The soft calling of birds stirs you awake again, a morning lullaby that lures you to action instead of a gentle sleep. The sun seeps into the blinds, dazzling you in streams of light. You run your hands against the orange wool blanket beside you that waits there now because it’s been three hours since your husband left, following after the things that are more important to him, coffee, career, and promotion.
You slick your unruly hair back with chapped hands that are still not used to the cold of the place; the frost seems to have melted into your bones, hammering your insides into a shape you do not recognize. You shiver as your feet hit the carpeted floor, making sure not to glance down at the stained nightdress that has become a permanent resident of your new body. Bony, frigid and uninhabitable, you wish to throw yourself over the emerald hills, past the bleating sheep that decorate them and into the sea, vast and indigo, welcoming.
Instead, you drag your flaking feet through the dark hallway, past the tiny living room where the radiator has given out and over to the door. Opening it, you close your eyes as the sunlight intrudes. Apathetic to your boundaries, the rays soak you in a menacing illumination.
Bore da! Off to work today? Richie, your neighbor, inquires rhetorically. You watch the slight traffic stream by on the too narrow road before looking up at his dotted face and his wrinkled smile. You already know what he’s thinking though; you already know what they’ve all been thinking. He walks by with a weak wave.
Nos da. You retort to his back, slumping down on the three stairs that lead up to your door. They’re cracked and in need of repair, you brush your fingers across the ruptures and reminisce about the time your husband carried you up the chipping stairs and into your new home, promising that Lampeter, Wales had much to offer your cosmopolitan lifestyle. The one you left behind in Boston.
It’ll slow you down in a good way, relax you. He promised, huffing as he shoved the door open and immediately placed you down on the awful blue carpet. You could still hear the brass knocker as it flung back against the house door, reacting to the sudden jolt.
And he was right. The green of the place, the massive hills, low cut bushes, the pea green grass, that flowers that grew in the shallow streams, had awoken something in you. It grew inside of you, the countryside sprung up beneath your smooth, now ashen skin. You could smell the hydrangeas that burst open, spreading across your chest, entangling itself in soft, malleable bone.
But first, you noticed the honey, rich and sticky, that oozed out of you like blood. Tasting sweet when you wiped it from your elbows and picked it from below your fingernails, placing the honey first on your lips and then on your warm tongue. The wet stones, the ones that stood steadfast against strong tides on the edges of the deep, attached themselves to your thin ankles, weighing you down, defying the rules of gravity.
A horn blasts from the street and you come back to yourself. Peter and James from three and four houses down are barking at each other, their large scraggly dogs sneering at one another too. Saliva drips from the teeth of the two beasts. This moves you, the day is still young and there’s a lot to do. You push yourself off the breaking staircase and place your bare feet on the cool sidewalk. You cross the road in front of you, not caring to look right then left, and clutch on to the door of a café that had opened a year ago but you had refused to visit until today.
Hello! The young woman greets you. Crinkled lines of worry paint across her pale forehead and you’re suddenly reminded of the clouds that first day you arrived in Lampeter. They were boisterous, moving and swirling across the azure sky like giddy children filing out of a classroom for recess. You remember stretching your arm out, then your index finger, and stroking the air, making sure to brush softly as if you were painting them. You remembered your kinky hair moving, tenderly grazing your bare shoulders.
The woman looks at you crossly. Her lips are thin and peeling and almost unmoving as she listens to your order, writing it down quickly before placing the over-sharpened pencil aside and asking if you need help. You giggle now, amused by her concern. Don’t you see? You ask her, pointing to your wondrous hair that had long ago changed to branches, your nose an acorn, your arms bark and milkweed and then to your stomach, your prize gem. Don’t you see, look here! You shout electrified. You notice her move towards the coffee machine; too busy clicking buttons to look closely. You don’t want to miss this, lady. You smile dizzily, lifting up your cheap nightdress for a closer look at your stomach where rhododendron spiral out of your rib cage, pink and defiant, gently suffocating the evergreen plants beneath them.
