Amelia pushes herself up from from the lie with her sweaty palms and shuffles back to prop her spine against the headboard. Her long thighs bend at the knees, her shins settle in mauve decline.
She scrunches her eyelids together; a crust of rheum falls to her chest.
DER DER DER DER DER DER.
The crimson digits flash black, red, black, red on the face of the alarm clock to her right.
She throws a small, square cushion at it; it lands on the clock, muffles the sound for a bit before it avalanches slowly to the floor.
She throws herself to the right side of the mattress and slaps the small device. After a few slaps, it stops, falls off and hangs from the edge of the bed-side table, held only by its wire. She uses her palm to shovel the clock back on to the table so it is in her eye-line. The time reads 4:04am.
With a side roll, followed by a slow swivel of legs over the bed-edge, she shakes her head, murmurs as she stands, pads the short-haired carpet along its distance; past the bedside table, past the dual-doored wardrobe, through to the open doorway into the bathroom. She faces the shower cubicle situated on the left, side-staggers into it. The touch of her bare, left shoulder against the cold tiles induces a sharp `AHH!’ before she knocks the silver dial of the shower tap left a few times. An efflux of water droplets then puddles on her; first on each moderate globe either side of her broad shoulder span, then to saturate her nightie; the water sticks to to the muscle dents on her stomach, to her thighs.
After a few minutes of watering, eyes closed, head resting on a tile, she slowly stands and steps from the shower. She lurks to the sink over the saturated tiles, where she grips the porcelain edge.
As she tries to grip, her digits – as if ten cut-offs from a rubber pipe – bend north; some press back far enough to touch the first knuckle of her hand. She falls to the floor, spine to tile, long legs knock over an array of vanity bottles to their sides.
She lies on the floor for a few moments, the preceding veil of sleepiness torn from her body. She takes a few more seconds rest, then uses her hands to push herself up, so she sits bow-backed, cross-legged on the floor; her movement causes a squelch between her bare legs and tile. Close-eyed and trembling she slowly places her hands on the insides of her thighs then opens her eyes.
Attached to her hands, after each first knuckle, are ten tiny babies, bruises purpling over their tiny chests, arms. Amelia stares at them for a few seconds, watches their minute chests.
The assimilation of her predicament is interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. There’s giggling, erratic steps around the lobby area, followed by sporadic pads on the thin carpets of the stairs. She stills as she hears a `wait there babes’: it is Molly.
`Ammie, you up?’
She sits quietly, the rustle of carpet against cotton on the carpet outside the door.
She sighs as the sound of steps quietens and Molly murmurs `I think she’s gone to work hon’ before more giggles, the small brush of Molly’s door hinge opening then closing.
She lies, quilt up to chin, her chestnut hair and nightie nearly free of the sable-wet induced by the shower. For the past hour, she has lain, staring at the pearl paint-swirls of the ceiling, hands under the thick, sweltering quilts, as if the heat and sweat would melt the little limbs and faces into one, back to the slender, long fingers of yesterday. her mind turns thoughts like hurricanes turn bales.
She turns her head to the side at the photographs on her bedside table: Her first modelling job, her graduation, with Molly outside the house, with Dad… All with her hands visible, either over someone’s shoulder, by her side, or placed beneath her collarbone. Marvellous, long digits, caramel tinged, with a few millimetres of flesh to encase the bones. Nails in curve, protruding half a centimetre beyond the tips. Resplendent gold and silver rings, some jewelled, on varying digits.
She turns her head again to face the ceiling.
Reflection has negated her senses which, over time, have moved to the precipice of discomfort. She is warm. Sweat everywhere. It lacquers the pads of her feet, pricks through the roots of her hair and travels along its length. It saturates her armpits, leaves spectacles around her eyes and renders her face the bulbous end of a cracking thermometer.
This she starts to notice. Amelia kicks hard at the quilt until it slaps onto the carpet beyond bed’s end. She lifts her head from the pillow and shakes her hair sideways.
`Thank you’ says a nearby voice. `It was getting rather hot.’
