I could stay awake for hours watching the shadow across the room. It loomed craggy and distorted, the shadow that in daytime was nothing at all. My sister, one year younger, had slipped again into the bottom bunk next to me, her face cavernous in the darkness, blocking my way out. Alert and still, I watched her intently as she slept, assessing whether she was still breathing, still human, still herself. Now, I glide at ease through my dark house, keep lights dim in the evening, crave the softness of shadow. When I wake at night, it’s the inner shadows that loom craggy and distorted, the weight of intangible loss pressing my ribs tight like a corset. In the daytime I breathe deeply: I am sane, I am happy, I am whole.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: shadow.
It’s a wonder that we mostly stay alive for years. All those bones, organs, vital fluids, possibilities for failure. I’m not afraid as much as I once was, years ago. I can sleep in a house alone now, but I always lock my doors and windows. I try not to drive on slippery country roads on snowy nights, though sometimes I’ve found myself doing just that, hugging the centre line until the occasional glare of opposing headlights penetrates the blinding white and I shift over carefully, just a little, to let the other car pass. I’ve always walked alone in the city after dark, quickly, emphatically: perhaps tense as a bowstring, but insistent that I stake this claim. But sometimes I hear my husband breathe beside me as he sleeps or I put my hand on my son’s small chest and feel his heart beating and wonder: how is this possible? How long will this last? And so I stay close, try not to be afraid, but stay close; try not to let any moment pass by without noticing.
From my current daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent from me. Trying to keep around 150 words. Word prompt: vulnerable
My younger son and I made an unspoken agreement once – when he was five or six or seven – that if one of us smiled the other would smile back. When I was angry, disgruntled, sad, he smiled, and I became his mirror. I smiled too. When he sulked or stormed, I smiled. He smiled back; first grudgingly, then widely. Now, when I kiss him, he kisses me back. It’s hard to evade reciprocity, to give him a surplus of affection, like a parent sometimes craves to do. Sometimes, I kiss him, and he kisses me twice, three times, more. Then I sneak into his room at night on tiptoe, and kiss him again, silently, gently. Like a blessing. A secret parental blessing, which as my child, he can’t return.
I’ve returned to this daily short writing practice after three long weeks of absence, now writing to word prompts by email with three other women across the continent from me. I’m also doing a looser every-week-or-so word prompt with a friend in town. This is from the latter. I’m going to keep posting these periodically under the same heading of Words in Brief. This is what grounds my days right now, this and a weekly art prompt with another friend; this and my I-finally-at-42-have-the-inner-discipline-for-it daily yoga practice; this and the increasingly full days of homeschooling my two kids.
My children were both born in the same bed they were conceived in: an old brass double with a high headboard that came with their father into our marriage. The bedroom was the same too, west-facing, with the bulky radiator against the window and the large wide maple outside. The first time, the bed held me up as I squatted at its foot, naked, bearing down hard as I clutched the heavy post. Perhaps I held back, until the threat of moving to the hospital loomed, a shock to my insistent planting in this place only. I clenched my eyes then, traveled deep down into the pain and through it, emerging new with my child on the other side. The second time, my body began to push before the midwives arrived, and the baby slipped out like a fish, capped in his thin slick caul. His brother woke an hour later, as the commotion waned. I can see him standing beside the bed, backed up against the radiator: small, stunned, wide-eyed.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: bedroom. From one of the final days. My 100 days of writing prompts and daily witnessing and being witnessed are over, for now. How I miss them already!
Evenings around the woodstove at my parents’ house this holiday week have been accompanied by an electronic soundtrack of arbitrary phrases voiced in four languages – Polish, French, Spanish, Russian – punctuated by happy pings of reward and more occasional buzzings of error. My sister, amused, last night: “Am I the only person here who owns earphones?” My children and I are on a month-long Polish streak on Duolingo, me finally determined to teach them my first language after years of feeling tongue-tied trying to translate the English that colonized my brain more than 35 years ago. My dad and sisters, on hearing our lessons, each dive in too, and now we are all daily practicing every language that we know in this new and addictive format. I don’t know how much Polish my children will take away, but there are other truths they are starting to glean: that we must take care in our communication, but also take risks; that the way we construct our language shapes the way we construct our world; that some things, important things, will never be translated.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: Spanish. Day 96 of 100.
I’ve tried out various things with this daily writing practice over the past three months. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve challenged and entertained myself by finding my brief story within the day’s events. It has been surprisingly easy to find the connection points. As times goes on, however, I am increasingly lax with the word count.
Long-legged, four-footed mammals usually move in a direct register walk or trot, hind feet stepping perfectly in the tracks left by the front, imprinting a long, almost straight line that thrills me every time I see it, especially on a wide expanse of clean snow. I’ve learned that it’s important to respect the tracks of animals, that these hold a piece of their spirit, and sometimes, if we’re trailing close behind, a little of their living warmth. I love finding squirrel, raccoon and pigeon tracks in city sidewalks, set in concrete: a gift, a reminder of what can’t be tamed. My younger son and I, rushing somewhere the other day, step directly in a patched square of sidewalk, still setting, leaving our boot prints firmly behind. The next day snow covers our tracks, but I know we’ll encounter them again in spring: I somewhat embarrassed by our carelessness, he beyond thrilled to be thus memorialized.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: register.