The lady doesn’t notice or at least pretends not to. She places your coffee on the glass counter and begins to ring up your order. Her glossy black ringlets get in her eye as she pounds the keys and a fondness consumes you. You’re reminded of your daughter, Caroline, and her black ringlets. Her shrill voice rings in your ears and you pull them, hoping that the ringing will fall out. And then you see your son, the one you didn’t know you were pregnant with that first day in Wales. When your husband dropped you on that awful blue carpet, you remember swaying, clutching at your middle that was just smooth skin back then, hoping that it was just a stomachache that would settle with warm milk and medicine.
I must get my kids something! You shriek at the young woman behind the counter, her eyebrows furrowed. They’d appreciate some warm milk. And you pull the heavy coins from your bra, placing them thoughtfully on the glass counter. You want her to notice the wild leek that makes up your fingers, you want her to notice that you can rip them off and eat them.
Instead, she places the three warm cups in a tray. You pay her in pounds and notice her walk to the back of the café, the clouds still on her forehead. She picks up a phone while you exit, back out on the sidewalk again, walking to your doorstep and up the fractured staircase. Past the too small living room with the broken heater but into your bathroom with the large, porcelain tub.
You leave the tray on the closed lid of the toilet and grab at the medicine mirror. You slice a wild leek finger on the edge of the mirror but merely tremble, placing the finger into your mouth and sucking at the creamy honey that drip, drips. You clutch the prescription pills Dr. Williams had recommended you take months ago, the ones you hoarded, requesting refills when you had saved the old ones. You pop the cap and place one into your warm palm and run the sink water. One by one the pills slide down your throat made of pine, swishing and swirling and tumbling into your flora abyss until you feel it, coddling you, rocking you back and forth, then you face the bathtub.
The mountains, curved and circular, astonish you. They’re different than the ones that met you that first week you explored Wales. Those looked sublime, etched into the sky to lure each resident, whispering, pleading to stay and chance it. Chance a move. And that’s what you did; you stayed despite the chill, despite your husband and neighbors who sought to outcast you. Who giggled and hushed you, pushing you to the back, excusing themselves from your presence, refusing to acknowledge you.
You kneel down next to the tub, swaying, caressing the mountains that are taking up your home. You pull at them, flick them and push them until something catches your eye. A color. A dash of pink. Hungrily you seize it, examining the rose-colored, glittered nail polish painted amateurishly on your daughter’s toenail. Then the slumped over bodies of your children form. Their lips blue, fingers wrinkled from being wet for so long. Their lifeless bodies give you hope for your own release. You could all escape. You could all return.
Staggering, you rise. You sink into the bathtub and watch as the muddled water splashes about, feeding your hands, neck and your astonishingly gorgeous belly. You place your arms around your daughter and then your son, appreciative that they too will make the journey back, they too will leave their bodies in this wondrous place and plant them so they can spring again, becoming one with the Welsh landscape. You delight in this thought as you hear voices approach your home, one of the sounds familiar, your husband’s? The café lady’s? You stir for a moment as you hear a hasty knock on the door.
The knock seeps into your body made of vegetation, beneath your skin, and you answer it, relieved to oblige the call. Then you feel the foliage in you rise, begin to travel past your bathroom, the cramped living room, beyond the awful blue rug, the chipping staircase, beside the café, and into the hills. You stop there, surrounding yourself in emerald before taking off over the hills and into the sea that enfolds you. The sea dissipates the flora and fauna that once dominated your body replacing it with someone you once recognized, and you allow the waves to thrust you back and forth against the steadfast stones before launching you forward through the Mediterranean sea and toward the heat, the spices that appease your appetite, the aroma that warmed you, the bronze of your ancestors, the cassava and palm, petroleum and yam, the sweet smiles and naiveté that welcomed all. There, your body settles, returned, eager to embed itself in the land of Equiano and Achebe, Bussa and Amina.