She looks to the source – down – and sees, lain on side in slight curvature, the baby of her thumb, staring up at her; chartreuse green eyes the size of ball bearings, soft-looking arms whose tiny hands meet at their end, a torso not wider than a rat’s – all these elements canvased by raw-looking skin, mottled by florid blotches.
`Would you mind rinsing me with a splash of water?’
Stiffly, she legs over the bed’s edge, stands and, using her elbows, rotates the tap until an exude of water comes: she washes the infant under the tap before padding it gently with the towel adjacent to the basin. She then returns to the bedroom and sits cross-legged on the floor.
`Thank you.’ The baby rests on its side, on her shin.
`Got a bit sweaty there. Bit bloody too, it certainly aches a bit.’
She returns to the bathroom, stands by the toilet paper holder; she leaves the baby by the roll and it takes a rip from a square. It dabs its wounds as she returns to the bedroom again to sit on the floor. She shuffles on the floor to rest her head against the wall that’s pierced by the frame of the bathroom door.
Xanthic sunlight irradiates the fabric of her lilac curtains. A glance of her left eye to the alarm clock tells her it is 7:32am. She turns back to curtains, eyes squint a little.
`Who are you? Who are they? Why?’
Her front teeth press into her yielding second lip. Tears start to permeate her eyes, she blinks and a drop falls onto her sweaty stomach. The baby lies in her lap-lain palm, staring at its ahead.
`Why are you the only one who…’
`Take a proper look at your hands.’
The entire five on her left hand are dead. Three of them an odd shade of heliotrope in the face from an array of rings around their small necks; the other two, forefinger and thumb, almost decapitated. On the right hand, the ringed fate befell the puce corpses of smallest to index finger, the forefinger’s head guillotined off, lying somewhere beneath the bathroom sink.
Amelia’s neck folds back to rest on the wall; a blink of her eyes releases more tears that assimilate into her perspiration-soaked face.
`Get off me.’
The infant’s eyes open. Its neck hinges to look up at her.
`You can. You got here; you can get off.’
`Where would I go? Besides, I do not know how I got here.’
Amelia looks to the hand; crinkles striate her forehead.
A buzz emits from the bedside table. Someone is calling. After a few rings, she stands and shakeably aligns herself by the bed, uses her left hand to push one of the corpses’ head onto the speaker button of her phone.
The baby curls and rests in the palm.
`Hey babe, what’s going on?’
`Hi… Hi Alfie. Are you okay?’
`I’m fine love. You been for your run yet? It’s eleven.’
Amelia sniffs a melt of mucus that arches down to her top lip; she pushes her left palm into her forehead over scrunched eyes.
`I’m sorry babe.’
`Is everything okay?’
`I’ve been a bit ill. Been trying to recover today.’
She looks down at the infant; infant looks up to her.
`So I haven’t been for my run or to work today. And I don’t think today will happen.’
Silence on the other end. She de-scrunches her eyes to face the iridescence of the curtains.
`I’m really sorry honey.’
`It would have been nice if you’d have told me.’
`I…really need you. Now.’
`I know. I know I promised I would be there for you. I’m sorry. I just can’t. Oh I feel even more terrible now.’
The golden curtains blur.
`I love you Alfie.’
A click. The line is dead.
The infant grins. It stares at the nearby dead and with a tiny palm slaps the cold torso of the forefinger-baby. It looks up to Amelia, her exhausted chest palpates up, down. Its grin loudens, the saliva on its gums glisten in the light that pierces the gaps and cotton of the curtains.
Amelia sits on the bed, leaning against the headboard.
Amelia, who stares at the wheeled desk covered by paperwork, creams and hair products, says nothing.
`Must be tired. Day you’ve had. That phone call did not sound good. Sounded sad didn’t he, sad that you couldn’t come out. Be there for him he said. Is someone he loves ill; is he ill?
She indents her bottom lip with her incisors.
`Sad that you let him down; not first time I imagine either, eh?’
The baby notices her glance to the bedside table.
