The water runs thick and dark from the tap. It hits the bath like bullets then spreads over the porcelain and grows, heaves and wavers. It smells like dirt, metal, rust. Steam creeps across the mirror, first at the edges, then it fills completely until the girl is a reflected haze.
Her mother’s in the room next door, telling her things, putting on earrings. May stands in the bath, waiting. The pounding water echoes and drowns her mother’s voice, and May kneels down. The water crawls up her legs to her thighs, to her vagina, and then it overflows.
May was sick with an illness she had caught from her mother, perhaps, or not. Her mother had said, ‘this could have devastating affects’, as she flicked a syringe and brought it to her daughter’s arm, slowly. The doctors were unsure and confused. The results had been indeterminate and so the dosage was increased.
‘Of course she’s sick.’
‘They’re negative, again. This is the third time.’
May had grown immune to the tones of waiting rooms, thermometers, white coats, all kinds of examinations. She was constantly sick. In many ways her mother was like a stay at home nurse; holding damp cloths to May’s forehead in the night, rubbing ointments on her skin, keeping her medicated, inoculated, bandaged, imbibed.
When May awoke in a pool of vomit she was rushed to the hospital immediately, carried like a national treasure, head cloaked in a towel. At home the vomit dried to a crust as they sat and waited inside the white walls, May silent in her mother’s breasts,wide-eyed, awash in the fuss, doctors shuffling all around.
‘I’ve seen her. You don’t see her like I do. This isn’t sick. This is suffering.’
Outside the air is cold and brittle. Tree sticks bend and snap like old bones and underground the pipes are rusting with age. The heavy rains have left many of the drains clogged with leaves and debris, and the town’s water is becoming contaminated.
May’s mother injects her daughter with a non-descript paste. She dabs the puncture hole with an ointment. She is methodical in her nurturing, measured and calm. She puts a damp cloth on May’s forehead and opens the windows. The curtains beat and flap in the wind all night.
She leaves May’s room and goes into the kitchen. In the kitchen she opens the fridge. She takes an apple and things, and then pours the bottled water down the sink. She puts the apple on the table. She pulls out a chair and sits there. She sits there and it’s like she can’t quite think, as though she’s absent. She feels tired and her head, slowly, drops. Then it lifts again. It drops, and then, it lifts. And it keeps happening. She can’t quite balance it. She can’t quite sleep or stay awake. Her head lifts when May screams but then without thought, it drops again. She does this until the rain stops moaning, and the wind, and the sun is up.
When the men in white coats came for her, May had been hospitalised thirteen times. She had been diagnosed and misdiagnosed; she had been injected, maimed, sutured, screened, and infected.
May watches her mother from the room next door. Her mother is in the kitchen brushing her hair. It is long and blonde and almost unreal. Each stroke is so gentle and so perfectly paced. From the start to the very end. She pets her hair, twists the flyaways between her fingers then drops them on the floor like dust.
She doesn’t know that they are coming, that the van is turning the corner and careening down the street. The van is white like the men inside it. They are tall and stiff-backed. There is the sound of car doors shutting. There is the sound of footsteps coming closer.
She stops and holds the brush in the air. A solitary blonde strand curls and floats and for a moment the time is suspended until so softly it drifts some more, down to the tiles where it ends. And she calls for May. And she calls for May again. And she calls for May again. And she calls for May again.