Tell it to the Clouds by Emma Phillips

Tell it to the Clouds

She’ll tell it to the clouds; under which she spends so many hours, touching the empty space beside her on the grass, trying to imagine how it would feel to have a face that was kissable or a body in the market for marriage like her cousin Maxine. “That girl’s got more curves than the River Shannon”, Rosa declares enviously when her ma and auntie Chantelle lend their ears to the list of suitors her da is reading, naming each with the sort of reverence he usually saves for saint’s days or a bottle of expensive wine. “We should’ve named you Champagne,” Chantelle exclaims as they ponder Maxine’s options, while her da makes mental notes of the financial or social advantage of each potential match and Uncle Richie tells dirty jokes about some of the boy’s mothers, and we all smile sweetly, pretending not to understand.

She’ll tell it to the hares that occupy the site boundaries, outwitting the dogs who drive themselves half mad trying to chase them and never succeed, although they have better luck with the postman, who has taken to leaving deliveries in a safe place he constructed himself from an old piece of pipe he’s rigged up down the lane. “Them bloody dogs,” her da calls them, when they wake him yapping for rabbits but he’s a soft touch because Uncle Hudson only has to mention a new litter and they end up with another. “For protection,” her da winks as he hands the latest pup over and her ma says, “For pity’s sake, there’ll be more dogs than rabbits if you keep this going.” Of course, rabbits and hares are different creatures, and the site has both; she thinks of the other girls as rabbits, sticking together for safety while she’s the solitary hare, one eye over her shoulder and always alert. Her ma had raised her eyebrows when she tried to explain the difference, said they both have long ears don’t they, so it’s not like one’s thunder and one’s rain.

She’ll tell it to the river, which cools their feet in summer and never quite freezes in winter, so you can crack the ice by putting a foot on the surface and pushing it down. The river flows right through their field with its promise of fish and makeshift bays where Rosa and Maxine make her look out when they’ve ditched their chores to meet up with the boys. All rivers flow to the sea was the first useful fact she acquired at school and her da said “How did you think our people got here?” Her ma said she would never set foot on a plane despite Chantelle claiming it was perfectly safe and if anyone succeeded in getting her in the air, it’d be the good lord collecting her body.

She’ll tell it to the horses she’s not meant to tend because it’s a man’s job but her da has no sons and her ma has no plans for more babies either, so someone must help him. The horses are her kin, she breaks them like a boy because you know where you are with a horse, and they are so much easier to tame than people. When her da is off on business, she rises early and rides them, fast as a jockey until Uncle Richie catches her and says this girl is trouble. She spends more time in the stables than at home. When a horse puts its nose to her cheek, she is happy, and she thinks this must be how love feels; both of you breathing the same air and everything else gone quiet.

She’ll tell it to the chickens as they peck the unforgiving earth, endlessly greedy, like skinnier versions of Uncle Hudson’s wife who is the best cook any of them know but famous for testing her recipes. When she gets pregnant, Uncle Richie reckons you could lose a baby in there amongst the flab. Her ma says Richie should watch his mouth and what’s it to him if Uncle Hudson likes his women cuddly. Sometimes her da gets the chickens fighting each other for money but her ma told him she’d rather put a wager on the boxing and make an occasion of it than watch a couple of birds peck the shit out of each other.

She’ll tell it to the moon, round and perfect in a clear night sky when she can’t sleep for curiosity; her nostrils sniffing for adventure in case it blows through the window of the trailer on a breeze. On those days, she’ll take one of the dogs and go roaming until her ma finds her wide awake with dewdrops caught on her boots and says she can’t be working hard enough if she’s up and about at this hour. At school, Miss Grayson says you can be whoever you want and go wherever your own path leads you, but she knows that in her life, there’s the path marked out for a boy and that of the girl, pink and frilly as the knickers her ma saves for Saturday night best, the path that leads back to your hearth from whichever direction you take it, where school is a stop gap, a chance for your ma to crack on with her chores free from distractions until the day you turn eleven. That’s when the door shuts for good because when that popper is pink, it’s the start; a girl’s a girl and she’s made for keeping house and babies until her womb dries up and the only thing she’s good for is pushing up daisies.

Lord knows, she’s wished her popper had been blue just about as many times as she’s taken breath, then she could’ve looked Uncle Richie in the eye when she felt his gaze burning her legs and asked him exactly what he thought he was looking at, the way her da does when he’s preparing to fight. She’d give just about anything to not have to muck out the chickens when he asks and if the popper had been blue, she wouldn’t have to wrestle the unease in her gut when he stands at the entrance of the hen coop, blocking out the light.

She’ll tell it to the hay, which smells of sunshine and contains sheaves of wheat that the horses love to nibble, almost as much as the rabbits. She’ll not tell her ma or her da or Miss Grayson how Uncle Richie sneaks in close sometimes when she’s holding the broom, so her hands are distracted; how he bends her towards him like a sleeping dormouse and she feels the danger he stores between his legs. “Shhh, it’s just a bit of fun,” he says as she wriggles free, thinking fun is not what happens between them in the henhouse and she runs, because his mind is quick to turn dirty, but his legs don’t move fast. She’ll tell it to the seasons how she means to get away and as she catches her breath back and he’s just a shadow, she watches the clouds shift into horses and feels the beat of her heart thumping in their hooves.

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