Words

 

This is the beginning. This is how it starts.


Here are the people and the fragments of their lives. Here are their songs and rhythms. Here is the man with teeth made from gold and the woman with the painted face. Here is the man who can’t fall asleep, and the woman dressed for her funeral. Here they are, all of them. Their flesh, their secrets, their futures and their pasts.


They all wear black this morning, in enough shades to paint each room in the big house. The black her mother used to wear when she sold flowers for the dead, a golden cross hanging from her neck. The glossy black of the children’s dog that found the body swinging in the wood. The rotten black canker growing inside the woman with the lump. Black like the ocean the whale cannot find.


Here is the train bound for the city, a shuttle in a loom. Here are all the photographs, taken from the window – slides in a carousel. Here is the church and the field. Here is the wood filled with darkness and the cemetery filled with the dead. Here are the flats, and the meat in the market. Here is the river to float it out to sea. Here are all the little places. This is how it goes.


The view changes as the landscape becomes wider – watercolour sky floods the window, framing the unwanted things collecting in the chalk pit. Old record players dumped on the sodden cushions of a three-seater sofa, brown fabric worn and unravelling. Hundreds of rusting things, and a gallery of glazed prints, faded by the sun.


A tree grows through the floor of a burnt-out car. Boys poured petrol from a can onto the patterned seats. They soaked rags, holding them aloft like beacons, and threw them through the passenger window, watching the fire engulf the steering column and melt the plastic sun visors.

A whale takes a wrong turning at the river-mouth and swims towards the city. Confused by the noise, it stops and lies on the silty bottom. It is remembering. Out in the wide ocean it swam with brothers and sisters, hundreds of them, gathered in a place not marked on any map – a place they felt with the compasses inside them, the needles quivering, jumping to the beat of their giant hearts. They came in vast schools – from warm island waters filled with rainbow coral and anemones, from the frozen waters of the north, where the sea is crowned with ice. Together they swam with the octopus and squid, in a circle a mile wide, beating their tails and frothing the water blue to white, whisking a cocktail filled with prawns and silver fish.

 

©2020 by Sophie Shillito