The Garden where We Go to Lump
“It’s bliss,” is what our Mammy says.
And a bubble up between her teeth, swelling to bulge the lip, her forehead already heavy with egg-shaped, egg-coloured lumps.
Coming down and shielding the soft blacks and whites of blissful eyes.
She calls to me, slurring, “Stay with me, love,” and the desperate anger is all but spent in her, “We’ll be together. We’ll be happy forever.”
Her swelling face finds me perched upon the wall.
Her words are birthing agony.
An agony almost beautiful.
Her arm is tightening around my little brother, sat angled out upon her hip and he is swelling with lumps of his own— squeezed and shaped, inflated and crushed, he is becoming a thing of barbell meat, his face in fragments smeared across a becoming lump.
His gargling screams— a calf or foal coming apart.
Until, a thumb pushing up through cloth, comes a lump up my brother’s throat and on that he gags, struggling and fighting the obstruction with fingers lost in lumpish palms.
Until he seems to realise how good it feels unbreathing.
How blissful his eyes as they are swallowed up in creases.
And the last of us—
Between our Mammy and me is my little sister and both of us holding one of her hands so tight they are knots of pink and white. Fighting for her—in breaking jerks pulling her first away from and then towards the piebald walls that hem the garden in.
My fingers work in cracks to keep me seated, one leg gripping either side of the wall—I’m scraping layers of myself away—
My sister contorts to face our Mammy and pleads:
“I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to gooooooo.”
White shoulder blades.
Arms at full extension.
Meat stripping from bone.
Between us we lift her feet off the ground.
He stands astride inside our room.
“She is your mother now, do you understand?”
His quiet voice is worse than roaring— a pitchfork striking stones in clay; it gives us time to take in the shape and colour of his fists. One uncurls to point back down the dark hallway where cries are coming.
“You call her Mammy.”
Extending, he is a mechanism of meat, struts and cables working to lever him out over our bed and hold him terrible, suspended threat.
“Do you hear me?”
(And can we do anything but?)
“What do you call her?”
The girl is a mop of blonde half put away under bedsheets, her face against her bended knees, for looking up at him is unthinkable. Her “Mammy...” is a softness indistinct.
His slow indrawn breath sucks us all into the nothing of space.
His breathing out our only warmth and sustenance.
“And don’t let me hear you call her anything else.”
He shuts the door.
He locks the top bolt.
He locks the bottom bolt.
Fearful floorboards squeaking under him as he goes back down.
I wait until the sounds have died before I dare to speak.
My hand is on her knee, my hand is on her shoulder, my hand is in her hair.
“I’m Amanda,” I say, “I’m your sister now.”
She looks at me with red and swollen eyes. “Rose.”
“In the morning,” I say, “I’ll show you how everything works.”
She takes my hand.
We fall asleep holding on.
So cold tonight.
Like everything has been chipped from ice.
The world a perfect crystal diagram.
We stand before tall and piebald walls, rearing like slabs of frozen cow, black stone staring through gaps in its white stucco skin. In moonlight, we ourselves are black and silver.
Our Mammy makes us strip on the pavement; our knees and elbows almost blue, we dance on the spot in giggles, blowing onto frozen fingers and clasping hands in the clefts under arms.
Teeth chatter, cutting breaths into bite-size, sending them out as gasps of ribbed smoke.
Our Mammy pulls my sister’s trousers down and makes her step out of them— my little sister grimaces. “I can’t feel my feet. Can’t feel my toes I’m that cold.”
Cars go past in darkness and pick us out with blinding lights, making us monochrome statues for an instant.
Finding us frozen in random posings.
We leave clothing like discarded skins at the foot of the black and white wall. My baby brother wakes as we undress him, wailing the up and down wail of a few months old, pink toothless pocket shaking with the noise.
I tickle him and get him to gurgle his toothless laugh.
The four of us, standing naked by the garden wall.
And what awaited us?
What would happen when our feet met the garden floor?
Words about our home:
A box of wooden boards, some light, dark.
The heat of the place— we bake unbreathing in summer.
