Four Deaths in The Wrong Order
Not really the wrong order, Lori thinks. You expect a parent to go first, one parent then the other parent, which is how it went with hers, and she hadn’t really had time to get used to the way things were before baby Fergus went too. Down like dominoes all three, Lori thinks. And now Joe. Joe as well. And she stands on the broad top of the fell and she pictures all four of them laid out on the earth, one next to the other. Like the war dead, she thinks, and she looks into the fog and there isn’t anything, and she looks down at her boots, at the black water, the clumps of washed-out matgrass and she remembers how small her mother looked with the life gone out of her. It was as if she’d been an illusion all along, Lori thinks, and she’s never been able to decide on the size of the gap between the living and the dead. And well, no, she can’t, she still can’t. And she thinks of baby Fergus lying dead and she thinks, at least Silas didn’t have to go. That’s one small compensation, yes, thanks be to God for that, she thinks, because she’d almost got to know Silas that summer, she’d been watching him pick daisies out on the lane since spring, since April or thereabouts, and well, he can’t have been older than seven, eight at the most, Lori thinks. He’d gather up the daisies and bring them back into the yard and then sit on the ground by the woodpile and make them into chains. He’d sit there slitting and threading for hours. She’d never seen a patience like that on any of the other children. She’d watched them all and she’d never seen anything approaching it, Lori thinks. Almost preternatural. And she pictures Silas slitting open stem after stem, she pictures the wedge of green under his thumbnail and she thinks, you watched him too closely, yes, she watched him the whole of that spring and summer and she’s almost sure she’d never seen him run until the afternoon Emile got the air rifle from the shed and shot the crow. He ran well enough that day, Lori thinks, and she looks down at her boots and she thinks, there isn’t even a proper cairn up at the top, no, there isn’t anything more than a handful of stones and she’s only going to get there by putting one foot down in front of the other, and she always says this stretch drags on. It’s something to say, Lori thinks, and anyway she likes to hear Joe say, it won’t drag on nearly as long as Mahler 3, love. Six movements of sheer tedium, he says, and she could more or less get across in her sleep. Fog or no fog, she thinks, clag or no clag, and she holds her hand up in front of her face and she sees it shaking and she takes another step.
Two shots, Lori thinks.
He got it on the second one, yes, the crow fell so slowly that everyone saw, Felix, Ross, Charlotte, Louise, Silas, and when Emile lowered the rifle he looked Silas in the eye, then cocked the gun a third time but the sky was already empty. Crows, rooks, jackdaws, swallows, all cleared out, Lori thinks, and she stood at the open window and watched as Silas ran out of the yard, down the bridleway and disappeared into the valley. She heard Emile say, little shit. Then he turned and spat, Lori thinks, a huge ball of it. And wasn’t it almost hot that day, wasn’t it almost sultry? And Lori tugs at the bottom of her jacket and well, yes, the cold’s come in, she thinks, say it once and have done with it, and she looks down at her boots and she thinks, Silas ran all right, and she imagines him standing in the meadow at the bottom of the valley, she imagines him looking out into a sea of summer grasses and she thinks, how did he ever find the crow in there? Twenty minutes passed, yes, it was twenty minutes at least before he made his way back up the bridleway with the dead crow bundled in his T-shirt. He was so small. He had the valley and the huge flank of the fell at his back, but still, he walked up there with the crow against his chest and those big strides boys take. And Lori remembers seeing Silas on the lane, she remembers hearing the latch on the gate slip out, slip back in again. Emile was hanging from the woodpile roof. She remembers his long, lean muscles. Emile is a man, she’d thought, the boy is almost all out of him, and well, she sees the whole scene as if it happened only yesterday or this morning, yes, she sees her scrawny arms coming out from her sleeves, she sees Silas with the dead crow, she sees Emile swing, let go.
And Emile looks Silas straight in the eye, yes, he keeps his eyes fixed on Silas’s eyes whilst he takes an imaginary rifle up to the empty sky and jerks his arms back.
