Pockets of Silver Sun
Tracie Lark (University of New England)
She could see the blood soaking into her white blouse, pooling beneath the button on her left sleeve. He’d gone, but it was some time before she could move. The pain in her chest made it hard to breathe. She gulped short breaths; they staggered like a drunk’s aspirations. Her left foot was turned outwards, so she used her left hand to tug on the hem of her worn jeans. Her foot flipped, sending scorching agony flooding through her hip. With caution, she rolled to her left and leant on her elbow. Still, the blood pooled from her left shoulder where the plate, the one with the jagged edge, had scathed her. She lifted her blouse and saw purple smog clouding her rib cage.
Blood pooled beneath the surface as much as above it.
She was able to sit up, and soon, she could kneel on her right knee. She heaved up onto both feet; the left one burned. She made her way to the bathroom and began dabbing herself with a ragged, pale blue washer. It was meant for the baby, but he had never seen it. She knew it was a ‘he’, she didn’t know why. A secret part of her, one buried where the deepest of fabric shows each individual stitch in a pattern through time, was glad he was buried in the pocket of her womb. She could keep him safe that way. If he had stepped out into the light of the world, he would have been exposed. It was far better that he spent eternity in the pockets of her soul than on the rough palms of her husband.
She swallowed two Panadol, and two Tramadol with a glass of water, picked up the washing basket with her right arm, and scuffled out the front door.
She couldn’t take the bus; there would be too many lookers. Instead, she walked along the broken pavement, dodging school kids truanting class for fries and Coke. A young mother pushing a pram passed by her, dominating the broken path, and forcing her to limp on the muddy grass. Her worn out op-shop thongs had no grip and she slipped, dropping the basket of washing on the sidewalk. She couldn’t bend because her ribs were on fire, so she squatted carefully to collect the clothes.
At the laundromat, she waited in line, anxious that a machine might not become available, meaning she wouldn’t be back by the time he arrived home from work. That would mean further punishment.
She stared outside, over the carpark, and to the doctor’s surgery on the other side. The sky above it was blue and purple and aching for sunshine after weeks of constant rain, flooding, hail, and wind. Mother Earth was going through her own trials and tribulations. The surgery door opened, and an elderly man followed his wife out, his hand gently on her elbow. She swished him away with her good hand, and he held his palms up in deference, smiling at a passerby.
“You using this one?” A lady wearing an orange and white tartan dress with buttons up the front asked.
She stuttered, “Uhm, ah.”
“It’s okay, you go. I can wait. I own the shop next door, the sewing place.” The lady said.
She smiled meekly and placed her clothes in the washing machine. In went his five pairs of dark grey pleated pants and his five pairs of light grey button up collared shirts. Next went his five pairs of thin grey socks and five pairs of black underwear. She fumbled in her pocket for coins, conscious that the sewing shop woman was staring at her. She turned away slightly and retrieved three two-dollar coins. She did this with her right hand while her left clutched close at her breast. She placed them in the slot, turned the machine to ‘delicates’, and added a handful of sensitive soap powder, also from her pocket. White powder puffed out over her jeans. She was still wearing the same blood-ridden blouse and dark stained denim. The Tramadol kicked in and she felt lightheaded. She pressed the start button and hobbled to the bench by the window.
The car park was busier now, and she could see the doctor’s surgery door swinging back and forth so often she thought it might helicopter away. A ray of sunshine sprayed from a cloud, and glints from the cars bounced around like a daylight disco. Colours pooled at the corners of her eyes then rippled away.
“I can fix your blouse, if you like.” The lady sat down next to her, staring straight ahead. “No charge.” She kept looking across the room as though hypnotised by the dryer. “I’m Polly.”
She knew she must say something, or this woman would think her an invalid but she was stuck in some kind of trance.
“Delphi.” She forced her name from somewhere.
“Nice to meetchya, Delphi. Come on, let’s fix your blouse. Got a spare button underneath? They’re usually near the bottom seam or on the tag.”
Delphi naturally followed Polly’s imperative demand, unsure of how to say no. They stepped through the door and along the mossy pavement, and into the sewing den. It was filled with rolls of material, sewing machines, overlockers, hanging light bulbs, measuring mats, large fabric scissors, and buckets of dye with pegged items hanging above them from nylon rope.
“Sit here.” Polly pointed to a wooden chair covered in lime green wool knit fabric. It had bangs and scratches on the legs and a patched hole in the centre. “It’s my favourite chair. Belonged to my grandmother. Also a seamstress. But far better than I.”
