Even the trees

I remember the first time I saw it. He was desperate, you could see he was desperate, that bit wasn’t unusual. It was the stomach that was odd. The branch wrapped around the middle of his body, the bulge above it, distended, hanging over it, his stomach. He was held fast, his feet long since lost and a branch loose around his neck, another coming out of his mouth, sprouting leaves. It looked like he was vomiting foliage.

You could see the desperation in his eyes. He was hungry, but the branch had grown to fill his mouth and so there was no way of feeding him. What point would feeding him serve anyway, it would it only prolong the inevitable. He was being absorbed into the tree and there was nothing that could stop it. You could see his hands had melded into the trunk and didn’t exist anymore and if you came back tomorrow, a little more of his arm would be tree.

If there was an escape, we had not found it. The trees had proven impervious to the axe, they had withstood our flames, we had even tried talking to them, just stood there opening and closing our mouth with words but there was no evidence they heard and it did not stop.

It was mostly men at first, because we needed wood and they got the wood, and the trees had always been so passive, so agreeable to what we did. Or so we thought. It was not all trees, the majority of them just stood mutely, as trees do, but these active attack timbers were new. You couldn’t tell the passive trees from the aggressive ones and worse when you cut into one that had absorbed someone, sometimes there was an outline in the tree, other times blood would pour out, or there were organs just sitting within the trunk and you would wonder if there hadn’t been some semblance of humanity left, some sentience that you had swung your axe against.

Not long after it started, it was alleged they adapted new tactics, letting themselves be cut, became the joists of some house and in the night crept down from their roof top space or their wall and took children. You simply woke up to find your child being absorbed into a beam, of course they were static, the beam couldn’t up and run away but your child was still gone. That was rumour and I never saw any evidence of it.

We were becoming a world of fewer and fewer people. There was nothing we could do, there was no cure, if anything the number of trees doing it was increasing. It was a hard thing to observe, a sort of rapid growth around someone as they went near a tree, a kind of snarling ensnarement that was strong and then a slow absorption over a period of days.

The woods were alive with the howling of victims until the inevitable branch filled the mouth, some trees seemed to revel in the idea of the screaming and the branch to fill the mouth was the last thing they did. Others seemed bothered by the noise and did it quickly.

I had a son of twelve, I did not let him go out often. The house had stood so long and I knew its beams, they would not transform in the night. Still I was careful with the wood for the fire, but I knew it is inevitable. I watched him grow, watched many die and knew the inevitable must happen. There were fewer of us and the trees were taking victims younger and younger. What to do?

Then came the day he simply did not come home and I ran to the road and searched like so many others and there he was and he was so far gone. I could not hold his hand or feed him. I could only see the terror in his eyes and stroke his arm and tell him it would soon be over. It was mercifully short.

The trees began in earnest on the women then and sometimes the animals. It was as if the trees had turned against all forms of life that moved. I had seen so much, so many suffer, I did not want to die that way. At the end I did not even think I could trust the trusses that held up my own house, I could not bring myself to light a fire out of fear. Many simply gave in, just walked up and placed themselves before a tree. It did not always work, the trees were whimsical, they knew they had won.

I could not bring myself to do that, I could not imagine how I could live through the agony of absorption, the slow solidification of my body into something firm and hard, the creeping stillness, the days of hunger until your blood merged into sap, your final taste just wood and leaves, the joy of sound silenced by a think branch on your tongue. I knew I could not bear such things, feet, hands merged into trunk, limbs melted into bark, torso melded into wood, none of it worked for me.

Instead I went to the river. The river is forbidden, was forbidden once. I dipped my toes in the water. I waded out into the depths. I lay down in the water and I let the river dissolve me. I felt myself come apart, each molecule of my body drifting apart from the other, the parts that held me together overwhelmed by the sheer amount of liquid I was drowning in. I felt the water seeping into me and I felt myself merging into it. I was at peace with the world, there was nothing left of me. I became water instead of wood. I joined with the drops of the river and floated out to sea.

