Lost in the Swaying Corn: Part 1
It was nearly the end of another year.
By this time next week 2006 would have passed into history and it would be 2007. To Emily Leadbitter it was 1997.
It was always 1997.
That had been the first. Every one since had been as subdued and empty and she knew she would never enjoy another Christmas.
Outside, grey cloud had wrapped itself around the sky as it always seemed to on this day and droplets of rain found their way to her windows.
She watched them run down and sometimes across when the wind drove them. There seemed to be no visible clouds for the sky was one giant dull sheet. She might have been looking into a mirror.
In homes all around the country, all around the world, people were smiling and laughing, eating drinking and being merry. Emily would probably drink today but there would be no eating and she certainly would not be merry.
Through the wall in the living room she could hear next door’s television and muffled voices. Christmas was always a big deal next door. Cars began to pull up before Emily could pry herself from bed. They stayed well past tea time and often into the night. It was a family thing, a together thing, a happy thing.
Her house was quiet and dark. Despite the grey she turned on no lights and the television remained silent. Upon it, the photograph of her parents wedding day.
There were smiles that day, that sunny day. Her mother looked so pretty and fresh, not like Emily remembered her at all. She often strained her memory to recall a time her mother actually looked like that. None came to mind.
Throughout Emily’s time, her mother had been hard worked, tired, perhaps not miserable but not singing with the dawn either. On occasions Emily had caught her holding the wedding photo as she polished.
With a sad smile the image would be touched with fingertips and then returned to its place and Emily would sneak off. It might embarrass her mother if she knew she’d been caught stealing away to spend time with her memories.
Although still not miserable, after 1997 her mother had become even further removed from the photograph. She was withdrawn and sullen. Once or twice she and Emily had begun to talk, just like they used to, when a look would come across her mothers face. It was as the moon being covered by cloud, just a slight dimming followed by the eclipse of silver white light. The conversation would end and 1997 came rushing back.
Emily’s father, who had never resembled his recorded counterpart in the slightest, didn’t seem to change much at all except for an undercurrent of contempt of his daughter.
Jack Leadbitter had always been a reserved man. Large andopposing but quiet. He didn’t need words to express upset or disquiet. His movements, his eyes, even his breathing said more than his voice ever could. He had always been a heavy breather.
After 1997 he carried around a constant look of upset which amplified in his daughter’s presence.
He wasn’t unkind. He did in fact love Emily. The look was more of disappointment and shame which was worse than anger or dislike. That he loved her made Emily feel worse she’d let him down, her mother too.
It was worse still that they’d let her down equally, if not more so.
Their pictures sat smiling from the television set. No matter how many hours Emily stared she could never let herself believe they’d forgiven her, either before their death or afterwards. Their smiles were frozen before her but in Emily’s mind she saw only the shame and disappointment.
The summer of ’97 had been brilliant. The best Emily could remember. Perhaps subsequent events had magnified it’s splendour out of all proportion but Emily didn’t think so. For a few precious seconds each day she would forget the autumn and winter of that year and see only the summer as though it never ended, as though those terrible things had never happened.
Heartache returned with remembrance but she cherished those few seconds as she cherished the summer, as she had cherished Lizzie, Mark and Jack. She saw them laughing like she never saw her parents do, she saw it often and heard it too.
That summer played around endlessly in her head on a tortuous loop. She loved the beginning, and the middle was bliss, but she couldn’t stop the end from happening. She couldn't stop the decline in Autumn and Winter. She couldn’t avoid her parent’s faces and she couldn’t avoid lying on the table as the doctor had carried out the procedure.
It was Jack's.
He was so sweet to her. He was sweet to Lizzie too, but he was sweet with everybody. With Emily he was different, there was something else there. He smiled at her differently for one thing.
At times Emily noticed him drifting off whenever they would talk. He didn’t drift off because he was bored or not listening. His face just watched Emily’s and he looked lost in her and happy with it. Sometimes she carried on talking, letting him be lost. Other times she stopped and stared back at him. It always took a few moments for him to find his way back and then he looked embarrassed. Emily loved that, that he got embarrassed over her.
One day in June the four of them were together in Carlton’s wood. The air was hot and oppressive, the bugs out in force. Moving was difficult and thought impossible. The group sat under a tree on the edge of the woods looking out over a corn field. From her vantage point Emily looked out across the yellow, swaying ocean.
At the far end, which seemed miles away, more woods.
Mark had suggested walking to them, to take a look. The others groaned, and kept their eyes closed as the sweat formed and trickled underneath their clothes.
That had been an hour ago and little had been said since. Emily thought Lizzie was asleep. Her breathing was deep and seemed to keep time with the corn which rustled in the faint breeze. Mark’s eyes were closed too but every now and then he hummed a few notes, out of tune, then returned to silence.
Emily could feel the uneven bark through her sticky shirt but was comfortable. The sky was pure blue and her eyes fixed upon it until Jack, who lay next to her, enquired about her gaze.
‘Nothing, I’m just looking at the sky that’s all.’ She smiled. It was a genuine smile which took her by surprise. She was so comfortable despite the heat closing in all around them.
He looked up at the sky. ‘When I was a kid I asked my cousin one day why the sky was blue, you know what he told me?’
‘He said it was only blue to me, because my eyes were blue. He said to him the sky was green and to his mother it was brown.’
Emily laughed, ‘You didn’t believe him?’
‘I was six of course I did. A few days later it was raining and my mom found me crying in my bedroom, really sobbing. She asked what was wrong and I couldn’t tell her because I was crying so hard. Finally when she calmed me down, I told her I didn’t want grey eyes, that I wanted them to be blue again. She didn’t have a clue what……’
Emily stared, lost.
It was the first time for her.
Behind the rustle of the corn she could hear his words in the distance. They didn’t matter one little bit.
‘….until finally she picked me up in front of a mirror and showed me they were still blue, I’d never been so relieved in my life!’
Jack and Mark were laughing. Lizzie smiled, awake obviously. Emily stared at Jack in wonder surrounded by laughter, the buzz of insects and the gentle rustle of the corn.
That day Emily had been sitting not two miles from where she now sat, on her sofa, in the dark, on Christmas day. If she were to walk there now it wouldn’t even be the same place.
The drone of the bugs would be silent, the tree would be wet and the ground muddy. The corn field would be an open expanse of brown, tilled earth and the sky would be grey. It would be unrecognisable and why not? That was after all how she felt and had felt for years.
The first time she was lost, on that day, she felt her stomach churn and she didn’t think she could sit still. There was something that had to be gotten out of her.
When she came back around they were still laughing and so she laughed with them. It delighted her to be the only one who knew what she was really laughing about.
Of course it wasn’t funny.
She thought she might be in love with Jack and that was pretty scary for a girl of seventeen. But to laugh and get something out felt good. The release meant she wouldn’t explode and she really believed she would if she didn’t do something.
She could have run across the field at that moment, fighting the corn every inch of the way, to the woods on the other side. Once there she would turn around and scream. Just scream, no words. Just a long senseless scream as loud and hard as she could and afterwards she would fall down laughing again because it was all she could do with this thing inside of her.
It was only a few minutes old when Emily realised her love for him had changed her entirely. She felt like a whole new person as she sat in the muggy air, laughing with her friends, and Jack.
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