“Am I beautiful?”
Sun is talking to me after too long quiet: staring down with her single nonchalant eye, humming fuzzy discord, occasional spluttering when odd smoke-dragon from chimney stack interrupts her staring... it is good it is good it is good to hear her voice again and I smile wide. I answer her question by beaming back at her, a staring idiot man-mirror.
“Stop smiling. You look like an idiot.”
I obey; she gets back to humming. I pick out a rhythm with the mattock hoe, turning the static hiss of her dumb utterances into music. Pick end digs hard, dry ground- I hear dull, blunt thud. Small stones and dust fly skyward- comedown earthward like hot rain on a tin roof. Pick comes back across the ground- is a scratch on dry metal, a rasp, a washboard. Again I strike. The thud, the rain, the scratch. I modify the tempo, sun’s drone intensifies. I break the earth: beads of sweat on my forehead weep for the dry ground, making more music. They are harp-strung arpeggios and high-pitched glockenspiels. Filling my atrophied lungs with hot, dry air I tense my diaphragm, and issue a long, low note. It is an F.
The sun’s voice meets me an octave lower. We have a shared purpose. Music has demarcated a patch of common ground upon which the two of us can sit comfortably, side by side. We are two old friends, two lovers: a sister and a brother. Her low rumbling descant is joined by a sweet, long high note, pitched at the interval of a major sixth. It soars above the bass tone, slides to the fifth, and up to the sixth again, oscillating between the two notes on every second mattock strike. Encouraged by this simple melody the sun lets her bass-drone crawl to the second interval at the turnaround of every fourth bar. Our song triggers a buried memory- as music is want to do- and I recollect the lyrics of a simple song that once we sang in a summer not so uncompromising, years ago.
You can’t see me in the sunshine
‘coz I am the colour of the sunshine
...i am a yellow fly...
...i am a yellow fly...
I remember a beautiful day. The hum of the sun was not so abrasive, a quieter noise lurking on the periphery of hearing, felt through skin and seen with eyes. Between comfortable silences lurked quick sharp words and laughter, or else drawn out narratives, all happy and bland. Friends whose names escape me, distant figures now, flitted behind the curtain of my closed eyes. One voice rose above the others. It belonged to Sarah. She was singing
I am a yellow fly,
I am a yellow fly...
You cannot see me in the sunshine...
‘coz I am the colour of the sunshine...
I recall picking out that same simple melody of sun on a nylon strung guitar. It had been left outside a charity shop downstairs by some thoughtful/thoughtless individual and Sarah had brought it out with her onto the roof terrace.
I am a yellow fly...
Sarah stopped. I strummed an A major 7, and there was a brief pause. Everybody clapped and Sarah was looking at me: all beautiful wide mouth and wide eyes. A hand patted my shoulder and I turned to receive kind words from some now forgotten companion. I felt Sarah’s hot breath on the back of my neck, before she did something I thought peculiar. She put her arms over my shoulders and kissed the back of my head. It was strange because I had never thought much of that insensitive lump, that part of my body only acknowledged when inadvertently caught on a mantel piece or table corner... she kissed me there and that was when we fell in love.
Seems funny to think of Sarah now. I have tried to bury her, tried to hide that wide mouth, those wide eye whose colour I can’t now recall. I have buried them in dark earth and dust, buried the past with the present.
The sun has stopped singing. Like a broken record she is caught at the interchange between the root note and the second interval, the high melody has halted. Instead I can just make out an angry staccato, gradually rising in amplitude, accompanied by a new percussion instrument. It is a marching drum: trip-trap, trip-trap, trip-trap, louder and faster. My own drum track has faltered, the mattock hangs pathetically at my side. It is not funny to think of Sarah, it is dangerous.
The staccato is right behind me. Suddenly I remember the stairs and the bicycle. I shudder as it builds to a crescendo. A thud and a blunt pain in my back and suddenly I have the disorientating sensation of being pushed and pulled in opposite directions. My consciousness is being dragged too quickly from the depths of memory; my body collapses in on itself. I am unable to sustain its own weight. I am aware of my weakness. I am aware of my dry throat. I am aware of my taut, blistered skin. In the broken ground where I have attempted to bury my memories I have unearthed more recent, rawer experiences. Like striking a water main, it bursts suddenly and violently and drenches everything that it touches. It does not bring relief, it is no balm for my wounds. It is pain. It is the memory of the oubliette, the smiling interrogator, the incomprehensible foreign tongues and all too easily understood rifle butts. And the bicycle and the stairs.
I had not slept in for several days. They saw to that. I had eaten nothing but rancid bread and the occasional locust. The smiling interrogator was sat opposite me, gently toying with a glass of water. All I had to do, he said, was put the bicycle at the top of the stairs.
“Then you can have some water “
But the stairs and the bicycle were beyond my reach. The interrogator was holding a photograph of a bicycle at the bottom of a staircase. And that was when I broke.
The sun is talking to me. She is not asking me if she is beautiful. I do not understand her anymore. I think she wants me to climb out of the pit I have been digging. The sun is shining on the face of a young soldier. His mouth is not beautiful and wide: his narrow lips are pursed in a hateful pout. His eyes are not full of love: they are squinting in the light, at once angry and afraid. But when he signals me to turn around, I do so.
The shot is a kiss on the back of my head. I fall face first into my memories, back into Sarah’s arms.