Feature: Issue No. 19, Winter 2016

Away
Jessica Jernigan

 

3:03 am

Her baby’s crying.

She closes her eyes and lets her head fall back on against the pillow before she climbs out of bed and starts down the hallway.

This is not the hallway.

The packed earth is cool beneath her bare feet. There’s just enough light to see carvings in the stone walls, spiral after spiral. She traces them with her fingertips as she walks toward the crying

The crying stops.

She hears a tuneless, wordless crooning.

How do I know that sound?

She keeps walking.

Her mother is standing next to the crib, swaying, eyes closed, holding the baby against her shoulder. But the baby is not her daughter, and—

“Mom, you’re dead.”

Her mother opens her eyes and smiles at her, still rocking the baby, still singing her wordless song. Her mother closes her eyes.

As she watches her mother dance slowly around the room, she catches a glimpse of the baby’s face, and she knows: This is baby she lost. Before she had a daughter. Before she had a husband.

“It was a boy?” she asks.

Her mother nods.

As her mother sways, the baby’s head glows in the soft light of the nursery lamp. His fontanel hasn’t closed. She can see that. His downy hair is red. Like his father’s.

“Can I hold him?”

Her mother’s smile falters. The light in the room flickers, dims. The fairytale wallpaper she’d hung when she was thirteen weeks along with her second child, her daughter, is gone. Replaced by stone walls, carved with spirals.

“He’s ours now,” her mother finally answers.

 

4:17 am

She hears shuffling in the hallway. The noise wakes her.

She’s in the house alone.

She doesn’t get out of bed. She doesn’t move. She only listens.

“Quiet, ye eejits,” a voice hisses. “Do ye want to go back to the old way, thieving from cows? There’s butter in the kitchen here, and cheese.”

Her bedroom door creaks and someone says, “Back to sleep, love.” The voice is soothing. Her body relaxes.

She sleeps.

 

5:03 am

She’s standing in the hallway.

She doesn’t remember getting out of bed.

There’s a beeswax altar candle in her hand. She doesn’t know how it got there.

The wooden floor creaks. The hallway is longer than she remembers it being.

She sees a shadow. There shouldn’t be a shadow.

She’s not afraid, though. She keeps walking.

The shadow is a boy.

The light of her candle is reflected in the diamond and ruby buttons on his suit, in the shimmer of his glass shoes. The light casts a mellow glow on the little bronze crown that sits atop his red hair. In this light, his eyes are a translucent blue.

He holds an iron wand in his left hand, a book in his right.

“You. You’re—”

He’s handing her the book. She takes it, but her eyes never leave his face. My boy.

With shout of laughter, he turns and runs. He’s gone from the light in a few steps, but she can still hear the clatter of his crystal heels on the floorboards.

When the sound of his shoes is gone, she looks at the book in her hand. She recognizes it. Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. On the flyleaf, she sees her own name, written in her mother’s careful script.

As she clutches the book, it crumbles in her hand. Nothing but dead leaves.

 

6:00 am

Cold air creeps against her skin when her husband lifts the quilt and climbs out of bed. It’s still dark. She has another hour until she has to get their daughter up for school.

She rolls over and stretches, taking up the warm space her husband has left behind. This is her favorite part of the morning, not that she’d ever tell him that.

She suspects that he knows.

But there’s something she’s forgetting. Something important.

She’ll remember later.

 

7:23 am

She slips on a robe and pulls on the sheepskin boots she wears around her drafty old house.

She walks to the window. It’s a beautiful day outside, sunny and clear, but the glass doesn’t protect her from the stubborn chill that takes her by surprise every spring.

It’s the first of May.

She hears the sound of slippered feet scuffling against the floorboards and she turns to see her son. He’s wearing flannel pajamas covered in lambs. The buttons of his shirt are diamonds and rubies. She runs her fingers through his red curls as he leans against her thigh.

She hears something else. Bells? She leans into the cold glass, cocks her head. The sound is so faint that it’s hard to tell what it is.

Her son tugs at her robe.

There’s a crowd of people, walking down the middle of the street. How odd. She looks to see if she recognizes anybody.

Is that her husband?  What

Her son tugs at her robe again. “Mam,” he says. “Please.”

There’s white horse, and a woman riding it. There are bells on the horse’s harness.

“Look away!” Her boy is adamant now.

She turns to him and smiles. She ruffles his hair.

The procession passes.

 

8:07 am

The orgasm that wakes her is so powerful that it hurts. Every muscle in her body quivers. She gasps for breath.

She’s never had a dream quite like this before. Nothing so intense. Nothing so real. She reaches between her legs and—

Her fingers are tangled in hair. Not her own. She feels a scalp beneath her fingers, clutches at the hair in her grasp, and pulls.

A face rises above her belly. Unfamiliar.

No, not quite.

His eyes are blue enough to be disturbing. Morning light is pouring through the sheer cotton curtains, and she can see the sunburn on his cheeks and nose. She can see every freckle. His red stubble scrapes against her thigh. His hair is unwashed. She can feel that, too.

 

10:27 AM

The sun is streaming through the windows. It’s late—so late it must be Saturday if she’s still in bed. The air in her bedroom is hot. It smells like summer. She’s naked, and her skin is damp where it’s pressed against the boy sleeping next to her.

But there’s no boy there.

And she’s not naked. Her nightgown is long, organic cotton, a Christmas gift from her daughter.

She stirs, and she stretches. She remembers that she’s alone.

Those boys she knew. They were so young. They thought they were men, probably. They are men now. Unless they aren’t anything anymore. Either way, those boys are gone. If they’re dead, they’re young—so young, too young, just like her husband. If they’re alive, they’re as old as her.

She doesn’t feel like she’s old, except when she does. And she does right now. She’s never felt older.

It’s not summer yet. It’s still spring. After the longest winter she can remember.
She looks at the clock. She’s been asleep for almost twelve hours. Twelve hours that feel like a hundred years.

She gets up.

Because she’s awake now.

And she’s still here.


Jessica Jernigan is a writer, editor, and student living and working in Central Michigan. Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Web Conjunctions, Maximum Middle Age, and The Women’s Review of Books.