by E. E. Rhodes
And my dearest third try, you were the smallest thing, with fondly knitted mittens—bag-striped and candied, ribbon pink and twinkle-fitted. Waving at me from a shoddy crib, never minding the lead-paint scuffs or half-gone stencilled cartoon animals. Gurgling in your shove-sweet way and teeth-tearing at my souring breast. But accommodating all the things we didn’t have, and staying slack-loving with me just the same. Driving my moon-stared tossing nightly, where I swore desperate loosely at each famished sleep. My bitter joy.
And next you had those sheepskin mitts on long-snap elastic, threaded along your bone-break arms. Calcium, the doctor said, though I promised that I fed you chalk and other small deliciousnesses all tummy-rubbed for wind digestion. Poor little mite in duffel coat and red welly boots, and slip down socks and tumbling curls, that matched our falling precipice of concrete stairs. And all the times you kept me up, with salination. My broken nights and days and weeks and years.
And you were tidied in your thrifted coat, with rainbow gloves you forgot to wear, at a bigger school that ghosted and masked you. All curtain-part hair and taped up glasses. Fragile in the knock-kneed way of coltish horses who fail their standing upright, stumbling bruised against their stall. You with a bag of worry work and broken promise and teachers calling past your whispered sorries. You clever girl, who was not present. I watched you closely. My split-lipped child.
And then so fetching in a snap-made dress fabriced of curtains from a squatted house, with the white-satined elbow gloves of prom. And the shoes you painted with a shop-filched tin. And the close-watch eyes of my current love, who thinks I do not see his ways. Or yours, in all the twists and turns and lure of music on a cheap transistor, or pinched out cheeks and tinted gloss. So, yes, I knew you through the squint of pain. And neither of us mentioning losers when final-strawed he doesn’t come round our flat again. And you make sure that all our trembling pills are buried and flush-toilet gone. Dustbinned like him, and far away. My re-steadied thoughts still unstained by hope.
And you with your smart leather gloves, all seamed and skin-like, snugging close. And wearing shoes that matched your bag, because a killer told you so. Shrugging that you might life-learn a lesson from a fictive cannibal on film, all screaming lambs that are unquiet. And watching with you, taking notes, I imagined fitting my hands inside of yours, fingers wriggling. So that you might wear me like a glove outside. You who have always been my bone-box coffin, who drained and skinned and un-remembered me. My shrouded life walked in your shade.
And wearing rough gloves to garden in, whispering the doctrine of signatures and wretched herbs, I lagged behind you listening. All these pretty jewelled treats you warned against, swift poison plants, fresh frowned and flashing. I saw a holloway, into a taxonomy of regret and grief. A pottager of punishment wrongly given. A toxic soup, a nastied nourishment against the drag of life. And savoured briefly, in your innocence, and thank-you mother, before you rested. My drugging deathly ending writ.
And naked stripped and tended kind with nitrile gloves and sterile beds. With a monitor that beat against the time you’d left. A gentle nurse that was kind to me. One of many, in each hanging home in which we’d stayed. Your poorly girl, you poor sad thing. And here I was a nodding doll of regrets and misery. For all the impossible wringing days of loss I’d calculated at your side. Narrow-necked spaces that you’d etched. Are writing still, inside my heart. My ink-fingered fledgling-fluttered child.
And now you’re leaving, breath shallow gone, my darling hollowed daughtered one. Your nibbled fingers purpling soon against the hours. As you lie breaking, I am still your cold-slide determined killer. I listen to the tinkling silence and at last in all my glee-drenched sorrow I hold your empty hand in mine, waiting for them all to loving-comfort me.
E.E. Rhodes is an archaeologist who accidentally lives in part of a small castle in Worcestershire in England. She writes flash, cnf, and prose-poetry to make sense of it all. Her work has appeared in a range of journals, anthologies, and competition placings. She tweets @electra_rhodes.