There’s enough to go around, we tell the little ones at mealtimes. But there’s not enough of anything to go around. There’s not even enough mothers to go around; not enough arms, or laps.
All the children have something they won’t let go of. After the boats had gone, loaded with our husbands, fathers, cousins, brothers, sons, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, we’d poked the ashes of what used to be our homes with sticks, rescuing anything that could still be recognised. Most recovered things we gave to the children.
/ A chewed pencil, pitted with Tomas’s father’s teeth marks.
/ A collection of buttons, two big, two small, that are now a family of four for little Marit Hanssen to play with.
/ A doll’s blanket, because once the smoke and charred dust are shaken out, it smells of home. All the little ones try to claim it, and we explain about sharing.
/ A wooden teacup, carved, scraped and hollowed before you were born, and later painted with your name, in white, Caroline, decorated with cherries. Although you are not one of the little ones, not any more.
Some things that we find, we keep for ourselves.
\ A shred of a bunad made by our grandmother, or great-grandmother. The ash-black wool, a bodice, or a hem, hard and heavy with embroidery – bold-coloured wreaths of flowers tendrilled from thread.
\ A pewter candle holder, tossed from a house with the first blast, and still lined with wax that melted while we shared our last meal.
\ Half a book, a front cover, the spine tattered with broken grid-threads. A new last page.
\ A pebble from our garden, because its older than any of us, older than any of this.
We all live together, and we learn to share. Food, space, clothes, children, disease, stories, hope, lice, toys, mothers. No one fights over the doll’s blanket now; it smells of all of us. Little Anna has it to herself, tucked in the crook of her elbow as she sucks her thumb, looking up to see whose knee she is sitting on.
Johanna Robinson is a writer and proofreader from Liverpool. She’s been writing short stories and flash fiction since taking the Comma Press course in 2016, and has been published in the Galway Review and Strix.