Fly low or die
I wake up cold again, shivering to the point of freezing, and my back is all wet from my sweat. I was dreaming I was lying down in the woods, punching the ground with my hands. I had two hands and now I’m awake in bed and I’m only one handed and I feel so left out. For a second I’ve been cheated and then I realize that I can call Dad for help.
He comes so fast it’s as if he’s been awake all this time. He doesn’t say much, just checks to see if I have a fever and if everything is in its place. Check check check ok. She’s still alive. Then he tries to lie down in bed with me. I hear Coal coming up the stairs out of curiosity. I scoot over to give Dad some room but he’s still lying with half of his body on the bed. The other half is leaning off the bed with one leg resting against the floor. I crawl up into his armpit and place my head on his chest. He smells like freshly cut grass or home. His heart is trying to slow down. As a girl I still believe it will never stop.
He takes my stump for an arm in his hand. I don’t like him touching it but I let him. I think maybe we can pretend it is something else, like a piece of wood, a simple log that we can conjure back into life. So he strokes it with his fingertips as if the nightmare was in my arm and it will flee by his touch. I pretend that I have fallen back asleep so I don’t have to resist him touching it.
The woods outside is stirring, making muddled noises. It must be dawn.
Dad can tell that I haven’t retreated back to sleep and stays longer. Coal is on a carpet in the middle of the room with his eyes closed.
I’m drained. I’m in the tent where soldiers clean their wounds and rest for the next day’s battle, but I’m already fed up with fighting.
I can’t believe she came for this. I hadn’t seen her in weeks and now it was awkward to have her here. Dad must have been up to this. We moved so ceremoniously in the garden and thought of how to say goodbye to something that had been dead even before it had fallen to the ground. It was Dad who did the digging. Coal stood by, jealous and eager to know what was going on. Bones? Are we looking for bones, sir? No, Coal, calm down, we’re just burying my hand.
Dad didn’t have to dig very deep. I was standing behind him, dressed in black for dramatic effect. She was standing one step behind me with garden flowers in her hand. It was clear she was trying to please us. I was holding a shoebox that said Ida’s on top. Inside were letters that I knew would disappear with time.
It was nice of the hospital to let us keep the hand. Dad had asked about it and I although I never saw it unwrapped, I trusted him that the uneven container he brought home was mine. It could just as well have been a cat’s paw or a cow’s tongue. It didn’t matter, we just needed to bury what we grieved and missed.
Only Dad spoke once we were done Well, there’s that, he said and squeezed my shoulder. I held my stump like a cradling baby. My mother dropped the garden flowers on the ground.
She didn’t touch any body parts.
We buried the hand together as a family. It was the last time the four of us would do anything together. I thought that before when she would come once a week to take another bag of her things, that these were rare occasions, but after the funeral, I only got letters and they arrived at broken times. I walked back upstairs to my room once we were done and Coal moseyed along with me. I heard the two of them talking in the hallway. It wasn’t clear if my Dad was trying to convince her to stay but it was obvious that she had already decided to go.
Today I woke up and I was mad at her. I was also angry with myself for being so mad and that added to the madness. It led me to go out into the woods.
I left the house and didn’t care if Dad would wake up to the noise of the door shutting behind me. I told Coal to stay.
The air outside was crisp. I was barefoot in my nightgown. All of the twigs and stones that pointed upwards hurt my feet but I left the pain alone.
I walked in a straight line toward the woods and it would be up to the trees to move if they were in my way. I wasn’t going to budge.
With determined steps I must have looked pretty silly since I was tripping all over the place.
But I didn’t want to let myself fall to my knees. I was covered in dirt. The dew made the edges of my nightgown wet and my ankles shivered. My cheeks were wet with salt.
When you’re angry it really means that you are crazy. There’s an animal on the loose.
I was walking so fast but I couldn’t remember where I wanted to go. Twigs were scratching my arms as if they wanted to keep me from starting a fight with someone. The woods always seem to know more than you do.
My mouth exhaled hate, my feet stomped hate, my stump reluctantly followed behind with worried hate. And then I fell on my face.
I started slapping the ground, left-right, with my stump. My knees were sinking into the mossy ground.
What did I know about hate? I was only fifteen.
Ida, what the hell are you doing? Dad comes running in his pj’s and rubber boots. He gets down on his knees and gets dirty straight away. I’m beating the ground but I was too tired to explain.
Mucky leaves were stuck to my arms and legs. My stump was all black and smudged from the damp dirt. Twigs had pulled and got caught in my hair. I could imagine tomorrow’s bruises on my knees.
Don’t do this, Ida. Not here. C’mon let’s go back to the house.
I start hiccupping because I’m so upset.
He pushes my hair to the side and takes me by the arm to get me back to standing up straight.
We didn’t say much else once we got back inside. He ran hot water in the bathtub and made a bowl of porridge for me. I ate it in the bathtub and I almost fell asleep. When the water got all muddy and lukewarm I climbed out like a spider dropped in the sink.
Dad came to tuck me into bed. He pulled out one of two twigs that were stubbornly still stuck in my hair. Even when we were sitting so close we didn’t talk. And then he let me fall back asleep.
When it happened it happened in such a way you knew that it couldn’t be changed back again.
This wasn’t a stain you could rub off or a hole you could stitch together.
It wasn’t about how deep the cut went but how straight it had separated me from a part of me.
Coal was licking my face when I woke up. A machine was running in the background. The sky felt vast. An airplane was flying just below the clouds. I was here on the ground. At first I thought I couldn’t move but as I was waking up I saw that it was the pain that was keeping me down.
The second time I woke up I was in the hospital with Dad by my side. As soon as I had opened my eyes he was calling over nurses and my mother. All of a sudden people were looking at me as if they expected me to perform a miracle but I didn’t know why they looked so worried.
Dad was on my left side, holding my hand. My mother was on the right but she wasn’t holding my hand. She was just sitting and staring at me. Her hands were hiding between her thighs. I reached out to touch her but I couldn’t get very far. A bundle of bandages was all I saw but I believed my fingers enveloped her hand and my grip was resting on her knee.
I cried out like an animal and everyone leaned in closer. My mother retreated into the background like something coming from shadows. This was the day she let go of her title, mother. Somewhere in the sky an airplane was trying not to fly too low.
The woods are like nothing else. It doesn’t need a name like a person and it doesn’t need to know where it starts or where it ends. It knows what sacrifice is because of the things that fall and continue to fall because it has no other choice. The only comfort is that it will merge with the soil one day.
Sometimes the woods rattle like kids talking behind your back. You have to approach one closely to see an individual. And that tree looks like the next. It’s funny how they are nothing alone, but together they are so strong, like siblings.
You can never walk silently in the woods and still you think there’s nothing quieter than being right in the middle of it. The tree trunks would guard you like a big brother. They never ask any questions. They lose body parts all the time.
Szilvia Molnar is 29, lives in Brooklyn, and works at a literary agency. Her writing has been published in “Little Brother” and “Butterfly Knives and Sea Salt,” and her artwork has been published in “Girls Get Busy,” “Flavorwire,” “Jezebel” and “Icon – El Pais”. They are also collected here: szilmolnar.tumblr.com