Majh Helen Alander + Victoria White

Faces in a Tree

Huldu, Aziza, Fairies, we are all brothers and sisters under the skin. The tree drinks us up in long silver skeins of sap and we poke our faces out through the bark veil of our wooden host to spy on the world passing. We are laughing but we don’t judge you; each year of your life a moment of ours, your baby-gazing at the leaves which will fall, your toddler tantrums, the initials you carve on our cheeks, hand in hand with your gum- chewing lover. Your penknife cuts us to the quick but we share your pain, just as you suspect the marks might last longer than your love, the tattoo on your thigh, because the woman walking behind you is also cute and the man in the distance is hot. We see you approaching, swollen with child, bent in labour as you walk to the hospital because you thought there was time. We suck your fingers with mossy lips, lick with a beetle tongue, but you are too tired to notice our kiss blown on twig fingers as you push the pram in the early morning light. We pity those who walk, dutiful on Sundays, with heads full of doubts and deadlines, and harlequin dogs barking at gulls, reined in on a retractable string as they jump for that first, feathered mouthful, the bones which fly.  And when you meander here, later, with slow steps, hoping to meet a neighbour, your children are a memory in postcards from Canada, stuck to your mirror with a vague promise to visit scrawled as a P.S.  We sense the cold limbo of see you soon read through tears while the kettle boils in an advert break.

Soon, after the solstice fire dancers, we will dive from our tree which falls in a January gale on Edinburgh’s Meadows, sink into the surrendering earth and swim, synchronised with pointed toes, through mud and the mulched leaves of last year’s summer to the root of a new tree, push past each other to be sucked up into the light. Laced with amber, we will lean from the thin, liquid ladders of the thirsty tree which cannot help but draw us in, and see you again as you pass; friends who never tire of the old stories told in changing light.

Writer: Victoria White
Illustrator: Majh Helen Alander

Father for Justice — Roadkill

‘Leave to remove is granted’. The verdict was not a surprise. Papers were being slid into brief-cases and the court was rising to go as Bobby hung suspended in the moment of losing his kids. If this was a new life to be grasped then it was a stillbirth. ‘It is probably for the best, less messy,’ whispered the social worker, squeezing his elbow to steady him.  He nodded, silent, crushed by the juggernaut of his dead marriage.

His plan formed salamander slow in the bath as it cooled, and he remembered the fathers in superhero tights crawling up public buildings as ex- wives drew their children to their breasts and turned off the television with a remote. He could block his wife’s route to the airport, he thought, and, with eyes blackened, a white stripe painted on his nose, the bathroom mat round his shoulders and a bottle of tomato sauce in his hand, he was ready for his stunt. Left with no room to grow into he dad he might have been, he fell into a run, little comfort in the drama he planned. Stepping onto Princes Street behind the number twenty-three bus, he spread eagled himself on the road, appearing in a cloud of exhaust fumes as badger road kill. He squirted sauce by his head and then lay pressed into the tarmac as brakes screamed.  A wall of traffic loomed above him as people ran to his rescue, then stood uncertain whether to touch him, transfixed by the sight of his raw pain which dripped as tears onto the ground and pooled there – each tiny pond the love for his lost children in the Andean grooves of the road.

He never felt the ambulance men lift him up. He never felt the orderly tuck him up in bed. He never felt the nurse’s needle sedate him. He was floating free. In a distant corner of his mind, now an empty room, he remembered he had had something important to say, an important message. Now he lay mute, tucked up in a perfectly laundered bed that no one was allowed to sit on. He longed to be held but no one came. The day crawled in sun shadows across the counterpane, his body the finger of a sundial, and the nurse washed his face and left water for him in a beaker.

Writer: Victoria White
Illustrator: Majh Helen Alander