Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Honorable Mention — Bleeding Heart

By Veronika Opatřilová 

Those on the margin of the society are the only ones truly conscious. This is a tale about one of them.

When the silence ruins the world I can hear Her breathing. Thats how I know they havent killed Her yet. They’ve hurt Her, they did, Shes bleeding, Shes weakened, but Shes alive. Her breath. Its weak, but I am trembling when She breathes in. She still has enough power. This is not the end. Far from it.

Yesterday evening Mugwort yet again sent his daughter to Shanklin. In that backpack on her back she carries wooden houses made from driftwood. These sell well. Tourists purchase hundreds of them during the summer months as a memento of their holiday on the island. In that small shop on the Esplanade theyre exhibited on a windowsill. Local artist, says the handwritten label in front of them. Made from authentic driftwood. A genuine piece of art.
Mugwort collects the driftwood every day when the tide is low. He has his own bay, just a stone’s throw from the Steephill Cove. Engrossed in skimming the beach, hour by hour, hunched underneath the sky, hes looking for his treasures. His daughter accompanies him, at times, but not looking for driftwood, shes hunting for pebbles. Afterwards, she exposes them on the windowsill in her room. Once the sunbeams hit them, they create glints on the walls.
Yesterday evening she once again went to Shanklin. With a backpack filled with driftwood transformed into miniatures of our village. I saw her after lunch when she set off from Steephill Cove up the hill towards the cliffs. She thinks nobodys watching her but I see her.
I know she doesn’t walk solely to Shanklin.
She pauses up the hill in the church of Bonchurch. She smells the daffodils on the graves that no one visit any longer and then she walks inside. Why? Is she searching for silence there, silence she cannot find outside on the fresh air? Mostly she just observes the commemorative plaque above the entrance. She mutters it in undertone over and over again. Maybe she believes she was that Helene, beloved daughter and sister. Maybe she imagines her own commemorative plaque. I dont know. She stands there for a long, long time and does absolutely nothing.
The silence that she hears in the church of Bonchurch, that’s the kind of silence in which she could hear Her breathing.
If she only listened.
I want to make her listen.

Neither Mugwort nor his wife know that their daughter stops there and that on her way back from Shanklin she doesn’t head straight home. She stands on the cliff and gaze at the sunset. The walk should not take more than two hours, yet she leaves Steephill Cove for the whole afternoon and doesn’t arrive until darkness. As if they didn’t know about it.
What does she see in that sunset? It doesn’t interest me. What matters to me is that she stops to look at it.

What matters to me is that she and Will, the boy from the red wooden house wander through the woods. I see them when they think that nobody knows about them. They take off their clothes, stack them into a pile and put them on the bottom of a little cave between the moist moss, the entrance is hidden behind the crawling branches of bramble. They smear themselves with the mud from the trampled pathways that cross the wood. They do it every summer, as far as I can remember. They run naked through the woods, hidden behind the layers of mud.
They do it because downhill from the cliff tops, where the parking place is, summer visitors descend into Steephill Cove. They long to see the intact landscape, they long to enjoy the moments of undisturbed peace, they long to disconnect for a little while.
Mugwort’s daughter and Will, the boy from the red wooden house, they don’t want them here. The summer tourists. Their false longing for the nature. That’s why they scare them off with their screaming, the way they look. They lead them from the paths. I can hear their gurgling happiness, I feel the force of their youth, their desire for freedom. She and that boy from the red house, they run from their shelters, they wave their hands above their heads, from their throats, they throw themselves on those coming from above from their cars, they ambush them, they hinder them from their “few days in the last paradise on earth” they paid for.
Those summer visitors, the escape. Terrified. Out of the woods. Gone and back to their safe lives, insured cars, separated from the nature.

Mugwort and his wife don’t know about this either.

I hear Her gasping, early before sunrise, when the world is the quietest. When everyone in Stephill Cove sleeps. I feel Shes resting. She is hurt, but not defeated. That Mugworts daughter, she might be able to hear Her too. She might.

Mugworth has another daughter, too. The second child. Her younger sister. Still a baby. She falls and gets up on the pebble beach when she runs to catch a wave. She scratches her knees but she doesn’t cry. She gets up and runs again. Determined. She notices me, looks at me and waves. Then her mother picks her up into her arms and carries her further away from the sea and from me. They say to her, Agrimony, don’t look at her, don’t you ever dare to stay alone with her, they say, Agrimony look instead what a fish your mum caught.
She tells her stories, to her little baby sister. I hear their tin voices through the wall of their house. Under the island there is a dragon sleeping, she tells her. Her head, she narrates, is on the eastern part of the island, her tail is on the west. I like that story of hers.
Where is her heart? Asks Agrimony into the silence of their room.
Somewhere beyond the woods. Beyond the woods above Steephill Cove.