Delphi nodded and attempted a smile. That’s when she noticed one of her teeth wobbled and a sharp pain cut through the Tramadol high. Polly turned a light on above her head. Delphi flinched.
“Sorry!” Polly smiled. Then she pulled a short wooden stool over next to Delphi’s chair. “You don’t have to take your shirt off. I can fix it from here.”
Delphi visibly exhaled, but she still sat upright, nervous to take comfort in Polly’s grandmother’s antique chair.
“I’m just going to lift the right side of your blouse so I can access the button.” Delphi gave a small nod.
Polly was quiet while she worked. She unhitched the button on the tag at the right seam and folded down Delphi’s shirt again. She then collected the fabric of her right shoulder sleeve, a pin in one side of her lips, the button in the other, and sewed up the rip. The button was placed on, sewn in, and she tidied the ruffle. Delphi hardly felt her light hands deftly crafting her sleeve back together. She took a deep breath in, as far as her ribs would let her, and felt a little lighter again.
“There you go.” Polly smiled and wrapped her tape measure back around her neck.
“I better…” Delphi said and pointed her right hand towards the laundromat. She felt anxious again that she might be late returning home, and she still had to dry the clothes and then iron them once she arrived home. If they weren’t folded neatly and back in his wardrobe, he would tell her she was lazy and disrespectful and throw the basket on the floor again, just like he did this morning with the freshly cleaned and ironed clothes.
Polly nodded and went to her work desk, lighting a cigarette at the corner of her mouth.
Delphi found her washing on the last spin cycle when she returned. She hovered in front of the machine, basket ready, hoping that a dryer would become available. She jingled more two-dollar coins in her pocket. She had made the mistake once before of asking him to buy her a washing machine, it would be cheaper in the long term she had said, but he didn’t like her idea. It would make the electricity bill expensive and who paid the bills? Who paid the bills? He would shout. And Delphi would think the bad secret thoughts again, like why and how did she become so drunk that night with her girlfriends and ditch them for him, because after that night, she never went home, nor saw them again.
In the reflection of the washing machine door, she saw her face puffed like an old, stained pillow. Back then, it had been glowing; her bronze skin contrasted with her dark hair and honey marble eyes. Her high cheekbones once had a nice appeal. Now they were too pointy, like fangs cornering her eyes in their heavy, grey sacks.
The machine beeped, so she opened the door and used her right hand to pull his clothes out into the basket which rested on the machine edge below it. She placed the clothes in a nearby dryer, jangled her coins, and pressed start. Then she sat by the window, again looking out across the car park, amazed at cars moving around with ease. She saw people dashing to fulfil minor chores that would make their week run smoothly; fill the script for the asthma puffer, collect the groceries from click and collect, pay the invoice at the doctor, grab some Indian takeaway on the way home; it was Friday after all.
Friday. He came home early on Fridays. Fridays were long lunch afternoons with clients.
She checked the dryer, still damp but dry enough. She could iron the wet out at home.
Delphi hobbled along the cracked pavement, in the muddy grass to let mothers and prams by, and at one point, an old, bearded guy on a scooter smoking a joint.
As Delphi was setting up the ironing board, she felt the pain in her ribs growing stronger. The painkillers were wearing off. She couldn’t take any more or he might realise. She had been prescribed the painkillers for what they referred to as ‘the car crash’ back in May, the one that killed their unborn baby. So sad, so unfortunate, the emergency doctor had said, and offered his signature before handing him the script.
With each swipe of the iron, she breathed on purpose, trying to use the little energy remaining inside her weakened muscles. She folded the last of his clothes and placed them in the wardrobe.
She wanted to shower, but she knew she must have his dinner ready, and time was running out. She prepped the steak with salt and pepper and put the potatoes on the boil. Mashing them would hurt her ribs but she would push on through. He had a sweeter side after finishing his meal.
In fact, every day, Delphi looked forward to the half an hour after dinner where he sat content and quiet at the dining room table, pondering the daily crossword, except on Mondays when he would check the weekly budget was in order. He had an app for the electricity which, like a hawk, he circled every day. But it was her moment too. The only moment in the day where she saw his eyebrows drop and his eyes glisten. It reminded her of the night she went home with him. She hadn’t seemed to agree to this; rather, he had clutched her hand and led her away. Her friends had begged her to stay, and he had told them, “She wants to come home with me,” and winked at them so they woohooed and winked back. The truth was, Delphi had hardly said a word to him.
