The day her scarf slipped away, blue/black fingerprints necklacing her flesh.
I write in pencil; words freight pain.
I don’t know when it started. Early on, I think. The morning he got up and there was nothing for breakfast, no food in the house except tomato soup? He ate half and tipped the rest down the sink before leaving for work. She’d laughed about it later. What difference does it make, he’d said, what types of food you eat at what times of day?
Everything slipped. And how can a man vanish in an instant? My father gone to kill him.
He said the silence of the world had been absolute. It was assenting, perhaps.
And I learned how much I was loved. Violence like lightning, splitting the tree, its heartwood exposed in stark light. He would be ashamed to know this, a gentle man, an unwilling teacher of opposites.
The fields are burning. Burning lines of straight low fire. Is it allowed now, this razing of the pollarded harvest? Autumn unfurling in slow smoke.
The men watching the darkening sky, watching the lines of low fire off into the distance, the earth alight as far as I can see, their eyes travelling the sky, the horizon. They hand me a lighted taper. But it’s elusive, the childhood dream of arson; my line won’t catch. They laugh their low laughs, laugh and take back the taper and set the lines going, on and on, low flames crossing the earth, paths across the earth.
And the light quieter now, the sky red and black to the touch as we step over and over, the sky red and black behind us, hand in hand, smelling of smoke and something like joy, and of all things, the farmer has given us a cucumber in a brown paper bag. And the low voices of the men as I look back pulled forward, their words painting the evening air, the glow of their cigarettes zig-zagging, arching, dissolving, their invisible eyes following us as we become shadows dissolving. They disappear, we disappear.
She looks askance. The skin is dark and will be bitter. She does not take it from me. The earth now lying under ash and this, after all, a day of small things.
A bird buried alive in dark earth, beak open to sing silence. Wings pinioned, eyes blank wide. Claws a superfluous anchor, digging in deep. Our home built on hers. Could crumble in, sometimes does. We move carefully, fear our vibration. Eyes blank wide on us.
We dug her in with small red and yellow spades and wait to be forgiven. Sometimes it is months before the earth is breached. We hold our breath, waiting, waiting. We wait.
Returned, she lives pulled back. Returned, she is called back. And not until we are grown do we know how she fears the dark’s descent, the dark descent, her descent into dark immobility. And that it was not us. We were, after all, just children who lived in her beautiful shadow.