Lying down, she looks like a mountain range. Someone told her that once and she likes the sound of it. Says it over and over. Imagines bees and wasps fighting over the wild flowers that grow on her slopes. But there are dishes to do. And questions to answer – how do you make the bubbles so small? That has nothing to do with her but an answer has to be found all the same. She stares into the sink and wants to take her clothes off and start shivering. To shiver is to survive. To shiver is to be muscular. Like the shirt ripped at the sleeves that she will never throw away. ‘Come here’, says Someone else. Look at the bees! Look at the way sunlight hides! But she is lying down again and listening to the ticking of the metronome that makes silence go faster. That catches up with the drip. Make me a cup of tea, she thinks, but never asks. Her name is Maxime. She likes marzipan and brown bread. She never wears stockings, open-toed shoes or anything yellow. Her life is not hard – the kitchen floor is hard and Someone else can be hard to understand. But no one is hurt, not yet, and no one has come to the door for a long time. Or is her name Clara, as in Clara with the pale blue carpets? The thing about skin is that it is alive. She is Maxime on odd days and Clara on even. If only she could find the rubber bands to remind her what day it is, what name, and when to roll out the carpet that matches the parakeet’s wings.
Outside is a scarecrow wearing gloves and a polka dot blouse. It has no face as far as anyone can see because it was drawn so faintly. Clara will go over it. Over and over until the face is ruined and apologetic. It is raining and the yew is as poisonous as ever but at least in the bath she can make waterfalls, pools, rivulets, feel the slip of fish, watch them blow bubbles with their little ‘oh’ shaped mouths. But she can’t stay in too long, not Maxime. She gets cold so quickly. Clara is chewing celery and thinking about the man with teeth stitched on his lapels – son of a dentist and a bit too shamanic. She couldn’t stay long, there was nothing to say and the kitchen was so sticky. Maxime! Are you awake? Of course she is, damn cat scratching at the door. But she leans her elbows on the table while she drinks tea and whispers in her ear, ‘Stop waking me, you baby’. Clara never feeds the cat. She opens the door and doesn’t think for a second when the cat might return. But Maxime can whistle, she’s won prizes but keeps that a secret, and the cat comes running. Then it sits and licks for hours. Maxime watches until she is bored, then goes and looks for spoons and disinfectant. Clara is still chewing celery. It reminds her of the river. It was blue on one side, brown on the other and belonged to no one, especially not the fools that paddle down it. Tip the boat, says Maxime. But it’s an even day so nobody hears her.
Someone else is swinging on the washing line. He looks lonely like that, dangling above the ground. They should take a picnic to the river, swap names, find a new person – or a dog. Some dogs believe they are children and are always hungry, eat whole loaves and bones buried by foxes behind the gladioli. Others know there is nothing better than sticks and chasing. They are the boring ones. Clara likes to think that but envies the concentration in their eyes. And the yellow sandals. Can they be hers? They seem to fit so she must have been wrong about who is who. Again! Down to the river. The most feared things can become the most favoured and all she wants to wear is yellow. But the dress looks ugly. What was she thinking? And only yesterday she bought a lion with plastic whiskers and a rabbit fur mane. The river is deep. She wades into the blue side, feels the water round her knees, her thighs. The stones are smooth beneath her feet and when she moves they move. Someone else is already swimming. A dog is barking. Or was that the day before? She thought the scarecrow might keep visitors away but they insisted. There’s always the back door, she thought. The current is pleasing like the pull of bathwater.
Lying down, she looks like a mountain range after heavy rains and pink morning sun. Drips trip over goose bumps on her stomach and thighs. Standing up she looks like… not the scarecrow at least. But back to the river, there are fish nibbling her heels and Someone else is splashing and moving. That’s swimming, she thinks, or as close as it needs to be. She wants to turn away, take off her clothes and swim underwater. See where she surfaces. When did it all become so polite? So divided? Clara dreams about salt cellars. Salt cellars that look like corn on the cob, glazed and shiny on the windowsill. They are empty. She goes looking for more salt but only finds boxes and boxes of paper plates and sunglasses. The sunglasses are thick and brown. More like goggles. She dives into the river and forgets to breathe. Maxime is already at the waterfall. Her sunglasses are pink, rose tinted. She has always been polite, she thinks, then says, then shouts ‘I have always been so polite!’ She wants to learn to spit. She wants to resurface where the water is dark brown like furniture polish. And ticklish like the dangling roots of all those little trees. If she pulls on them, will it all fall apart? Is that what she wants? Mud. That’s what she wants. The weight of it, the feel of it drying, caking on her skin. Lying down she looks like a mountain range. But it has been a long day and tomorrow will be different.