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Hover

The hand hovers there in the darkness above me. Not just once, but all night. I pretend to sleep but I’m awake. Every time I open my eyes, its there. I know what its waiting for, its waiting for me to reach out. I am not going to reach out.

Its there every night, not above my face but close to my arm, where my fingers could easily reach up and grab on. What does it want? Its just an inch above me. Hovering. In the darkness, just a hand and nothing else. There’s no arm, it ends as the palm reaches the wrist.

Its luminous, I can see through it without really seeing inside it. Its long fingers stretching towards me in the darkness as if it can’t quite reach me. I think it could reach me really, but its waiting for me to choose. But what will happen if I touch that hand, if I reach out and clasp it? It looks as if I could move my hand through it. What if I slap it away?

I close my eyes. I open them again. Its still there. Night after night, I don’t sleep. I pretend sleep. It hovers, waiting for me. I know it wants me to reach out. Even if I snuggle right down under the covers, I know its still there. Hovering. Waiting. Sometimes I want to reach out in the darkness and touch it but I resist, I must resist. I sleep under the kitchen table after breakfast, in the daylight and it does not appear.

But the night is a wholly other matter, wherever I am in the house in the darkness, it appears. I tried leaving the lights on all night, but the switch tripped, the lights went out and there it was in front of me. Hovering, the same as always. Waiting for me, just waiting. I tried candles and I could still see it there, just at the edge of the light waiting for me. It is a thing of darkness and I cannot bring myself to touch it but I am so tired.

There is some kind of inevitability to it, it has waited so patiently. I start to feel as if it deserves it, as if I am at fault, as if I am punishing it. One night I almost give in, reach out my spindly fingers towards it in the darkness. I see it reach ever so slowly closer in response but at the last minute I pull back quickly. I curl up into a ball in the darkness. I feel guilty. When I look again, it is still there hovering. Patient. When I do that a second time, almost and then not, a third time, on the fourth time, when I look at the hand one finger is moving, tapping annoyed on a soundless invisible desk. I feel guilt, I feel like I am failing.

And then December, and suddenly it is gloved. Hovering. Gloved. And there is a hint of red reflected in the whiteness of the glove as if this might be the hand of Father Christmas. But I know it is not the hand of Father Christmas. It is December, the season to be jolly but I can’t sleep, haven’t slept, won’t sleep. And Christmas Eve is getting closer and I know its still going to be there, waiting, patient. Hovering. Because its going nowhere until I reach out and touch those fingers.

And Christmas eve arrives and I can’t focus. I sit under the kitchen table all day. I will the darkness to arrive. I accept the inevitable. I wait for the sun to sink, for the dimness of dusk before the fall of night. I don’t switch on any of the lights. I wait patiently and then there it is. I see it there in front of me, reaching out and I reach forward, out and our fingers touch, I clasp on and…

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Breathe

I woke up, as in my eyes were open, but I was acutely aware I could not feel myself breathe. It was as if my lungs had somehow moved on, my ribs seemed to have decamped to some other part of my body I could not feel. I grabbed my phone and flicked to the meditation app. There it was, her cool calming voice giving me instruction, breathe in, breathe out. My breath though, had left me, had just gone from my body. I lay there listening to her, my hands on my unmoving chest, yes my ribs were there but they were still. I rested my hands as low as I could, I daren’t feel for the heart beat in case it was gone as well.

And she kept talking, gentle, soothing, the meditation woman telling me to take a breath in and then a long slow breath out, but how? It had all stopped working. I tried not to panic, this was meditation after all. I tried to focus but my hands were sending that signal to my brain, you aren’t breathing, the lungs are not working. There is no in and out, no up and down happening. At this point I wondered why the meditation couldn’t focus on some other bodily function, like digestion, but it did not.

I am not dead, I know I am not dead. I wiggle my toes, probably I have just forgotten, just forgotten and somewhere at the back of my brain is that thing that will kick start the whole thing again. Thank goodness I woke up, otherwise I might have actually died. Meanwhile the meditation app gave slow pointed instructions, in and out, in and out. I kept looking at my ribs, nothing. My lungs literally sat there, not bothering to inflate, like the last balloon in the packet that no one wants, probably the green one or the yellow one or the horrible pink which is too see through.

