Leila Murton Poole
You didn’t believe me about the fairies, Papa. The ones that hummed over the water, catching sunlight in their wings.
Dragonflies, you called them.
You didn’t believe me about the sea serpents—swirling shadows whose humped backs rocked our boat.
They’re fish, Ava, you’d say, waving a calloused hand.
You didn’t believe me about the vine monster. How it wound around Mama—tighter and tighter—until it snapped her neck.
Suicide, you murmured, adding to the chorus of speculation in town.
But it wasn’t.
Yes, Papa, I can show you what happened to Mama, but only if you stop crying.
Come with me.
It was a misty morning, just like today. Mama and I wandered through the softness to the water’s edge, conjuring up ghosts with every step, revealing shapes and spirits in the haze.
See, that looks like Mama, doesn’t it? Her wild, waist-length hair covering her thin frame, her head tipped back ready to laugh. That’s the appeal, Papa, you see what you want to see. Yet, despite the possibilities, I know you’ll see nothing.
Magic surrounds our little house nestled in the tussocky banks of the river mouth. If only you’d let yourself believe. Mama tried, for a time.
But you never have.
Mama let me out that morning. It was the day after my thirteenth birthday, after you’d started locking me away at night. I hated that, Papa. You said it was for my own safety, even when I promised I wouldn’t try to breathe underwater again. I was only trying to warn the serpents about your nets and lines.
But the padlock that now hangs from your belt loop can only do so much.
Mama and I sang our song that day. Didn’t you make it up, Papa? The one you sang to me when I was younger and couldn’t sleep. Ironic, isn’t it?
There are monsters everywhere,
There are monsters here and there.
If you believe, they won’t deceive,
But if you doubt, they will come out.
Stop singing? Yes, that’s what you said that morning too. You heard us from the house and shouted from the window. I looked at Mama, expecting her to laugh your outburst off, as usual. Instead, I saw something I’d never seen before. A deadness in her eyes. You’d infected her with your disbelief. It drove us mad, Papa, trying to live in your colorless world.
But I’m stronger than her.
I took Mama’s hand and led her into the safety of the trees.
Take my hand, Papa.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what you do. Fishing. About how this river mouth is a trap, flushing the fish out into the sea, or your nets. At first, I thought it was cheating. But now, I can see the fun, the game. The allure of a trap.
Go on, take my hand, Papa.
It’s the power, right? I used to get angry watching the helpless fish flap around on the boat deck. But I get it now. It’s addictive, that total control. The feeling that comes with watching life ebb away.
Mama played with me less and less, tiptoeing around your rules, caught between us. She rarely changed out of her nightdress anymore, her bare feet bloodying on sticks and stones. You said it was my fault, that I’d driven Mama mad, but she was so close, Papa. So close to living in my world.
We’re almost there.
See the hanging vine? The one dangling from that tree branch, reaching the rock below. It’s a little shorter now. They cut some off to get Mama down.
Mama and I would clasp its leafy body and launch ourselves from the rock, swinging back and forth, skimming our feet across the water’s surface.
Sometimes, we’d land back on the rock. Other times, we’d let go and splash in the water.
Hold the vine, Papa. Can you feel that? The power coursing through. It’s so strong, it took both mine and Mama’s weight. It’ll even take yours.
Look up. See how it’s killing the tree? Strangling it, the bark splintering under its firm grip.
Watch me, Papa, as I swing
Do you want to try?
Of course you don’t.
Yes, yes, I’m getting to what happened.
On that day, I told you, Mama wasn’t herself. She was quiet and shivered even though it was warm. The vine monster draped itself around her shoulders to comfort her. We often wrapped ourselves up in it before letting it unravel, like a spinning top. The vine monster played with us when you wouldn’t.
Face that way, Papa, towards the water.
See, just like that, it’s looping around your neck.
You can’t pull it off. It’s too tight.
It wound around Mama’s neck as she said I was too old for these games, that I had to go back to school and not speak of monsters and magic. To stop scaring other students. To stop scaring you.
Am I scaring you, Papa?
I told her monsters always find a way to come out.
They don’t exist, she shouted.
I told her to hush. That she had to believe or the vine monster wouldn’t stop wrapping itself around her neck.
I don’t believe, Ava, I never believed! Enough!
I thought she was joking. But her eyes. They were like yours.
Never? She’d lied, pretended, for all these years. The betrayal was too much.
I sang our song, louder and louder.
If you doubt, they will come out.
Drowning her out, drowning you out.
I can’t hear you, Papa.
The vine monster wound tighter and tighter around her neck into the perfect noose.
Just like this one around your neck. And she struggled, like you’re struggling now.
Do you know what you remind me of, Papa?
Those fish, flapping on your boat. You look just like Mama.
There’s no room for non-believers in my world.
You still can’t see the vine monster?
Well, don’t worry then.
It won’t push you.
September 1st, 2023
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