On the back step


When I woke she was already up, sitting in the sunlight on the back step. I looked around the one large room we called home. There were three kerosene lamps on op shop tables, and three armchairs with flattened cushions in sun-faded blue. There was a Turkish rug that had once been valuable. There was a bowl for washing up, and a Primus stove. A rusting bar fridge. Our clothes hung on wooden pegs on the wall beside our bed.

I felt hot and inadequate. I should be able to give her more than this, I thought. Especially now.

I looked back at her. She was twirling a strand of hair around her fingers, and staring across the clearing into the rainforest. She wore her old pink dressing gown, loosely tied, and her feet were bare.

I lay in our bed, naked and thinking. Mostly I thought that I was not good enough for her, or the child we’d made. Then I kicked off the covers. I got up quickly and walked over to her. She smiled, but not at me. Her gaze stayed on the clearing, dotted at this time of the year with pink and yellow orchids, and rings of mushrooms like a fairy glade in a child’s picture book. Her face had grown plump with the pregnancy. Her breasts were softly full. I sat down beside her and she rested her head on my shoulder. Her fingers curled round the belt of her robe. I kissed her hair. I thought that later I would walk alone in the rainforest, and there I would find the answers to the questions I did not yet know how to ask.

I heard many birds calling, the sharp clarity of the whip bird, and others I couldn’t name, though she could. She knew them all. After a while, she raised her mouth to me. Lately she smelled of lemons, the fruit from which she carved chunks that she ate at odd times of the day. I kissed her. I smelled her lemony breath, her cleansed tongue, the sharp tang of her. She kissed me back, generously, as she always did when we made love.

No one had ever touched me so sweetly.

I sank to my knees between her legs, pushing aside the worn cloth of her gown. I saw the veins running like blue rivers on a map, towards her swollen nipple. I put my mouth to her breast. She held my head while I sucked. She stroked my hair as I nursed like an infant, like the child I could feel turning slowly in her belly. I stopped my nursing and looked up at her. Her eyes were closed, but when she felt my gaze she opened them and smiled.

The bush smelled so sweet after the night’s rains.

She rested her back against the doorpost.

I put my head between her legs and kissed her. She smelled different there since the pregnancy. A strong, pungent scent announced her situation long before we sought any formal confirmation.

I stroked her belly. The infant heaved under my palms. I wanted to see inside her. I wanted her skin to be transparent so I could see our child in its unborn state. I kissed the infant through its mother’s skin. I wanted to lick away the thickness I wanted it to melt under my tongue like the coating on a sugared sweet.

I helped her up and led her to our bed. She was wet and I easily found my way inside. The child moved. I wanted to go more deeply into this mystery that had changed her eyes and the way she looked at me. That took her away from me and into a secret self I’d never suspected. She looked at me with love it’s true, as always. But now there was something else. She had removed herself. A distance in her gaze warned me she had other beings on her mind.


The night before I’d dreamed that she’d come to me in my sleep from far away, and kissed my forehead. Then she lay down with me, and her lips made light whisperings against my cheek. We breathed our love into each other’s open mouths.

‘Are you afraid?’ she’d whispered.

‘Not with you here,’ I replied.

‘I can’t stay you know.’ She licked at my cheek with the tip of her tongue.

‘I know. I know you can’t stay.’

‘But it’s all right for a little while, for just a little while, and then you’ll have to do without me, you know?’

‘I know.’

She stroked me, in my dream, my cock and my balls, and she lapped up my tears.

I woke to the sounds of a midnight storm, the alarmed creak of trees thrashed by a high wind, hard rain on our cabin roof. I woke in fear, and sorrow. I looked at her sleeping on her side, her hand on her belly. I knew that I would not care to live in this world if I lost her.

Towards morning as the storm settled, I fell back into jagged sleep.


 I liked to watch her when she bathed. Her ritual had lately changed. There was a new self-absorption in the slow circles she made with the washcloth across her belly and breasts. She smoothed oil into her skin as if in homage, to her shining body, to her unborn child.

There were times, usually in the early mornings, when she asked me to wash and oil her and I did this as she lay back in the bath, that absent smile on her face, with me and gone from me.


I rested in her now, and listened to the forest. She moved around me, tightening then relaxing her silk and velvet place. This pretty place, I thought as I lay in there, the silk and velvet stroking me, and all the while she caressed my tongue with her fingertips. My mouth opened to her, this is where you are like me, she whispered as she stroked inside my lips. My sudden swell against her textured walls, not yet, she said, my love, as she rose up to meet me. Her fingers left my tongue slowly, as if with regret, and roamed instead through my hair. I held myself above her on my hands. And looked into her face.

‘Do you love me?’ I asked, and she whispered that she did.

‘Let me in then,’ I begged.

Even as I asked I knew what I wanted was impossible. She moved against me, murmuring. She was close to her moment. Suddenly I felt fierce. I moved hard into her. I thought perhaps I would never have her back with me.  I thought she’d gone forever into her absorption.

‘Please,’ I whispered. ‘Please.’

I didn’t know about my tears, until she wiped them from my cheeks with her finger.

The whip birds called. I got up from her and crossed to the basin. I looked at myself in the cracked mirror on the shelf above the bench.

‘Help me,’ I said, but under my breath, in the privacy of my mind so she wouldn’t hear me. ‘Please help me.’


The child is fair, like her, with blue eyes that seem to cut through all my defences. She sleeps in her bassinet beside my bed. I often wake in the night, just to make sure she is breathing. I see her mother in every part of her. In her fingers, and in her long, curled toes. In her lips, rose red and glistening. In her small, transparent ears.

I am doing the best I can to stay in this world, though I have not yet convinced myself that this is where I should be. Then I look at her, my daughter, my life now. And I know the truth is that I cannot leave her. That daily, I must find the ways to live and breathe and carry on.

I sit on the back step, our child in my arms. I hear the sharp, clear calls of the whip bird, and others I can’t identify.

‘Your mother,’ I tell our daughter while she stares at me, and her small hands make irregular, drunken lurches at my untidy beard, ‘your mother knew the name of every bird in our forest.

Your mother knew all their calls. Your mother would teach you everything, if only she were here with us.’

My child smiles, toothless and trusting me.

‘Everything,’ I tell her, and I bend my head to kiss her brow.

©Jennifer Wilson 2011


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