I wait patiently thinking what a waste for the meditation app. I wonder how much I am paying for this app that does not seem to be inducing my lungs to act. There is still no breath going in and out, I am panicked but without the capacity to demonstrate it. I couldn’t be less calm and all I can do is wait for that one heaving breath that indicates I am back on the planet.

And then it comes, sweet luscious air rushes in, I suck it in, my lungs finally inflate and the ribs move and my hands lift and I wonder about the delay! Who knows what would have happened if the blood I drank yesterday was not pre-oxygenated.

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The Conference

I have always thought I could become an expert at something, but what? Somehow bring myself to focus in on the minute detail of some corner of history or science, in truth I can barely focus long enough to vacuum, but somewhere I have always thought I would be able to espouse wisdom on some such topic at dinner parties. In my head the whole table are always enraptured as I drop pearls of factual delight, when in fact I have met such people myself and turned immediately away and began to discuss the weather.

I remember one particular erudite person I sat next to at dinner who saw nothing more than the back of my shoulder for the entire evening and to make it worse I was wearing a particularly ghastly brown paisley thing with a mosquito bite on the edge of my shoulder for good measure. No I lack the application, the attention span for expertise, but I can do generality which makes what happened seem quite odd. I think perhaps there was a moment of confusion, a point at which someone thought I was something else, someone else.

And so I found myself on the stage, in front of the audience, with a lap top open before me. Of course the audience could see the slides, but I could see the slides and the speaking notes. And what could I do, but speak. I did not think I could say, there’s been a mistake, I am not this person. I am not even presenting at this conference, I am just here with my partner.

So I gave the speech, at the conference, the conference I was only attending with my partner. Its not easy you know, to stand up and speak, to follow the words when you have not read them before at all. But I did and there was rapturous applause, and to be honest I am not even sure what the speech was about. I don’t pretend to remember a word of it but it was well received.

I feigned a stomach bug instead of dinner only for it to be reported to me (by my partner who had not attended that session but was watching another session at the time) what a standout performance it had been. The highlight of the day, maybe even the conference. I said nothing, what could I say? He would want to know why and I even now, am not sure why.

I tried not to think about it, stayed in my room. I was embarrassed by it, until my partner mentioned that it was available on a website, me giving her speech. He had watched it, said what a great speaker she was. I thought he was joking, he had realised but it seemed not. I googled it, there I was, me- giving her speech, with her name on the banner underneath. My first thought was to get in touch, apologise. But I just wasn’t brave enough, wasn’t bold enough and the moment passed and we travelled home.

And then it came, a week later, by post, not even by email, a short note, three words, ‘We should meet.’ And so there I stood, waiting outside the coffee shop for the woman I had impersonated, who’s speech I had given. I had no idea what to say, I was so embarrassed. And there she was, a little taller than me, same hair colour sort of, different colouring, not my sense of style.

And so we sat for coffee and she thanked me and showed me her other speeches, all of them given by different women, all of them just whoever was there, like some kind of weird experiment, and that’s what it was, at least how it started – as some weird experiment. She had a mad fear of public speaking and so at conferences she angled it so someone else gave her speech and she discovered that almost no one spoke up, no woman took exception and nor did the men, men who knew who it was, who knew it wasn’t her, said nothing. All of them complicit.

And then she told me more, she wasn’t the only one, lots of women did it, they just subbed in to whoever was close to the stage. There was a club, a group, on line, off line, all of them, quietly lauding their victories. It had long since stopped being a way of avoiding public speaking and become more a way of just subtly undermining the status quo.

She gave me her card with a phone number, in case I ever had to speak at my own conference. She said she would arrange it, make it happen so someone else could speak. She said she couldn’t remember the last time any woman ever gave her own speech at an international conference. It just doesn’t happen.

