Editors’ Note: Dreaming is the winner of the Hilary 2020 500 Words Competition. Judge Natalie Haynes writes that the piece “combines a wonderful clarity and a capacity to illuminate an ordinary scenario: the imagination has created something incisive, emotional and warm.”
Tonight I sleep inside my own body. Face pressed to the pillow sheet, the rest of me curled inside me. When I was younger, my mother would tell me that this was what it was like to be in the womb: dreamlike, suddenly and brilliantly aware that you are walking around within yourself. The room is dark, and I think about my mother telling me this. I’d watched her as she’d sat on the side of the bed, feeling as though my body was not my own; like I was watching the two of us from outside. I remember her talking about hunger, tenderness; how the body is a circumference which eventually stops. Sleep, my darling – she had whispered – and then had taken my hair into her own until everything had smelled of milk and dirt.
The day before had been the day my sister was born. In the morning, my father had woken me up and I wondered if my body had always felt like this: heavier, and saggy, as if something had turned itself inside out and sewn itself up again. We were eating eggs for breakfast again, he said, because my mother had been craving them in the past week and he had bought too many. The fridge was now lined with boxes of them: brown eggs and white eggs and quail’s eggs. My father took a picture of them, then, and sent it to my mother’s parents. I think he liked how they looked there, sat together. There was something weirdly comforting about opening them with your thumbs; heating the cold liquid inside with butter – eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, my mother so pregnant now that she had to stop every ten seconds or so to catch her breath. Later that day, my sister would be pulled out from my mother, and I would think of all the colours like eggs: my mother’s hair stringy like yolk, her skin white like the shell.
Before my father took us all to the hospital, he danced with my mother in the kitchen. I watched them from the stairs. They had always danced like this, but they weren’t used to the shape of my mother taking up so much space. She was huge, I thought, like a swollen fruit about to burst. In the car on the way there, my fingers found the stretchmarks that crept above the line of her jeans, tracing small tributaries and purple rivers that seeped into her flesh. I sat on the backseat with her and my body. We sang Elvis songs and I thought about how much I felt like crying, just to see if I could. Any tears that came out of my body, I thought, would no longer be mine. Later, my mother would cry next to me and our tears would mix into each other and become the same tears. I sleep inside my own body, and my mother chooses to lie next to hers. ∎
Words by Lucy Thynne. Art by Eloïse Fabre.