High Water

 

by Ali Millar

 

It rains and the rain thinks of becoming snow. You shiver and wait for the school bell to ring, for your son to be released from the jaws of learning, of aspiration, of the teachers tirelessly trying to teach him to say app-le and not ap-el as he does now, and this imprint of the way his voice is wrong to them will stay with him for how long, you try to make yourself not wonder as the biting cold blues your fingers and you wrap your coat tighter round yourself and smile nervously at the other women in the playground who are not you.  

It’s been a week since the sun last broke the clouds; it does not get light here, there is only the lowering grey not punctuated by street lights, by shop windows to wander by on the way home; there is only this hamlet, a small collection of buildings to run past before bundling son in his unzipped coat into the car, where the windscreen wipers are thinking of resigning too worn for the endless onslaught of mud, sleet, salt. 

You hurry home, lay the fire, start on dinner, and are standing in the kitchen when unbidden you remember Hunter S. Thomson, the things from another life of lit corridors, faculty meetings, debates about what it was long dead Frenchmen really had meant, the after work drinks, the things you didn’t know you’d miss because the baby was only going to be a punctuation, you were going back, right, they said to you as your belly swelled and tightened, of course, you said, of course I’ll come back.

But you hadn’t thought to think, and you hadn’t known because how can you know the things they don’t talk about, you hadn’t thought what it meant to go back, the tense contradiction implied in the strange coupling of those two words, going and back, because now you stood there with flour on your hands and the dogs big eyes staring up at you and the plaintive cries from the other room demanding more food and juice and for the channel to be changed and the heating to be put on because the fire wouldn’t catch again; as you stood there you realised you really had gone back, you were in some other time and place, someone else’s dream, but not yours, you’d forgotten what it meant, to dream. The impossible physics of forward and backwards had finally driven you to a halt.

Which is exactly what happened as you stood there thinking, that occupation you’d been led away from by night feeds, morning feeds, all day every day feeds, by the baby’s round fists pummelling into you as if he hoped to dig his way back to the time before where it was warm and soft and you lulled him with your heart beat and he didn’t know you and all the tiny hurts you’d inflict; how you’d not have the right sort of accent for him to learn or the right kind of house or ever be able to match his socks and you’d forget what propulsion and momentum meant and instead find yourself stopped thinking of how you’d only ever gone back and back and back since he was born and was it this your grandmother fought for you wondered, and it was then you remembered why it was you were thinking of Hunter S. Thomson, with his seeing the American Dream was long dead, was a dream to be wakened from and lucky then he didn’t live long enough to see it turn to this nightmare of wall building, of policing women’s insides, of aspirational poverty, of needing to buy ourselves out of this hell hole we were burning in space; with the right kind of eyes he said and you thought then how they’d always tried that line on you, how pretty your eyes are, they said, when all you wanted was to be able to have a conversation, to not be chatteled, reserved, given away; with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke, he said; all these waves, receding, breaking, how much of this progress was a lie, how much of this idea of change was a chimera just to sell something else, some other t-shirt, some other perfume, and meanwhile, there you were, thinking these things, sliding into the mud that surely would be waiting outside the kitchen door when the wood basket needed filled; let’s live off grid he’d said, let’s be the drop in the ocean that makes the change he’d proposed and off you’d gone and it was up every morning for him, up and off on the train and back long after early dusks and so it was and so it is, that this is how it feels to go back, this is how it is, to be stopped.