Strip the horror of what they believed by taking away our blood connection. Saying they never came from me, as if it would make it less.
I would have loved them if I could, would have held them, kept them safe.
I wake to the darkness of an unknown hour. The aching void in my stomach a relentless thrum. I lift myself from our shared bed, find myself on the floor. Why aren’t the children here? I search frantically in the vacuum of my vision, fingertips latching a hand, an arm. The door is open, but I do not feel the wind on my face. The hand is wet.
“Why do you lie here on the floor in the rain? Come, let us back to bed.”
Another’s memory, not my own, would say they found us there together. The body of the girl wrapped in my arms, her blood spooling over us like a blanket.
Hunger: it draws darkness, but it did not draw that from me. A fox, perhaps, a wild dog, come to eat of its own desperation. And suddenly, it is a tale of a mother, who becomes a stepmother, who finds herself a witch – immortalised in a house made of gingerbread, of sugar candy.
Claire Loader is a New Zealand born writer and photographer now living in Galway, Ireland. Her work has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including Déraciné Magazine, Splonk, Crannóg and Silver Apples. You can find Claire online at www.allthefallingstones.com and on Twitter @msloader.