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She was very scared. It felt as though it could get worse any day now, as though the previous times had been a walk in the park like the one she and Twyla took today.
For what it was worth, the morning was almost done.
“Bunnies? Why not bunnies? If they walked on their front foot… like this” – hands clad in knit gloves made fists and strode through the air, one hop at a time – “their steps would look like that?” The words were broken, took longer to enunciate and Twyla’s tongue twisted them. To any other audience of her speech, it would seem incomprehensible for a large part.
Her mother, however, nodded and replied, “Yes, that makes sense.” Her own eyes were not focussed to where the little girl pointed and instead stared at a piece of lint stuck to her cardigan. In the wintry breeze that grazed past them, the lint quivered against the fibres it was caught in. It looked ready to leave, only to go still and reconsider its escape before re-engaging in the strive once more.
She and Twyla had taken a break from walking around under the soothing sunshine. Luckily, this bench had been empty.
“Do you think… they keep bunnies? At this park?”
“Could be, honey. Where would the paw prints come from otherwise?”
“Yes! That’s right!” Twyla tugged at her monkey cap and pushed out her chin, shaking her head. She did not like putting this cap on, but she was not to go out in the chill unless she did. And she liked coming here. No, she loved it – yes, she loved it. “If mommy says so, it must be true.”
Mae smiled in response and patted the little fluff ball attached to the top of her woollen cap.
At four years old, Twyla was shorter than any of her kindergarten mates. They often made fun of her height. But she was resilient with her retorts, stating that her small stature added to her cuteness. And then she would huff and puff and walk away.
At least that was the account Mae had heard from her teachers.
“Martha called them something different… what was it? What was it?” Twyla swung her legs back and forth. She had to sit on the edge of the bench so her legs could dangle; otherwise, she would fit snug within the width of the yellow bench, feet and all.
“Called who, dear?”
“The bunnies, of course!” It was a silly question to her. She had not talked about anything else after all.
There had been tons of unwashed dishes piled in the kitchen basin when they left for the park. That was a lot of work waiting to be done. Her husband was not due home before midnight, and he would be exhausted. She could prod him over and over again till he did the dishes, but that would be a lot more work than doing them herself. With any task, it was easier to do it on her own. It was also a good distrac–
And she had to fold the laundry that had dried. With Twyla awake and about, she would be sure to undo whatever she did and then redo it in her own adorable, albeit messy, technique. But she would grin at Mae, her eyes twinkling with pride at her handiwork, and that was enough for her to not get scolded over it.
A small smile tugged at Mae’s lips as she hummed and suggested at length, “Rabbits?”
“What? No! I know rabbits! But Martha called them something different. I thought of ice creams when she said it and I felt hungry, and then her mother took both of us to get ice creams, and we ate strawberry and chocolate, and we wanted more but her mother would not allow, so we came back home, and we played with Martha’s clay, and I forgot to ask her what it was.” Her face grew red by the time she ended the narration. She opened her mouth wide and took huge gulps of air in. Twyla then gazed up at her mother, unblinking, ready to receive a better answer after the long explanation. She believed she could not have explained it better.
“Ah. You mean coneys.”
Twyla’s lips curved into a large smile and she clapped her hands. The woollen gloves produced no sound as they struck against each other, stray strands clinging to those on the other side. “Yes, yes. That was it! How did you know? Mommy, is there anything you do not know? I think… I think even Martha forgot by now! Oh, did you know? Martha spilled ice cream on her frock!”
Roy had been coming in late since past few weeks. Work kept piling up, according to him. He left early and returned late, only to sleep it off at home. With Twyla in school, five out of the seven mornings in a week were quiet, eerie, empty. The house seemed too big for her alone.
And it had become more frequent.
“She wore the blue frock, did you know? It had brown stain on it now.”
“She must have been sad.”
Twyla turned wide azure eyes to her mother’s and uttered in surprise, “She was, mommy!” She tugged at the large buttons on her knit sweater and murmured, “I offered her my ice cream cone.” Her lips parted to grin then, dimples carving deep into her cheeks, and she patted the slacks over her knees in a happy little rhythm. “She stopped crying then, and shared the cone. I like her,” she added and pressed her lips together. “She shares everything with me, you know. Crayons, and toys, and candies, and Mr. Teddy too.”
“Mr. Teddy? Who is that?”
Roy had not the faintest idea. He slept too deep. So did Twyla. But Mae kept awake most of the nights. Even as their breathing was loud and sharp in the dead of the night, it did not take long for that to melt into the background of shrill vacuum. As though her ears had generated filters to keep the sounds out.
