PDF

In A Journal of Bitter Sleep


by Amantine B



Jinny was watching an old man scatter seeds at pigeons, flapping hastily over one another, in their grab for the flitting feed. She was standing against the light, her back to Vinnie. Her mane of red hair was carelessly windswept, her hips absentmindedly swaying to a song in her headphones. As the late afternoon sun scrawled low across the worst corners of sprawling, sarcastic architecture, and shone into his eyes, Vinnie, the dove-catcher, had already begun to dance amateur rings around her moon. He just knew; just knew she was ‘The One'!

After scampering through miles of imaginative extravaganza, all Vinnie mustered in that very moment, was to move rubbish, on the pavement, out of her way as she stepped backward. He held up a large black trash bag to free the space into which she bumped into him. She smiled briefly, apologised and strode gleefully past him to  welcome a young muddied boy bounding toward her, carrying a rugby ball,  from the school gate. Vinnie was transfixed; flightless on his long legs, even when, at that moment, Jinny was oblivious of him. Her smile had untethered his soul.

Vinnie was a-squint all summer, as he looked to the open sky for the arrival of his birds, and found the courage to become part of Jinny's world. Dove racing had always felt to him like an unkempt, harmless kind of boredom, edged with an inexplicable love of his birds. By the end of summer,  he could no longer contain himself; cutting his heart out to prove his wingspan, he proposed to Jinny.

For her part, at the other end of getting anywhere, there was no avoiding explicit thinking: Vinnie and marriage felt to her, as if she might be calculating something on the edge of sand and lemonade. She had a natural feel for fruit and the touch of tough love, wildly imperfect, that made skin of any man's outer bark. And so, skirting metaphysics, she gave in to his intricate geography of kissing.

Jinny couldn't wait, truth be told, to escape all that vapid, vexing humidity. She'd lived in that house all her life and it was like navigating the end of the line, on a musty shelf. Finally, she would be free of all the odours; of underfloor grit curled into tight black grubbing at the end- folds of neglected vinyl floor tiles, the threadbare and stale hall carpeting, the piles of cans of her father's Valvoline oil and resistant trail scent of stale moth balls in her underwear. Even her bedroom wallpaper felt like glaring eyes, scratching the length of her back.

To the chorus of coarse-throated women, predictably big and out of shape and equally unabashed at spreading toast with lewd jokes, Jinny was gifted a second-hand wedding dress, with a robust pinching of cheeks, before opening the door to her invisible future.

For all those odd songs sold to plug you into the divine, by the soles of one's feet, as sound wove its invisible air up between those inner trees, into a sky stippled with dead insects, by the men who would own sleep, Vinnie often asked himself if Undertakers dream of wars? It was not a question that made sense to him: He was not a gun-toting kind of man himself, preferring wild mountainous brush-land.

Vinnie felt like an apprentice at life and love, imagining his competence in a different kind of life; Memories floated out on the current, mostly at midnight, shedding predatory dreams of their foul bones, under the moaning of slow boats and the emptying out of fishnet stockings. He had to face it: he loved Jinny with all his sodden, common-garden heart.


                                                                section break


Several decades, homes, pets and children later, Jinny woke one morning feeling an obscure confession rise like an unreachable itch, sensed somewhere, yet with no way to climb it. She was the absence of lies, in disguise. She'd had affairs in her head to avoiding staring down her ageing chafing skin, framed by untidy coarse strands of bleached greying hair, in the mirror.  Jinny was holding onto the brittle things that kept her days stranger than fiction: Ideas, words, thoughts were like scattered birdseed, to vanishing birds and bookshops. She wished it left space for a new inventor of taste and flight: She felt incapable of doing, and still looked for games about ‘what if you disappeared at sea?'
Wishing she understood the comings and goings between poems, Jinny discovered she could find Nothing there, to help her write the next line, without the stomach or the feet, to enter life at the deep end. It was like asking an Angel to try and describe his nightmares. 

Vinnie had begun to feel like a lost dog in the dead weight of devoted expectation. He knew well enough that from sad things brung to the boil, as if to make the sweet stuff from bird-boned gelatin, sucked thin, love blisters easily. Scrubbing down the effort to prove how cold it could be without her, Vinnie felt the invasion  to the raw of it. Spiritual emptiness settled in; an unwelcome guest.  His moons now, propped up, with stiff paper.  He had taken to eating up mystery as if to avoid defeat, with the fluid nature of ice; like his preconceptions of her giving way to the melt, with little consideration as to the implications afterward.

Patience sagged on Jinny with the weight of dirty linen, for which she felt thankless spindling knots in the pit of her stomach. She wanted to flee. She wanted to flee to a memory of wet grass and laughter, exiling her from this patient insanity. Remembering too felt tough to shoulder and she plugged the impulse to cry, with a vacant stare along the hospital corridor, into the middle distance of hope, just short of given up, in all that wondering about the colour of poverty.

Her ‘Now' stung bare and fluorescent, leaning forward to puncture her rim with an invisible needle brimming with futuristic cobalt. There are forests these days to do that in the absence of mud and steel calipers, to hold up a forgotten backbone: Arboretum. Oh, the irony, she thought.  On the outside, the months began to crack with the encroaching cold. Children were being taught to avoid the touch of crisp falling leaves, to prevent suffering from imperfect nostalgia. She wondered if Elsewhere, in a different world, lost to neon and the lightning curse of older storms, didn't we all come here to drown?

Dividing figs, in prepping for hours of jam-making, became a way to disguise her conundrum, as if she might have to steal the idea of heritage from somewhere, so as not to feel all the more brittle, once again, in his glaring adoration.

And so it is, that until an exhausted sky yawns yet another horizon, she keeps up mirroring his embrace like a groundskeeper; vigilant and loyal, while handing out, kernels of grieving.









Endcap