Excerpt from Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies (Oneworld - February 2014)
Pearl and her Father
Pearl is perched astride her father’s knee. Rain taps the front window and she can just make out, all along the wavering hedge, wet purple flowers that look just like miniature bunches of grapes. Here in the lounge the lamplight reaches out to rest on the carpet ridges and the stiff pleats bordering the cushions. She and her father are in a hideaway; he sits on the yellow-and-navy settee and she sits on him. It’s wonderful. But it makes her stomach growl, every time she’s with him. She plays with his sleep-soft hands, placing them on her cheeks. When she lets go, they flop back onto his lap, and she lifts them again. His lips are parted and she can see a wink of teeth. His eyes are closed, his breathing rhythmic and deep. She brings her face up close so that the room is filled with her father’s regular, heartbreaking features. Her small, strong hands are pressed to his chest. She rests her forehead on his, wanting to get inside. She inhales the smell of his neck deeply and squirms a little; his knee between her legs feels solid and warm. The living room is quiet. In the entire world there is only Pearl and her father. Her mother laid a fire before she went out; taking ages, leaving instructions, dropping things, then slamming the door and coming back. Now Pearl listens to the sounds coming from the grate as the flames lick each other and purr. From the place pressed against her father’s knee she feels a rippling sensation move through her body, as if a delicate, frilled mushroom were expanding, elongating, filling her up. She exhales slowly. She mustn’t disturb him. He would push her off with his beautiful hands if he woke up.
Pearl is playing with worms in the front garden. Just where the earth is semi-solid and often splashed with rainwater is the perfect place for them. Pearl loves the wriggly, neat casts they leave behind. Especially she loves the way the worms clump together and make themselves into glistening, slowmoving balls. She gets lost in the task of unknotting them. When they are freed, the worms are usually kinky, and she works each one between her palms until it relaxes. Then she lays them out on the smooth mud. Today, in the middle of the lawn there is a huge black pram. Pearl has ignored the
snuffling sounds coming from under the white blanket, and the tasselled corner that droops enticingly over the pram’s lacquered side. Her worms are neatly arranged in rows. Now she is drawn to the pram with its moving cover. The hood is up and the inside seems filled with light. She can see a tiny patch of pink cheek and a scribble of hair. She leans in and inhales the smell of baby flesh and warm plastic. Suddenly she feels huge and dirty, her knees and hands caked with mud. Pearl climbs up onto a wheel and pushes herself in beside the baby. Her legs are too long so she bends them to fit. Her head is crushed inside the hood. She breathes quietly, and with her shoulder presses hard on the warm little body beside her. She smells his milky breath, looking at how her muddy shoes have spoilt the white blanket. The hood’s lacy edging frames the porch. Pearl settles herself more comfortably, thinking about her worms nicely lying in their rows, and waits for the front door to open.