Author: Vivienne Burgess

I remember Agni on your lap, myself on the faded mat in the mess hall, practicing knots. Agni couldn’t keep his head on his shoulders, but I was listening. You started with the small things, shutting your eyes to speak, said it was important to pass on the details. In the middle of the year, you’d go camping in the forest with your friends. Trees blooming purple-white and you’d lie under them early in the early morning, listening to the bees. Before we lost the seasons there were distinct feelings outside, the cold was very sharp and the light was easy to be in. Sometimes, vehicles went by overhead, narrowly missing each other, to the tune of some elaborate clock that was just as far away. These were huge, huge machines as small as fingernails, leaving white trails of smoke that from below, you said, could have been speed boats on the ocean. Depending on the time of day these trails would be orange or pink or bright, bright yellow. And in the evening, the sun might catch the metal underside of the carriage and force a glint into your eye. This was when you could look at the sky without goggles. When there was more land to the country than there is now. Not enough people noticed at first. Then one day there was significantly less distance between the coasts, you found you had more neighbours in less space, and the problems that seemed far away were all around you and impossible to avoid. After the heat came the cold. Rinsed the sky of colour. Some people despaired; found cliffs, bought rope, didn’t bother with a note. Others took it on the chin. Agni was in a deep sleep so you carried him to the children’s tent, lay him down among his brothers and sisters. Penguins do this, come together to keep warm. Penguins also steal each other’s children. You talked about things like they still exist. On purpose, I don’t know. In this place it doesn’t matter whose blood is whose. Agni is all of our sons, like I am all of your daughters. You had darker hair when Agni came along. He was so warm everyone came to put a hand on him. Telling this one always made you smile, eyes still closed. There was a bad, bad cough going round and most of those people are gone now. You tucked me in beside Agni and I showed you my knot. You said it was perfect, best knot you’d ever seen, looking down at me like I was someone you didn’t know. Next morning I had my first bleed. A beginning and the end. We carried you far from camp, the earth anywhere too hard to dig. We made a circle, holding hands. A song was sung. Agni and I stayed the latest. He wanted to be near you and I noticed a shadow on his chin, the first of dark hairs. That day is very small now. I’m scared I’ll lose it inside all the others. I am learning to skin rats with the older girls and make a spit for roasting. When I have the energy I walk out to the mound of bodies and touch your grey face, preserved in ice. I try to hear the bees. My stomach is very big with Agni’s child, feels like another warm one to me, and I am in pain getting to sleep. To relax I think of penguins, a big warm ball in the cold; think, in certain lights, colour might be coming back to the sky. But how would I know. You took all of that with you. At night I dream of dust.