The Devil

A woman struggles with her new role of mother.

Last night’s food scraps are in an old yoghurt container by the sink. You glance at its remnants: potato peel, carrot ends, and the fat of lamb chops marked with pink ink. You used to enjoy cooking, but Sam prepares the meals now.

It feels laborious, picking up the container, moving. You turn on the tap to wash your hands and the running water takes you back to that showerhead, wrapped in foam. Your memories are like dirty fingerprints on a glass. Vague and patchy. You can only make them out in certain lights and sometimes you can’t see them at all.

You open the backdoor, trying not to bang the metal edge against the doorframe. Jack is asleep. Finally. The grass is wet, darkening the edges of your ugg boots. The kid next door is jumping on the trampoline while his friend watches. He stops when he hears you and lays down flat and still. You have been ignoring the neighbours since you got back. Often the boy Andrew runs inside, as though you might hurt him.

The chickens are waiting for you. You open the coop and they rush out. You throw a handful of scraps towards them. It splatters on the grass like vomit. Your old self is creeping back. You and the chickens and the backyard and the sun on your face. Your mind returns to that showerhead. Those taps. They looked ugly, wrapped in yellow foam and gaffer tape. What did they expect you to do with the hard metal edges?

The chickens form a ruck, squawking, pushing each other out of the way, and pecking at the scraps. You walk around to the side of the coop and lift the henhouse door. There are three eggs. You look at your four chickens. You sigh. Poor chook, she who has stopped laying. You feel heavy as you rest the yoghurt container on top of the coop.

Maybe the padding was for the man who banged his head into the wall. Standing and methodically banging his head against the doorframe. Bang, bang, bang. When the nurse walked past, she stopped him, but when she left again, he would restart. It was fucking depressing. They needed more nurses.

You make a pouch in your t-shirt to place the eggs. The shirt, which belongs to Sam, must be at least ten years old. It’s so faded you can only just make out the word ‘Stussy’ across its front. It belongs to a past where Sam cared about brands and pretended to be part of surf culture, despite living two hundred kilometres west of the coast. You often wear Sam’s clothes now, which fit better across your fat waist and hips.

You grip your shirt pouch with one hand and take the yoghurt container with the other. You are running out of energy, so you pour the remaining scraps out near the chickens. You walk back towards the house. The kids next door are at a gap in the fence, where a paling has fallen down. Their faces, close together, are red and damp from jumping. The friend nudges Andrew, who takes a long breath.

‘Mum says you saw the devil,’ he says.

Your body becomes stiff. You are collecting your story from fragments given to you by other people. You look at Andrew, at his 10-year old eyes. You see the padded showerhead, the padded taps. It was not you in that place. It was someone else, another made-up version of you, a shadow of you.

The boys are still and serious, waiting for your response. A dare, no doubt. I dare you to say this to the crazy lady.

‘Yes.’ Your voice is low and slow. Your thoughts sluggish, your tongue heavy.

‘What did he look like?’ says the friend.

‘I only heard his voice,’ you say.

You can feel the boys’ energy pushing towards you. They want more words to toy over later, to report back to their friends, to their parents.

‘Did you try to hurt your baby?’ Andrew says.

You frown and walk back inside. It’s cold in the shade of the house. You take the eggs out of your t-shirt one by one and place them on the bench. You pick one up and use a tea towel to remove the dirt and dried grass. Then you notice Jack is crying. Jack. You forgot about him momentarily and you wonder how long he has been crying.

***

 

 

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