Emer Lyons has poetry and fiction published in The Cardiff Review, Southword, Mimicry, Turbine, Queen Mob’s Tea House and more. She is a PhD candidate in contemporary queer poetry at the University of Otago, Dunedin.
The Girl With The Spoon In Her Eye
Shelly took a spoon to her eye and scooped it out. Some people thought she was crazy like the woman downtown who’d a big job before “her nerves got to her.” Now she’d no job and spent her days roaming the streets shouting about bananas and accusing people of robbing money out of her purse.
“Can you be crazy when you’re only a child?” I asked my brother Trevor.
“It’s a pretty crazy thing to do.”
“Maybe she was just curious, wanted to know what’d happen.”
“What else was gonna happen?”
Trevor walked off in a huff because I was asking, “stupid eejit” questions, as usual. Maybe she stuck a spoon in her eye to check if she was magic or religious in a Padre Pio kind of way, I thought to myself as I trekked out the door and up the terrace.
“Wanna see my room?” I asked the maybe religious, maybe crazy Shelly hovering behind her grandfather who lived two houses away. She agreed and pushed her packed pram up the ramp to our house. She’d squashed ten or so dolls and teddy bears in there.
“Why would a teddy bear be in a pram?”
“Because I put it in there.”
“Why don’t you leave it down here?” I took her one wide-eyed silence as a no and helped her carry the pram up the stairs. It was one of those old-fashioned ones with the front wheels bigger than the back ones; they banged awkwardly off my legs. I showed her my kitchen that I had gotten that Christmas and my dolls that were mostly headless and limbless.
“Why do you take them apart?” She’d a small voice; I’d to lean in to hear her slight lisp.
“Same reason you poked out your eye,” I looked down at the dolls, some with limbs forced back into place by my mother. “Usually I’m sorry after.” I looked into her one good eye.
“I want to go.” She grabbed the curved wooden handle of her pram and stood behind it waiting for me to open the door like I was her husband.
“I just tear them apart for no reason.”
I was standing against the door trying to explain that I didn’t think she was crazy like the woman with the bananas but she wasn’t listening and got frightened when I wouldn’t let her leave my room. She starting crying and rammed the pram into me so I’d get out of the way. She tunnelled it down the stairs, clanking the wheels off every step.
The hospital had given her a children’s eye patch with little yellow cartoon ducks waddling along it. I suppose to make the whole thing a bit less depressing whenever she looked in the mirror and didn’t look, as she put it herself, “like the rest of us.” She ran off out the door and down the ramp; I ran down the stairs after her.
“Why all the running?”
Jim, from next door, was sitting on his steel fold-up chair outside his front door with his big dark glasses on and wide-brimmed hat, to try and protect his skin from the beaming sun that had already brown spotted his forehead. I grabbed one of the cooking apples that had fallen off his tree, all worm holes and rot, and threw it down the lane after the girl with the eye patch even though she was long gone inside. It rolled sadly to a stop a metre away from my feet. Jim started to introduce me to the people in his photographs for the hundredth time that week. They sat around him on the same kind of steel fold-up seats, each to their own, looking out at the world from inside peeling fake silver frames; the photos of their beautiful faces faded from the sun they were forced to endure every nice day. At night, he’d bang on the thin wall attaching our semi-detached houses, shouting at us while we tried to sleep to keep the noise down because he always thought we were having parties.
“I met them all yesterday.” I said stomping off down our garden to get some peace away from him and his stories about the same old thing. I grabbed at leaves and shredded them between my fingers, pushed my way into the gap of the hazel shrub at the bottom of the sloped hill. The sun beat down around me but inside was cool. I traced my fingers in spirals in the earth until the cat found me and I started to tell him all about what happened with Shelly and how I was sorry about ole Jim but he probably wouldn’t remember. The cat’s white fur was smudged black all over from the hours he spent draped across the coals, red hot from the sun high in the clean blue sky. He came up to my knees. “Christ, he’s a monster of a thing,” visitors said when he sidled over to them rubbing white fur all down their pants legs. I picked him up round the middle and dragged him inside the house with me, his purrs vibrating against my arms. Thank God Jim was gone in and I didn’t have to face him again.
