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Anna Goldreich

You lay on the grass for a little too long and it seeped into you and chilled your body. Small pieces of leaf clung to your hair and you felt that you were part of the ground. You had thoughts with your eyes closed and your mouth a little open to taste the air. You clutched at grass with your fingertips. You never worried about the little creatures in the places that you lay, in the leaves and in the mud which you decided to make your own.

You wonder if anyone will ever make you feel as happy as you felt just then in that piece of time. You wonder if it is strange to want to make love to the earth, to be naked in the grasses and feel the way your hairs pick up the dew, to drive your fingers deep into the soil and spread it over your skin, over your face and hair. You come home and your mother eyes your muddy knees and says nothing, and your mother looks at you with crumble-leaf hair and she does a worried face because she thinks you are at a difficult age. She thinks maybe you’ve been doing things you oughtn’t because she once found cigarettes in your knicker drawer but decided not to tell you off. And you know she did find them because one day they just weren’t there anymore.

You were a little thing, you with your knock knees and your unbrushed hair. You were a small bird and your mother did not know what to do. She did not know you. You always used to have your special secrets from her and then daddy wanted to take you but she didn’t let you go. She didn’t let you because he was a bad man and she said ‘what he did was wrong.’ You learned how to be somewhere else and the teachers liked to watch you all the time and you were always, always in the nurse’s office because you fell down a lot and cried. The other children said ‘why does she always cry?’ And that made you cry more. You sat on the floor of the girls’ toilets when you got too tired. You listened to the other children and you pinched the skin of your hands. And sometimes you would pull your hairs from your head and leave the little pieces of you all over the floor. You walked home alone, it was only around the corner and you preferred to have that time to breathe all the air. You would have chips for tea because your mother sometimes came home late from work and you got hungry. You watched the tv and ate the chips because you knew how to do them even though one day you burnt yourself. You watched the blister grow over some days and popped it with the back of one of your mother’s earrings.

Your daddy didn’t come to your birthdays or parents’ evenings, you hadn’t seen him in a time. You think maybe you miss him. Sometimes you’d take the boys to the bottom of the playground where you would kiss them and let them touch your little girl chest. You put their hands on you and said nothing. You grew taller and your knees were less knockity and you became patterned with white spindles from where your skin pulled too tight across your thighs. You went to the next school and you smiled lots at the teachers. These days were days where you felt more wrong. Maybe because you were turning older. Maybe because you had fur growing down there. Maybe because every month your knickers got stained red and you always, always forgot until it happened. One day it went through your PE shorts and onto the bench. Your mother put her arms around you when you told her. You cried a lot because of it. You took the boys to the bottom of this new playground where you would kiss them and let them touch your little girl breasts. You pulled your knickers down and put their hands underfyour skirt.

One of the older boys took your hand one day and you went to the football field behind school. He said nothing much and pulled down his trousers and his pants, you pulled down your knickers and you lay on the ground, this was the most important part. You remember how you dug your fingernails into the earth and pushed your head back into the ground. And it happened. It. And you felt like you were burning from the inside, and you felt like you could cry. Somewhere in the pit of you, there was this feeling, a remember, remember that you tried to forget. You stayed there for some time after and let the grass soothe your skin. You pulled down your knickers for a bath that night, but they were wet and dappled with blood. So you wore them in the bath because they were dirty and because you didn’t want to look at yourself. You felt sick. You didn’t tell your mother but she found the wet knickers scrunched in the bin and her tummy hurt and she didn’t know what to say to you. She used to stroke your head to help you sleep but now you don’t want to be touched by her. You don’t want her to touch you is the truth. This made her want to cry. This made her shrivel up inside. She had not protected the little bird that was you, she thought wasn’t there something more she could do?

Your mother looks at your school uniform and it is always crumpled. She wants to ask you why but she can’t. You want her to shout at you about the cigarettes, you want her to say ‘why did you throw away those knickers?’ You want her to ask why you never invite the other girls round, to ask why you are always muddy, why you do badly in school. But she won’t. Your mother asks you again, again but never asks why not, ‘do you want some friends after school for tea?’ But the girls don’t like you and so you say ‘no’.

The children used to say ‘why does she always cry?’ But now they say ‘stay away because that girl’s gross and that girl goes anywhere with anyone.’ They say ‘don’t let her touch you because she has diseases’ and you say nothing at all. The older girls look at you because their sisters and brothers tell them things. Or they look at you because the older boys tell them things. You look at the clouds and you walk around alone and you never ever cry at school because you don’t feel too sad there anymore. You take walks that last for a long time, and this is where you let your brain think about things. This is where you do not feel so dirty because the dirt from the ground is cleansing. You can let yourself cry here. You let your lickety salt tears water the grass. You feel like you are making something pure.

On a walk, you found this little thing, this baby bird. It fell out of a tree, you thought, it fell out of the nest and its mummy forgot it or she didn’t want it any more. So you took it because why? Because you wanted to own something perfect and pure and beautiful. It was sitting there in the grass doing a fuip fuip fuip when you were walking and you had wanted to get some tree climbing in that day, then you saw the poor thing. It was small and it was fluffy from baby down. Like fur it looked. So you made those hands into a cup, and careful, careful picked it up. And there, you carried it home. You placed it in the fruit bowl so it would be safe from falling off the table. Don’t want it doing any more falling. You did a look around and found the box of tissues next to lamp in the living room. A little cube box. You cut off the top, really gently and kept your eye on the fruit bowl. Just in case. You fruffled up the tissue and made it nesty, made it how you thought the little thing would feel most at home. And then you took it from the fruit and let it go into the tissue nest. You vowed to get moss to make it more homely. It had made a little water-and-brown shit in the fruit bowl, so you washed that away and soaped the apples extra so no one would taste it. Then you took it to your room and decided to call it Martha. You stuck out a pinkie finger, like how some people drink tea, and stroked its little soothing head. The feathers, almost like hairs, reminding you of when you grew all your own hairs in all the places, it was soft and velvet and fine, like the hair of a peach. The sad thing just always doing its fuip fuip fuip. You said ‘what do you want? What should I get you?’ And it just fuip fuip fuiped.

When your mother got home from work you showed it to her and said ‘look at this wonderful thing that I found’. And she looked and she said ‘no, no, you should have left it because the mother bird might have come back and looked after it. Now it smells like people, the mother will not take it back. It will probably die.’ You took it back upstairs, eyes wet with cry because you have ruined something. It needed to be treated like the delicate little thing that it is. You sat on the bed and took it out of the tissue nest, placed it on the pillow next to your head and in your cries you fell asleep.

In the morning you wake up and you remember and look for the bird, it is on the floor by your bed, you put it back in the box, it must have caught a chill you think. You go get it some bread, you chew like the mummy birds do, till it is nice and soft and then you hold the spit to its little beak. It does not move. You open its beak and you push the spit inside. It does not move. You place it in the box again, it must still be asleep.

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