Four Chambers by Catherine O’Brien

That summer we created a new genre of living. We grew like cloudberries in the wilderness of secret locations. The ratio of you to me and me to you leaned with the force of a petulant thunderstorm against the walls of our longing and led to the abandonment of friends. We decided on our theme tune favouring the childlike bewilderment only the glockenspiel can convey. In the reverent silences before sleep, I saw our future in your eyes and yet there was apprehension – that voice ‘you haven’t that distance travelled, those miles run to rely upon’. It wasn’t planned to end with a night so dark even Oliver Twist wouldn’t want some more. 

Each morning, wherever we were in the world, you would open a window thrusting your head outside as a tentative re-introduction to the world. The sea beside your house allured us with the ecological mysteries at its heart. You encouraged me to celebrate when waves flatlined at my feet. We trespassed all day every day making merriment in mermaids’ playgrounds. You rid me of my fear, told me ‘Your old toy boat is listing – can you feel it? You don’t need it now’. We laughed thinking ourselves teenagers when lollies taught us to check the colour of our tongues.

When you left to work at sea, your absence innervated the spring air. It rushed and then it tarried like that silent letter that deflates a contestant’s hopes of victory at a spelling bee. It was a feeling you had never known having passed every test life dared to give you with aplomb.

I arranged a paddle boat for two and I loved telling you our longed-for heart had moving parts. In that instant I felt our selfishness slowly shrinking. I felt a power I was unfamiliar with. ‘Stop! Stop!, you cried – ‘our world has been stripped clean and will never be the same’. You kissed me – your first act in your consciousness of being a father. Your warm air merged with the cool ocean of my mine and that dramatic fog we favoured and used to confuse our critics embraced our forever union. My imagination charted our three courses as the ancients predicted the movement of bodies along the ecliptic. We chatted until the last segment of sun settled under the horizon and knew that our sunshine would eclipse every star, nebula and galaxy.

The day you died filled itself with squally showers and small craft warnings. I sensed her arrival just before I began to feel like a spinning column of air. She pulled me into the vortex of her love and I often wonder if you survived long enough to feel that pull, that four-chambered emblem of our love and new love too. I learned how you tried to hesitate the flood’s progression with the use of one oar. I saw you in an echoless room and told you my heart would never melt or be anything other than a big blob of ice without you. I coveted another moment no matter how overwhelming with you.

In her first four months our girl grew exponentially. She knew nothing of the frigid oceanic waters that had stolen from her. She made me feel solid. When waves started to form, she lay on my chest and waited with the frosted flowers of her shallow breaths until they broke.

She creates art by her being and your having been. She temporises as you did ‘stand by’ – her inherited defence against predation. She refuses to be underappreciated. She spears me to the ecstasy of each new moment. She is fourteen now and knows how much of us is comprised of water – she is teaching me when to be unafraid. It takes time to renovate your understanding of loss. I still miss you, I always will but now I don’t fight the sensation when I begin to float. I’ve known love’s buoyancy and met its sunnier days. I appreciate the hectic music of this life and think of you when I raise a whistle to its familiar melody.

Biography: Catherine O’Brien is an Irish writer of poems, flash fiction and short stories. Her work has recently appeared in Fractured Literary, Bending Genres, Splonk and Comhar.  Her poem ‘Embezzled Emotion’ received a Best of the Net nomination 2023 and her flash ‘Stone Fruit’ received a BSF nomination 2023. Twitter @abairrud2021