The cold of the place—in winter our feet as cold as hooves.
Our room: I walk one length of wall in six, the other in eight.
We have a bed.
We have a box to put our clothing in.
We have, perched upon it, a little blue bird like a pheasant or quail.
All stuffing sqwozen out of it.
That was already there when I came.
There is chicken-wire on the window.
It can’t be opened.
Rusted nails have seen to that.
Words about our home.
I look at our Mammy— thin arms and legs and clavicles sharp enough to cut. Bruises on neck and shoulder from the grab. Blue lines rim her breasts and belly, pale fractures of fat on her thighs and upper arms.
She looks older than she is—our brother did that to her.
But there is not a shred of doubt on her face as she smiles. “We’re following your father. We’ll all be together again.”
I hold my baby brother as our Mammy climbs to sit and straddle the wall. Knives of green glass have been set in cement and she guides herself across and through them.
(I shouldn’t look when she opens her legs.)
She holds out a hand to help my sister up and when they are both secure and safe I pass our brother up to her. I’m last and big enough to help myself.
On glass the point of my finger is pierced.
“Be careful,” whispers our Mammy.
We sit on the top of the wall and look down on the garden.
Here’s what I see, under the moon, deep in the dark.
A night with nothing between earth and sky; everything cold and clear and still. Gravel paths lead from everywhere to nowhere and brakes of dark bushes and flowerless beds and dotting the navy stretches of lawn...
Soft shapeless shadows.
Lumps in melts and bubbles.
They look like stooping men, cadavers on ditchwater bloated.
Stretched jewelry of awful stuff.
The lump closest to the wall is scooped and hollowed where souvenirs have been cut away and on the smooth between hardened lumps are initials deeply scored—
“Is Da one of them... things..?” whispers my little sister.
“He is,” says our Mammy
She points at a shape some distance across the lawn.
“That’s him,” she says, “Where the paths meet.”
“That’s Da?” says my sister and she must squint without her glasses, “That doesn’t... that doesn’t look like him.”
“Look in the cracks,” says our Mammy. “In the moonlight. See his hair?”
“I guess...” says my little sister softly.
“Isn’t that your Daddy’s hair colour? You remember?”
“Yeah,” she says but not a drop of certainty in it.
The world is too dark and too far away
I find myself squinting too and our Mammy repeats “That’s your Daddy. He’s waiting for us.”
“He’s very far in,” I whisper, “Why so far in? Was he running?”
Our Mammy looks at me, her lips set in a thin line.
“Is it that he didn’t want...” but I trail off.
I am saying things I shouldn’t be saying.
Bad habit of mine, he always said.
“Now, don’t you worry about that,” says our Mammy, “It’ll be quicker for us because we’ll want it to happen.”
And our Mammy, with my brother in her arms, drops into the garden
She lands with the soft crack of frozen grass.
She turns and holds up a hand.
“Give me down your sister,” she says, “Let her be next.”
We look down from amongst the shards of broken glass.
Two naked girls in moonlight.
Feeling how wrong all of this us.
The unpolished metal in our Mammy’s voice: “Hand me your sister.”
Her hand flaps.
“Do it now.”
Her fingers click.
“We can make it to your father if we’re quick.”
She points at a lump in the distance.
Says my sister in her smallest voice But I thought that was Da over there? At the crossroads?”
And our Mammy’s patience is at an end, her words are snapping iron:
“Does it matter? Does it really matter? We’ll be with him, and with each other, that’s what matters. That’s all that’s ever mattered!”
Gentle creak from the nearby lumps, shifting, sighing in the light of the moon...
Soft noises of sleeping cattle.
Hard crack their coats of frost and ice.
And my sister preparing to jump down.
Into the garden.
Rose wore glasses but he didn’t like that.
He broke them in his fist on her second day with us.
She’d squint and screw up her face like she was in pain.
And he didn’t like that either— he wanted us to sit still in the photographs
Hands on our knees.
And stare into the lens as it took us.
“The only beautiful,” he’d say. “The only beautiful that counts.”
