(Content Warning: Abuse, child abuse, animal death)


Her blood spilt out across my vision. The result was pooled, and matted all over her hair, sticky and pungent. Already. 

“We’ve got a possum problem.”

My mother whispered to me through the curtain. I used to sit behind it, on the windowsill, just before the sun came up, watching my father back down the driveway and shoot off on his way to work. Work: that elusive, faraway place where all our fathers went. The hospital. The factory. The city. Talia’s father worked there, as did mine, but hers came home with rough, oiled hands, forever black under the fingernails, while my father’s were always clean. Clean, and smooth, and huge, and gentle, and when he touched me with them, when he picked me up and swung me around, my little body would sigh and flutter with delight. 

My dad. Home from the city. Home from the hospital. Home to hold us and glue together the cracks, before setting nails to the surface and driving them in with one, two, three, four five six (fucking dammit don’t swear like that please in front of our little girl well shit sorry but what do you ever do around here the goddamn nail won’t fucking stay put) dull thuds of a hammer. 

At night, I heard the man shuffling. He’d stomp on the roof above my bed, scratch about the room, wheeze and whisper. 
I would lie awake, stiff, terrified. I never told anyone. It somehow got into my head, that the big man upstairs who stomped around while I tried to sleep would get me into lots of trouble if I told anyone about him. “Don’t tell mummy,” he rasped. “Mummy won’t like to hear.”

Sometimes, I wouldn’t sit on the windowsill because my dad wasn’t home the night before, he would stay out in the city, and he wouldn’t be backing down the driveway so I couldn’t watch him leave. Sometimes I’d sit on the windowsill anyway, and watch the sun come up, or the evidence of the sun coming up: the rays hitting the hills in the distance, and then the tops of the houses opposite to ours, and my dad wouldn’t back down the driveway and drive away because he wasn’t home the night before. 

She smoothed back my hair. 
“We’ve got a possum problem.” That was the time she’d whispered it - of course, because he wasn’t home the night before. That’s how she knew. She told me, whispered to me, through the curtain, as I sat watching the space where my father would have backed down were he home the night before. 

The night before, it was incredibly windy.
That’s right – I remember.

Right outside my parents’ bedroom was a huge eucalyptus, its heavy, gnarled branches extending over their roof. Once, when I was older, I stood pressed against that tree with a man (or a boy?) pressed against me, on another incredibly windy night, and a huge branch snapped off and crashed down right next to us. I was fine. His shirt was torn on one side and a glistening wound emerged from beneath.

But that wasn’t yet, and now I was only eleven, and I had never (never) been kissed (of course). My mum was worried, that first windy night, that the tree would fall onto her roof and crash through, and kill her, presumably, so she said she would sleep in my room instead.

“Daddy’s away, little one, so he doesn’t have to sleep with us as well.”

In my room, which didn’t have a tree close enough to kill us but did have terrifying men who shuffled and stomped and rasped and threatened me on pain of death not to tell my mum why I couldn’t sleep (I was allowed to say I was tired but not too emphatically), she set up a little camping bed and turned out the lights.

They didn’t come into my room that night. But they shuffled and stomped in the roof - just one of them did - along with the scrapes and thuds of the wind, hissing from time to time. 

She smoothed back my hair. But no, the curtain was in the way. It was thin, and cotton, but she couldn’t put her hand through it, no matter how translucent the fabric was. So no, she didn’t smooth back my hair. She whispered. “We have a possum problem.” The sun was coming up. The driveway was empty. 

The next day (or so) my dad was home and (I suppose he found out about the possums from my mum because he’d never been into my room) (never) (I never touched her) (an absolutely absurd claim I am calm no well of course I’m upset well you’re being fucking ridiculous of course I never touched our little girl) he made a possum box. 

His huge, smooth hands measured and shaped the wood, tiny lines of pencil marking where to make the incisions, a surgeon lovingly preparing his patient of wood. He sat me on his knee, put the ruler in my little hands, and guided them to the edge of the house. The possum’s house. Her little room, where she could shuffle around, all night if she liked. No longer shuffling on my roof. No longer shuffling in my room. 

Another windy night, a little while later, windy but not too windy which I know because my mum wasn’t in my room, I heard the bang. 

Her blood, spilt out across my vision, was soaked into her matted hair and seemed to dye the whole world red. Warm autumn sunlight in the cool autumn morning. So much blood, for such a tiny, frail creature. A simple fall, the box coming unfixed in a gust, the inhabitant halfway out to visit the grocer, or a lover, or her dad maybe (or my dad?), crushed, suddenly, between the stone wall and her home, her home which promptly tumbled to one side (our neighbour’s) and her body to the other (ours), where she now lay, cold, her blood gathered about her like children clinging to a mother’s knees just beneath her hem. 

The shuffling stopped (of course). I sat on the windowsill. He backs down the driveway. 
No, that was earlier. He didn’t back down the driveway because I never saw him again. That’s right. Maybe they mistook him for a patient in the hospital, and cut him open, and gasped with joy at that heart, so full, so loving, so amply stocked with nails to drive from one side to the other of our little cracks and breaks.

My mother whispers to me through the curtain.

Not anymore. 

I smooth back my own hair. There are no possums in
the roof. 
The box must have worked! 
The creature must have moved into her new home, spilling coffee, burning toast. Maybe she brings boys home and kisses them against the trees, sitting on windowsills, her mother smoothing her hair back, but not really because the curtain is in the way.

But no, it fell down. That’s right. Of course. I remember now. She died, and I never saw him again, and that’s why it was so quiet after that.

︎Emma is a third year English and Creative Writing student who tries to write emotions rather than events, because this is how life so often seems to be experienced. Unfortunately, this can sometimes result in confusion, but, much like in life, she knows you'll find meaning somewhere.︎