A junkyard. Right there. A monster’s open mouth of trash. She could see it from the window of the broken-down train. Every day for the past two years she got on this boneshaker train, in smart black clothes she couldn’t really commit to, and never really looked out of the window. She checked her phone for messages. Ben saying he would be round after ten-ish. No kiss. Delete. She wished for one of those virgin-quality doorstep snogs that gives more than it gets but not from Ben. She listened to the missed-call voice message from 1am; her sister crying in a club toilet. Delete. The train coughed to a stop. She was about to text the office manager when the cockerel crowed. A real-life punk-headed cockerel cocking its doodle doo; it was a sound from a cartoon world where falling wouldn’t kill you. The bird crowed again and shook its feathers like stoking a fire. It clung to the lowest branch of the sycamore tree and below the tree was the junkyard. How could she not have seen it till now? But then no paths or roads led to or spider webbed out from it. The cock crowed for the third time as the train hauled its diesel arse on into the cold morning. Her office manager sent a department-wide “gentle reminder” email about lateness, sly cow. She googled local junkyards. No mention of it.
After that, she looked for the junkyard every day and every day it rose up behind the tracks like a real place that had no business in her world.
She saw the dog next. It paced the barbed wire fence like an angry carpet tethered by a chain, mouth like a broken bottle. The yard itself was a burst-stomach of human uselessness; mattresses, tyres and thick intestinal ropes. All covetously pissed on by carpet-dog. The rubbish would rearrange itself overnight into islands of brand new weird. But that was not the weirdest thing. The roses were the weirdest thing. Every day, green thorns climbed out of the shit with hooked feet. Every day tight-lipped buds appeared; flaming orange like a scream waiting to burn. When they burst she just knew it would be the most glorious thing she had ever seen.
She stopped checking messages to look out of the window, watching instead to see if the buds had burst. It was the sort of thing that needed to be witnessed. It was the sort of thing that might make these daily strangers talk to her, a gift she could give them. “Look at the roses”, she’d shout and they’d be all “Oh my god” and look at the roses through their phones. The junkyard wouldn’t like that. She won’t shout.
Ben’s message beeps. Ben’s her “calm-down&” man. He’s supposed to build a wall around her to stop her hurting herself. His text wants to know why she put on that voice when talking to his mate; that he hates her denim skirt and to put her legs away. So she wears wellies to work on dry days because they go with everything, don’t they? She reads the signs on the back of public toilet doors that ask “Does your partner criticise you often?” But no, that’s not Ben, his voice is so quiet she can’t hear how much he wants to put his hand over her mouth and sew it there. He texts her his fears every morning without kisses. No, the toilet door isn’t talking about Ben.
It’s been raining for two weeks straight. Now no one thinks her wellies are weird. The roses are ballooning up like those women who suit pregnancy. Tomorrow, she thinks, there could be tiny rose-babies or smoking petal fires. Tomorrow, anything could happen.
They’ve canceled the train. There’s a replacement bus service but the bus doesn’t pass anywhere near the junkyard. She presses the bell. Holds her finger down until the driver stops. “Crazy bint”. She gets off the bus but can’t get her bearings. She doubles back to the train station and steps off the wooden platform to walk back along the tracks. She reads all the signs that tell her to keep off, turn back, don’t go. It’s nice to know they care.
The cockerel is quiet; scratching at the tree roots. Carpet-dog sweeps behind the fence as she climbs, smashing a growl at her. She feeds it her phone. Ben squeaks in its hairy stomach. The
thorns pull at the skirt that never suited her, cut into her skin, reel her in. Every rose is open. They’re as big as her hands, her head – bigger. She can walk across the yard on stepping stones of roses.
The dog and the cockerel follow her like bridesmaids. There’s a torture called ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’, it’s supposed to be humiliating but it’s not. Sucking Ben off so he’ll go and pick
up her stupid sister from a club is humiliating. The deeper in she goes the more of herself she leaves behind looped on the thorns. Her hands hang from a briar, almost clapping.
She can hear something other than the rain breathing. There’s a girl asleep on a giant rose-bed. She senses the girl by her need to be kissed, the way you feel snow before it falls in a pinching of skin. She wants to kiss the girl with all her heart, a virgin-quality kiss, but her heart is a tough a red haw. The poor heart is a maid of all work, it’s only the lungs who can wake sleeping beauty with their bright red sails. But there’s nothing left of her now; she’s stripped out in ribbons, tied to thorns like wishes.
Carmen Marcus lives and writes on the wild North Yorkshire coast. Her poetry has been commissioned by The Royal Festival Hall, BBC Radio 3 and Durham Book Festival. Her debut novel HOW SAINTS DIE was published in July 2017 with Harvill Secker. You can find out more here carmenellen2013.wordpress.com.