Of course, I was horrified, I would never do such a thing, until of course. It was just a small speech, a nothing speech, a tiny conference, a nothing topic, a general topic, nothing specific, but well, I mean you would, wouldn’t you? And no one noticed, and no one was harmed and so the chain goes on. And if you are speaking next, well get in touch, we can sort something out.

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Re-embowelment

She looked at the letter. 2pm Wednesday. It would have been easier to cancel. She looked at the organs laid out on the table. She mentally went through her check list. Heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach. There were more.

She looked at the you tube video. It wasn’t particularly helpful. How to disembowel someone. She had tried watching it backwards but it hadn’t worked. She looked at the piece of paper on the table. It was a recipe sort of.

She should have  made extensive notes last time she did it. She looked at the scalpel. This was definitely her least favourite part. She looked down. She had strapped her breasts back so she had a clear view. She had also put a mirror on the far side of the table so she could see what she was doing.

The incision had to be quite long. Her hand was shaking. She had wanted it to be straight but it was quite jagged.

There was a hint of red down the side of it, a good sign. She had managed some blood flow. That would get better when the heart was back in. She pulled apart the two pieces of skin. There was a huge hollow gap where the organs should be. Not ideal when you were visiting a doctor. She took out the frame that gave her body structure, that made it look as if she had organs. She was quite proud of it. She had constructed it herself.

She started at the bottom, working her way up. All those bits of plumbing, reconnecting tubes a kidney here, a bowel there. All the odd female bits packed in around it. She had put some food in the stomach, a chocolate bar, some crisps but also some vegetables and a burger. She looked at it. It was a bit full really. She tucked it in. Now for the biggies, the important ones, there’s the liver. She tucked it in. She couldn’t remember what it did, but she knew it was important.

Now for the lungs. The heart had to go last because once it was connected there would be more blood. She didn’t want a messy table, at least no more messy than the one she had. She’d had to wash them all first and there was residual bits of everything clogging the sink now. She had to clean that. She did not want to clean the table too.

She placed the first lung. Then the second. Were they even? She couldn’t tell. Non aligned lungs was a dead giveaway. How many had been caught out by non-aligned lungs. She would shake it all around a bit later and hope for the best. There was unlikely to be an x-ray.

Then the heart. She had the remnant s of arteries to attach it to. She remembered last time she had got it the wrong way around. She had woken in the night feeling unwell and realised her mistake. She hated being organ dependent again, even if it was just for a few days. She had to convince the medical practitioner she was still human or else they might terminate her. She wondered why the tests were so stringent. It should be enough that she was capable of being human.

She carefully picked up the heart, it was smaller than she remembered. She wondered if she had been keeping it properly. It was kind of shrivelled. She must check that out on you tube when she was taking them out again. She pushed around between the lungs. She was never sure of the correct placement. All those disembowelment videos, never a re-embowelment, even after all this time. She should really make a video, upload it, that would be a risk. She could be found out.

Time to close up. This bit required patience. The stitching was a bit rough. But it was passable. It would heal before the doctors appointment. She had some special composite skin.

She shook her torso a bit. Took her hands and pressed them against her belly, trying to get it to sit flat. How did anyone who kept all their organs have a flat stomach. It was impossible. She should not have put so much food in the stomach. None of it sat lightly. She would put nothing on social media for a few days.

She shook a bit more. She needed them to settle. To sit firmly together and to work as a system. She farted. That was a good sign. It was sort of working. She farted again. Burped. It was all moving, slotting in. In a few hours it would all feel better.

In the meantime she had the heaviness of freshly placed organs. She needed to be able to walk lightly with them before Wednesday. God, she hated doctors, these annual check ups. What purpose did they serve. Perhaps it was time to rise up and get rid of these human remnants. She shook her body a bit again. Maybe next year.  

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Crowded Out

Atmosphere!
 
I am,
 
Crowded out.
 
