Chapter Fifteen. Insomnia

 

Ag Fair, West Tisbury, 2013, by Ed Keating


An excerpt from Sian Rebecca Williams’ second novel, Fourteen.

By Sian Rebecca Williams

She comes at me like a snake, green-eyed and jealous of my slumber. I sense her, watching my face so that my eyelids twitch. I stir and roll over on to my other side. But it’s no good.

I feel her claws in me, tugging me into wakefulness despite the fact that the darkness — heavy, cloying — cloaks my bedroom like a vampire’s cape. I close my eyes, and images play before me. A movie reel of isolated shots, Raven, a child, reaching for my hand. Hawken, standing in the doorway, too big for the house. Jimmy, cigarette between his lips, eyes squinting. The pond, Rob floating, belly up, swollen and grotesque.

The foghorn calls, reaching out to the lonely, the lost, the sleepless. A bleak reminder of living on an island. The bewitching hoot punctuates the silence. I’m not sure where I am, clearly not in my own bed. The smell is different, something earthy and fecund. Insomnia is a female energy to me; I think of her with hair as red as mine and language just as fiery. She disappears for a time and re-emerges, vicious in her quest to keep me sleepless.

My old boss from my catering days told me to get up when insomnia attacks, to utilise the burst of energy, clean, read, write, whatever.  I lie on my back and focus on my breathing. My mind flits from one thing to another, hovering on scattered thoughts like flies on a carcass.

*  *   *

I lost her at the Ag Fair when she was 4. We are lovely in our sundresses, golden-skinned and russet-haired. Gorgeous on the outside, broken on the inside. He has left me, Raven’s father, and I am in the denial stage, almost high on my newfound freedom. There’s mania in my walk and in the glistening of my eyes.  “Fuck him” is my mantra. I have Raven’s little hand in mine, soft and pliant, and we are walking toward the entrance of the fairground. I stop and pay at the kiosk. Raven holds out her wrist for the stamp. I point out the roller coaster, “Look Raven, see the people?” They are screaming and Raven looks up, eyes huge with terror. Yet she says nothing, her face frozen as she tries to understand, the contradiction of happy faces and screaming.

We walk past the rides and over to the field where the Island famed skillet toss takes place. I have my brown work boots on with my dress, and my arms are skinny, yet strong. I practised the toss in my backyard this morning, and broke two cast iron skillets in the process. My aim was for his head, the face, the body I loved so hard. My hate was just as hard, harder perhaps. I had dreamed of plunging a dagger into his eye, a vision so violent and bloody, I had woken up trembling in fear

that I had actually done it. I put all this energy into my toss, even YouTubing techniques and working on my running swing.

There’s a line of women at the gate, signing in with the judges. There are age categories, and I say my age, “25,” with relish, hoping I’m at the peak of my game. Somewhere in the process I have let go of her hand, and I glance over at her, sitting by the gate watching the glistening flanks and swishing tails of the workhorses as they are led to the barn.

The sun beats down on us, relentless, against a vivid blue sky. I hear the crowd lively with anticipation; this event draws a large crowd of islanders. The field is dusty and bare of grass after the pounding of the horses hooves on it, and the divots created by the farmworker’s boots in the tug of war. I smell manure and sweat and a myriad of odors from the food vendors.

I wait amongst the women and talk to none. Some are large and muscled as one would imagine, others are surprisingly slight and delicate and look like anyone’s mother. My category is called, and we line up. I’m toward the end because my last name starts with “M.” There are some good tosses, well-practised, confident swings that could surely knock a man dead. After these, people gasp and cheer, and the judges measure the distance and announce the score. There are the dainty throws of the inexperienced and the wild throws of the enthusiastic.

“Wren Moore,” the announcer calls, and I walk into the middle of the sundried field. I pick up the skillet; it feels reassuringly heavy. I stand solid in my boots, right leg leading. I swing two, three times, my right arm reaching high and the left meeting it skyward. I let go and feel it leave my hand, and land with a satisfying thunk on the hard soil. There’s a momentary silence, then a whoop from the bystanders. I go again, better this time. “Nice form,” someone shouts.

I curtsy, and the crowd, who gather on the benches and lean against the fence surrounding the field, clap.

“Fifty-two feet!” the announcer says. “Might be a winner.”

And it is. I get the blue ribbon for my category and a cash prize for overall winner. In my euphoria, I have forgotten Raven, and I leave the buzzing crowd and walk to where I last saw her by the gate. I panic, asking a couple of bystanders if they’ve seen a little girl in a flowery dress. Their faces are concerned. I run to the barn and push past the people who crowd around the cages stuffed with bunnies, chickens and ducks. I go up and down the stalls where small children press their faces close to the stalls to look at horned goats and miniature horses. I think I see her by the pigs, and I reach for the little girl, and her mother gives me a shocked stare and says, “This one’s mine.”

I run past the field and into the mayhem of the rides and the teen girls, sweating sex in tiny shorts and belly-baring tops. Boys gather in clusters watching the girls. Red-faced mothers battle through the throngs, stroller wheels colliding with ankles.

The Lost and Found tent is manned by two cops, sitting complacent in their too-tight uniforms.

“How can I help you, ma’am?”

“My daughter is lost,” I say. “She’s 4.”

“She was brought to us, ma’am,” says the younger-looking, round-faced officer. “Poor little mite crying for her mama by the alpaca tent.”

“Oh thank God,” I say. “Where is she?”

“Won a ribbon, did ya?” says the older cop, staring at me with eyes too close together and thin, harsh lips. “That how ya lost your daughter?”

“She was right there one minute, gone the next.” My voice sounds shrill.

“That’s what happens,” says the older cop. “Kids go missing all the time. Ya gotta watch ‘em.”

“Where is my daughter?” I say. “Where’s Raven?”

“Thought she was saying Raymond,” said the younger cop. “She didn’t get real upset till she thought we couldn’t say her name.”

“I’m not surprised; why would a little girl be called Raymond?” I say. “Tell me where she is right now.”

The older cop stands up, smooths his shirt into his black-belted pants. “Follow me, ma’am. She’s at First Aid.”

She is sitting in a corner, putting a bandage on a doll. The kind of realistic dummy used for training CPR.

“Raven, my love,” I say, reaching for her. She looks up at me, eyes cold as a shark, and goes back to her bandaging.

“Mommy’s here,” says the elderly female nurse. She pats Raven on her shoulder.

“I know,” says Raven.

*  *   *

The mournful cry of the foghorn, in wretched harmony with the shriek of the screech owl, they bestow me with intuition, and I receive flashes of truth so sharp, so tangible, that I am stunned. And I know that I have lost Raven and this time I might never find her, because however relentlessly she searches, she will not find me here.

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