Things have been happening backwards. It began, as everything seems to, with Commelina. First, cygnet Commelina disappeared. I didn’t see her go. I came back one morning and the pond was still. Empty. A mirror without reflections. It scared me a little.
For a moment, because I could not see one, I believed I may no longer have a future.
Then Commelina came back just as she was before. Vicious as ever. And brought the reflections with her. Just the trees, and the clouds, and my face, as it is now. Everything as it was. Neat and tidy, as life never is. Nonetheless…
I fooled myself into thinking that things were back to normal.
This is despite the albinos, who everyone but me seems to have seen around and about. According to Mrs Indios, the village baker, they don’t speak a word. They communicate in notes, written in the most beautiful hand. She showed me one for two loaves of bread and a dozen cinnamon whirls.
I wish my handwriting were even half as beautiful.
And then there are the Blue-Jays.
They sit on the rooftops in lines. Watching. They never make a sound either. They look like statues of birds. Decorations. Until they blink their eyes and you realise they are anything but. My mama refuses to see them. According to nana, she saw them once, shrieked, and ran back inside the house, leaving a basket of clean laundry on the lawn.
It was out there all day before I got to it. I found a harvest mouse asleep in my red jumper, as though it had been weeks in the garden, summer passing to winter, and the mouse, lacking all other hiding places, had curled into my jumper for warmth during hibernation. It didn’t wake when I moved it, so I’ve placed it in a small shoebox, on my dresser.
The box is lined with my feathers.
As mama will not go outside with the Blue-Jays on the rooftops, I’ve had to take on all the outside chores alongside my indoor responsibilities. I don’t mind, except for the fact that, with all my school work, I’m finding less time to visit Commelina.
Which I suppose is how I missed it.
Grey feathers in the black, dozens of them. They must have been appearing for a while, but by the time I noticed they were all over her chest and wings. Then I realised she was shrinking. It took perhaps a week for her reduce back to the size of a yearling swan, and no one seemed to notice. Not even when she shrank from yearling to cygnet over the course of forty-eight hours, so fast I could see it happening. Her edges blurring between states.
Making me feel nauseous.
When I next went to see her, there was just an egg, floating on the water. Odd, because eggs don’t float unless they’re empty or the water is salty. And the water is not salty. I tasted it. I thought then she’d gone completely, rotted away to dust in her shell, and cried for hours. I don’t know why. Commelina isn’t my only friend and she hates me really. She hates everyone. Why should I be so sad to lose her? But I was.
Until I heard the tapping.
Clear only when all other sound fades and only the wind can be heard, sighing across the water, the tapping is quiet. Ever so. But distinct. Distinctly a beak on the inside of a shell. She’s in there. Tapping. Soon she’ll hatch, and the whole cycle will begin again. I try to watch her often, but it makes me feel strange, watching those fine cracks beginning to appear.
It’s somehow too familiar, too personal.
Do you never feel like an egg? As if the person you seem to be is nothing but a shell, and beneath the surface, curled up, you’re slowly developing into something new and one day, in the quiet early hours of morning, or the still dark of night, you’ll hear a faint tapping on the insides of your ribs. Would you hold your arms tight about them, trying to hold yourself in, fearful of the pain?
I wonder if birth is ever painless. I wonder if we are always born wet and hungry and lost.
Yesterday I finally saw the tip of a black beak break through Commelina’s shell, just the very first millimetres of it. That’s when everything started going backwards. No, not precisely everything. That’s not quite right. A lot of things. It’s unpredictable. And maybe it had been happening before in smaller ways and I’ve never noticed. I have been busy.
Whichever it is, the incidents are now too large to miss.
Nana made four loaves of bread, put them into the oven, and they came out corn, waving gently in an invisible breeze. My mother’s silk underwear is now a large cocoon filled with silk worms, weaving strange patterns in shades of mauve, lilac and pink. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her shriek so loud. They were expensive.
Aldo has pet Mastiff. He’s had it since he was a child and it’s getting old now. Or it was. Last night it became a puppy again. Just went ahead and reversed its age whilst lying snoring on the hearth rug. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Aldo so happy. Not even in his first weeks with the woman from the travelling show.
But not all of it is funny, or sweet.
I tried to walk home from school and ended up back at school. Five times. It took me two hours to get home, when it normally takes ten minutes. Julio, Petra’s boyfriend, tried to eat a slice of cake, but it turned to flour, egg and sugar in his mouth. And Jimenez, the village grocer, found all his vegetables returned to seed.
Then…this morning…Constant woke the whole village with her screaming.
Her braided hair was gone from my drawer.
I thought she’d be happy to have it back, but it turns out some things go backwards some of the way, instead of all. And she woke with the shaven half of her head draped in hair soaking wet and filled with leaves and tiny fishes. I believe there was an elver in her ear.
It’s her fault for throwing them in the stream. Categorically.
I waited to speak my mind until my morning visit with Commelina’s beak, on my way to school. I had to wait until then. Papa would shout and send me to my room if he heard me say such a thing. How is the truth so hard to hear? How is it such a burden? Myself I have always believed that lies are the heaviest load to carry.
One can never put them down and find relief.
© Ren Warom 2013