I loved the soft pink lace.
I hated the noise that the taffeta made.
Mammy would take us to the room where we would get dressed in the clothing he laid out for us. She’d help us strap on bright buckled shoes (how strange it felt to have things on our feet) and she’d brush and braid our hair and weave long flowers in it and put on our freckles with the point of a pen.
We would sit on the stool in the corner of the room and he would put up a curtain behind us. Blue or pink, a swathe of sparkly material nailed to the wooden wall.
“Warm days,” he would say, “And cold days.”
(We could smile on warm days.)
But what did it matter what colour we wore or was hung behind us?
The camera spat out only black and white.
“Would you like to keep a copy?” he asked me once.
“To remind you?”
I go to sleep with a little beautiful myself.
And on the wall, with my eyes on my sister’s bending knees, I say:
“I’m not sure.”
“I’m not sure this is right.”
The eyes are bulging in our Mammy’s head, “What did you say?” she hisses, “He made me the Mammy!”
She shakes with the fury, belly and breast.
My brother wakes and begins to scream.
Tensed to jump down to join our mother, my little sister turns. “What... what should I do?”
“It’s going to sleep,” says our Mammy. “It’s just like going to sleep.”
She forces a smile onto her face.
“Amn’t I your Mammy? Don’t I know what’s best for you?”
“No,” I say, “No,” and I shake my head.
“He made me your Mammy, you’ll do what I say!”
And I shout “You don’t, you don’t! You’re only eleven months older than me!” and it’s like I slapped her. Her eyes seem to be bursting out of her skull.
“Amanda?” whispers my sister, unsure.
Our Mammy grabs her by the wrist and pulls her down.
I reach and grab and get her other arm—
A piece of glass is in my thigh.
Brick and stucco scrape my knees.
We are all screaming.
Pulling and pulling and screaming.
All around us the lumps are waking up.
Shaking and quivering.
Which one is our Daddy?
Is any of them our Daddy?
Before she was our Mammy she was Sarah.
One night he went out with the Mammy before her and came back on his own and because Sarah was the eldest she became our Mammy.
I would sit with my sister on the bed and hold my baby brother.
We could hear them downstairs.
Voices up through the cracks in the floor.
“You stupid fucking— you were supposed to put film in the fucking camera.”
“How are we supposed to...”
“The one thing—”
“It didn’t fit—the film you bought didn’t fit.”
“I’m sorry love. I’m sorry.”
He makes a sound.
She makes a sound.
Softly we sing so we can’t hear the worst.
(We are a band.
We are the Rosettes.)
I’m pleading with our Mammy. “No Mammy. Let go of her. She doesn’t want to go with you.”
I brace myself against stone and glass.
Neither of us strong enough to win.
“Don’t you do this,” her words are thickening hisses, “Don’t you dare—”
The baby is screaming.
Rose is screaming.
Our Mammy is screaming:
“You’re splitting us up! You’re splitting the family!”
Something disturbs her fringe.
Moving like a worm in butter.
A strand detaches and falls past her face.
The first lump.
Growing from her scalp.
“Oh,” she says,
In black veins fractured.
Tight with a slosh of oil.
And her eyelid now is beginning to swell.
The garden is working.
She is changing.
My brother is changing.
And the garden works upon my sister too—Stretched white and smooth in moonlight she swells. Along the line of her shoulder blades a necklace of bubbles growing, the back of her neck an envelope.
The sudden pain makes me look down.
Her fingers are blooming to envelop my own.
In that instant.
Hold on becomes let go.
“Rose I can’t.”
And I’m stretched from the wall.
“You’re pulling me in.”
Stone and glass.
Stripping my thighs.
She screams “What’s happening? What’s happening to me?”
Her swelling neck forces her chin into her chest.
“Amanda,” she cries, “Don’t let go of me.”
“Don’t let go of me.”
She’s our Mammy because she is the oldest.
He puts our brother in her.
She gets so big with him.
She shows us her swollen ankles.
She’s never been prouder of anything in her life.
The night my brother came into the world was the worst.
