At dusk, we set off for a stroll, leaving behind photographs, faded and frayed, piled into stacks and nearly reaching the chipped grooves of the wainscoting. We cut through the brush and meander down dirt trails, longing for a shiny red wagon, and wishing our person had come along.

Wagon-less, we reach one of the better houses, whose walls are full of people who say they cook for fun. I watch the whip of a woman’s knife as she chops tomatoes that shine wet like rubies on a wooden butcher’s block, slashed with patterns of past ambitions. Standing across from her, a man bows his head and peels away the delicate pearl layers of an onion, until the tears crystalize on his soft, brown cheeks.

Can you lend me a colander? I ask the woman with the rubies, mid-stride. Her knife grows into a machete, and she looks up, her hands still doing the work of her eyes. I am built like a willow tree, she says, and you are built like an appliance. Yes, strong and enduring, I say to the woman with words that cut with a dull edge.

With her blade still in hand, she points to the sieve, covered in white enamel and hanging expectantly from a wrought iron clavicle. With the cool metal in my hands, I retreat through the dark wooded kitchen, carefully stepping over newly planted saplings. As she calls out her farewell, I hear joy in her voice as she reminds me how often appliances break down. I am borrowing you, I whisper to the colander and it whispers back. Keep me forever it says in a voice that sounds like it desperately wants to be more useful than a large bowl with holes.

We set off down the path, quickly putting distance between us and the willows. With each step, I pack down the forgiving ground, as dark as the earth it’s from. Clumps of spongy loam fly up and meet my bare skin – the pungent, damp soil suits me.

At the fork, twigs crack beneath my feet, uttering promises of a hundred missed dinners, and this is my first wrong turn. At the threshold of change, we go left instead of right. East instead of West. And I curse the faces in the dirt for not warning us of what is to come.

Rested wickedness lurks behind each perfectly trimmed hedge, but we don’t see it until we’ve come face to face. We freeze as their smooth velvet pelts and their sorrowful dark eyes lull us into complacency, while their powerful tails swing wildly, trying to wash us out to sea. I fix my gaze on the largest male, and I remind him of the stone and the thatch and the wide open rafters, while showing him the zipper down my back.

Too many traumas for one day, I say out loud as I remind you to call the therapist. Yes, we will call, you tell me, being careful not to mention the impending collapse. It will be fine.

But it wasn’t fine. Back out on the main road, the others are waiting for us. Their taunts and accusations follow quickly on our heels, some so wild, they race ahead, creating a pathway of troubled art. The corridor is slick. The walls are coated in wet paint, laced with charcoal shavings, and chalky pastels that stick to my fingers as I reach out to balance myself. It’s the only way to protect ourselves, they tell us.

I plug my ears and run ahead. I reach the house, and stumble into the image sat in our knife-less kitchen. Whole again, I grab the death flag and throw it out the open window, sure that I can deter them. But the art still finds me. It always does.

 

 

© Elle Wonders 2009–2016

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