When I come to her, she is startled. She turns away abruptly; she steps towards the steep cliff edge.
Psst…. I whisper and stretch my arms in front of me. “I won’t tell anyone.” There’s fear in her eyes. Surprise. She flinches again. I don’t want her to die, I want her to hear Her.
“Ash,” she says. “You should not be here.”
I began to laugh.
Now I look at the sunset behind her silhouette, not at her. She´s about to step aside, towards the path. Shes trying to escape. Escape from me. But she doesn’t need to be scared of me. She should be scared of them. Of those who walk along the cliff and don’t look at the sunset. Of those who buy the miniature houses her father carves from the driftwood and paints them in white and blue. She should be scared of those who cant hear Her breathing.
“I will read cards for you,” I say and reach into my pocket.
“Ah, you know you shouldn’t.” She says in a conciliatory way. As if she was talking to a small child. Or to a fool.
Because I show things they dont want to see. I tell the truth. I hold the mirror to them and they don’t like what they see in it, that´s why I shouldn’t read cards. I shouldn’t live at all. I don’t fit into their story.
“I will read cards for you Kite,” I say. She follows my every move, nervously. “Sit down,” I command her. She sits on the ground.
Underneath us the sea is calmly roaring, the twilight is disappearing from the horizon. The wind in the woods behind us is passing through the first leaves that appeared in the spring. Soon Kite and Will, the boy from the red house will set for the woods for their hunt.   
I draw out the first card. I want to show her where she is right now in this moment of her life. Afterwards, where is she heading. What should be done in order to get where she wants to be. And what will happen if she doesn’t do it.
Then I will show her what I see. She doesn’t pull back when I place the palm of my hand on her forehead. Everything is energy, you and me. She closes her eyes. Listen, I whisper. And she listens.
I choose you because you take a detour to the church of Bonchurch and with your fingertips you caress the heads of the daffodils.
I choose you because you stand on the cliff edge for a long time and watch the sunset.
I choose you because you tell your baby sister stories. Because you can hear stories.
You feel the rhythm of the earth when you run with Will naked. You know why you do it.
She shakes her head.
You do it because they dominate Her. Destroy Her. Pollute Her. Because Shes wounded, but there is still hope, Shes not defeated yet. They take what doesn’t belong to them, they exploit Her and don’t give anything back. You can feel Her pain, thats the reason why you look at the sunset, or am I mistaken?
Kite is shaking.
Maybe she hasn’t known it until now. Maybe I am the first one who told her.
When the silence is complete, I can hear Her breathing. Maybe you can hear Her too.
She starts to cry. She sits on the cold ground between the greenish bunches of grass surrounded by gorse and shes crying.

Mugworts daughter Kite. She yet again walks uphill the beaten path alongside the sea, up the cliff, yet again she walks to Shanklin. In her backpack, wrapped into newspaper, she carries tiny miniatures of her home, carved from the driftwood. Coloured with blue and white. Rusty nails instead of chimneys.
Shes on her way. On the seawall, showered by drops of salty water. The waves crash with ferocious strength into the concrete, shes zigzagging between the splashes of the cold water and up the narrow steps past the stone house, even higher, as far up as the church lies.
I follow her from distance.

Today she stops by the stone arch of the gate. She doesn’t go further. She looks at the gravestones and the sea of yellow daffodils, but she doesn’t enter. Today she doesn’t want to read the commemorative plaque that belongs to Helene, to the beloved daughter and sister, instead she continues walking through the arch of thorny bushes. She walks to Shanklin.

I am waiting for her in the church of Bonchurch, I am waiting for her to come back.

Over there she walks, Mugwort’s daughter, back from Shanklin where she goes to sell the memories from her island. That’s what her father does for a living. That’s how her family lives in Steephill Cove, in our bay between the limestone cliffs, beyond the beech woods covered with the creepers of ivy.
The sunset falls by the seashore. I can see Kite when she lies on the ground. She´s lying on her belly with her ear glued to the earth.
She obeyed me. She waits to see if she hears Her. The earth she loves. The earth, her mother. The one that created her. Her life energy. She listens to Her whispers. She needs to hear that it’s worth fighting. That it’s worth covering her body with mud, digging her fingers into the clay, feel Her strength. She wants to hear her own heart beating in the rhythm of all the cycles from which she herself is created.

I leave them alone.

On the southern part of the island lies a bay. Steephill Cove is its name. Just a handful of houses, five families, fishing boats, pebble beach and one white lighthouse. There lives a family. The mother does the fishing, the father makes little houses from driftwood. Their eldest daughter is Kite. When she arrives, I am sorting out the pebbles on the beach, it’s low tide. I have one carnelian, red and polished by the sea movements.
One carnelian and one yellow tiny Citrine gemstone. Inside it there’s a yellow sunshine, caught forever.
I know what she came to tell me.
Pebbles I don’t like, I am throwing far to the bottom of the sea. They are waiting there for the high tide to come. I do the same, wait for the high tide. I am humming my melody, I say Psst, when she stands behind me, her shadow is stretching across my stones, she’s overshadowing my sun.
I have a red carnelian for her, it caught my eyes when it sparkled in the sun.

I know what Kite came to tell me. She heard Her.

When the complete silence fell upon the world, she heard Her breathing. It’s not late. They weakened Her. They wounded Her. But they didn’t defeat Her. They didn’t respect Her, they take what she didn’t give them and they didn’t give anything back. They didn’t thank Her, they simply wanted more. She is tired. But She’s furious. She’s angry. She still has so much strength. She’s waiting for Her chance. I am not the only one who can hear Her.

Kite is waiting. She plays with the foldings of her skirt. They are looking at us. Her mother, Will, his father, they’re looking at Kite, who came to me. They used to tell her, Kite, look at those lovely pebbles instead, don’t talk to her, Kite, don’t you ever stay alone with her.
She’s a witch.

I know what she came to tell me.
„You listened,“ I say.
Mugworth’s daughter, she’s crying.
Suddenly, the fear is taking hold of me. What is it what she heard? What is it that I can’t hear anymore?

„Her heart is breaking,“ she simply says.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Arundhati Roy

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