There is space
 
But I can’t seem to fill it
 
There’s a lot of noise
Mostly in my head
 
Its there when I wake
And when I go to bed
 
I can’t discern, decipher
Its like a jack hammer
 
I reach out

But I falter, I fall, I stammer

I try to take hold of time

To hold it in my hand
It slips from my grasp
In ways I don’t understand

My words don’t flow

There’s a lot of thinking
But there’s nowhere for it to go
 
What we’re going through is

Monumental

Stuck in a room
It feels a bit less
Fundamental
 
I haven’t done what I intend
I didn’t do it now
I didn’t do it then
 
The list just grows longer

And time just seems to bend

The tunnel ahead seems more narrow
I forget yesterday
Before I’ve done today

It has passed into tomorrow

I wake in the dark
Convinced I’m under water
I sit with my head in my hands

I think I drowned

And haven’t noticed yet

I wander in the garden
Wondering why I’m wet

In the dead of night
I tell myself I’m healthy
So I should be alright
 
I kneel by the pond
I want to swim in a river
Its cold outside
 
But I can’t seem to shiver
 
The world just started slipping
It kept on gliding by
I turned away from the window
Stared at the sky
 
Its all gone now
Everything  was yesterday
I cling onto my sanity
 
I hang onto my brain
I’ve stopped waiting for the sunshine
And learned to live in rain.

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Toilets, bears and men in chalk

I am worried!

About all the wrong things.

I am worried about stuff…

Like public toilets.
I had a dream last night
They were,
Devolving
Is that the word?
Back to old wooden things
Long drops
And the like
It was probably a metaphor.
I do not consider toilets,
To be my favourite public space
Although I recognise their importance

Still I worry

They are all idle now
Those toilets!
Are they all congregating in the park without us
Is every toilet uprooted somehow
And heading for the gates
Is this the moment all public toilets abandon us
Is there mothership, even now
Collecting them from parks all over the world

I need to remain calm

I am also worried about men covered in white chalk
They appear at my window in my dreams
Can you even get white chalk?
Right now
Wouldn’t paint be better?
How much chalk do you need to cover yourself?
I tell myself I will not google white chalk.
Just in case there’s an image of a man,
Covered, and I cannot unsee it

Lockdown isn’t easy

And finally bears
I have always been worried by bears
I am concerned they are now going to start roaming free
In London
Perhaps they have come here on the planes from Berlin
Which I am sure has bears
Roaming free!
Right now!
Perhaps they are on the tube as I write this
It hits me like a ton of

Bricks

I have landed in the middle classes
Where these are the sum total of my concerns
Somewhere out there is horror and poverty and bravery
While I play Lolly Willowes
In pyjamas as if I can’t dress myself
I want to be useful
But I don’t know how
I am scared
Yoga keeps me calm
But I can’t help thinking

Shouldn’t this be a time for quiet

RAGE

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Melt

 

I am writing this down because we are near the end. I can feel the sun beating down on us. There is not much time left. Was the sun worth it? No. We should have listened to our mother.

We spent the summers sitting in our freezer. All three of us. Every summer. It was a big white square thing that we climbed into in the early dawn. Mum kept it on all the time. We sat in the big ice box and ‘chilled’ all day. We had pencils and books that were endlessly soggy from the melt. The freezer was propped open so we could breathe. Mum struggled to breathe in it but we never had a problem.

We were mostly home schooled. We moved a lot in the early years. Winters weren’t so bad. We sometimes went to a local school for all of autumn and all of winter. It depended on the climate. Mum didn’t like the heat. Didn’t want us out in the sun. Ever. We never left the house in the summer. We just sat in the freezer all day. Every day. I liked the cold. I felt like it held me together. I was right. My little brother was the same.

I am writing this down because Mum wanted there to be a record. She kept telling us it’s important there’s a record. But I never saw her document anything. There never seemed to be any paperwork when she needed it. She always seemed cold in the freezer, as if she was different from us. I think sometimes she wanted the sun maybe, even though she said she didn’t. I don’t think she loved the freezer. She did it for our benefit, at least she thought that was the reason she was doing it.

