We drive around the lake where my mother had almost drowned and her mother had to come wading out in her apron to save her. Later her mother left her tied up in a potato sack out on the doorstep. The neighbours saw the bag wriggling on the driveway and took the little girl out and breastfed her. They dunked her in a bucket of hot water filled with cobwebs, garlic and orange skins, and poured pickle brine down her throat. Nearly drowning made my mother retain fluid badly; when her belly was full and pregnant and she became dehydrated from the air conditioning of a long flight, her uterus swelled up to the size of a tennis ball. I was scooped out after the doctor sliced her stomach open with a scalpel.
I smell perfume coming out of the back of my head – childhood keeping its lights on. I can’t think much further than the front door. My lungs heave like a T-shirt after a swim. I stand by the window and watch the silver hairs of the late sun shake.
I left her there at the bottom of the lake. We could’ve been lovers, or brother and sister… isn’t that the same thing?
A bunch of different colours bruise the sky. The lake folds with grey waves like fishermen’s nets, shimmering on the surface as insects make knots in the air. On top of a blade of grass, a weasel sucks at some eggs.
An old woman stands in the doorway, headscarf wrapped around her face; she starts crying, walks to the car to hold me. She cries more and talks in her demented half-language that none of her children can understand – a series of strokes throwing her throat into the darkest parts of her body – it’s as if she speaks from her intestines. She squeezes me tightly. I feel my whole body swelling up.
Families make love. The umbilical cord splits with all its frail splendour and shoots a shower of sparks: blood, placenta, bacteria, pus, shit all over the floral carpet. I’m covered in lice and sweat, parasites, blue lint, white grit, pubic hair, compost – a necklace of tears wets the collar of my T-shirt. I try and scratch the house-paint off the floor. I hold a harmonica above my head and it gets played in the wind. Languid decaying people, perfectly alone, fall into the music.
At the bus station, I don’t know if I’ll make it to the village by dark.
We drink beer and watch TV. The old woman holds me with both of her hands and won’t stop crying. My glass bubbles as my mother’s auntie keeps topping it up with beer. She wears a camouflage shirt and pants. Another very old woman whose face is sculpted sideways, with small raisin eyes and red cuts on her crumpled forehead, walks into the TV room and hugs me. She shakes. I ask my cousin if this old lady is her grandmother; she tells me it’s her mother. My mother’s auntie in the camouflage keeps changing the channel with the remote, showing me how to use it. Plastic flower pot plants line half the room. The old woman in the doorway starts to cry even louder, and my mother’s auntie and my cousin tell her to shut up. A white kitten with taut reddish skin runs around the perimeter of the room, behind the TV and the pot plants – an old woman gets out of her chair and paces quickly, hunched over from her diseased brain, wanting to beat the kitten until it’s a pattern on the carpet. Sitting back down, her lips start to chap like white lines splitting a hinge. She opens a drawer and pulls out photographs of me as a newborn.
I ask where all the men are and they looked bemused, tell me that the last man that lived in the village had gone down to the lake and shot himself in the mouth.
Day number – I don’t know. They all roll into one. My wasted limbs grow smaller. I lock the door and sink into baths of shadows, grip my face between my knees, knuckles drip sweat, bad tastes in my mouth: butts of cucumbers and the smell of burning hair. Gun smoke under my pillow… cats lurking across the hall chewing raspberries and blackberries… billygoat with horns running out the head… bursting like the neck of a broken guitar. My nails are falling off.
I can hear the lake: decay fluttering out with black wings.
I’m shown into a small room with ceilings so low that I have to bend down to walk around. I lie in the bed. They ask me if I’m comfortable. I say yes. They say it’s the bed in which my mother was born.
A meal adorns the kitchen table: a salad bowl filled with hard-boiled eggs, sliced Strasburg, rye bread, bright yellow cheese, butter, liver, tea with lemon. We share the meal not speaking to each other, waiting for someone who speaks English to arrive.
My mother’s auntie in the camouflage patterns shows me to the stables. She opens the first door to where three cows, four pigs and fifty chickens run around. The auntie opens the second door to her work shed. She empties a sports bag onto the bench – her collection of hammers. She looks at me and I pick up one and we walk out onto the field.
I wake up spitting the scratches out of my throat. I look onto the blanket and see bits of fingernails and hair moving around in the spit. I hear a shrill tone coming up from the shed.
Outside the cow makes a hopeless moan, as its face falls into a cluster of snow. The cow lies dead, still warm and with the blood dissolving the snow. Teats spread on the leaves of the grass, grey and chapped.
The clouds are sharp knives tearing the throat out of the sky.
The spiders drunk again. All these bunched-up faces, lost to the drunk spiders in the corner of my room, are not even there. Wretched shadows playing around, trembling innards, my chest is a shaking bag of screwdrivers. There’s a parked car down by the water. After a long silence my mother’s auntie points to the flooding sewer of the lake: Are those swans? She tells me that before the last man blew his head off, the other men from the village carbon monoxided themselves in a hatchback Peugeot.
My eyes turn in the breeze, without shadow. Silence. The lake is slow. The sun is wet sentences. The shore fizzes like soda. The bank is flooded and swamped with a heap of legs sprouting from some seeds of piss, stacked up and poking out like rats eating their way through a pile of apricots.
Back at the house, in the garden, I see a frenzy of hands. The women smell like sand and ham. Dumb and diminished, legs stiffly parted – spread-eagled like martyrs and toothless – cut-out tongues rolled in soil. The valley looks like piles of guitars. Off in my head I keep walking around in the village: old spacious museum of dementia.
Dawn… blood in my mouth. I fumble with some toilet paper I’ve kept in my pocket, pull at the thin pieces and press on the gums. The paper falls apart. Somebody next to me asks if I’m okay but I don’t say anything. I listen a long time to the faint murmurs that echo throughout the plane, thinking that labourers are painting the landing gear beneath. The night in the window is violet and warm.
Scummed in the beard of night – high walls, folded senses – war of copper and sardines and sausage; can’t gallop with these rusty hooves… come back now, swim in the bladder, sit and watch the tears dry in a glove box of Viagra… onward now – full sail! Full sail to not much. Bright little boy (my pyjamas change once a month, little pictures of mammoths with mouths full of steel). Back from the dead – blue above, blue ahead – fruit skins in the cupboard: great limit among silences. I get blisters from trying to put out the light bulb with my hands; bristles on my nostrils, booze on your breath. Outside the blackness slides through the branches.
I move my hands over the face bleeding in the hallway, smelling like a handful of coins. Body uncomfortable, pink and limp. The sun threads through with its red and yellow hands – spitting out its lungs, gob enters through the womb, god enters through the wound, and I begin to remember my mother who died with no children. Walking around the lake seemed like such a hazard; the air sweltered and painted a silver hell. I open the fridge door before being put into a headlock, gasping for air, my eyelids fall into my mouth and I start to laugh and weep despite myself.
She is at the bottom of the lake. Her arms bleed Sorbolene. Her voice tape-recorded. Her eyes a couple of slits. Her throat two throbbing ropes of flesh. She tries to say things over the noise of the tape. I can’t hear any sound through the lake lapping in my ears. I don’t know if the tape is coming out of her or out of the car. She sits there on the muddy floor and sighs. Water insects swim down and line her mouth.
Image credit: Bhavna Sayana