How to Fight the Feeling by Catherine O’Brien

[CW: Grief]

“Strictly speaking, water doesn’t belong to the rivers or the oceans. It belongs to the mountains from which it ran.”

She nods. She knows this but a brain isn’t rust-proof, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. Her mind is nimble, it likes to believe it chooses what is sloughed away.

Most children are an adjective plus a noun; clever girl, good boy. Not Stacey. She is a ten-year-old with a giant’s stride and an ant’s shoulders. It would help if her father were boorish but he isn’t, just oblivious to the weight placed on the spindle. He is spinning his own yarn, binding them together the only way he knows how.

Their lives have been two ply since her mother passed. No one prepares you for when your lead actress walks off stage through the exit only door. She was young, very young. When she left only two of her daughter’s teeth had vacated their temporary parking spots. Stacey remembers the peaty soil as unsightly and alien sprawled across the hardwood as an arm pulled her away. She gets the feeling from that day, it comes in waves when she least expects it, a return of the deep bass thrumming in her heart that rocked her chest.

“An electrical system controls the rhythm of your heart.”

She files this under ‘A’ for anatomy. She wonders, often, why they have never spoken about the meaning underneath the vocals.  Sometimes, she steals her mother’s earrings from the dusty nightstand and models them to herself. Her side profile accentuates their shared aquiline nose. 

If it’s raining outside, Stacey will never be found dancing in that rain. This is not from lack of want. There are encyclopaedias to be pored over. Given the chance she would have liquidised the morning’s rays to have as a smoothie, felt her arm hairs bristle as soft rain touched the earth’s canvas with its naked colour.

“Education is the most steadfast of assets. It is the enemy of liability.”

The first visit he suggests is to St Amelia’s Preparatory School for Girls. You were born on a day like this he tells her as the Volvo eases up the vegetation-carpeted driveway. She flips through the others, those born on June 7th on a day like this when the ground drank the sky.

It is a small establishment but world-renowned according to their self-congratulatory brochure. The uniform is a pinafore with a Peter Pan collar. Their tour guide has a penchant for idioms and a tendency to prolong his vowels. He smiles absentmindedly as girls file past them. The location is landlocked to prevent escape.

The headmistress is different, she talks backwards to reinforce her points. She strips her gum of its veil of lip when she smiles at Stacey’s father. He is too naïve to realise. Stacey immediately notices her door knob which takes the shape of a pine cone and the gentle breeze which taps at the window.

“The pineal gland in the brain is named after a pine cone owing to its shape.” He had become animated when he had told her that Descartes termed it the ‘Seat of the Soul’ due to its prime location. It is also known as the biological ‘Third Eye’ or indeed ‘the epicentre of enlightenment’. The lesson had been different. That night was unusual as they had snuggled under blankets on the couch. Each with book in hand, he had stopped to share his findings. There was an inkling that something had changed. She saw his unfitness for bravery, a lot of expired excuses. He was just a potholed tugboat being brought back to shore. She’d hoped for a watershed moment but he’d walked away at the last minute with drops dripping from his soles.

The headmistress asks Stacey if she takes an interest in the world around her, tells her she will be academically stretched. Not one for decorating the truth Stacey is sure to inform the headmistress that the pine cone of the Coulter pine is colloquially known as a ‘widow-maker’.

“Some features of fjords include coral reefs and rocky islands called skerries.”

Stacey’s parents met while exploring The Geiranger Fjord in Norway. Her mother’s beauty had been astounding. Her future husband had wondered how the planet could take the strain. He’d felt his glaciers melting that first evening when her fingertips brushed his arm. That sunset had commenced the great slaughter of everything he thought he knew.

Presumption is anathema to Stacey. Her father tells her that she will like it there with the mediaeval-style busts of past scholars. Her undiplomatic side longs to tell him that her enthusiasm is on a clear path to nonexplosion. She doesn’t and instead she organises a plan.

“Grief can feel like you’re wearing an unbreathable fabric. It helps to speak to those who love you. It may just help them too.”

From her vantage point, his knuckles are blanched almonds on the steering wheel. He checks his mirrors before replying.

“You really are a marvel just like your mother.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Sometimes it’s like I’m the world’s greatest mathematician and others I’ve forgotten how to solve a simple quadratic equation.”

“I’ve had a similar feeling, Dad. Mine’s in a sweetshop but all the candies taste sour.”

Suddenly, his foot leaves the accelerator, his indicator blinks and they’re in a farmer’s gateway. He speaks to her in a real language, unfiltered his inhibitions lose their traction on restraint. He is wet-nosed and contrite. She is gentle when she interjects with questions and comment like a paleontologist with Ida, the most perfectly preserved primate fossil in the world.

Stacey could happily live in this moment unspoiled as it is by the touch of others. Relief is hot and urgent like magma. It bubbles in her when she hears

“There will soon be seven billion people on the planet but my heart is already populated by one very special girl.”

Biography: Catherine O’Brien is an Irish writer of poems, flash fiction and short stories. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. Her poem ‘Embezzled Emotion’ published in Janus Literary received a Best of the Net nomination 2023. You can find her and a selection of her recent publications on Twitter @abairrud2021.