I’m pleased to turn this post over to my talented friend and colleague, Emma Newman. Take it away, Emma:
This is the thirteenth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.
The Wishing Book
Monica dropped the boxes outside the bedroom door. The procrastination had to stop; the removal company would be there first thing in the morning. Her fingers hovered above the doorknob, the fluttering in her chest making her breathe rapidly. She shut her eyes as her hand fell to her side, clammy. She’d start on it after lunch.
After making packet soup using the only mug and spoon left unpacked, she perched on a box full of cooking books and stirred, imagining moving out with the small bedroom left as it had been for the last six months. In her fantasy, no-one new moved in and the house was soon cocooned in ivy, spiders filling the corners with epic silken landscapes. The room would stay as it was forever, even as the city crumbled around it, even as the house decayed and was slowly taken apart by nature’s assault, the pink, purple and white would remain perfect.
The phone rang, she jumped and lumpy pseudo-soup sloshed over the edge of the mug and burnt her fingers. Swearing, she hunted for the handset in the cardboard labyrinth.
“Monica? Are you moving house?”
“Well? Are you?”
“And when were you going to tell me?”
There was a long pause as various acerbic responses came to mind.
“I was going to ask if you needed any help,” Carrie added. She never could stand silences.
“Really?” Monica knew all her sister wanted was a chance to nose through her stuff and see how dusty it was beneath the bed and the sofa.
“Why didn’t you tell me you sold the house? I didn’t even know you’d put it on the market.”
“Slipped my mind,” Monica inspected the red skin on her finger. “I’ve been busy.”
“But it’s only been six months. Are you sure this is a good idea? They say you shouldn’t make life-changing decisions for at least a year after-”
“The ones on daytime TV?” Monica looked up at the ceiling, feeling her edges fraying. “Look, I’ve got stuff I need to do. I’ll call with the new address when I’ve moved in.”
“Have you packed her room yet?”
“I’ve got to go, there’s someone at the door.”
Monica stabbed the red button, shaking. “I didn’t tell you I was moving because I knew you’d have something to say about it,” she said to the dead handset. “And I knew it would be bullshit.”
She went back to the mug, the lumps had joined and formed a thick crust. She wasn’t hungry anyway. For a long time she stood there, looking out on the back garden, the grass so high she couldn’t see the plastic anymore. There was no way she was going to find the toys and pull them from the places they’d been left. She didn’t want her hands to be the last to touch them.
The tears drummed on the draining board. She’d made the right decision. Living there wasn’t living at all, it was noticing the silence, it was walking past that room at night and not going in to check on her. It was life cast in negative, everything defined by what didn’t happen there anymore. The kitchen table was now just the place where she once coloured and made dresses for her dolls. The sofa was merely something no longer jumped on, the bathroom a tiled box, bereft of squirted water and squeals.
“Just get it over with!” she shouted at herself.
As she climbed the stairs, Monica tried to remember the last time she went into the room but there was nothing. Instead, she remembered being six and running to the bathroom and yanking out the tooth that had been wobbling for days because she just couldn’t stand the build-up any more. Blood in the sink turned into blood on the pavement outside, six months before.
She opened the door.
Hesitantly, she stepped in, relieved and devastated in equal measure that it no longer smelt of her. There was a cardboard box on the sheepskin rug she’d forgotten. It had been there for weeks, full of things from around the house that had been scooped up and dumped inside. Her colouring pencils, the dolls which had been in the living room, pictures she’d drawn that Monica had taken off the fridge on one of the blackest days. On top was the book.
She lifted it out gently, smiling at the hundreds of hand-drawn stars decorating the cover. “Happy birthday Mummy!” she could hear her now, so clearly. She’d asked what it was. “A wishing book. A fairy gave it to me. I put the stars on it.” She’d asked how it worked. “You write a wish in it and it comes true!”
That was the day before she died.
Sometime later, Monica dried her face and got an empty box. She picked a bear off a shelf, laid it in reverently, then, sobbing, swept the rest in with one frantic sweep of her arm. Once loved toys were stuffed brutally into square brown prisons and she moved through the room like a mad thing, tearing the bedding off and trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. Her throat was raw, awful animal noises of pure grief filling the space.
When it was done she rushed into the bathroom and vomited. As she brushed her teeth, she decided to go to a hotel for the night, come back in the morning, unlock the door for the removals men and then just wait in the car until they’d emptied the place. The decision made her feel like she could make it through the rest of the day.
The book was lying in the doorway, presumably toppled in the madness, its stars glittering. She picked it up and without thinking why, got a pen from her handbag and opened it.
I wish you were still alive.
I wish that driver had seen you.
I wish you didn’t run into the road.
I wish I hadn’t left you by the car when I went back inside.
I wish it had been sunny.
I wish I hadn’t forgotten my umbrella.
She looked at the words until they were just nonsensical scrawls. The hallway grew dark, her back ached, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the page. A pressure built in her forehead until it throbbed, her fingers became numb and cold, the pen tumbled onto the carpet. The paper was eventually cast in an orange glow from the lamppost outside. An owl hooted and she wished and wished until it felt like her chest would split open and her heart would be sucked into the book.
Then the front door opened. Monica held her breath, waiting for her daughter to call up the stairs as if she’d just been playing outside.
“Mon? Are you still here?”
Carrie. The wishing book slid from her lap and closed, Monica slumped, spent. What had possessed her? There was no magic in the world. Not anymore.
Thanks for hosting Gareth!
I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em xTags: EJ Newman • Guest Post