They have found a body in the jungle. I see it on the late news in the common room tonight when no one else is there, and just like that I know. The television sound is turned down and out the window, in the breathing black summer night, there’s a bird call like the one that used to stop my mother every day of my childhood. It hoots once and its wings lap through the heat. Just like that, it’s on its way.
Inside the room the lights are suddenly warm, like they’re feeling kind, and I don’t even mind the bugs spinning their way around them. The window is open and they just can’t help themselves on a night so hot and awake as this one.
I listen to the flit and fall of them and the news flickers through it all. The name of the faraway place where that body lies appears in the corner of the screen, but there is no name for the body. The sound of the bird repeats somewhere in my soul’s ear, flies away and leaves me, and I am alone again in this full house.
One of the others, a new girl, walks into the room with strange purpose. She has one sock on, sagging, the other missing or forgotten, so that her feet make different sounds. She is young, maybe only a teenager, with acne thick across both cheeks so swollen it is painful to see. In the middle of the room, where the main light falls down on her dark head, she stops and looks around to remember what she came for. When she sees me, it is not with the same eyes that see whatever it is she is following. She turns her back and walks out, the uneven beat of her feet softening away down the hall.
On the television, three men, all with beards, dig around in the jungle, their calf muscles hairy above thick white socks and strong boots. The screen shows only them, their digging so gentle. Nothing else is revealed.
They are men of science and had expected remains of a more ancient kind, an animal that had finished its time on earth before any of us were dreamt of. They did not look for this body, the bone evidence of it showing clear in the light after all these years. They did not bet on the smile of its teeth through the mud, on the ribs still huddled together in their rows.
My mother’s was a hard kind of love, held so close and tight I did not see it until the end. And now here it is at last, unearthed. I listen to the flight sounds of the moths until the news ends. Then I drag the sofa to the window on its scraping legs, climb onto it and pull myself out over the windowsill.
I am not often out at night now, but the dark still knows me. Eyes and wet, slow-creeping skins glint in the shadows of branches. Leaves shake and a cat is there on the brick path in front of me, returned from some adventure. On my way to the street it glides my calves, its nose wet against them.
I reach the high-lit corner where the 7-Eleven customers stop to open what they’ve bought, to stand and smoke and feel the hot night stretch out. I don’t recognise anyone here, but Brigid is standing on the other side of the road further down and she waves to me. Then her eyes are on the approaching car and she’s gone with it by the time I cross over.
I’ve got no change for any phone, never any money these days, so I stay where Brigid was, a good spot by the gardens where you can choose the light from the streetlamp or the darkness when you want it. So many headlights go straight by me now, so many slow but don’t stop, and I wonder what I look like – too old – and who I look like after all these months in that house.
The lights high up in the trees stay still with no wind to blow the leaves against them. The boy who stops for me is alone. I tuck his fifty gentle inside my top, the plastic sweating and cracking against my skin while he’s in me. At the 7-Eleven I buy icecream, the change hot and heavy in my palm.
You answer the phone so soft and sleepy, but you are not a child anymore. I take my heart back out of my mouth, swallow it. I listen to your breathing. I remember in the nights when I came home to you and you’d wake with lines from the sheet down your cheek. You don’t remember; you lost those cheeks growing tall. Little one, I say to you now. Little one, they found him, my brother.
I stand back outside the house and see the curtain escaping through the window like it tried to follow me out here. The light falls out too, shining over each of the leaves on the camellia so they are dark and light at once.
It’s too high to climb up and the curtain is not strong enough for me to hold onto, so I sit below the window, and curl up. It’s a warm night. I dig myself into the ground, try to sleep like my brother did in the dirt.
He was the first to be taken away from my mother. In a war. Like that. She held onto me a little while longer, growing weaker, growing watery. Then I lived in the big house with all those other kids. And those careless grown-ups, the things they did. You lived in a better place than that, you told me. After they took you, you lived safe, like I do now.
I think of the way you said goodnight to me, like you were tired, and I hear the click of the phone and the sound of the bird calling my brother’s death. In my dream I am holding the girl who has only one sock, and she is crying. I stroke her hair like she is a little girl, like she is a cat, and as I look at her I see that she is you, and that her cheeks are full and soft and creased with sleep, like yours were when you were mine.