But, she could not bring herself to admit yet. It could still be… all right.
Twyla giggled and threw her head back, her legs swinging at a faster pace. “We have a toy kitty at class, we call it Mr. Teddy,” she replied in a high pitch. She leaned in closer, her eyes sparkling, as she watched the reply sink in for her mother.
“Oh. Sounds like a… unique name for a cat.”
Now that she thought about it, she had not put out the trash in the morning. She would have to take care of that too when they returned home.
It would be nice if they did not return to an empty house. It would be nice if Roy were home on a Saturday. For a change.
If she had to be honest, it was not all right. Not at all.
Twyla continued to giggle while speaking. “You can say it, mommy! That it’s an odd name! I think so too! Then Martha told me that we are not called Mr. Boy or Ms. Girl. So, a kitty could be Mr. Teddy, she said.”
She could not deny it. She was very scared. It felt as though it could get worse any day now, as though the previous times had been a walk in the park like the one she and Twyla took today.
Despite it not happening very often, it lasted long when it did – to the point that the usually considered ‘normal’ had begun to feel like an illusion to her. As if, those moments were the ‘phases’, not the other way round.
And the mornings from Monday to Friday, it had become hard, so very hard, to convince herself that Twyla and Roy were there. The framed photographs did not help, neither did the handmade drawings and notes stuck to the refrigerator door. Anybody could have posed for those, could have made those. Why did the woman in the photos look so different, so happy?
“Martha is a smart girl.”
“Oh, she really is, mommy! She can even say alphabets right with no pause! I still struggle with mine,” Twyla added, hanging her head down and poking at the buttons on the sweater. A stray leaf landed on the little girl’s lap and she tried to pick it up with her gloved fingers. It crinkled and cracked, the pieces blowing away before she could catch them. Twyla watched them go, her lips turned down and out.
Mae smiled and caught her by the chin. “That’s all right, sweetie. You can recite numbers properly, can you not?”
Twyla considered what her mother said. No sooner had a second ticked by that she brightened up once more. “Oh, you’re right, mommy! I will learn alphabets soon too, yes?”
It was a long, long struggle. She could not fathom what kept her going before Roy came into her life. Someone always found her somehow. Stroke of luck each time.
Then, it was Roy who never let go.
“Of course, honey. So, tell me what other toys does your class have?” Mae pulled at the long sleeves of her top and wound an arm around her daughter’s shoulder.
He saw the cuts on the arms, he saw the medical reports, and he was not repulsed. He understood it, he said. His own mother had suffered from it, he said. So he remained steadfast against her demons, even when they grew stronger.
In the forty-two weeks she was in her belly, Twyla brought her back. She could feel her moving, stirring and even kicking as the weeks wore on, and she needed nothing more.
In the absence of him, she was enough.
“A hippo, Mr. Gorilla, a puppy, Ms. Butterfly, two teddy bears, Mr. Hippo and Ms. Dino…”
It would not go, it would not leave, it would not disappear. It was buzzing in the background, waiting and clawing. It felt hungrier each time it retreated after a sudden strike.
Maybe she would tell Roy tomorrow. He would be home. But… Twyla would be there too.
Mae swallowed as she nodded to each of the stuffed animals the little girl listed out.
She did not have a lot of resolve left. The delusions never stopped stirring in her brain. Even with her daughter, she knew her speech was flawed, that she did not speak proper sentences yet, but Mae understood them fine. Another trick of her mind?
“… a lizard too, Mr. Octopus, oh and an octopus, Ms. Whale. And there are balls, and colouring books, and…” Twyla paused and took a deep breath in till her cheeks puffed out. She exhaled and continued, “…and crayons too. What else?” She tapped her chin with her forefinger and made faces as she tried to recollect.
Mae could not help laughing. She pulled Twyla closer and squeezed her arm, making her squeal. “Shall we go home now? It’s past noon. What do you think? Are you ready to go back?”
Twyla nodded and hopped off the bench before her mother could stop her or berate her for not being careful. She waited with patience while Mae knelt in front of her and adjusted her cap and her gloves. As she was about to brush over the knit sweater, she noticed the lint was gone. It had chosen to leave in the end.
Mae swallowed and plastered on a smile before she stood up and held out her hand. Twyla clasped it with her eager little gloved fingers and tugged hard.
Her mother pretended as if it were indeed Twyla’s strength that pulled her forward. She stared at the bobbing woollen tuft on the green monkey cap, a tender smile forming on her lips.
For what it was worth, at least half of another day was done.
Image source: shutterstock
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