Tomorrow is just more of today, thinks Clara. More of today, she tells the postman. I should be walking, she says to the rose bush, as she waves him away. Come back. Why come and then go? She knows the salt cellars were only a dream. Only a dream, says Maxime. But she can feel the indents in the palm of her hand where she held them. Salt is on the shopping list. It brings out the flavour. Someone else said that, because they read it so it must be true. Like mud. Oh cheer up, says Maxime. But Clara wants to sleep for a while longer. Clara wants to go to back to bed, even though it’s almost today, and pretend it isn’t. Pretend it is yesterday. Pretend that the dream hasn’t started yet. Get ready, salt cellars, you’re up next! Where is the remote control? Maxime pulls at Clara’s feet. They are narrower and longer than hers. Wake up and take your turn, she says. Clara doesn’t move. Footsteps shake the house. Someone else? Someone else, she shouts. Is that you or the cat coughing? And everyone is up because that’s what happens in a house. Even the scarecrow. Running to see where the noise is coming from. Bubbles are fast too but quieter than expected. And the day starts with a cardigan. The name of the dog by the river. Here, Cardigan! Here’s a stick and a bowl of rice with an egg cracked over it. How easy a dog is, thinks Maxime, who has not gone to sleep yet. ‘How easy a dog is!’, she shouts at Clara who is still asleep and dreaming of a dog who is scared of light and reflections, who runs away and bites through things.
Someone else is covered in mud. Maxime squeezes the bottle underwater and tries not to listen to the metronome. Time is running out! And she is not used to the noises of this day. What if the postman comes? Which cupboard does the salt live in? Someone is here, and not just Someone else. She can sense it. ‘Clara! Cardigan needs a walk and I can’t find my sandals’. Clara screams then comes downstairs. ‘Come on then Cardigan. Lets go to the river, the blue side’. Lets throw stones, hold onto our hats, things like that. Have you got a hat, Cardigan? Clara likes to ask questions to the dog, who can never answer back. Come on! Fetch your stick! But Cardigan stands in the doorway, looking out and refusing to move. Not so easy now, Maxime! Clara pulls on Cardigan’s lead and tries to look like someone who finds all this easy. And can she hear footsteps behind her. Maxime? No it can’t be Maxime. The dog is way ahead, concentrating hard. Clara walks faster, faster. The river is loud. Have the footsteps gone? Is this still the dream? She asks herself, No, of course not, she replies, and why ask that when you know you are out of breath from running? Bird rhymes so perfectly with bird, and the wind sounds like the wind. But what becomes of air when it is trapped inside old tree trunks? Lean over, press your face against the bark. Let’s stay here a while, shall we? Cardigan is panting and lies down at Clara’s feet. Maybe it is easy after all.
Clara thinks of a kiss that might have happened near here, of moving her hand the way another hand moved. Like a mirror. That was long ago. Root rhymes with root but when you say it too often it twists into something unplanned and tomorrow. And the river is loud again. Come on, Cardigan. They stand up together and the water is brown and breathless. Is that Maxime on the other side? It can’t be but she waves all the same. Manners are important, the way paths are important. And pillars? Cardigan looks at her as if she knows. The way Someone else looks at her as if she knows. (so many knowing looks – what happened to the secrets? Where did she put them?) But she does know a bridge. It’s that way. Or the other way. ‘Is there someone I can phone’, she says. The river is loud and her voice is lost. Look at all the fish leaping! There was a time when Clara only knew about concrete, and Maxime only knew about grey. There were no fish, no dogs called Cardigan, only thick smoke and things that were always falling down. And while that was sad, the memory is pink and full of the tiniest bubbles ever measured. The kind that fizz on your tongue. They wore bracelets there, and shoes with robust soles (you can’t go out without them so don’t even try). Someone else might have loved it – the signposts, the sharp bends, the washing that span round and round in huge machines. Fish are fools to leap so high, thinks Clara, watching their every splash. They should keep quiet, stay under, learn to love the dark and just lay eggs and oh.
Cardigan pulls Maxime across the bridge. Where did Clara go? Is this not more of today? The metronome plays tricks but is always right. ‘Don’t touch. Time is delicate – listen’. Then back across again the way they had come. ‘What’s the matter, Cardigan?’ Then she hears it – a telephone. Clara is asleep. She sleeps whenever she can these days. Lying down, she looks like a mountain range. She jumps when the telephone rings or the doorbell or when Cardigan whines and pulls the blanket from her legs. I just want to be left alone, she says, then why won’t anyone write to me. Maxime? Maxime is clinging to the broken bridge. She didn’t see the sudden wave because rivers don’t have waves. It was unexpected and swept the concrete supports downriver just like that. Cardigan jumped and made it. Run home, shouted Maxime. Bring help! Her toes are touching the water beneath her and she doesn’t know how long she can hold onto the wooden beam. It is slippery like disagreements. There have been too many of those lately. But now’s not the time… The telephone won’t stop ringing. Hello! Is someone there? Don’t be silly, she mutters, there’s no-one here for miles. Clara is never up at this time. Cardigan won’t have a clue. ‘He doesn’t have a clue, poor thing’, she used to tell Someone else. Oh Cardigan.
