Sunlight poked its fingers into the deep recesses between the buildings. The air crackled and fizzed with static and was heady from the scent of summer flowers. She pedalled her bike through the hot, narrow streets, collecting golden beams of afternoon light, snatching the threads from railings and gutters, plucking them from trees and seizing them from steps. She crammed the strands of sunlight into her bicycle’s wicker basket until the precious cargo wobbled dangerously when the ancient machine bounced and clanked over the cobbles, leaving a trail of rust in its wake.
All around shutters were snapped shut, and rooms darkened as people prepared for siesta. Workers hurried home to be inside, out of the sun. Children complained, wanting to play outdoors. Alley cats found a corner to rest out of the light. Siesta allowed folk to recharge. Some slept off rich lunches, others made love, some read or played music. But a small number suffered alone in the darkness. It was these people she looked for. Rejected lovers, orphaned children, widowed wives, men who had lost their jobs and their respect, those who were bullied and those who no longer wished to live. She took her basket of threads home and spun them into yarn, so when the shutters were opened again hours later, the light appeared thinner, the air smelled fresher and some of the gold was gone from the day. Then as evening came she wove the yarn into comfort blankets, light and warm. At night, slipping into the houses of those who were hurting, she distributed her blankets to the broken hearted, wrapping them in light and stealing their heartache. When they woke in the morning and saw the sun bright in the sky, their darkness had lifted and they were ready to face a new day.
In one tall house, she found Carla, weeping on her truckle bed. Her mother had ‘gone to the angels’, and this loss gnawed at the little girl like a hunger. The child’s skin was as pale and translucent as pearl, her eyes were red-rimmed and even in sleep, her body vibrated with suppressed sobs. She tucked a blanket around Carla and left her dreaming of her mother. Only then did she go home to sleep: a dark, restless sleep, pitching and roiling with the stories and trials of people she had helped. A few days later, she awoke as usual at siesta time and wheeled out her bike. Looking along the street she glimpsed Carla and her father, hand in hand, hurrying home for siesta. Carla stopped and tugged at her father, pointing out the flowers on the steps. Her father picked Carla up and swung her around. The child’s giddy laughter echoed from surrounding walls. The sound warmed her heart and she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. Then she mounted the rickety old bicycle and pedalled off to collect golden beams of sunlight from the narrow streets of the town.
‘When did he ask?’ by Brenda Donoghue
We are doing the laundry dance, Mama has position north, I hold the south.
Pick your partner, blushing pink with a delicate ribbon of cool satin running along its edges.
Was it when I lay beneath this fabric in a carmine tinted lair lit only by the morning sun?
Mama takes two corners and holds them high I grab their opposites.
Take two steps back
Was it when I noticed, in his nest high above the stables, the pungent musk of his adult male body?
Mama whips the sheet and transforms it into a billowing Tuareg tent, I cling tight, it bellies up then down folding naturally along equatorial lines.
Was it when my sundress roiled into ruby waves around my waist and I tucked my legs beneath thigh muscles firm as granite?
Mama takes my corners and I slide my hands inside until I can pull tight against the crease.
Was it when I traced with lazy fingertips white skin barriered by brown tan while he slept?
The cotton is still warm, the smell of garden sun fills my head.
Take one step back
Was it when I explored the chaos of soft and silky curls that shelter the vulnerable hollow at the base of his skull?
Tug firmly so that the cloth lies flat.
Raise your hands high above your head.
Was it when his tongue trapped mine in the clefts and hollows inside my mouth?
Put the east corner into your west hand, the fold falls along the prime meridian.
Was it when I let him kiss me against the crumbling wall of the courtyard, old plaster and stones digging into me under the flaming bougainvillea, while my father drank wine inside the shuttered window?
Mama places the folded square on the little table next to her hip.
Was it when he slipped his fingers between mine, the blood heat of his hands shockingly intimate?
Pick a new partner, white with blue flowers.
Was it when he reached out an arm as big as a vine trunk and I seized it?
Take two steps back.
Was it when he said, ‘you’ve come between me and my sleep’?
Mama nods to the window.
‘There he goes that Irish boy on his bike. Your father is very pleased with him. He is really good with the horses.’
I raise my hands high allowing the linen to build a screen between us.
She huffs as she reaches up ‘he went in the ocean with the racehorse.’
‘Papa said it is no wonder that stallion loves him like a brother.’
Was it when his dark eyes snagged mine in the stable yard while my father talked about covering mares and stallions at stud?
She passes me new corners. ‘I think he loves that animal too, more than any woman.’
Was it then?
When did he ask for my love?
‘Breaking Point’ by Marion Coleman
Papa hadn’t come near us for a long time and I hoped he’d never come back. We had nothing left for him to take. Mamma had more and more good days and some days she didn’t cry at all. But sometimes, when she slept too long, I was lonely.
I made a friend, my first ever – a neighbour’s kitten who started coming to visit every day. I loved the way he hopped from the steps to balance easily on the railings and then walk daintily towards my window as if he was on a tightrope. When I cuddled him I had to stop myself from squeezing too tightly.
I never stayed outside long in case Mamma needed me. But sometimes I’d watch from the window as the other kids played on the area steps and I’d pretend I was part of their game. One lunchtime, when they had abandoned their toys, I sneaked down and took a Donna Lucia doll. Later, they searched everywhere for it, but I knew they’d never call to our apartment. Donna Lucia was mine.
Two months later I still had her. I’d never had anything all to myself for so long. I loved her … her and the kitten. He and Donna Lucia would watch me while I dressed for school in the cleanest clothes I could find. Before leaving home I’d shoo the kitten outside, then I’d hide Donna Lucia under the tattered foam mattress that was too old and worn for Papa to sell.
Monday was one of Mamma’s bad days. She lay on the couch. The stuffing spilling out of the armrest made a soft pillow for her. Her eyes were rolled up inside her head and the scars on her arms looked dark and angry against her pale skin. The heat from outside never reached us until midday so I searched through the messy piles of clothes for an old cardigan and covered her, tucking it under her chin. Her face was pretty without bruises. She hadn’t fallen once since Papa left.
I wanted to stay and look after Mamma, but she got in trouble the last time I skipped school. Too many missed days they said. I hated it there. Nobody liked me and they said I smelled, but I had to go.
In the alley on the way home I spotted someone on a bicycle disappearing through the archway. My heart thumped. Papa? I raced up the steps.
He’d left his anger behind in Mamma’s swollen face and the holes punched in the walls. A bitter heaviness settled in my chest. I ran to the bedroom. The mattress was upended against the wall. Donna Lucia was gone.
The kitten mewed from the window, wanting to play. I swung my arm at him, knocking him to the ground. He scrambled to his feet and dashed away before I could run after him and kick him.