`Ah, the time. Getting on, the day. Been doing this an awful lot lately haven’t you, not getting up or out? Shame. You are young. Good. Friendly. Should be out! A waste.’
Amelia turns to her left, to the window drapes; outlines of pigeons flap near the pane, coo at passing shapes.
`Nice day it seems, too.’
Her eyes roll around the edges of the fabric.
`I’ve been having a look round your room. Model, right? Decent photos. You enjoyed it didn’t you? Look at your smile in that one!’ It gestures to the bedside table. `Nearly arcs from lips to eyes!’
She turns her chin to rest on her right shoulder. She looks through the bathroom doorway and sees a small head preceded by skids of blood on the puddled tiles.
`So many friends. Beautiful ones. Do they love you? You see them a lot. Go out a lot together…’
The infant lets a chin-resting arm gesture up at the photographs on the bedside. The ones tucked above the ornate mirror on her desk, the ones implicit on the shelf behind the curtain, on the cork board that conceals the corner of the room to her left.
`Wonder how your hands would look now with that sequinned jacket? Reflect and multiply dear! Reflect and multiply.’
She blinks, the bathroom door frame in temporal blur.
`Speaking of friends, Molly knocked on your door again earlier, as you were sleeping. I told her “don’t worry babes, just feel a bit ill, could you leave me for a bit?”’
They face each other. Carmine patches shade her eye sockets, creases line the smile of baby’s mouth.
`Don’t worry dear; I won’t leave you alone.’
It curls up in the centre of her palm, places a curled thumb around its mouth.
Thumb in mouth.
Moonlight bars on the quilt, on Amelia’s closed eyes. The baby quietly sings. There’s a white noise in Amelia’s head of lyrics, both singing and sung:
Amelia, procrastinates all day
Amelia, will double in age soon
Amelia, on whose death-bed they’ll say…
The words float in front of her face, bubble thick, fluorescent. They fragment into droplets that descend as slow rain. She turns her head to face and watch them.
He lies strapped tight to a bed
Your half-arsed help won’t help half-dead…
The droplets land, sheen over her face. She wipes them off with a cuff of her pyjama sleeve. They come back.
Shifting legs quickly to bed side, Amelia stands. The front of her pyjama top imbued. She repeats lines of the song:
Amelia whose past will be
Manifesting quite shortly…
The infant stops singing. Looks up at her.
Amelia will now go to this past
Pick a tool, perhaps an axe…
The baby, a shard of shine in the eyes, smiles gently. Its eyes start to soak. It puts its thumb around its mouth.
`Do I have to be a baby now? Do I? Do you really want to hurt a little baby?’ It grins, indicates with free hand towards the corpses. `Want to kill another little goo-gaa?’
Its tiny fist clenches, the thumb protrudes, slips into the microscopic purse of its cerise lips. Tears start to stroll the curves of its orange-pip cheeks.
Amelia looks down to it, tiny, curled in palm. Sobs emit from its mouth, first quiet, then burgeoning to shrieks.
`Shut up. Please.’
Wet percolates her cheeks, pads of tears drop onto the carpet near her feet. Its tiny eyes are scrunched like minute peach stones. Amelia feels a heat that pricks her skin and throbs in her forehead. Her eyes start to push hard through their sockets. The baby sounds as if it will sob itself to dehydration. Her palm is wet; its tears puddle then fall through the gaps between corpses.
She staggers to the radiator on the left, just beneath the curtains.
From outside Amelia’s door a large clang is heard; a small scream assimilated by a bigger one which Molly hears from the kitchen below. She drops the vegetable knife on the chopping board: `Amelia! Amelia what’s the matter?’ She jolts up the staircase.
The noises subside as she reaches the top stair; silence as she runs to fling Amelia’s bedroom door open.
Richy Campbell writes poems, fiction and music and attempts to blog at richycampbell.tumblr.com, in addition to editing Fade poetry journal. Angela Carter, Jane Hirshfield and Luke Sutherland are most beloved. Richy lives and works in Manchester and has recently had poems published in The Cadaverine and the Human Rights Consortium anthology In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights.
–Art by Dia Takácsová
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