Emily Harrison

Books Can Be A Burden, When She Can No Longer Read

She used to talk to her books as though they were lovers – the printed pages sentient and self-sustaining. I suppose it was the words that talked back. 

I can’t recall the last time she read, let alone spoke aloud to them. The illness has set in like a winter fever, though it’s not nearly as treatable. There’s no known treatment at all. The consultants are cold in their calculations, causing internal commotion. 

She asks me for clarification over sherry she shouldn’t be drinking. I’m going to lose my sight, is that it? I order white wine and pour it myself. I tell her yes. She asks me why

I say I don’t know, because you are, and realise that being her daughter doesn’t mean I am equipped with answers. 

I thought I knew it all when I was sixteen. 

**

Are you ready? 

The mascara she’s attempted to curl onto her lashes has dripped down underneath her eyes, settling in the creases of her skin like ants. I feel sorry only for myself at the display. 

Do I look ready? 

No. 

I couldn’t say why she’s put on mascara. We’re going home. Her current home. My childhood home.

It’s going up for sale – she’s coming to live with me. We’re clearing it of things that mean nothing and things that mean everything. The cost of it all will be more than monetary. 

**

I have to explain each piece – what I’m holding and what I’ve found.  

The kitchen and front room are easily cleared with a quick yes or a solid no. Her bedroom is a labyrinthine museum, and both of us begin to suffer under its archival weight the deeper we delve into the past. When I, in search of reprieve, ask about her books, for they are nowhere to be seen, she tells me she has made plans for them

She has never been a secretive person. The illness is clouding more than her eyes. 

**

We return a week later. She’s been back in the interim, though not with me. She has a day-time carer whilst I work. I don’t trust him. I’m jealous of him too. 

Can you help me into the loft?  

She’s been sat at the dining room table, twirling a purple ribbon she’s plucked from her craft box between her fingers. She loosens the ribbon, flexes her thumb and switches to her left hand, winding it slowly. Over and under. I was sure she couldn’t see me. 

**

It becomes clear, on entry, that this is where her books have been taken to rest. Boxes and boxes of them. I don’t ask for explanation. I help her settle into one the old folding camping chairs that’ve been discarded to the mass of items. 

Leave me alone up here, will you. 

It is not a question. She is curling herself into a combatant crow. I leave her to her former lovers. 

**

The noise is akin to a fox wailing – high pitched and piercing. It travels from the nape of my neck, across the bones of my shoulders and down my vertebrae, blooming out and building to a panic. 

Half an hour has passed since I left her alone. All I’ve done is sit and think of her.  

A distinct thud follows before another wail goes up. It echoes around the house, reverberating off the walls. 

Mum. Mum. Are you alright? I yap like a Yorkshire terrier.

Another thud. Another wail. Each splinter themselves through me. 

I clamber up the ladder to the loft. She is torment as I emerge.    

**

Pages of books are strewn haphazard and chaotic. Some float listless in the air and she is wet with blood that isn’t hers. Humans don’t bleed such rich onyx. 

A collection of book spines are pooled at her knees, the stitching hacked on each. Blood is splattered across the loft in smears and polka dots. The boxes that contain her beloveds are upended everywhere. She wheezes and heaves for another title, eyes utterly alabaster, and with strength kept from me like a vicious secret, secluded to her soul, she grips the head of its spine and rips down over. Blood pours over her hands in a flushed weep. 

Her veins are pronounced and near cerulean, the streams pushing up and out of her skin. 

I do not believe in possession. No. 

She lets the spine drop and flings the detached pages towards me. 

**

There are no remedies when you are unsure of what you’re witnessing. I set my jaw tight and observe; a separate entity to the execrable scene and wait for a laceration.

The chance presents itself as she, doused so wholly in the blood of her books it could be liturgy, reaches for my lost treasure. It must’ve got caught up in her collection. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. A rare first run copy.   

Her body punctures ever so on contact with the cover and the trauma takes a moment to exhale. 

Her skin has recognised what she’s holding. I’m convinced of it. 

Hands and knees to the chipboard that lines the loft, I crawl forward. Around us the murmurs of her dying books distil. 

Mum. 

It wasn’t a question. She takes an age to answer. 

I can’t read them anymore

She talks of burden. To know they exist without me. The brutality is an equal release.  

I didn’t realise they’d hurt this much. She spreads open her stained palms, so sable it’s as though she’s bruised a sea of blackberries. I didn’t realise they’d bleed. Her mouth aches around the words. Aches like she had tentatively tested the waters at the first sign of blindness. 

I don’t know what’s happening to me. 

I don’t say neither do I. I don’t say anything at all. 

Emily uses writing as an escape from reality and doesn’t drink enough water. She can be found on Twitter @emily__harrison, and has had work published with Ellipsis Zine, Storgy, The Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West and Riggwelter Press to name a few.

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