Maxime drops, and the sound she makes is utterly lost in the rush of the water, blue on one side, brown on the other. Clara wakes with a start. Where am I? What time is it? Someone else? She slides off the edge of the sofa and finds some shoes. Are these mine, she wonders. She asks the room, ‘Are these mine?’ Bird rhymes with bird and root rhymes with root, and the kitchen floor is caked in mud. Lying down.. But no one is lying down and the metronome has stopped. Maxime! Maxime! Clara goes to Maxime’s room. It has no furniture, just angles and a windowsill. There are postcards. Of fallen buildings, of mountains covered in wild flowers. Someone else comes in dripping wet and talking on a telephone. He says ‘Goldfish don’t need much, just a glass bowl’ then ‘Where is Cardigan?’ then ‘Pillar, Pillar, Pillar’ Maxime hits the pillar and wakes up. The bath is full and cold and her wrist hits the tiles. Hard. And who left the tap running. She turns it with her toe and sinks her head and shoulders under the water. Maybe it will be warm down there. Maybe there will be coral. Lying down she looks like a mountain range on a submerged planet. Far away. Like the bridge. She checks her hands for scratches. How long was she holding on for? She shakes her fingers and drips fly everywhere, though everywhere is too much. Cardigan?
The dog is quiet. It licks the air and finds the taste of metal. It winces as if remembering something. Something bad like helicopters circling. Cardigan doesn’t have a clue. He closes his eyes and the light fades. Cardigan! Wake up. But Cardigan doesn’t wake up, and the day begins with a sheet. Cardigan, his name embroidered at an angle in the corner. But first Maxime wants a towel, she wants to get dressed and go through all the documents. She wants to pick out all the words that rhyme and tie them in rubber bands. She wants to find the root for goodness sake! She looks behind the television but it’s all wires and she is dripping. Clara? She shouts. Someone else? But nobody answers and the clock says middle of the night but it is light and now is not the time for writing messages in swirly handwriting, what’s there to say anyway? You’d like the river, plenty of fish! Maxime’s teeth are chattering and the bruises on her knees are coming up patchwork. The gurgle of the plug. The musty towel and who left the window open again? And on the other side of the door, the cat scratching. Maxime kicks it. I wish you’d drowned, hisses the cat. So do I, thinks Maxime. Or says. It’s hard to know in an empty room full of angles. She lies on the floor making puddles at her foothills. Ear to the ground.
How easy a dog is, thinks Clara, and starts crying. The empty room is cold and grey. There are no pictures on the walls. Just nails and hooks all over the place. It is a whole new day and only Clara is left. Shall I put down traps she thinks? There is furniture to rearrange and cupboards to empty. The documents that Maxime tied so tightly. And too many chairs and the picture of wood nymphs that she promised to keep forever. Hard to tell who is who anymore – like rain. And the metronome has stopped ticking. Out of the window is the mountain range. Can I go there? Clara drags the suitcase from under the bed, tunes the radio, turns the volume up. She pulls underwear from the drawer and a sweater from the bottom of the basket. Sniffs it. Fine. But Cardigan, there in the corner. Can she leave him? Lying down, he looks like a mountain range covered in snow. Clara looks out of the window. How far the hills look. Tea first. She fills the kettle and watches the bubbles become louder. ‘Turn the radio down’, she shouts. Someone else? Someone else draws figures in the mud drying on the kitchen floor. She’d forgotten. Someone else. Lying down he looks…She lies down next to Someone else, but not too close, and draws a river split perfectly in two.
Tessa Berring and Kathrine Sowerby are artist/writers living in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland. Their collaborative work has been published in DATABLEED, Zarf and forthcoming in 3:AM Magazine. They performed their poem in 4 acts, Tables & Other Animals, at the Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh, 2016 and Cat, Dog, Rat was a performance/installation at Bone Digger: Golden Hour Presents at Summerhall, Edinburgh, 2016. Handmade publications include Tables & Other Animals and BAZOOKA.
More at https://tessaberring.tumblr.com/ , https://kathrinesowerby.com/