Don’t take lightly the descending of night.
Content warning: Depiction of/references to animal and human abuse
My first memory of darkness is enveloped by pain. Pain’s presence. Pain’s absence.
I, a restless child, was often put to sleep by my own sobs.
Trapped in the garden shed, I thought: If only I were an animal then I wouldn’t be so afraid. If I were an animal, I’d have claws to scratch out the eyes of my enemies. Fangs to intimidate, to maim. A throat that growls. I could climb walls. Get out.
I have a cat. Her fur is as white as pristine printing paper. Her blue eyes remind me of my favourite marble, the one I would let no one near. That was the kind of eight-year-old I was; I knew how to covet. I knew how to hide what I coveted. My mother called me a sly, selfish brat. She wondered who I took after since it was not her, and barely my father.
Eight-year-old me also knew survival must take on many forms. To lie. To please. To plead. To weasel my way out of situations by appealing to the more sympathetic parent. But sympathy doesn’t always translate to action.
One night. A second night. Then a third in the garden shed.
I dread the sound of footsteps on gravel. It’s why I don’t eat cereal. The crunching noise. It’s why I can’t explain why I suddenly become a ghost around people who eat cereal. Who in their right mind has something against cereal? Cereal is harmless. So are ghosts (mostly). The main difference between cereal and ghosts is that ghosts carry barrage. Cereal does not.
When the crunching noise stops outside the garden shed door, it is best to not move, not even breathe. If I have to breathe, then the breath must be slow, drawn out.
The best sound on these nights [that seemed to (last forever)] was a soft mewing outside. Though the cat was right outside I knew it was better to remain silent. I was afraid to call on something that once arrived never leaves.
A poor excuse for inflicting pain on a child is because you are their parent and therefore within your right. Asking why your child resents you without reflecting on your own actions is like wondering how a fire you’ve lit yourself could have grown so out of control, when you have been feeding it fuel.
Pretending that the past doesn’t exist is a coping mechanism. I’ve tried to understand why you defaulted to this apathetic position. Perhaps you wanted to protect yourself.
The past exists, always. Persisting as present and future, forever and ever. It brings on darkened wings the winding of the clock-hand, the setting and rising of the sun, the changing of seasons. Winter, spring, summer, autumn and seasons without names. Still, we feel those seasons. We live and outlive them. Some painfully short. Others excruciatingly long.
When the cat died she did so a few streets away from home. Children should be given credit for learning things no one teaches them. I knew from one glance that it was my cat and she was dead. Mother said she was just sleeping. I knew this was a lie.
Maybe the cat had been on her way home. Fur matted with mud and grime. Things supposed to be inside were outside. I dreamt of scrubbing her fur clean. Scrubbing myself clean.
Isn’t that our cat? Father asked, adjusting the rear view mirror to get a better look.
Good riddance, Mother said. It’s distracting our daughter from her studies.
She did not turn to look at the body. She said, All things die eventually. If you have time and energy to be sad then you have time and energy to study.
I asked where we were going.
To the hardware store, Mother said.
I thought it might be to buy a shovel to bury the cat.
To buy a second garden-shed, Father said. The first one’s gotten too full.
Children should be given credit for daring to ask questions they already know the answer to. Still I asked, What’s the second one for?
For whatever we want, Mother answered. Our eyes met in the mirror.
Disobedient children included.
My first memory of light is enveloped by laughter. Laughter’s presence. Laughter’s absence. Then, a wicked laughter. From deep within and all around. Laughter that goes on forever.
I, a restless adult, am often put to sleep by my own sobs.
Jennifer Nguyen is a queer, Vietnamese–Australian writer, poet and editor. Her fiction, poetry and non-fiction has appeared in Ibis House, Scum Mag, The Lifted Brow Online, Bowen Street Press Review, among others, and has performed her writing at various places such as Melbourne Writers’ Festival and West Writers’ Forum. Her first chapbook ‘When I die slingshot my ashes onto the surface of the moon’ is forthcoming with Subbed In in early 2019. She is a Djed Press editorial mentee, member of West Writers’ Group, and was a participant of Winter Tangerine & Kundiman Online workshop ‘To Carry Within Us An Orchard, To Eat’. Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @jennguyennifer.