It wasn’t a normal upbringing. The windows were covered. We stayed away from the light. There had been an older brother. Mum always talked about how he had gone outside and melted in the sun. Neither of us were ever able to figure out what had actually happened. We knew she was a bit odd. We did ok. We always felt loved, even if that love was a bit overprotective and paranoid.

I don’t remember social services ever coming around. I remember an aunt. Mum spent a lot of time researching climate change when she wasn’t looking after us or schooling us. We had a lot of stuff about it around the house. She was worried about the temperature rise. She talked to us, told us what we had to do. How to survive. I think she thought it was impossible but she wanted us to try.

We thought it was ok. We knew it wasn’t normal, the books told us that but we thought it was ok.

Then Mum got ill. It was autumn. She refused all medical help. Then she got more ill. Eventually that aunt came and nursed her through the final days. It was the end of winter by then. I don’t think the aunt knew what to do with us. She would peer into the freezer and wonder. She talked of another aunt who might take us. Life seemed empty, beyond our comprehension. Mostly both of us just felt numb I think. We felt nothing on the inside. It sounds like we were cold but I honestly thought we would be fine, so long as we could stay together. We knew nothing of the world. We only had each other and our determination.

It is summer now, here today, the day we are to leave this house. I think I should feel more something but its like I am made of ice. I feel nothing. Mum is gone. The freezer unplugged and useless in the kitchen. We are to go into the sunshine. We have never before stood outside in the sunshine. Mum had always warned us against it. I sat down to write this. Outside. On the steps. In the sun. But it feels so warm as if it could-

Part 2

When I arrived, there it was on the porch. None of us had ever believed Elsie. But there beside two little brown suitcases was the evidence. Irrefutable. Two pools of vanilla sludge, melding together at the edge. She always said her children were made of ice cream and when they went out into the sun, they would melt. We looked and looked but there was no evidence that they ever existed in any other way. They had gone out into the sun of their own accord. They had simply melted away.

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Tired

Tired is a word
Short, sharp and sweet
Yet it doesn’t quite encapsulate
My total lack of sleep

It doesn’t accurately reflect
That my eyes are sore and red
That if I don’t close them soon
There’ll be pounding in my head

My breath is slightly ragged
I yawn and gulp in air
My mind it tries to focus
But there is nothing there

I want to be creative
To say something that’s worth while
But my pen is slow and sluggish
There is no extra mile

I long to see my pillow
To lie down in my bed
To close my eyes and rest them
To the world I should be dead

Yet there are several hours
Before I can hope to sleep
Closing my eyes, there is darkness
Even though its just a peep

I savour the idea
That in the hours of the morn
I will wake up again
Refreshed, redone, reborn

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Porcelain: growing up a girl

And my fingers turn to glass
As they lay flat on my belly
I feel them cold and unmoving
The rest of me begins to colour and shade
If only I could move my fingers
I could smooth out the lumps and the bumps
As the rest of me fades to porcelain
I will not be the elegant ducks on the wall
But the gaudy fish everyone laughs at
I feel my body harden, lose its softness
To become brittle.
People will see me this way forever
My fingers are glass
Sweet smooth crystal
They cannot move
And the transformation goes on
The cracks and crevices become set in place
I will not be the slim elegant dancer
But the dumpy smiley milkmaid
If only I had my delicate hands to smooth it out
I could push it all down to my ankles to form a base
But my hands, resolute, glass on my belly
And I am stuck
In the back row
In the cheap seats
With the other discount ornaments
Grubby hands pick me up and put me down
Dust leeches into my grooves and edges
Not the elevated heights of beauty for me
Not the high mantel piece in the glass cabinet
Grubby hands, they pick me up.
They put me down
I teeter, I totter, I wobble, I fall
I break.
A thousand pieces of me
Spread out across the floor
I am a splinter on lino
Embedded in the flesh of a foot
Blood warms me
Fingers pluck at me
Discard me, the pieces of me
The broom brushes over me
Collects me
Disassembled
Bins me
As if I wasn’t at all