The screams as Mammy brought him forth downstairs.
We thought he was killing her.
Hands under the bedclothes until we fell asleep.
She showed us him in the morning light, a little pink and screaming thing.
Shadows of chicken wire gridding his face.
I gave him one of my fingers to hold.
Our Mammy has become a thing.
Her neck a black-veined tyre of flesh, her pulpish face a thumbprint within it—
The plastic gloss of skin about to break stretched until it shines.
Her teeth hard studs in goitre, and hair just glimpsing between the lumps, from shoulders a collar inflating, splitting to show a wettening red that splits in turn, folding up and under.
Something like a flower. Like a butterfly kicked from its chrysalis.
Fists of meat from under her breasts, pushing her torso lopsided, twisting her upon her hips. Legs pushed open by the growth, shins and knees thickening in uneven bends, locking themselves into satyr crouch.
And now there is no distinction.
Where does my mother end?
Where does my brother begin?
He is a something parasitic, slowly drifting limbs, his face a swollen pitcher erupting from the clench of lumps across her ribs— pink seaweed between stones, caught by the pulse of the sea to wave, throat blocked off so the only sound is a high and whistling breath.
Lumps are rising the length of my arm, stinging where they stretch the skin— my arm is loosening, tightening again in knots of thickened muscle and meat. My wrist has grown, until it is a pockmarked balloon.
Where is the bliss?
No bliss in this at all.
My sister and me—our fingers swell to interlock.
Squeezed until they break.
Finger by twisted finger.
Knuckle by knuckle.
Something snaps, sending convulsions up my arm.
I pull myself loose.
I have to let her go.
“No no no!”
I have to.
Connected to my mother she crouches and at her feet becomes a lump herself— “Amanda.”
She looks at me with her remaining eye until the lumps distort her face and she can no longer see or close her mouth completely.
She could be making a word or it could just be the air pushed high out of her—“Blisssssssssssssssssssss.”
Hung from the wall I watch my family flow into each other.
My arm and leg swelling and curling.
The garden works on me.
And one day he’s gone.
We don’t know where. We don’t know why.
We wake to a world of empty rooms.
Eleven days we neither see nor hear him.
The house seems to be settling for longer and longer each night, allowing itself to relax in creaks and groans.
Knowing, finally, that he is gone for good.
And we sit on the bed, two sisters, as our Mammy ventures out to buy food with the scatter of coins our Mammy kept from him.
I hold my brother until she comes back— dinner is broken biscuits and buttered bread on a water-faded plate.
Eleven days pass.
The last night.
She opens the top bolt.
She opens the bottom bolt.
She pushes the door open.
“Your father,” she says, “Wants us to meet him.”
“Hand me your brother.”
I pass him into her arms. She kisses his forehead and smiles for us.
“It’s cold out.”
Through frost and shadow I drag myself.
“Help,” I scream, “Help— My family!”
But there is no-one.
Streets are cold and empty.
And too much flesh to walk or run.
The garden has had its way with me.
I drag myself along midnight streets.
A cold day and both of us in bed for warmth.
I ask her “Did you dream?”
My sister nods.
“A garden,” she says. “And not a wall for miles and miles.”
“You could even see the... See the...”
“Horizon,” I say.
“Horizon,” she says.
“So warm we took off our dresses.”
“And we ran!”
“And both of us had different names.”
“Tell me more,” I say.
She smiles. “You remember ice cream?”
“We had ice cream. We couldn’t eat it quick enough!”
“Our hands were covered in it.”
“And the sun just wouldn’t go down and I knew and you knew that this was how it was going to be forever.”
And in the cold bed we lay and thought of that.
Until “I’m sorry,” she says in a bleached voice, “I didn’t dream.”
She turns her dark eyes to me.
“That’s what I hope to dream.”
Her hand in mine.
“You?” she says, “What did you dream of?”
“I don’t...” and I stop.
(Dragging myself under uncaring stars.)
“I don’t remember.”
is an Irish writer and performer and the recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. He loves it with a very special
kind of hate.