Bullseye, he says, and he spits again, but it isn’t as big and Silas walks over to the woodpile and puts the crow down on top of the wood, the body before the head as if the crow is only sleeping, yes, he leaves the crow on the woodpile and walks over to Emile.
You tiny little prick, says Emile, and Lori turns and sees the clouds coming in off the fells, although it’s hot, it’s almost sultry still, and Lori thinks, look at those boys, Silas and Emile, they’re from the same stock. Yes, she really sees it now, the same blood running through those boys, and she watches as Emile turns and walks away from Silas, a bouncing walk, Lori thinks, half-elastic, and she watches as Silas runs up behind him. One, two, three, she counts, and before she gets to four Silas kicks Emile in the back of the knee and Lori watches as Emile falls down, as Silas kicks at his stomach, at his face and she stands at the open window and listens to the sound of Silas’s shoes against Emile’s body, six times she hears them and she hears Felix shout, Silas, Silas, she hears Charlotte, she hears Louise and she watches Silas kick. Behind him, she thinks, the valley, the huge flank of the fell.
And here comes Annie now. Lumbering still, Lori thinks. Weeks it’s been going on, this lumbering, and well, it’s about time the baby came out into the world, and she sees Annie lumbering across the yard in her flip-flops and she thinks, making a show of it, yes, look at that and she imagines the baby’s head against the cervix, she thinks of its sticky hair, its screwed-up face, and she hears the sound of Silas’s shoes against Emile’s body and she thinks, surely it’s time for the baby now, surely the time has come and gone. It has, she thinks, and she looks over and sees Annie pushing herself across the yard and she sees the baby already in Annie’s arms and she thinks, my God, she thinks, dear God, because the baby is already here, yes, here it is at last, a tiny, living thing. A little lamb, yes, a precious little, Lori thinks, and she thinks, Dear God, Agnus Dei, and she hears Silas’s shoes against Emile’s body and she hears Annie’s flip-flops pushing across the yard.
Boys, boys, Annie says, and her voice is like marble but she’s lumbering, yes, the lumbering’s still going on with her, Lori thinks, and she thinks, dear God, because she hadn’t expected, no, she never really expects, and she thinks, this one will be the last at least. Seven is enough for anyone, Felix, Emile, Ross, Charlotte, Louise, Silas. And now a baby too, a little lamb, Lori thinks. With seven horns and seven eyes, and she never knows where she reads these things or if she dreams them up from nowhere and of course it’s a boy, another little boy wrapped up there in blue, yes, first the crow and now the baby bundled up in blue and when it comes to babies nobody goes beyond seven, no, anything beyond seven isn’t normal, Lori thinks, and she thinks, where’s Paul? where’s Paul now Silas is kicking at Emile and she thinks, already working away again, although hasn’t it always been that way with him? yes, well, yes, she thinks, and she wipes the sweat from her face and she thinks, the heat won’t last, no, we’ll get to rain before the day’s at its end, and Lori stands there at the open window and she sees Annie pass the sleeping baby to Felix and she thinks, the baby is as still as a doll. Its face is like plastic, or beeswax, and there. There, there, his body then his head in the crook of Felix’s arm, and Lori holds her stomach. Straight to her stomach with the new babies, she thinks, and she’s hardly been able to eat a thing of late. Still her belly always looks distended, yes, her belly makes her look as though she’s six months gone, and she thinks, the body doesn’t forget, the body’s got a memory of its own, she thinks, and it’s been eight years since Silas was born, you’d think that’d be long enough to get over this thing she has about babies, and she looks at Felix standing there in the yard with the baby sleeping in his arms, she looks at Annie crouching next to Emile. Her summer dress and flip-flops. All her children, Lori thinks.
From Lori & Joe by Amy Arnold. Used with permission of the publisher, Prototype Publishing. Copyright © Amy Arnold 2023.
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