I wake to find Mum planted like Buddha on my potty. Am I seeing things? No, there she sits, belly like a balloon, while a waterfall gushes into a metal pot. On rubbing both eyes, I glimpse oozy liquid dribbling out of Mum when she stands.
‘We must hurry!’ she cries. We stumble out, savages in pyjamas, led by the light of stars so bright, they seem to kiss us. Mum’s knees buckle. My rock-steady Mum, who has conquered darkness and Dad and strangers alike, lies panting. Behind her winds an inky river. I shiver in the eerie light. “It’s okay,” Mum breathes, “Hold me.” Her eyes are watery as she reaches for my hand, but her tone is encouraging. “One, two, lift,” she says.
I pull. Mum drags her heaving self along the drive to the house next door, where a man and woman open the door. By then Mum is shrieking, “Help me! My husband’s away on business.”
I look at Mum’s dishevelled hair, always set in a permanent, and start to cry. This is not what I imagined when I asked God for a brother. I had thought of a boy like my best friend’s brother, four years older, who is gallant in his crisp white shirt and trousers. He stands before teasing marauders, a protecting knight. When Mum, belly already big, tells me that God has granted my wish, I let out a whoop.
The man our neighbour shushes me and drags me upstairs. He lays me next to his daughter. ‘Go to sleep,’ he commands, ‘your mother will be fine.’ I close my eyes.
Muffled screams weave their way into my dreams, which are of monsters and stars falling from the sky. There is the Great Bear, paws stretched out, raining on our garden. His brother the Little Bear follows in glittering teardrops. One by one the stars tumble: the Plough, the Dog, and Big Dipper…fire lollies hurtling from the sky. They burst on touching earth, releasing giant balls of dust which swirl under a mysterious force. Tentacles of light emerge: ebbing, flowing, merging and dispersing endlessly – a milky river that curls through heaven. It carries Mum away.
When I wake, there is a blackness the like of which I have never felt. I smell the dew, wet like tears I cannot stifle away. Somewhere in this barren world, a red-veined leaf drops.