Thursday, April 15, 2021

Caught in a False Sunbeam by Roghan David Aran Duggan Metcalf

 A sunbeam rippled through the skies above the sorrowful town and alighted on the first leaves of spring. The leaves parted to allow it passage, though not before exchanging pleasant how-do-you-do’s and swapping gossip on the sky. With a quick goodbye, for it was expected somewhere else by midday, the sunbeam sped off, spreading its light as it streaked through grassy meadows, and dotting the noses of any daffodils curious enough to peek out their pistils. One such flower piped up quizzically:

“Sunbeam, why are you in such a hurry? Would you not stay and delight us with your presence further?”

A cascade of laughter bubbled up from the sunbeam, and it replied:

“Dear daffodil, you flatter me! But come, you are surrounded by your kin, the dandelions and foxgloves, both of whose natural delights are sure to be more than enough for your lifetime. Nay, you may liken my presence to a tryst: In passing it might seem soft and pleasurable but partake in it too long and it will burn you to a cinder.”

As I rolled across my newly laid linoleum floor, a warm sunbeam wrapped itself around me, and Ally’s departure was absolutely the last thing on my mind. A mind in which the entirety of this room -my room-, a garbage-strewn assemblage of wood and plaster in downtown Manhattan, was contained. Beyond those walls lay the expanse of the white space, limitless potential. People did things out there, I was sure of it. I’d seen ‘em do it too.

I regarded my walls. I shouldn’t have caved to Ally’s suggestion to slather them with white paint, they were basically the colour of wet diapers now. Big, soppy wet diapers, the kind you really don’t want to clean. Ally’s suggestion. It was always Ally, making the decisions, running off on her own. She could take her stupid fucking record collection with her for all I

Ah. Nonono not now. Goodbye Ally, hello walls. Walls. The walls, they were fine. Love these walls, what great walls, whose idea was it to paint them? No clue. Whoever they are, they deserve a medal. A big medal. Hadn’t Jack won a medal at some point? Yes, he had of course, the chess medal, oh, what a tournament that had been. Twelfth grade? Jack had contracted an eye infection off some six-year old halfway through. This meant Miss 

Flanagan, being the only teacher on hand, was assigned the job of dictating the board placements to him. Miss Flanagan also happened to have a rather present nervous stutter which, while great for entertainment, had not been so good for Jack.

In these situations, there really were only losers.

‘Course, Jack had still won, because well it was Jack. You don’t beat Jack in chess. Don’t think I’ve beaten him at anything. Ever. Anyway, he’d still looked like an idiot, and me and Ally, we were never letting him live that one down, win or no win. We’d stand outside his house; I’d put some weird gunk in my eye to make it look all gross and Ally would- Alright this isn’t working. Stop it Cass. She’ll be here soon anyway. I turn around, press my face hard into the floor and stare into the newly laid linoleum abyss.

Slowly the newly laid lines of linoleum come loose, unfurling themselves in my mind. They leave their physical anchors behind and travel into the air, these lines, weave around and touch each other like entranced lovers, searching for one shape which might fit them all. 

Moving, dancing, they shape themselves: eyes, ears, nose, whiskers. Facing me is the linoleum-wrought figure of a wide-eyed cat.

Mum and I found one once. A stray cat I mean. We were walking back from the beach whenthere it was. A tiny sound, fragile, like a snow globe, coming from inside the bramble bushes. The foxes usually ate anything that got caught up in the bush’s barbs, but this miraculous furball had survived. Think it was black and white, but it could’ve been white and black. I mix those up all the time. A timid little thing, it raised its paws and hissed bloody murder at us the moment we tore it loose. Mum, who was never afraid of these things - I saw her stare down a guard dog once - hunkered down and reached out her finger toward it. Its tiny fangs sank deep into her flesh, and I watched a pearl of blood form on her soft fingertips. I must have cried out or something because I remember her telling me it was okay, that she wasn’t hurt. Mum beckoned me closer, her eyes shimmering like marbles under the sun, and before I knew it I was on my haunches, feeling the kitten’s soft white needles as they pierced my skin. It hurt like hell, and I tried to draw my finger back, but 

Mum’s handheld it there with a grip like an army commander, as she brought her mouth closer to my ear: “Don’t be scared Cassidy. It’s going to hurt, but only for a little while. It’ll be gone soon. You can handle it. You’ll be fine.” Sure enough, the fangs retreat, and I feel the cat’s hairs rub up against mine. I open my eyes to my mother’s bright face beaming down at me. “See? Wasn’t that great? Come on Cass, let’s bring him home!”

