Pearl-Susannah rarely brought friends home – Pa didn’t make them welcome. He didn’t approve of friends, didn’t see the need of them. He had none of his own. But she’d asked Catherine home for tea all the same. Ma had made them custard with blackberries from the garden and had decorated the table with napkins. Pa would have made her put them away if it wasn’t for their visitor.
Pearl-Susannah sighed with relief when Pa went outside to pull up weeds. He was proud of his garden. You wouldn’t think they lived in such a dry place with every blade of grass as green as the next, every flower delicately blooming and every patch of earth tilled.
Once they’d eaten, Pearl-Susannah showed her friend her books (discarded copies from the local library). She kept them on a large wooden shelf Pa had made from a felled tree. She counted the shelf as Pa’s only act of love. He liked to whittle at dead wood to find its inner beauty. He liked to cut out the insides of dead animals too – his taxidermy – to get to the heart of things. Although he couldn’t read or write, Pa had a way with words.
Pearl-Susannah’s teacher had told her books would be her pathway to the world. She didn’t know what this meant. But she knew she loved books and could tackle anything she put her mind to. She’d even taught Ma to read. They read together, side by side, at the kitchen table, aloud or quietly to themselves. It was the one thing Pa allowed. He forbade shopping trips, birthday teas and too much talking.
Soon Catherine lost interest in the shelf. ‘What’s it like,’ she said, ‘walking with crutches?’
Pearl-Susannah had never been inside Pa’s room – you got used to a house having its secrets. But lately she’d begun to wonder what the room contained, maybe photographs or documents. She was curious about her history – her grandparents and cousins, the place her parents came from, the place she’d been born. They’d left it all behind as if it had never existed.
Once, Ma had sat herself down at the kitchen table and told Pearl-Susannah how she’d been born in a rush out in the back yard before any doctor could be called. Then she’d scurried off into the pantry to set the jelly for tea.
Pa was away on a hunting trip. Pearl-Susannah took a deep breath and pushed open the door to his room, the one she’d never been allowed to enter. The curtains were drawn. Through the gloom, she saw a table, a chair and a cabinet full of stuffed animals. On top of the cabinet stood a glass dome.
She forced her hand into her mouth to stop herself from screaming.
‘For goodness sake!’ Ma said when her daughter stumbled into the kitchen.
‘What’s wrong? Surely, it can’t be as bad as all that.’
But Pearl-Susannah soon found out it was; it was far worse.
Pearl-Susannah took a bus to the local library. She opened the medical reference book at the page that read: Club Foot. There were lots of things she couldn’t understand, but she did understand that most likely her foot could have been straightened out with exercises or an operation. It wouldn’t have hurt nearly as much as having no foot at all with endless strapping and attachments that left her in so much pain she’d resorted to crutches and hopping. Pa shouldn’t have done it. Chopped off her foot like it was one of his rotten weeds. She didn’t care about the toes going every which way. To her it was a precious thing.
She decided she’d move away to a place of learning with concrete and tall buildings, with libraries full of books; far away from Pa’s moods, his stuffed animals and his pristine garden. And once settled, she’d make Pa return her foot.
Belinda Rimmer has worked as a psychiatric nurse, counsellor, lecturer and creative arts practitioner. Her poems have appeared in magazines, for example, Brittle Star, Dream Catcher, ARTEMISpoetry and Obsessed with Pipework. She has poems online, including Picaroon Poetry, Algebra of Owls, Amaryllis and Clear Poetry. She won the Poetry in Motion Competition to turn her poem into a film and read at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. She was also shortlisted for a V Press flash fiction pamphlet.