We cast spells behind closed doors. We tuck lucky charms into Mommy’s purse, into Daddy’s pockets. We forage for treasure that will transform our brittle concoctions into the right strength for magic. The forest floor snaps and sighs beneath our mud-grained boots. My sister gathers helicopter seeds, feather-moss, butterfly wings. I don’t tell her even butterflies need legs to fly. I hunt for pinecones, snail shells, lichen-jewelled bark. Macy calls to me, holds out a dead, limbless beetle. It seems like an omen. I scoop it into a matchbox lined with grass mowings from a neighbour’s garden and we carry it home. It is fragile, its skeleton-shell worn down by the damp press of continuous decay, easily crushed. “I’ll find it some legs,” I say, “to make the spell work.”
The house holds its breath, waiting for the magic to happen. Mommy stares out the front window, her hands fluttery on the wheels which move her around. Daddy has built a neat, hopeful mountain of books on the table beside her. Her favourite things, adapted. Bird watching. Self-sufficient perennials for reliable planting. Raised bed ideas for easy vegetable growing. Macy races to report to me if she thinks the mountain has moved. I don’t check. I can’t look Mommy in the eye. Can’t snuggle up, my fingers counting the freckles on her arm. The hospital said there was still a chance. I know this is the start of a process. But Macy is too young. Her world has been spun with flowers and fairy-tales and that’s a spell I can’t break.
We stir and muddle, splinter and smash. Sap bleeds from slices of tree wreckage. The house tries out unfamiliar sounds; rumble of rubber on wood, the giant-hairdryer hum of a motor, the lifting of a flightless bird from one soft cage to another.
Daddy calls me to read to Macy in Mommy’s room. Mommy idles Macy’s braids with grateful hands. Macy squints sidelong at the blanket covering Mommy’s legs. The air is slippery with expectation.
I escape after dark. Breathe in jasmine, oleander, sweet box. The house watches me. I creep into the lane and wave my torch along the toes of the hedgerow, the mini hatchet from Daddy’s padlocked toolbox swinging in my other hand. Sudden headlights etch sharp lines into the hawthorn. I want to step out, to see if the car drives straight through me. To see if I’m a ghost, stranded in a world where a mother sits in silence because her daughter distracted her from the road with too much arm waving. But the car passes, and we are all safe.
I drop the hatchet into my rucksack. Nothing I hack from the earth will grow the beetle back its legs, or make Mommy walk again. I turn back towards home, towards one truth at a time. My hands are still helpless, but I am not. These are the words the night gives me to explain.