She heard the Toyota Corolla rumbling at the garage door and, soon after, the front door and the beep of the lock. She heard him scuffle his feet on the mat, then the clunk as he sat at the door unlacing his shoes. She had ten minutes to serve his food while he showered. He entered the kitchen, walked by her, placed his briefcase on the desk in his study, and went straight to the shower.
She smelt his aftershave waft from the hallway just as she was spooning his mashed potato onto his plate. She would scrape the pot later for herself. The Tramadol had cancelled her appetite.
He sat at the table, methodically eating his meat and veg. She hid in the pantry waiting for the final clunk of his cutlery. Then she collected his plate and watched while he retrieved his newspaper from the table.
The newspaper. Today’s newspaper. She had forgotten his newspaper. No crossword. This was it, her death sentence, she would finally join her little boy in the deep pockets of eternity.
He stood, leered over the table and carefully spoke. “Delphi, where is my newspaper?”
She knew better than to run. She stepped towards him, hoping the meal had been enough to satiate his hunger for violence. He growled, a gruff bellow, and then slapped her across her face. Delphi’s loose tooth fell out, blood streaming down her chin. It stuck to her hair in clumps. But that was it. He retreated.
She excused herself with a lisp and went to the bathroom. She dabbed at her chin with the same blood-stained, blue washer she had used that morning. In the mirror, she saw the handiwork Polly had done to her blouse. She gently moved her left hand across her sore ribs and felt the new button on the sleeve. It felt crunchy underneath the material and Delphi wondered if the blood had crusted so much that it had formed a hardened texture. She slowly moved her elbow inside the sleeves and pushed the blouse over her head. The pain in her ribs flared as she bent slightly. The blood on her right arm was smooth and spread across her shoulder. She felt the sleeve of her blouse with her fingertips and heard the same crunching sound. She quickly turned the shower on, just on cold, she wasn’t allowed hot water showers. She didn’t pay the bills, who paid the bills, Delphi?
At first Delphi thought Polly hadn’t done a very good job sewing her sleeve, the stitches were wide enough for her to put her finger inside the pocket that was created by the adjoining seams. But then, she felt the paper. With precision, she dragged the note from inside the pocket and unfolded it.
I have followed you home.
I’m out the front. I’ll wait all night.
Pack your things. I’ve got a car.
Delphi, I’ll be your dolphin.
She quickly ripped up the note into tiny bits and forced them down the plug hole, swishing them and hoping they wouldn’t clog the drain. Her first thought was no way, this was a trick. He set this up. He’s testing her. That’s why he was so nice and only slapped her even though she forgot the newspaper. His crossword. Cross. Word.
But then Delphi remembered Polly’s soft hands caressing her as they mended her broken sleeve. They were caring hands. Nurturing hands. Hands that mended. Hands that mended broken fabric. Fabric that weaved through worlds. Swam like a dolphin. She remembered something about dolphins. Her mother. Suddenly, a picture of her appeared in her mind. She was telling the story of how Delphi got her name.
And something clicked inside.
Delphi placed her blouse back over her head and ruffled the bottom, so it covered her swollen abdomen. She peered out the bathroom window and over the front hedge. She couldn’t see anyone out there. A great feeling rolled like waves inside of her. She crept down the hallway, the shower still running in the bathroom, and tiptoed towards the front door.
She scuffled past the car and down her driveway. She turned right and walked past the hedge at the front of her house. Car lights flashed, an old Ford Laser, silver with roof racks. Inside, Polly sat hunched in the driver’s seat, smoking while knitting a beanie. She leant over to the passenger side and opened the door.
Delphi did and Polly accelerated with the car lights off until she reached the t-intersection at the main road.
“Right, hospital first, then police station?”
“Shit!” Polly nearly swerved off the road when Delphi said her name.
“First, can you take me to the ocean?”
Polly lit up a cigarette and blew smoke out the top of her window. She looked over at Delphi, then back at the road.
“Sure, hon. Why not.”
When Delphi smiled, Polly noticed her tooth missing under the streetlights.
Delphi held on to the handle above her door with her right hand the whole windy way to the coast.
When they arrived, she felt salt on her swollen tongue and the humid wind on her bloody forehead.
Delphi saw that the full moon had set a path of silver light across the water.
Tracie Lark grew up on Worimi land, and now lives in the native bush of Whangarei, New Zealand. She teaches high school English as well as poetry and microfiction writing workshops. Her writing has been performed at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, the Albury HotHouse Theatre, and on ABC radio in Australia, and she has an array of poetry and fiction published globally. She is currently studying her Masters in Arts: Writing at The University of New England.