Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mourning Dove

At night, the very air itself seemed to come alive.  It crackled with the energy of unknown noises, monsters and the magic of the dark.  Josh lay in his bed and thought about what could be out there, aside from the things he had memorised from the dog-eared animal book his mom had bought him three years previous. 

Crickets, rattlesnakes, owls, raccoons, rats and wolves.  Animals of the night.  Josh loved wolves.  He had a t-shirt with a wolf on it, in front of a mountain, howling at the moon.

Josh lay listening to the world outside his window.  He couldn’t have slept, even if he’d wanted to.

He once asked his granpa if they were from a wolf tribe.  His mom was in the room tidying away dishes.  His granpa didn’t really answer.  He shook his head a little, but just mostly stared out of the kitchen window.  His mom said they weren’t from any tribe and that Josh should help her with the dishes.  Josh did.

Josh’s granpa didn’t look like the Indians in books or on the T.V.  He wore suits every day and his hair short, cut once a week.  Josh had hair down to his ears and sometimes wore baggy t-shirts.  But Josh was sure his granpa was an Indian.  His skin was dark.  His nose was sharp.  His hair was black and sleek.

Josh’s hair was brown and his skin was pale, but his eyes were as dark as his granpa’s.

Josh lay in his bed in the summer heat, listening to the outside behind the whir of the room fan which did little to the air, so thick you could bite it.

Days before, an Indian ‘chief’ (as Ms. Halbard had called him) gave a talk at Josh’s school.  He looked more like the Indians you see on T.V. except he was wearing jeans and a shirt.  He told them about his tribe, the Potawatomi, the Pot-ah-what-oh-me, and he told them about their myths and legends.  Nanaboozhoo, nan-a-boo-zoo? was one. And the mourning dove was another.  More-ning-duv.
He told them if you hear a mourning dove on your roof first thing, someone in the house is going to die.  The Indian ‘chief’ smiled at them, his wide grin and white teeth captivating the crowd and setting them at ease.  Josh swore the ‘chief’ winked at him before he left.  Just him.  But he never told anyone.

Now Josh couldn’t sleep.  He was waiting.  But the lull of the fan cutting through the air, the noise of the night turning white, his eyes began to sink and he floated away into the black of the room.  He floated and swam in the cold, dark water that his consciousness sailed on, sinking, rising, flying in the black ether, drinking it all as it drank him.

But then he couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t fly and he was sinking as fast as a rock.  He tried to stop, any way that he could.  He kicked and punched and breathed the first breaths of a new life as the glass of water fell and his mother stirred in the next room.  Josh checked his crotch and smelled his hand to make sure it was just sweat, and then got up, picking the glass up from the floor. He threw an old t-shirt on the wet patch and hoped it would soak up before his mom saw it.

Josh took the glass through to the kitchen.  The bathroom was closer but his mom had told him never to drink from there.  He pushed at the cold tap.  It must have been his granpa who used it last.  It was bolted tight.  He always turned it off too hard, especially if he was getting water for his rye.  Josh tried to turn it until his knuckles went pale and the muscle behind his thumb cramped.  He went to the fridge and found a jug of water.  He filled the glass and returned to his room, drinking it all as soon as the door was closed.  The water was so cold that it hurt his teeth and the back of his throat.  It went straight to his gut and met the nervous warmth head on, making his fists clench and his toes curl.  He fell into his bed the wrong way round and sank.  The hands of the night took him again.

The first thing Josh heard as he peeled the sleep away was a cooing through the open window.  The cooing of a mourning dove through his roof.

He bolted down the stairs with excitement and dread and the same cold gut as the middle of the night.  His mom was cooking huevos rancheros and his granpa was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s granpa?”
“What do you mean?  Has he gone out somewhere?”
“No, have you seen him today?”
“No, I was about to call to him”
“But he’s normally up by now!”
Josh’s mom shrugged.
“Sleeping in, I guess”
“Mom, we need to go and wake him.  We need to see if he’s OK”
“What do you mean?  Let him rest up if he wants to.  God knows he’s earned it”
“No, mom, no!  We have to see if he’s OK”

Josh’s mom waved her hand dismissively at the boy, and that was most certainly the end of the conversation.  Josh stormed out of the kitchen in near tearful frustration and marched up to his granpa’s room.  He knocked hurriedly on the door but was met with the silence he was dreading.  He knocked again.  Longer.  Harder.
“Joshua!  Leave your granpa alone!”
Josh breathed the frustration through his nose, closed his eyes and counted to ten before quickly turning the handle.
“Joshua, I swear to god if you’ve gone in his room!  Why can’t you let him sleep?”
But Josh could see something his mother couldn’t.  He could see a lump in his granpa’s bed.  A person-sized lump that wasn’t moving.
“Joshua, don’t make me come up there!”
But he couldn’t stop.  He raced to the other side of the bed and, with a shaking hand, pulled back the sheet.
“What are you up to, Josh?”
Josh’s eyes darted between his granpa’s face and the empty bed.  His granpa’s face.  The empty bed.
His granpa stood in the doorway of his room with a towel around his waist.  His short, black, whitening hair glistened with water and his dark eyes met Josh’s.
“What are you doing, Josh?”
“I...  I thought...”
His granpa moved his head in slightly closer as he waited for an answer.
In the silence of them both waiting, Josh could hear the scrape of a metal spatula against an iron skillet. 
The scraping stopped.  And Josh ran.

Everyone knew that the ghosts were in the woods.  That’s where the Indian ghosts went, the ones whose graves were disturbed.  Everyone at school said it.  Chad had even found a ring. He said there was Indian treasure in the woods and he had found it at the bottom of a lake when he went exploring and now he couldn’t get it off his finger because it had bonded with him.  That's what he had said, anyway.  Chad never spoke to Josh, but Mr. Mackeson shouted at him in phys-ed and he told the teacher and now everyone knew that too.  Josh wanted to be brave as well, braver than Chad.  Chad was Scottish/German and had no damn right to that ring. So Josh couldn’t see the bottom, but he was going to be brave.  He stripped off to his underwear, leaving his clothes in a pile by the lake shore.  He put his first foot in and tried not to jump when the cold hit him. 

The water was so cold that it hurt his knees and made his back spasm.  It went straight to his gut and met the nervous warmth head on, making his fists clench and his toes curl. 

But he was going to be brave. The water was calm, not at all like the sea. Thinner, dirty and dark. Lifeless.  As he walked further, his feet began to disappear.  Then his ankles.  Then his knees.  Then his waist.  Then everything.  As he opened his eyes, all he could see was darkness.  He swam and he swam in any direction he could, drinking the blackness as it drank him.

The End.