(from Genuine Cherry Red)
Marta’s fingertips traced the line between shadow and sunlight. It was getting cool in the shade of the verandah. She sat up, cradling her cold knees, and looked at the striped world – partially obscured by wooden verandah railings. Half a shrub with inedible berries, slices of a distant field, and the interrupted segments of a wild vine, weaving around the railings like a possessive snake. Everything was both visible and hidden.
Marta pressed herself against the railings and imagined how she looked from beyond the balcony. Both revealed and concealed. There was something consoling in the honesty of that temporary appearance.
In the field that she could see through the slats, the tall grass was waving. Marta smiled to herself. That grass was so long that when a girl of nine or ten had needed a place to hide, she hadn’t had far to go. Just down the steps of her new wooden home, a panting run straight ahead, and suddenly she’d disappear. Into the bladed jungle. She would crouch and hug her knees and feel the grasses breathe and rustle all around her. She’d hear the whispers of a thousand foreign voices lapping at her ears. And she would count. As high as she could go so that she wouldn’t think of creeping animals or scratching beetles. Or worse, the silent lizards that could touch her with their toenails just as she heard their tiptoes from behind. Most times, she had reached thirty – counting proper seconds – but there were times when twelve had been too much. Or eight. Or five. And she had run into the empty fields. The shorter grass. Before the tickling tongues of monsters ever found her.
But once she had reached a hundred. A hundred hidden seconds in the rippling ocean. Home to mysterious sounds and creatures that had been fought off by pure bravery. Real determination to survive.
Marta got up from her position at the railings. Every month she had these few days to explore dormant corners and guarded rooms, intead of caterpillars and patterned stones. And the house was waiting.
The first morning she found her music.
It seemed to sing to her, drawing her to the cupboard in the hallway. She rescued her tapes and took them to the tape recorder in Len’s room. At first she closed her eyes and stood in the middle of the room, letting the familiar waves surge around her. Then, she went to the window and watched as the colours of the music lifted the countryside until it was dusted with a faint glow. Marta leant out until she could see the hill and she felt the music climb the rocky slope, seeping into crevices and cracks and spilling across stones and mounds of earth until it curled into spirals above the billowing grass at the top. Then it whisked off higher and further until it was needed to dip into someone else’s life and tease them out of their plainness.
Marta hung out between the shutters until her arms began to shudder from the weight of her leaning body. She turned and faced the room. She couldn’t see the pale blue of these walls without thinking of Len. The knobs on the chest of drawers were as unique as his leathery hands that used to ball themselves into fists as he tried to extract some plot solution from his mind as he worked. The desk and the typewriter had always seemed like extensions of his body – extra arms and fingers so that he could lace the maze in front of him with his own particular twists and turns. They were part of Len in the way his wheelchair was, in a more dull aching way. Everything in this room was Len, but the bed and the soft chair by the window were Ena. They had been brought into Len’s study when he had returned from hospital the first time. They were strangers in the room and Marta barely tolerated them. They had intruded on a place that was once so filled with breath and had emptied the room and left it a gasping vacuum.
She slowly walked back to the middle of the room and nestled her bare feet into the worn rug. When she had been little, her feet had been almost lost in its plush depth, but now it was a witness to a life of pacing and thinking. It had been some time since downcast eyes had flashed above it, seeing nothing but what was behind them, and not what was below. It had been even longer since boots had circled it seeking answers and used it to cushion the journey. But Marta could remember. The days that Len’s distracted footsteps had throbbed through the house. When the rug had buried her tender feet before the music had carried her up so that she could look down at Len’s wavy hair and feel herself spinning until her head almost floated away.
He had always told her the she was the best dance partner he had ever had. And now, at twenty‑nine, though there had been other childhood beliefs that had been ravaged by reality and time, this one stayed with her. Len had given her dancing, so now she shared it with him again. She felt the deep soft rug envelop her feet, she felt his strong brown hands hooked under her arms, and she was lifted. Floating and spinning. The music wrapped around her like gauze and covered the present that had made the room dark and still, until everything was light and there was air to breathe. And when the tape clunked to a halt, the room gaped with the yawning hole that waited to be filled with more music.
Marta’s breath eased until it was hidden – no longer raw with dancing, rough and loud. She slipped her fingers around the brass columns of the bed behind her back and hung out, letting her head dip over the balding rug. Marta closed her eyes and felt every drop of history tumble out. And suddenly she could dance without music. Without memories of the bright beams that had their glimmers in her childhood. Without Len’s arms like crutches to lift her from the floor.
It was just her. Now. No longer dressed in the ornaments of dreams and thoughts and people.
Dancing had never been so good. So pure and wild and ugly. And perfect.
Marta didn’t feel herself move out of the room and down the hallway. She was aware only of the shining beat that drove her from inside – a kind of glorious internal hysteria that whipped her limbs and trunk. It didn’t last – nothing as dazzling as that could – but the residue sat inside her for hours like a warm lining of sweet treacle. Not too heavy or too sugary, just deliciously rich and filling. And very slowly dissipating.
This was a day glorious for itself – not for remembered joys, though those were regular companions. But there were moments that had no future and no past, and these were treasures. That could slip easily through agitated fingers.
There were always temptations to think too much, to look for reasons and order when sometimes the truth deserved its quiet space. But when moments passed uncluttered, they were precious. Smooth. And rare.