The days were mostly the same. After her mother sold the car there really was nowhere to go. Volvo - J5 N04BZ – Black – 11:42 am. Her eyes weighed down upon the road as she scrawled the details onto the backs of discarded orange peel. Now she was of birthing age, she had to find new ways to occupy herself with what little was left lying around. BMW - D4Z TGM0 – Silver – 11:50 am. It was quiet today. Things didn’t usually pick up until later in the afternoon, the school-run followed by a 6pm peak when people returned from work. The time in between she’d spend checking on her mother or gazing out at the church across the road, waiting. As a child, Jenny would accompany her to mass every week, rattling complicity along the pews. She could still feel the itch of those woolly Sunday tights, how it felt like tiny spiders were hatching under her skin, making every Hail Mary feel like a lifetime. She missed it, too, in a way. There were no distractions like that anymore, just empty rooms and anticipation. The priest made home visits once a week, but it wasn’t the same as the spectacle of mass; light filtering blue, red, and orange through the stained glass, ladies in perfectly pressed two-pieces lining up for the eucharist, bowing their heads when their turn came as if they were about to receive an Oscar. Such poised and deliberate humility. She used to picture them returning home, kicking off their kitten heels and sprawling out on the sofa for their weekly moult. They’d cast off their skin in a prolonged guttural temor, thrashing against the green velvet fabric to emerge anew as a smooth formless thing. Not bad, she’d conclude, being born again each Sunday. A thousand lives rolled into one, but then, what could a child know of lifetimes?
Jenny had always wanted to be a mother, become overgrown in the shrubbery of some-thing not quite herself, the house flesh for the not-yet. As if there wasn’t enough waiting in this life already. She had faith her chance would present itself any day now; she’d been so patient, emptied the house of all possessions save for a mattress and a single change of clothes. The house was pleased with her efforts, its little valentines appearing with increasing frequency. The mould in the bathroom had cleared up nicely and the air felt sturdy with a renewed sense of intention. She was sleeping better than she had for years now that the creaking had softened and the pipes ran mute.
The first time her own mother fell pregnant, it was to another house, closer to the city, which had been demolished soon after the accident. When she still had the car, Jenny would sometimes drive there and sit outside the neat semi-detached the new family had erected in its place, looking for signs like some half-baked detective. Their curtains obnoxiously floral, unlike anything her mother would have chosen, and the sunflower yellow finish on the door and windows ruffled up a small storm in the pit of her stomach. Who do these people think they are! - tears rolling down her cheeks. Six months after her mother lost the baby, the state found her a new place, where she’d managed to live a modest life for the last twenty years. By the time Jenny was born, she was totally blind and had developed a resolute devotion to Jesus, understandably, Jenny supposed, since it really was the only thing to do around here. Whenever Jenny asked about what life was like before, her mother would settle into a trance and recount as if from a script every detail of those last months in the old house, it’s green rage, unable to access anything beyond it. Jenny tried making her questions more specific; ‘Do you remember where you were for the moon landings?’ for example, or ‘Which was your favorite Beatle?’ but nothing worked. All roads circled right back to that first child, that first house.
It was October when she had noticed a crack in the hallway, right above the door frame. Shrugged it off initially, but every day it grew wider like an infected wound. A jealous lover splitting itself down the middle in spite. When it rained, she’d place buckets underneath to collect the water, but as winter edged its way in, the hall grew sodden. The rug that previously stretched the length of the hallway like a gymnast now slumped into the damp foundations. Bits of tree blown in from outside cruised through to the kitchen. Leaves, bottle caps, plastic bags. ‘The water was poison’, she’d insist, ‘I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t risk it, not in my condition’. After throwing her dresses down the stairs, she’d crawled inside a cupboard with 10 or so nets of oranges and a gallon of purified water - something about the vitamin C, how it could be used to induce labour. Jenny looked down at her trail of orange scrolls lining the windowsill and felt relieved that some things in life are forever. You can take the woman out of the cupboard... she thought. Locking the door behind her, her mother had waited out the last days of her final trimester in that little bunker, a house within a house, and when the day came to leave, she knew. Her body rose hot as a devil's bath waiting for gravity to take hold. In the darkness, she manically fingered the wooden base, rummaging through a mountain of discarded orange peel to find the key, but as she opened the cupboard door the light failed to greet her. The wallpaper gave way to a tangle of valves forcing themselves through the skirting boards like weeds. Extension cords multiplied from out of their sockets and snaked their way around her eyes, a fusing Medusa. Within seconds the whole place became a blur, every room leaden with fog.
At the hospital, there was no mention of a baby, just acute malnutrition and an overdose of Vitamin C, which had caused her to develop a peculiar tangy complexion. Since she could no longer recognize herself in the mirror, this was of little to no concern. Undeterred by the woes of wrinkles and sagging jowls, she spent her days praying, making sure Jenny understood the importance of emptying oneself out in order for another to come through. ‘Once you achieve divine absence this house will oblige you.’ she’d say. ‘All of this I did for you.’ Jenny turned back to the road. LS8 59BN – Ford Focus - metallic blue – 15.37 pm. It was going to get busy any minute now.