Literary Orphans

Among the Ruins
by Emma Briant

waiting_by_michela_riva

Today I ran through the park, past the place where we played hide and seek. Me and Sarah. I ran until the rolling grass gave up to ruins, ruins that hadn’t been there before. A maze of dry-stone structures and children playing. A dark-haired girl sorted through a basket of clothes, her eyes locked on my path. She looked at me like I knew her, but I knew I never would. She seemed to be singing or speaking. Words I couldn’t hear over the drag of my own breath. And I was conscious of her continued watch. She hung wet baby clothes on a line. But did not blink away. Desperate, I fled her gaze, around a slalom of crumbling stone, into the mouth of an overgrown tower. Junk-jungled platforms tiered by small pools. People milled about. Bodies. Other men, women too. Some with clothing, some without. The water frothed and swirled; it overflowed between the pools, carrying small fish with it.

Massing individualist nibblers. They swarmed around the occupants to feast.

 

I clambered up narrow and slippery steps that led towards a grand pool at the top. Filling and overflowing. In the lower levels old women were chatting, gossiping with the gusto of coffee mornings and funerals. I approached a pool, one old lady turned to me, fussing. “Have you got enough room dear?” she smiled, her brown hair kept dry from the water by an elasticated plastic disk around her head. A white halo with Little Bo sheep print. I thought of bathing Sarah. She was so small. We always tried to keep the soap from her eyes, but she loved to pull the ring off her head, with a pop…  Pop. That stings Daddy. That stings Daddy. Her pain hurt my ears again. Breaking the silence. Breaking slowly through the membrane enclosing my mind where I placed her in the water. But, “here,” the woman said and something released, was calm. Hearing my breathing. I looked down as she made space for me to sit. As she moved the fish were forced to unlock their lips as her slack breasts carried through the water. The slivers returned just as quickly, latching on like a baby.

 

“Thank you,” I said, but left her space empty. Instead I climbed to a higher pool. Filling and overflowing. I removed my trainers and braced myself for the cold, but the water was warm. I lowered myself, uneasily. The water soaked up my trousers, clung to me, dragging me in.

 

On my arms, chest and feet the fish were pink-pinking at my skin. An older man with gold jewellery sat to my left reading The Financial Times. He turned to me, said “Good afternoon Stanley.” His voice distant and crackly. Sulphurous steam rose up into the crisp air, I could smell it now, eggs. I looked around. A large beaver was floating face down in the pool, it’s arms, legs and large tail spread, wide and lifeless. Water-borne death. Pop. Now I saw it, I stood as if stung. As if the moment could spread and the pain was back. Stinging her eyes. I slipped on the rocks and fell back into the thick silence of the pool. Thick in her throat. Limp and helpless. Gulping for air I saw skin like ceramic. Cold, inert flesh. Touch.

 

Shaking, I found my feet. The water stinging my wind-pipe and nose. The man leaned over, “What’s the matter with you Stanley?” he asked, “Just need to relax” he said. Then he shook his damp paper open to the right page. The words seemed all muddied together, blurring. ‘Have you seen the stock market today?’ he prompted, I stared. ‘It doesn’t look good does it?’ he said. ‘Painful,’ he said. The waves I sent out by my fall brought the beaver nearer. I see the fish clamouring at its underside. Still none of the other bathers seemed to notice. The man grabbed my arm. He pulled me toward him agitating the water again. Bringing the tide closer. ‘They have a consultant in. You won’t go down if you get out now.’ His fingers were digging at my flesh.

 

I looked at him and climbed from the pool. I slipped my way down the steps, almost plunging back in as I swiped the straggling fish from my forearms. What had I been doing? Was I working? I couldn’t even remember. My breath in the receiver. A phonecall. It had seemed important. But I couldn’t make out what the sound was. That sound. I was trying to concentrate. I’ll be there in a minute, I’d said. I heard her. Her tiny noises breaking my silence. As I left the pool, running now, down past the reaching arms of ladies, I thought her sounds seemed clearer. Hitting at the ceramic basin around her. Thick in her throat, amplified by my ruins. There she was. Wide and lifeless. Limp and helpless. Pop. Now I hear her, I hear her all the time. I found you Sarah, I found you. Daddy was only gone for a minute.

 
–Story by Emma Briant
–Photography by Michela Riva