Welcome to another week of Sunday Sit Down, a creative writing series which I just can’t drop from my Blog! I have thoroughly enjoyed rooting back through my writing archives and admittedly surprising myself with the poetry and short stories I’ve written over the years. The majority of what I post on Sunday Sit Down was written from my late teens to my early twenties. As with this story, there appears to be a common theme of slight despair, hurt, misunderstanding and god forbid death. I have tried to find happier pieces to post but again I was caught by this Short Story which is magically passionate and beautiful (if I do say so myself) but ultimately is not the happiest of stories. It’s also the first time I attempted to write with a male voice.
~~~ When Malla Said No ~~~
For days the trees have not moved.
I wait on the porch, with the ghosts of this house, to see even the lightest breeze skip through the branches and disturb the leaves but everything stays very quiet. The air is thick with an unforgiving mourning that lies heavy on my shoulders and weighs down my heart.
Malla said no.
She didn’t explain. She just said no and turned her back to me, curling her thin hands into tight little knots. The confusion in my eyes spread downwards from my face through every inch of my skin and into my bones. It was not something she wanted to look upon at that moment in time but I so badly needed her to say yes. What else was I to do, the husband, the support? My hands clasped as though I was about to pray, I asked her why.
“I’m tired, its easier this way,” she said half turning so she could run her hand down the side of my face. Her hand was warm. It’s grown old. I’ve watched every wrinkle and knot grow. But our hands still fit together and I still know every inch of her fingers, the way she holds a knitting needle or how her fingers pluck at the strings of her old Venus harp.
Fairytales were never told in Malla’s home. Bright stories about witches, red painted shoes, and princesses were kept for her friends in their perfect houses with their perfect parents. Malla didn’t have the same privileges. She made up her own stories, sitting in the damp basement or locked away in the cupboard under the stairs.
She neatly wrote them on crisp paper, rolled them up and tied them into scrolls with multicoloured ribbons. She hid them in an old Clarks shoe box, crushing the lid on top and securing it with sticky tape that had gathered enough dust and dirt that the tape barely stuck to the warped box. She was afraid her father might find them so she hid the box in behind a mould ridden vent at the back of her bed. He wouldn’t approve of her meandering ramblings and picturesque storylines. She was a child, fourteen or fifteen but was never allowed to be that child.
But Malla had ideas.
Ideas that were not what her father had in store for her. She had to clean and cook. She had to wash his back, and in between his toes, pour his beer and anything else he asked of her. Her mother died when she was four, a knock to the head she heard the neighbours say.
“A brutal knock, by a brute.”
“For shame, and such a lovely woman.”
“And such a brute.”
Malla found her mother at the bottom of the stairs after playing in the fresh snow that had fallen that morning. There was blood on her dress and her neck was twisted. Malla couldn’t wake her and called the neighbours.
“Where’s your father?” they asked, but Malla didn’t know. Her mother’s face was bruised and while the police determined the father was not guilty and Malla was not at risk, the neighbours quickly made their own judgements. Accidental death was charted as the cause of death and her father was given permission to start funeral proceedings.
Malla asked him what a brute was as they walked behind the hearse, the cold November wind whipping around her shoulders, the chill spreading through her bones. She held her fathers hand, the mitten string tightly wrapping through her thin coat arms and across her back. His hand flinched and tightened and he never answered. Neither of them cried as the casket was lowered to the dirt, the neighbours all watching their solemn dry faces.
Malla never walked on cracks and always used different cloths to clean the bathroom and the kitchen. Her father hit her and the neighbours showed no sympathy for her the years following her mothers death. She grew quiet and she stopped asking questions. Malla no longer had her own identity as her father took it away from her and gave her a new one. She never started school, reading only what little books were on the bookshelf in her room. Her mother had just started to teach her to read and with the unknown diligence of a four year old she kept trying.
Malla was seventeen when I met her. A tired girl, old before her time. Long black curls fell past her shoulder, darkening her sallow features and widening her deep brown eyes. I was amazed by how beautiful she was. She had porcelain skin that looked almost as breakable as the dolls my grandmother collected. She was cutting the long grass in the front yard. I was a newly appointed post man and while I had no post for her house, I stalled in front of the garden.
“Got something for us?” she asked.
“I, no, sorry.”
“Well, get a move on, sure you don’t have time to be standing out here.”
Her voice was thick and stern with an accent I couldn’t place. My feet wouldn’t move.
“Get on, then,” she said, almost shooing me away like a lost dog.
“Can I give you a hand?” I asked noticing the sweat that gathered on her brow, and hoping I could stay just a little longer.
“I doubt you’ve time,” she said pointing to my bag, bulging with letters from soldiers overseas and emigrated relatives.
“It can wait,” I said taking the bag off and leaving it by the garden wall. I took hold of the rotary lawnmower and started to heave back and forth on the long grass. She stood there, shocked as I cut the foot long grass, struggling as much as she did.
Sitting on the wall, she laughed. My feet struggled under the slightly damp grass as I pushed the mower deeper and deeper into the garden. Those laughs were the start of a new Malla, the Malla I know. The Malla I love.
She was still writing and one spring day she met me at the lake with her shoe box. That afternoon I read every story Malla had ever written. Enthralled, we barely spoke, as page after page I was gripped by the language and characters that were more apart of her than the child who would soon grow in her belly. We had two children, Pierce and Katherine. Slowly I learnt about the Malla who was forced to grow up quickly. But I also learnt about the Malla she wanted to be. The writer, the mother and the entertainer. She played the harp beautifully, she wrote stories magically and she loved her family. We were the labour she worked towards, the fruit of everything she ever planted.
Everything seemed to stop when Malla said no. The wind stopped blowing, our lips stopped moving with the rhythm of the Our Father, my heart almost stopped beating but life goes on. The kettle still boiled, the ham still roasted, the door bell still rang, all the while Malla slowed down. She no longer wanted more surgery, more drugs, she was tired of saying yes to everything that was supposed to make her better but never did.
Three of us, Pierce, Kitty and myself, sat around her bed in amongst the shadows, silently praying through limply clasped hands. The room, dark and stale, was our marital room as they called it before. Quickly it became covered in the thin mist of near death, her deathbed. I slept above the sheets for an hour or two in the evenings, holding onto her thin hands and smelling the faint scent of lavender soap. I lost her to sleep more times than I cared to think of. And I knew that one day I would lose her to sleep again and it would be the last time. The anticipation crept up my ankles like the ivy on the back wall, gloriously in control, waiting to hear her last breath.
And so the trees stopped moving because when Malla finally slept, a long deep sleep, she took the wind with her. Now I wait to see the trees moving again. And when I do, I know Malla is back with me. Back where she belongs.
Geraldine Walsh © Over Heaven’s Hill