June is Corn and Coaldust

Graham Tugwell

MAY


May is glass and garlic oil, eaten in delicate fistfuls, the sharp edges guided between the lips and crunched between her bleeding teeth.

Three weeks of that—that pungent sharp— and she feels it growing, the stretch marks fresh striations like livid scald-wounds, a cage across her. It moves inside and aims a listless kick.

She sits in the dark and feels it.

This is an old house.

Thorn bushes swallow windows, arching like backs to block the light. The stone floor is a shallow bowl, sunk lower than the ground so entry is by stepping down, ducking under the lintel. What light there is comes from a naked bulb, hung on a twist of grimy wire. It bleeds a weak and honey light.

Inner walls have been stripped away, replaced with banks of shadowed shelves, deeply recessed and close together. There are things upon the shelves, stretched and thin. They watch with pale, impassive eyes.

On a dusty range the kettle screams and froths and is ignored: May is glass and garlic oil and this one is torment coming through. She opens on the flagstone floor and pushes this month’s bundle out.

Her screams are savoured by the things on the shelves.

They lie, tethered together, the mother and the thing that glass and garlic has made, and she plunges breath after breath and waits for it to cry.

Slowly she lifts herself on elbows, reaching with pained expulsions to break the cord between her hands and still the thing has not uttered a sound.

She wipes her body with a rough brown towel and clothes herself in her formless dress then turns the towel upon the thing. Her movements are violent: she pulls clothes over its lolling head— it doesn’t resist or scream— she threads limp limbs through holes.

It looks past her, eyelids sliding uneven and something drips from its mouth.

She slaps it and it rocks from the blow. She hisses “Don’t mess up your clothes. These will have to do the next one.”

It stares with dead white eyes and slowly parts its lips.

No sound comes.

And she knows she will not get her money’s worth, not this month

A soft green something leaks and falls to stain.


*


She stumps her way up the street, the wind taking her hem in its hands and tugging the clothes to show. A hand jerks down to push the child back in the pram. “Stay still,” she growls.

The builders shake their heads and pass, and the gravedigger, last, lifts an arm and lets it drop. This month’s offer bends awkward and boneless in the pram.

“Where did you get this?” the gravedigger titters, “I’d return it if I were you. Get my money back!”

She scowls.

He lets out a sniggering breath. “Jeee-zis… look at it… Tell you what. Try me next month, love. Bring me one strong and fast with a couple of months in it and we’ll see what’s what.”

He gives her a cheery wink and turns away.

She returns home, pushing the pram.

The wind mocks and teases.

Slowly, slowly the child turns to gaze at her.

Blank

She glares at it.

Wretched thing.

A wasted month.

About the Work

Graham Tugwell

Graham Tugwell is a writer and performer of Irish distraction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, his work has appeared in over forty journals, including Anobium, The Quotable, Pyrta, THIS Literary Magazine, and L’Allure Des Mots. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. He loves it with a very special kind of hate. His website is grahamtugwell.com.

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