My mother walked on soles that sprung daisies. Breathed, and lotus petals unfurled. Her hair shone like sunlight on deep water and moved with a koi-tale flick, catching desire and darkness in its furl.
She delivered me onto a bed of waxy palm, beneath a bloody moon, without want or need of company and only a chorus of cicadas on hand to click out the rhythm of her heart. She sang as she rubbed oil into my back, making it gleam like ripe mango, and the cherry tree sighed at her singing, bending its branches to tickle my ears and splatter scarlet berries in her lap.
When I was old enough, my mother showed me how to find the things I wanted; a peacock feather; an eggshell; a pebble that fit my palm; a tooth to hold under my tongue. She pulled me to her bosom when I cried at the unsatisfying beauty of these things and told me that women are born wanting; created with a hollow so desperate to be filled, we fill it with human life.
I filled it with you, she said. And for a time it was enough. Enough while skin screamed with the stretching. Enough while blood flowed between us. But the hollow is still wanting. Still waiting to be filled.
She was already weaving by then. Plaiting together fibres until her fingers blurred with vines, glancing over the smooth ridge of her shoulder at the tyrannous setting of the sun.
The Sentry arrived at dawn on the day grey crept over the garden. Its absence flowed from the door that had appeared in the wall alongside him and rolled across grass and flower, wiping away crimson and emerald, dulling the elephant’s sapphire skin to dust, turning my mother’s calves cloudy and furling up to her thighs.
He never moved; just stood, until fog had turned him from man to marble and I could no longer pretend that he would vanish like my father, who formed a long shadow at dusk, then faded back into the undergrowth whilst my mother picked guavas for breakfast, her eyes seeping out some secret that was both lonely and proud.
The Sentry didn’t speak, but we didn’t doubt his meaning. He stared at my body as my mother ushered me past him, wrapping her grass cape quickly about her breast. His eyes hit my skin like the crisp burn of ice water and I looked away into fog.
Beyond him, smoke; earth; rock. Grass that had grown sharp and defiant. A hot wind that carried powder on its breath.
I want to stay, I said, staring back at the tips of the acacia trees that still dripped with gold.
Ours is to be wanted, not to want, said my mother.
But we don’t have to leave. He’s not forced us.
She glanced back at the greying edges of the garden. Strapped bark to the soles of her feet and stepped out into the dust.
Helen Gordon’s short fiction has been featured as Seren’s Short Story of the Month, shortlisted for the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and longlisted for the Mogford Prize, the Bridport Prize and the Fish International Short Story Prize. She works as a Freelance Journalist in Shropshire. Twitter: @byHelenGordon