Splayed on the druid’s slab, she sacrificed me to the god of Please-No-More-Banana-Sandwiches. Cathie worked out the staging and chanting. Felt I needed to tell her my actual virginity not up for surrender, you know? A herd of cows gathered round the granite to watch, trapping us for an hour past dinner. She was like that.
Hiding from the rain in a barn, we shrieked as hay bales toppled on a secret. Twelve years old and ought to have suffocated. A farmhand appeared to swear at us. Proper F-word swearing. No tv allowed at her house, Cathie with her vocabulary pronounced the entire episode both epic and gothic. Claimed she peed her pants. I don’t think she did.
At dawn, we snuck out and met up across the fields, off to find a Maxwell castle. Not the one that’s apartments now, not the House of Elrig either. There’s an older one, all ivy-wrecked turrets stuffed with ravens. She wanted to take out the board. I said no way, too creepy. We trudged back in a soaking mist, both of us to a scolding.
Allowed out again on a final, final warning, we scrambled up the Painted Hill. The bleached dry bones of an elm wood became Graveyard Number One. Over and down to Monreith bay, back-floating in St. Medan’s tide pools. Anemones swayed flower-hair to our hands.
She imagined me Ophelia until my feet wrinkled and the shivers started deep in my stomach.
Honest Cath, I might really die, let’s go.
I couldn’t play her beautiful corpse, neither could full sun chase off her ghouls. Cathie would drop into the slimmest of shadows, a boulder overhang, fold out the chessboard and flip it to the black side.
On a shot glass, her hand guided mine round the nail-varnish alphabet. She did the incanting and pushing. I blew away sand.
Spirits, whom do you seek?
She’d have me ask when would her sister die, when would her stepfather die? When would she die? The answers never clear DFC—NEV—1AP until her hand, too tight, would cramp on mine and overturn the glass.
The following summer, our holiday weeks didn’t overlap. The summer after, the same. I suspected my mother. Cathie wrote. I replied, until I didn’t.
We heard what happened from the folk who rented us our chalet.
Now, when the corvids break the air, my fingers still twitch. I dropped myself into a shadow last summer, flipped my tablet beside a rookery and said right then, on you go, what’s the handle now, your true spirit name? I/she/we typed
I googled her surname. He’d passed away. He was her father, her real dad. Pre-deceased by his eldest daughter, estranged from his surviving daughter.
From intense personal tragedy, critics drew a hastening in depth and maturation of his oeuvre. They waxed. In paraphrase, a thematic obsession developed and expressed as an infinite, bitter dialogue with an ephemeral counterpoint.
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