“Shelly’s mother was round, said Shelly was a bit upset after being here earlier.”
My mother was standing at the sink, suds up to her elbows as she talked down to me crouched on the ground trying to empty the cat’s food into his bowl while his pink scratchy tongue whipped into the tin. I stayed crouched, rubbing him while between bites he nudged my knees with the butt of his head.
“I was only trying to tell her I understood about the spoon and I was asking her about the teddy bears in her pram and she got all queer and ran off.”
“Ya, that’s all.”
“You’d tell me if twasn’t all, hey?”
“Ya, I’d tell ya.” I turned round on my heel and walked off into the sitting room without having to look at her. Trevor was kicking and punching the air in front of James Bond Junior.
“Why were ya like that with Jim?”
“Like what?” Trevor was always around, skulking in shadows.
“Ignoring him. Don’t you think he feels bad enough without all them people in the photos?”
“Does he know those people?” Trevor threw a look back at me that would’ve soured milk, and gave me the silent back of his head. I stood there behind him for a few minutes pretending to be all gripped by the television screen, my cheeks burning from his look. How did he know that Jim knew those people in the pictures? The pictures looked to me like the kind that came already inside the frame, the people inside filling the space with their smiling, white-toothed, blandly beautiful faces.
The front door was a little open; I saw Shelly and her family drive off down the terrace. I caught a glimpse of the ducks waddling in the car window reflection. The next time I saw her she’d no patch but two eyes; the left one shone like a marble in her head.
Dinner was beans and fish fingers. They came out of the oven with the breaded edges and underneath crisp, on the cusp of burning. The buttered white bread sat stacked in the middle of the table. I mushed its glistening edge into the bean juice on my plate drinking sups of milk while there was still food in my mouth.
“What happened with Shelly?”
“Ye’re all very interested in Shelly.” I shouted at my Dad, his eyes sad and deep on his pale face. I shouldn’t be shouting at everyone all the time, Mum would say when I’d be shouting at her. He pushed himself up on his hands and looked away from me down at his dinner, in that disappointed way. “I tried to tell her that I don’t think she’s crazy for sticking a spoon in her eye but now she’s thinks I’m the mad one for trying to be nice to her. She’s a dope anyway.”
“She’s not a dope. Don’t call her that.”
“She’s not a…I was only trying to make her feel better about only having one feckin’ eye.”
“Did she lose her eye?” Dad directed the question to Mum, who was staring off into space, fork sifting through the food on her plate.
“They won’t know til after she’s had the patch on six weeks,” she said to the kitchen wall.
“Who gives a shite whether she lost or kept her eye?” I was shouting again.
“You were the one saying you were trying to make her feel better, seems you give a shite.”
Other people’s families got mad, got up and walked out the back door. I couldn’t do something as simple as lock a girl with an eye patch in my room or tell Jim to shut it without the three of them waiting at home to talk to me about it. The cat hopped up behind me on the wooden kitchen chair; I sat back and nearly squashed him. He didn’t hiss or scratch, he meowed so I realised just in time, another member of the calm gang. I sat with my darkness flaring, two hairbands wedged over my brown curls, wellington boots on the opposite feet. I looked at them in turn as they continued to eat and talk about how Trevor had dug a massive hole in the garden. He gave the nightly progress report as if the whole Shelly episode had never happened.
“I found this huge rock and it was wedged into the side of the hole so I had to dig real hard around it.” I thought about Shelly having dinner that night, would she be allowed cutlery?
“Can I help dig tomorrow?” I blurted out; my parents looked at Trevor.
“Maybe, if you don’t get all crazy about it.”
“I might stick the shovel in my eye so I can get an eye patch like Shelly’s.” I lifted off the seat, swinging the cat off, his claws sprawled for landing. I waited upstairs in my room for someone to come up and challenge me, but they stayed downstairs and waited. They knew I’d go down eventually because they had the television and the biscuits.