I haven’t been writing at all lately (zero time, zero inclination) and have noticed this has turned me into a complete cow. So I went to Neros and whizzed myself up on those nice dark chocolate espresso balls and have managed to do some of that thing that makes me feel a little bit more myself. Can feel my shoulders unlatch a little and my brain align. Deep breath. It’s still not particularly joined up but suits the work I think (I hope). The novel goes back and forth in time and points of view, between Clare and David.
Finding Muna (extract)
‘I love that rainbow!’
Sometimes Muna could be effervescent too.
I thought of these times like the title of a storybook: Muna and her Mother.
‘I love that earring!’
And bend down to pick it up, or to stroke the oil that had made the rainbow in the road. Always me wenching her up and down, closer when she stretched away. Even before Ernest Burrows and his notebook, the dizzying calendar of times and notes and sketches of our child in dynamic action. As if she was always trying to leave me.
‘I do not want to wear that sparkly dress! I have better sparkly dresses. Do not make me wear the blue sparkle!’
I would chase her, naked, thundering downstairs, to the backdoor, wrest her off the handle.
David would call down, hand over a work phone call before he even set out on the day to go-and-be-important. ‘Sweetheart, you know how beautiful daddy thinks you look in the blue dress.’
I would wonder how it had ended up like this, me the Oxford-educated parent, David: 42, Tyneside College, HNC Building Studies.
‘Mummy,’ Muna drawled from the back door. ‘Can you go and get my O-ber-jeen coat and my O-ber-jeen scarf with the yellow ducks?’
We’d go to a café in the day and she’d inform me about what she was colouring, why, how it represented (not her word) the songs we were learning that week on the piano. A strong coffee for me, some garlic bread for Muna.
‘That’s lovely, sweetheart.’
She’d shake her head. ‘It doesn’t look like the music, mummy.’
I’d watch her, my curious girl, and fall in love.
Once, when I went to pay I turned back and she was stood at a deaf man’s table, leaning against the edge, one hand on her hip. ‘Well I’m off this week,’ I could hear her saying. ‘School has been very hard, sometimes enough is enough isn’t it?’
The disquiet sat in my stomach. Where does a four year old hear something like that. A teacher? Had David said it? Was he talking about me?
She sang the whole way home. I told her she could choose whether she held my hand over the field we walked or not, if she would stop singing. She narrowed her eyes and I watched the cogs turn in her brain, the melody stuck in her throat for a beat, and carried on singing.
‘I love that doggy!’
‘Yes, Muna, it’s a lovely doggy.’
I suppose it was when I started saying things like ‘lovely’ in my messages. Hope you had a lovely day. Have eaten a lovely meal in the Wheatsheaf in Corbridge. Lemon meringue. Lovely. You’d love the church I had to visit today – it was lovely. We should go sometime? And not, I so want to fuck you. Where the fuck are you and why is that not in my fucking bed?!! Magnets. The lovely-thing happened, not over sex or owt, but on one particular trip. I can’t remember where. I don’t remember how to date anyway, so all we’d had is a collection of nights, pushy and passionate, and surfaced craving fresh air, strapped on walking boots and gloves and all that. Some good routes up around Hexham.
The squish and thump of my baby’s heartbeat, the tick of her pulse in the hot skin of her forehead against mine in the night, how I imagined her heart racing when Ernest Burrows would not let her go. I was not there to warm circles on her back, to soften her tension, to ease taut limbs. There, there, baby. It’s okay, don’t be afraid, mummy’s here.
Before Muna, David quashed flies between his palms. Clap! Mr Miyogi. Daniel-San. Etc etc. Though he wasn’t remotely dexterous enough for chopsticks. The man who, when we were first meeting – just a drink just a drink – would say, fuck it, let’s take off and see where the road takes us. Got your passport, lass? He should have been Christoper Columbus. No, he should have been Leif Erikson, the Icelandic explorer purported to have landed in North America long before his Italian counterpart. My Viking. With all his straight bloody angles and man shrugs and sexiness. The shrugs at my worries over small things – my difficult students – kid’s a bastard, get rid. But his mother would be so disappointed, I’d say. Shrug. David who made my fingers catch my throat when he’d kick a snail off the path. Shake spiders out the bathroom window for me, because I used to be daft about these things. Even before Muna, I would always think of its legs sprawling, its silk trying to catch. It would have seconds, if that.
Even when Muna was born, David’s luggage for our holidays was always just a backpack. And, of course, it would have everything he required (the he being the point here, an attribute I’d accepted long ago. If I was honest, it was a strength of self, an independence that I’d admired anyway.
After Muna, David flung the front door open one day, my day off, no students. A few weeks ago, he’d decided we needed a pond and when he would get in after his long days, he’d change his boots and clothes to similar boots and clothes and disappear until dark and the last of my students had been collected. ‘Clare!’
I rushed to the stairs, stomach tight. ‘What?’
‘There’s a bee in the garage!’
I narrowed my eyes. I couldn’t see, but could feel him waiting. The door slamming (my demonstrated uselessness). I’d crept down and hovered, to watch. It was spitting. I could smell the earth – petrichor it’s called – David had told me this. I’m embarrassed that I remember when, exactly. What are his memories of me? How are they laid out? Does he walk through them as I do?
Petrichor. When rain hits soil.
‘You could leave it?’
Blood of the Gods (ichor).
When it rains, you smell blood, David had said, on one of our trips. The window creaked as he unwound it, a manual tick.
It had been raining, soft and summery, blurring the windscreen and the view of the fields, iridescent gold and green. The air tacky on my bare shoulders. A need for him cinched my body. I gritted my teeth. I slipped onto his lap.
‘You could just leave it,’ I say now.
He turned to me, as I blinked through quiet rain, this man who quashed flies and kicked snails and liked his steak sky fucking blue if you will, love. ‘But it’ll die.’
I rolled my lips together. I took a deep breath. Ventured into his space and dithered near tools and things greasy with the scent of oil. I picked up a bucket with cigarette butts in that I didn’t comment on. Wafted the bucket after the bee. Watched it, heavy-bottomed, struggle out below the door and up to sky.
David nodded and turned his back. I wanted to apply myself to him, rest my cheek against his back and feel the heat of skin through cotton. For his chest to tighten and slacken against my arms, buckled around him. And I would whisper, I’m sorry, but I’ve got this. I’ve got you.
‘Should I know?’
He swore and something metal clattered against metal. I still loved his voice, whatever he said. The timbre of it. I wanted him to say nice things to me. You’re beautiful. It’s not your fault. Of course I still love you.
I hadn’t conceived, really, perhaps in light of everything we’d gone through, that there could be an end point. Where one of us said, enough is enough.
A good while after he’d left me, I was in the bathroom cleaning the windows. I watched a spider fingering the window with its legs. It could fall off, I thought. I stretched and it found my thumb, ticking up and onto the back of my hand. I brought it inside, let it find its way onto the tiles. Let it have some purchase. I put my chin on my fists (potato potato) and watched. It’s raining. I cannot smell blood.