I told Jelen not to go there. I told her over and over. I told her even as she shovelled eggs into her mouth, burying the lie behind gloopy yellow. I told her once more, as I handed over her lunch sandwiches – cheese now she’s vegetarian and I haven’t the imagination for anything else – and her eyes rolled noisily while her voice stayed hidden. I told her. I fucking told her.
I told mum again, I’m not a child. I told her over and over. I told her even as her voice went wild and strangling like nightshade vines. I told her as I slammed the door so the words were probably smashed to pieces before they reached her ears.
I eat the too-orange cheese – not the seeded bread, it gets in my teeth – leaning against a fat fallen log smearing its lichens all over my school shirt. I’m not a child anymore. I’m old enough to know what I want. I want the woods around me.
I told Jelen the woods are a wrong place. Not all woods, just the ones here, on the edge of this town, not like the ones I took her into as a baby, strapped to my chest, staring up at the treetops and the sun-kissed birds. Even then her feet kicked, desperate to run, feel the leaf litter crackle underneath. I used to run like that. In those woods. Then we moved, had to move, and I found something sour and violent in the shade of unfamiliar trees. I raced us home, birds scattering and screeching, almost lifting her off her feet while she grabbed at brown-blotch leaves with pudgy hands.
I told mum I’m not scared. I’m wilier than her, swifter than her. I told her I’m not scared at all. Nothing can catch me; I’m a sun-kissed bird bursting from the treetops. A deer zigzagging through the shadow and light, shadow and light. I’m not scared to fall.
I told Jelen I love her. I tell her all the time. Even as she scowls, sneers, shakes her head. I told her I’d keep her safe. Reaching for her hands across the table, her nailbeds stained green. I fucking told her.
I told mum I’m not scared and I think she missed the lie I was chewing on. The woods are wrong here. I’m wrong here. My wily is smothered by something sour. I’m not swift enough to escape the creeping violence. I told mum I’m not scared. I was wrong. Egg and cheese rise in my throat, burning, my scream snatched by shadows. I didn’t tell mum I love her.
I told Jelen I’d keep her safe. Always. I wipe the blood from my face, spit it into the sink. She’s in the kitchen, devouring sausages soaked in ketchup. So much red. She smells of sweet orange soap spiked with the nutty, vegetal heat of the herbs I pressed into her cuts and bruises. Not too much – she needs to feel the sting, the crush, so she can learn from it. So that awful almost-moment knits into her bones.
I tell mum I love her. I tell her with pork meat pinking my teeth, tears nipping the scratches on my cheeks. I tell her over and over.
I tell Jelen I love her. I tell her with the bitter of blood in my teeth. I tell her I know the pull of the woods. I know. So, we’ll find another place. One that isn’t wrong, where she can run like a deer, fly like a sun-kissed bird. I tell her over and over.
I drew cards blind from two decks of oracle cards that accompany the gorgeous books; The Bestiary and The Herbiary.
Inside the books are the meanings that can be gleaned from the species on the cards. This is what I picked:
White-Tailed Deer – Pause, Assess, Act
No rash decisions, tread carefully, doe represents mothering, nurturing, swift and wily but can be duplicitous – lead hunters on false chase, gracefully and quickly pivot and escape
Comfrey – What Needs Mending?
Comfrey mends quickly, perhaps too quickly, making molecules to fix tissue – bold bordering on reckless, pause to assess need – breaking can be liberating, release in dissolution
I added in a third card by drawing using the random generator shared in Mat’s piece and got the following:
Ten card – cycles/ endings
Spades suit – problems, solutions, logic
I highlighted certain words that jumped out as potential human truths for a story and decided on a mother/daughter relationship during a period of change. A new cycle in the growing up of the daughter and a physical move which creates new problems.
I saw the daughter as the deer and the mother as the healer.
I started with “I told…” and liked how urgent this made things feel, how relatable, so opted to use it repetitively throughout. I felt it created dread for the reader and an intensity that couldn’t be fully explained.
I chose to use a slightly surreal style to tell a classic story of mother/daughter disagreement, coming of age, rebellion etc. I deliberately don’t explain why they moved, what is so important about the woods for these women, what the “sour and violent” danger actually is. The story is about maternal strength and how we’ll always need that unrequited love. The rest is up to the reader to interpret.
JP Relph is a writer from northwest England, mostly hindered by four cats and aided by copious tea. A forensic science degree and passion for microbes, insects and botany often influence her words. JP writes about apocalypses quite a lot (but hasn’t the knees for one) and her post-apoc flash collection was published by Alien Buddha Press in June 2023 and is available on Amazon.