The Sun & Other Stories
I’ve got branches, the kind that should be firmly on trees, growing left and right inside me—it’s like always sleeping with the light on, Earth seen from the air at night in there, flesh and blood and young, softly-spoken green leaves. I wonder whether they will know what to do when October arrives, if they will turn to paper and fall at my feet.
I don’t remember who, but I was talking to somebody about the hardness of water, the softness of it, the way it can take things over with just atoms in space, in time. Watching them peel back the thin metallic paper that wrapped around the butter, thinking that must hurt, thinking of how awfully cold everything in the fridge must be. I rest my head, heavy from the dense leaves and ripening fruit inside it, on the warm wooden countertop, feeling small crumbs and other fractions of breakfast press their sharp edges into my face. The discomfort is comfortable, and I stay there while the world rotates, while people drift in and out of the room, picking up knives and plates and feelings.
Someone has washed strawberries, and they lie in a red heap, water collecting underneath and running towards the edge of what must feel like the end of everything. I select five, the slightly bruised ones that will otherwise be left behind, and eat them slowly over the sink; it is hard to get the permanent taste of sap off my tongue, but their late summer sweetness manages to linger for a moment, and it stains the tips of my fingers vermillion.
I was still sitting in the kitchen with my back pressed against the fridge handle when the streetlights went on outside. They wait all day, I suppose, to be told what to do. You perhaps know that time passes very differently for all of us, and because I’m full of root and branch and budding things, hours can often seem like small minutes; I will not notice the sun going down, although the greenery inside me does, and quite without explanation I will sometimes find myself standing next to a window, as everything in me strains to catch the last of the daylight. But it is not so beautiful as it sounds, we argue all the time, and I’m beginning to see the dark outlines of flowers underneath my skin as a chlorophyll-rich foliage gradually replaces whatever was there before.
At the beginning of the year, when I was too often finding myself tired, forgetting to return phone calls, they told me that whatever it was would pass as surely as a season, and then when those came and went and my hair grew longer, they looked inside and found saplings, shoots. A determined and widespread greenness, from ankle to hip, reaching for lungs and for the light. For months I had been growing gardens instead of growing up, arms full of apple trees and pines to keep my knees company. Heads were shaken in bewilderment, hands clasped and then unclasped again in attempts to understand, checking and double-checking and wondering at what point I had started to go quite this wrong.
It became apparent very quickly that there was no getting rid of any of it, deciduous or not. Instead they adopted softer voices when speaking to me, patted me on the arm, put their hands on their knees and leaned forwards into the bright fluorescent lights to explain a decision they had made, as you might when addressing a small child or an animal that you think unlikely to fully understand.
But on the Tuesday I step outside, body frantically reaching outwards and upwards as it tries to absorb all of this excess afternoon sun, and then I walk—first to the right, then over the bridge that crosses the sad-looking river before turning to follow the water for as long as my legs want to. Heron, circling above terraced houses, the sting of green whenever I inhale through my nose.
Back from walking and fed up with oxygen, I soak my limbs and my leaves in the bathtub in the half-dark, eating clementines. Lately I’ve been dreaming of deserts, desolate and harshly-carved landscapes devoid of water and life, ears covered in dust, in them the sound of strong heartbeats and locusts. I wonder if anyone is going to come and stop me from losing my mind, but the house sings with a honey-like emptiness, and so I count off the names of twenty-eight different train stops, the route that runs like a panicked creature, middle of the city out to edge of the island.
In between water and air, somewhere in between the person they say you are and the person reflected in the chrome taps. How can you keep one eye on the clock face and the other on the Jacaranda trees in your left forearm?