Millie watches daylight sit between her fingers. We’re lying on the sofa in our front room. She’s five but smaller than most five year olds, I’d fit more of her beside me comfortably.
The usual tightness in me isn’t there today, and instead I’m relaxing the way a sprinter hangs face to conserve energy. Because we’re alone and whatever we do is fine, and judgement has no way in.
I won’t be cleaning the house today, or opening the door to therapists who address me by my first name, or making them tea a medley of ways, or coffee if I have it there. Crumbs can settle on the countertops, and flies dine at length on our buttery knives.
On Tuesday, one of them was due here any minute. I scrubbed the toilet because she’d asked to use it once before. The marigolds vanished, so with my bare fingers I teased out hairs and furtive slime from the plugholes. And for my trouble, she gave me words I didn’t ask for; another label hawked on to my girl, and it hurt like a knuckled cut. I felt old bruises from old labels rupture and split their vessels again. They never fully heal.
Your money’s on the table there nice and crisp.
A doctor sat across a desk from us, in an airless hospital space. Millie was a toddler then, flopped out in my arms. She asked me the finer details I didn’t know, that I hadn’t noticed. Does she pick up things using her left or right hand? Will she turn her head if you call her from another room? “I’m never in another room.”
Finally she turned to James. He had his shit together.
I was just keeping my head above water lady, understand?
“She’ll catch up eventually though won’t she?” James said to her, naive then still.
“You mean Millie? Will she catch up?” she said.
No. The cat’s mother.
“Yes Millie”, James said, a little tersely.
“No no. She won’t be catching up.”
Doctor was sure of her wager. I’ll run your betting slip through the machine lady, I thought. Your odds are short, but a win is a win.
I do the talking for Millie, except for her random sounds. Is she bored of me? She hands me pictures of things she wants and I pass these things to her from a high shelf. I want her to ask me or she won’t come to me at all. She’s doing really well and I tell her so, then her eyes smile into mine and my heart feels full enough. When we brush her teeth together, my hand over her hand, it’s my brain working the bristles back and forth.
She does something new and for a little while that high kneads the routine lows, then a cross word flashes from my lips and, no skirting the looking glass, the guilt chips at my innards. And through it all, hope is evergreen, a stubborn muscle, and sometimes when we dare reach to it for comfort, it’s quietly trickling effervescence.
Shona Doyle Woods is from Ireland. Her fiction has appeared in Boyne Berries Magazine, Crossways Literary Magazine, The Bangor Literary Journal and others.