Both of our wounds got horribly infected of course. Mum was brave, I never said she was smart. But we had a small furry miracle with us now, and we brought her everywhere. I showed her to everyone I could. Showed her to Ally, and Jack too. “Go on, fetch!” and the kitten would just sit there in pleasant befuddlement as Ally chucked stick after stick after

I turn my back to the door, face the wall, and pull myself along the floor towards it, the black record shards strewn across the newly-laid linoleum digging into my skin as I find comfort in its solid white surface. Maybe I should just count the sounds. Car. Car. Car. Car. 

Car. Bike. Car...

“Hi Cass.” Door. “God I’m so beat; work was a nightmare.” Bag. “I could use a stiff drink. See this place off with a toast, know what I’m saying?” Coat. Hat. “Vodka? We should do vodka, we haven’t done vodka since Claremont...” Shoes, the Other Door, “...d’you mind if I invite Jack in? He really wants to-” Nothing. Finally. “Cass? Oh my god Cass what- Are those my FUCKING RECORDS Cassidy?” I wince. Cassidy? No, she’s biting. It’s going to hurt, but only for a little while. It’ll be gone soon, you’ll be fine. Wall again, wall. White space. “Are you ACTUALLY insane Cass? Why the fuck are there pieces of my records all over the- WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO OUR FLOOR?” My floor. Not ours. She’s striding around. Striding around in her well-kept jeans. On my floor. “Did you... Did you torch our floor?” My floor. 

She strides closer. “We just laid that floor Cass.” Says it like it’s a fact. “Cass I- I can’t deal with this anymore.” That’s when I know. Her hands. They’re not coming. My back is empty. There’s too much restraint in that voice. My own hands grind across hard stone, scraping against layers of white paint.

Coat, Hat, Shoes, Bag.

“Al? Ally what’s wrong?” Jack. He's outside. Good.

“Come on, we’re leaving.”

“Al-” Door.

Nothing. Finally.

It’s the middle of November, Jack’s birthday party, at his parent’s house. I’ve wriggled my way through the hormonal mists spilling around downstairs, and I find Cassidy in the corner of a bedroom, her back illuminated by soft green light, creeping through the window from the streetlamps outside.

“Cass?” I whisper, and I see that she’s shaking. I rush to her back, place my hands on it, turn her over. “Cass?”

Her eyes are swimming. “Ally?”

“I’m here.” Her hair’s drowning, so I rescue it. “What happened?”

“Olly said I was insane.” Her voice is halfway toward being swallowed. “He hit me.” There’s blood on her lip.

I pull her closer. “Why?” Softly. I know why. Jack told me.

She grins weakly, “I broke his grandma’s snow globe.”

“Cass! You have to stop doing things like that!”

She looks away, her gaze suddenly transfixed by my belly button. Her hair reminds me of roasted chestnuts. “Jack said it too.”

“Jack just goes along with things.” I sigh. “He likes you y’know.”

“Funny fucking way of showing it.” Her head burrows further into my lap.I sit there with her, wiping her tears away, allowing the silence from downstairs to drift up and settle into the corners of the room.

“I don’t think I’m good with people.” She pulls at my fishnets.

“Shhh-shh-shh. Cass, look at me.” I hold my arms tighter around her. “Look at me. That’s fine alright?” I stroke her hair. Her roasted chestnut hair. “You just need to be good with me Cass.”

She turns her head toward me, her face fading into the rays of the dying streetlamps outside; caught in a false sunbeam.

“Just you?”

“Just me."

© Roghan David Aran Duggan Metcalf

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