There are no apples left for picking, only leaves caught up in the sunlight and a slow breeze passing through. Back between my molars sticks a pip that my tongue cannot pry loose no matter the shapes it twists, the times it risks my bite. A sparrow in the branches sings, tells me there are more trees, more apples, but they are behind walls, and gates, and men with bright black guns. They tell people which trees are good, which ones are bad. It doesn’t matter about the apples so much, it’s more about the hands.
They hire him to take up gravestones in old cemetery grounds. Pay him by the hour, to tease out lichen lost names, note them, in neat, thin rows of records only his eyes will read, and murmur each syllable into the fresh split of dark soil before the groundsman comes with his sack of grass seed, already whistling to no one at all.
The fridge stinks again, the thing lolling at the back, sweating, sickly sweet, cling film wrapped and taunting as if to say ‘this is just your desert for peeling me down till we both cried shameless, and you held a knife like a question.’
Cut me off at the ankles or so you said, stood astride my stump, saw grinned. ‘Not so pretty now are we’ either of us. Spent the winter finding my roots, you brought on your hot house girls throwing out the deadheads before they even had chance to wilt. Spring freshened up all that toughening from too many years the same. Found new shoots moving upwards, more bend, less bark to my bite. Summer and I redecorated it all, cloaked myself in colour, announced my presence, my survival. Dared you to try cutting me down again.
Upstairs a door slammed. Then another, and another, until finally the cast iron monstrosity at the top of the stairs shuddered open. ‘Quickly now grab me a jar!’ The jumped the last three steps. Ellsmore jolted awake and darted for the draining board. He fumbled with the jars but turned in time. The surgeon eased his hands over the open mouth and opened them slowly. It thunked against the glass. ‘Real bad ‘un this one,’ said the surgeon and wiped his hands on his trousers. Ellsmore closed the jar. The thing shivered. ‘What is it?’ The surgeon scowled. ‘There are moments caught between heart beats. They make us, us. This one, made a very, very, bad man.’ Ellsmore swallowed thickly. ‘If you cut it out, does that make him a good man?’ ‘Well that depends.’ ‘On what?’ ‘On the moments I didn’t cut out.’ ‘
If I was my mother, and you were a horse, I would not wrap the lead into my fist as we walk the track with their ruined nissan huts patch up by ivy, so we can’t see through the hollow sockets of broken windows to the emptiness inside, always emptiness inside, and always me with a fist of lead to draw you closer to heel in case the emptiness is not what it seems.
Last night I dreamed you real. Felt you within the softness of my belly. Loved you an existence. Broke my heart open, when this dream came loose. Woke to pre-dawn, a sleeping husband, a house just the same, and an ache too close to grief for someone not quite here yet.
I felt the day yawn this evening. Stretch itself a little further, a little longer. Shoulder up against the dusk and edge another moment of space for itself, before slipping back beneath the blankets of shadow beyond the train station. I tell myself it was waiting for me. Finally found a coat warm enough to ward off Winter’s frosty demeanour. Scuffed a booted foot against the concrete pavement, shimmered in the puddles with each sure, step. Can’t be sure if I’ll see the same tomorrow. Crack open the office doors and find night too close for comfort, the space between bare branches weighed out in shadows. Wonder why she left so soon, if she ever turned up the first time. Spring slips in shyly, sets down roots slowly, with care, when you’re not looking.
Caught you, cheeks still glittering with last night’s sand and your head so heavy in my palms that I thought it a moon caught up in my orbit, the rings about us singing that all dreams must end.
Crossed knives are a bad omen in the same way loose chords are an asking moment. Finger to an open flame flesh against a bared blade, split second decisions for splitting. I should not taste the nail head, should not press my tongue to the buckle of its pockmarked tooth, see if there is any bite left in the iron, if it will be the last one in a row. Six feet seems like such a long way to tumble. I would look like a marionette with my tangle of strings about my throat. Heart skittering like a humming bird still trapped inside its cage.