I drive her to work in the early mornings. I’m woken abruptly by a wisp of deodorant that wanders in from the spare room. The cold, perfumed air stings at my nose. I hear her teeth chatter as she sits in front of the stand-up mirror, hums a half-tune that staccatos through her shivering bones. She’s easing me up slow-like. At a twenty to seven she’ll call my name. Her timing is impeccable.
The newborn sky outside is Quicksilver and vast, threatens to engulf our eyes completely. We travel without talking. The long road is bare, save for the odd tractor that will make sharp, unannounced turns into fields of Lucerne and Maize, submit peacefully to deep oceans of golden-green crop. She sits next to me, rigid, willing her eyes open, as if she’s still fighting the pull of slumber.
I drop her at the layby cafe and turn around. The smell of fertiliser strong in the brittle air. I drive slowly, scanning the bare landscape as if still in a dream. I pass a rusted car-barn with a painted sign on the door that says BOYS CLUB. At this stage in the journey, my mind is always drawn back to the hungry days of my childhood, when everything in the world seemed infinitely magnified. Crueler, even.
When I was twelve I fractured my right hand on a punch bag in Lingham gym. I sat in the hospital for six hours straight while my parents worked separate night shifts. The big, Hattie Jacques-like nurse called me ‘scallywag’ and strapped me up in a cotton sling. The touch of her skin made me drowsy.
Behind her, pinned to the high wall, was an x-ray of a woman’s body. I hadn’t stopped looking at it. It seemed the antithesis to the dull ache in my hand. The smooth curve of her bones and the space between her thighs. Brilliant white light shining through the ghost of her frame. Her name, a scribbled note said, was EMMA RAE. Emma Rae, Emma Rae, Emma Rae.
When the nurse left the room, I slid the radiograph under my t-shirt and held it there with my sling. I seethed away in secret, toward the double-doors of the entrance. I could hear my heart pounding. In the quiet gloaming, I trudged home, three miles across flooded motorway fields. Upstairs, I tacked the skeleton-image to the dark bedroom window and sat there below it all night, waiting for the sun to come up.
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