You would have given anything to trade these white walls for the impossible depths of the forest. Sometimes, when time refused its submission to the laws of physics, you applied your third eye to the blankness, trying to conjure the trees and the passages of mosses and curious flowers. The child who found comfort in the smells of peat and fern, the pollen of trees.
“Water?” The voice at the door. Sometimes, reflections shifted along the metal grate and you mistook them for rats. There was a reason for the nibble marks at the corner of your bed sheet.
Back in the summer of your most significant year, you spent all your days in the forest. She taught you it all: how to use moss to squeeze out drinking water, how to make garlands from branches of ivy, how to select edible mushrooms, to pick special berries which made you sick for days in a wild coma. Nobody cared where either of you were. The first time with the berries you had tangled yourselves in a fall of leaves and lay there for what felt like a week. The changes from dawn to dusk, twilight to midnight, startled your heightened senses. Dark lashes upon gold would gorge your eyeballs. She found you endlessly hilarious in a way nobody has since. Her limbs around you like tree roots, securing. She was three years older; she knew everything. She would talk about the early days when the country was ravished by conflicts. It was a fairy tale, a terrible fiction cloaked in the dust of her accent, its gravel, its distance. Impossible to predict that such a thing could happen again.
“Water?” The door banged open, a bowl was set down. A shadow turned and left.
Sometimes in dreams you’re under a waterfall. The deepest grove in the forest. The sun from above refracts and sparkles in the downward surge, which you see from beneath as a converging spiral of quartz-bright light. When you wake the white of the walls is blinding. The water tastes metallic. The bruise round your eyes never heals; its permanence is the nightshade power of poisoned safflower, a strong red tint that blurs your vision. He comes in the morning to beat it again, beating the sight out of you. You focus on the white, on the waterfall, the shimmering distance of the forest.
Your ribs have been cracked. Your spine twisted like a thread of rope pulled tight in a coil, each knot clicking out of place, screech after scratch. The searing quality of this pain you have channelled back into the white. The edges shiver. Your skull has been cracked against the cistern. He holds your hair in a fist, calls it torture. You have no answers. You are only white.
There is a hollow inside you. A child inside you. She is cold and quivers in the bowers of pines, her skin scored raw by the coarsest hide. She listens for the girl who would tell her the secrets. She has not been broken; she lives in the hollow like the seed of an oak tree, her breathing remembering a dream of eternity.
One thing he cannot crack.
She taught her how to tie a necklace from dark elastications of pitch and sap. The little acorn pendant hidden in the crest of her neck, a bead between two chest bones. How she relished those chest bones, the unbroken curves, the bead of the acorn, impeccably shelled. The child inside her, cold, quivering, alone?
/ Maria Sledmere
(fff prompt: acorn)