“I haven’t been back to Collisville since before you were born.” Sonya peered into the rear-view mirror and adjusted it slightly to see her daughter. Her eyelids were half way to closing, lulled asleep by the motion of the car. She wasn’t used to long journeys.
“It’s so good to see you all,” cried June as they stepped out of the car.
“You too,” Sonya grabbed her handbag from behind the driving seat and wrapped her arms around the old woman.
“Let me help you bring your things inside.”
“You don’t need to do that. The girls will do it, won’t you girls?” She gave Angela a quick wink.
“Yes, mum,” she said.
“Let’s have a drink.”
“Excellent.” June’s eyes sparkled with anticipation. Alcohol was the only thing on the dinner menu for them. For the girls, it would be oven chips and fish fingers. “I’ve got three-quarters of a bottle of sauvignon-blanc in the fridge from this mor – uh – last night.”
Sonya laughed. She couldn’t worry too much about June’s alcoholism right now. There were bigger complications to solve. She would confront Andy in a few hours after building up some courage.
“I like what you’ve done with the garden.”
“Thanks, love.” June poured the remainder of the bottle of white into two large wine glasses. “My counsellor says to look for silver linings when bad things happen. Like a raincloud in front of the sun. You can always find the light if you look hard enough.”
“True. And if there’s no light there then you can trick yourself into believing that there is.”
“Some say that it’s bad luck to smash a mirror–
“Seven years apparently,” Sonya gulped her wine.
“I’ve been making an effort to turn the negatives into positives.”
“Ah! I see them now. The mirrors. The garden looks wild but beautiful.” Shards of reflective glass reflected the sun from behind the clematis. “It must let more light into the garden.”
“I just let it grow. The weeds take over by the end of summer but I’ve planted enough clematis to struggle against them. I knocked the mirror of the mantel piece when I was drunk. But I thought I’d put them against the wall. I like to think of them as shark fins protecting the flowers at night.”
“They do look a bit like shark fins.”
The sun was setting far more quickly than they’d have liked. They’d been sitting in the garden all afternoon sipping June’s seemingly endless supply of good quality white and rose wines. Sonya was only a little tipsy but then she’d been drinking a lot recently despite vowing to stay away from alcohol in order to be the best mother she could be.
But after Alice’s confession and Andy’s heartless rejection and refusal to even meet his six year old daughter, she’d found herself standing on a high precipice contemplating the jump into infinity or oblivion, however you define death. She was teetering on the edge of an unsightly abyss, its gravity pulling her into its darkness like a black hole, sucking all joy and hope for the future.
“I’ll get more wine,” June walked through the French doors into the kitchen. Sonya could hear her talking with the girls. She was relieved that they were content to sit and watch telly while she prepared herself for battle. As she took the last sip of her wine she heard a tapping sound, which shook her out of her bitter stupor. It was coming from deep within the garden. Near the trellis. The clematis. What could it be?
She stood up and walked into the garden where the tapping sound grew louder. It sounded urgent and distressed. A ghost trying to break through into the world from the fourth dimension. She parted the thin green curtain of the clematis and a tiny bird darted out, its wing brushing her cheek in a panic to be free. She sensed its urgency. What was it trying to do? Then, looking at the fragments of mirror on the wall, the sun blinded her in the surface reflection of light and it dawned on her in horror that the bird was trying to get through the glass into the garden it believed to exist within the metal and glass. Shame on humankind, she thought. Shame. Shame. Shame. Our imitations of nature cause nature to break down. Small living things cannot differentiate between the real world and the world reflected, caught in the materials we create to indulge in our own narcissism.
“What are you doing down there?”
“Uh! Sorry, June. Your mirrors. They’re tricking the birds.”
She retrieved one of the mirrored-fragments and upon its surface was a thousand individual marks left by the beaks of many little birds, trying to get through to a non-existent realm.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“The birds can’t tell the difference between the real garden and the same garden reflected in the mirrors. Can I take them down?”
“Do you have to? I rather liked them. I don’t know why but they comfort me. Like I can escape into another world by looking into them”
“Is your happiness worth an animal suffering?” No, she thought. Simply. No. Every living thing feels pain, hunger, thirst, love, urgency, desperation. The need for beauty in this painful world. The desire to survive, above all else.
“Go on then, you’ve made up your mind it seems. It’s not my garden,” she scoffed sarcastically.
“I will if you don’t mind.”
“I do, but go ahead,” June gulped her wine.
“I’m sorry; it’s just that I can’t sleep at night knowing that these sweet little birds are head-butting the mirrors and giving themselves brain damage.”
“I wouldn’t worry. Their brains are so small. People believe in God. It’s the same thing. Every Sunday I see them going into that church but every year the congregation shrinks as the elderly die in their sleep.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Some people put all their faith in an invisible man in the sky. Let the birds believe in a garden that’s not there.”
“But that’s not it, June. They’re simply trying to get out. They don’t know its metal and glass. All they see is your beautiful garden.”
“Do whatever you must. I’ll put them back when you’ve gone.”
Sonya grunted. Anger bubbled up “Look, June. Your life isn’t more important than these little birds. I’m fed up of self-important people. We’re all alive. Sharing the same world. You of all people should und–”
“What’s the matter?”
She broke down. Tears ripped open her heart. Salt from her eyes corroded the soft-childlike skin of her face.
“I don’t know. It’s all too much. I can’t bear to see any more suffering in this world.”
“It’s only a bird.” June held her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Get a grip. If you’re going to see Andy tonight you need to sober up and start thinking clearly.”
“That’s exactly what I don’t need. I need more alcohol. I need fuel for my fire,” she growled. “I can’t be sad. I’ve got to be at the peak of my anger. I’ve got to feel like an eagle on top of the world.”
“I’ll pour you another glass and put some food on.”
“I don’t need food.”
There was only one thing she had to do. Confront Andy at his safe place, his domestic bliss. The home where he and his perfect family enjoyed evening meals in front of the television and Sunday afternoon get-togethers in their large garden, no doubt with their many family and friends who were all completely unaware of his true nature. He was an unspeakably heartless sexist degenerative male and he would pay for what he had done to her and her children. She no longer wanted him for herself. She wanted to scar him emotionally as he’d done to her. She didn’t care if it would tear their family apart. That would be a just comeuppance for his actions. Karma would come full circle like the eternal ouroboros, the serpent devouring its own tail.
© J.C. Thomas
All Rights Reserved 2020