That lullaby had no place in the garden. Somewhere amidst the decaying teeth and the satin flowers, I could hear it echo; a tune I hadn’t heard in a while. A souvenir from a time long gone; an old keepsake from a person impossible to forget.
The melody, a maggot crawling out of an infected wound, it stole into every pore of my skin. It rippled in my veins, it wrapped itself around my bones, and the stars in the sky ran away because my head had found a lap in wet grass and petrichor.
Cinnamon buns and the crackle of an old television. The huddling in a chair under a blanket while it pours outside. The silly finger-bunnies when the power goes out. Newspapers drunk on syrup. Sticky fingers, sticky tables, sticky floors. Sticky mother.
The drops seeped their way through my hair and into my scalp. The sky blinked several times. It wouldn’t dare rain. Not on a day like this.
It wasn’t her lullaby, but she was the only one who knew it. That’s how she explained it to me while I brushed her hair and murdered her lice. The lullaby—I knew it too, but I pretended I didn’t.
The voice escaped from between the fallen barks of the trees, from between the skittering of beetles and spiders. The wind, a banshee; but it couldn’t keep up. Wind chimes on the trees, made of the innards of some killed creature, clattering and rattling and singing an obscene song of their own. They couldn’t keep up either.
A prick on my sole, a trail of blood I hadn’t named yet. A centipede of yellow and black that knew its way around. Wet leaves too small and too flat to hide under.
The melody—a maelstrom—pulling me into the arms of a mother I hadn’t seen in so long. I wondered what she liked to eat. She always knew what I liked to eat.
Was there a guitar in the old house? Who did it belong to? What tree had been stripped and broken to make its shell? How could something so dead make such beautiful sounds? I wouldn’t rest until I snapped all the strings.
Mother never found out, so no wrong was committed. If mother never found out…
The lullaby choked to an end, overpowered by the reek of her brown rot. Everything inside me wanted to come out, but I held it all in because I had to see how unbeautiful she was. I had to see how unbeautiful I’d made her. And here I thought for all this time that if mother never found out…
We don’t notice it when we kiss, but there are strings sewn into our lips. You can only pull away so far before they start to hurt us both. We think about each other between blinks, and we forget the strings are there.
They are so fine, like spider silk. I touch them when they’re taut. You pull on them when they’re loose. We try to unroot the stitches from each other’s lips, but it hurts too much, so we stop.
The smallest flowers grow under our fingernails when we sneak a finger into the other’s mouth. Pretty flowers, vivid colours. Sometimes, more than one flower grows under a fingernail. It ruins the symmetry, so we make the other bite it off.
Each flower has its own fragrance. Sometimes we pretend we’re painting each other’s faces with the flowers. They brush so gently across our cheeks and between our brows. We close our eyes and try to guess what the other is painting.
But eventually, the petals wither away, the flower falls, and the fingernail is bare once more. You place my finger in your mouth, and another flower blooms. I don’t feel it happen, but I see it once I draw my finger out.
The skin of your scalp has storms on it. Red rashes, the tiniest lumps, they sprout between your hair. I never see them move, but each time I look at them, they’re in a different place. Turbulent, always erupting, always migrating.
I touch my forehead to yours and hope they’d jump over to my head. They don’t.
The geography of our frowns changes each time we wake up. Sometimes we count how many valleys there are, or how many rivers could flow through them. We could grow forests if we tried, and perhaps we could build a little desert from the sand in our eyes.
You never say what you see when you watch me sleep. Could it be very different from what I see when I watch you sleep? I guess we’ll agree to keep that a mystery.
When you really look at an eye, you start to see the maelstroms it contains. If you were to put a finger in there, it would get sucked right in, lost into the vortex, lost to the void.
We have both agreed that one day, the strings will snap. There will be no more flowers that bloom and brush across skin. The storms will be go unseen, and no one will count our valleys or imagine rivers. The maelstroms will calm, and the void will dissipate.
We have to make sure that happens. Only we can make sure that it happens.
Until it happens, we kiss between blinks, we think about each other, we forget about the strings.