Vignettes from “The Hum Hearers”

by Shey Marque


Once upon a morning I woke up being a bomb

and flew headlong home

– Lesyk Panasiuk

I wake again, eyes like pilot lights. My mother is still asleep in the next room, but I’m not in the same house where I lived as a child, & this does not feel like home. The bed does not feel like my bed. When I roll over, my hips find hollows left by cycles of children, & the only thing that sleeps is my arm. I’m here because of the bomb wedged in her cerebral cortex. It’s just light & I can hear sustained whimpering.

She’s curled up on the carpet, wedged between bed, table & wardrobe. I have never tried to lift an adult off the floor before, the full weight of her carried on my thighs & calves, my labouring breath. A tiny assassin sits on my palm – round, white, waiting. Picture it navigating its way inside vessels, the stealth of it crossing over the blood-brain barrier, lining up its target, the rupture. Part of me breaks off, guttering & spent. I leave her to sleep away the chemical morning.

In the kitchen I am burning myself on micro-waved oatmeal & banana. Exactly why I am coating my tongue with sugar & press it to the roof of my mouth, I can’t recall. I’m hopping through walls, tunnelling-time barely discernible. In one room she’s small & I’m checking for bruises hiding in her hair. In another, it’s me who is small, ripping the head from a doll named Grindl, home going off inside my hippocampus.

All the Gentle Planes are Grounded

‘I know that from here you cannot escape by plane—you have to be able to fly on your own’, Vasyl Holoborodko

She used to know every plane in the air, the time it would fly over the house, where it was headed. Her life became focused on destination. It’s too late now to hold a serious conversation about how she might like her last weeks to pan out. She doesn’t see the hurry, keeps telling friends the bad news. The doctor says I have only three years, like she might have to stop dancing due to weak knees. I can’t tell if she’s avoiding or not comprehending the reality of these final weeks. It changes everything, and nothing. I get her to chat about her most memorable holidays. Coming in to land at Hong Kong airport, by a high-rise hotel window, we watched a man inside ironing his shirt in his underwear. After she’s gone, there’ll be no black box recording. And that time when a round, bright light hovered ahead of the wing outside my window on a night flight, the way it sped off then returned. When I showed the flight attendant, she flung down the shutter, her eyes wide as daisies, telling me to ‘keep that closed!’ She stares blankly for the longest minute before speaking again. I think I’m done with flying now. She turns to watch the evening news, the Russian aircraft bombing Ukraine villages which cuts to the rain bombing of Queensland which cuts to bird weather—an increase in the amount of meat in the air around city airports since the lockdown & the rising risk of bird strikes. If you become the light outside my cabin window, I say, or a plane-seeking bird, watch out for engines, won’t you? She nods. On returning home, I note the only planes flying over my house now are from the military air base, how only the wrong people are travelling.

Tea Minus Three Months

We keep missing each other in the house, as if our existences are separated by a severed particle of light. The collapsing point appears on the sofa where she opens her fist & liberates a hummingbird moth raining scales from its wings. You know she used to wear all my clothes & I’d get so angry, she says of her sister. For a third time I ask how she’d like to mark her birthday. She pulls a face. I haven’t given it much thought, like it isn’t going to be her last. Stormcloud on the back of her hand, she gathers both teacups & walks outside. It’s so hot I can’t see for heatwaves. While her face yields nothing, her hand offers up another moth, its soft caterpillar body wailing like a kettle. I think of the woman, houseful of cold tea, leaving cup after cup on every surface &, unable to locate any of them, spends all day returning to make more. Outside, the tea is lost for colour. I find her overwatering the hanging pots of bee-balm & many clear-winged moths scatter. As we hug, she hinges unusually close, our sheer blouses unfurling in the easterly wind.

Cataracts & Dogberries

Thanks for the grapefruit. She’s tapping to find the weak spot. My gift of books may as well be a sack of old newspapers. We play I spy with my little eye. She keeps saying eye stye. I mistake cloudiness for mirrored light, while she narrates a cryptic crossword from memory. You read her clue then read her again backwards, looking for the subsidiary. Go back to the beginning. When I say I could exchange the romance for mystery she inclines her head, asks why, have you not noticed the waterfall?

I lay bare a hand-me-down mannerism—her closed-lip smile, an almost imperceptible shying turn. It scribes against our nihility. But there are other things. Some allude to a reckoned weariness—hands cupping cheekbones, the fall of the voice in pitch. At the foot of the bed a chart reads ‘nil by mouth’ & ‘not for resuscitation’. With her kidneys shutting down, there’ll come a flooding of the body, a thirst for air, an erratic heart. At the sound of my sigh she sits up, mimics my Duchenne smile

She hands me a hundred dollar bill, explains how this is part of her last will & testicle. I let that slide to ask about the home of her childhood. Oh it was a lovely hysterical house, you know, one of those with a spinal staircase. I imagine polished whalebone with its vertical articulations between handrail & cantilevered steps. My right thumb and forefinger trace over the knuckles on my left hand. She carries on talking of how the house was haunted. Quite a friendly spirit, you know, but we called the priest anyway, had it circumcised with incest. My mouth opens & all her poltergeists swoop in. On my way out, I pass by the waiting room. Two small blonde girls are watching television.

Originally published in Grieve Anthology 2022 and Liquidamber Anthology 2022. Click here to read Shey’s reflection on writing about caregiving.

Shey Marque, formerly a clinical and research medical scientist, is also a poet and short fiction writer from Perth, Western Australia, located on Whadjuk Noongar land. She holds a MA in Writing, and is currently Deputy Chair of the Board of WA Poets Inc, and on the Board of Writing WA. Her poetry collections are ‘Aporiac’ (Finishing Line Press, 2016) and ‘Keeper of the Ritual’ (UWA Publishing, 2019). Her poetry has received multiple awards with many individual pieces published in various Australian literary journals including Australian Poetry Journal, Award Winning Australian Writing, Cordite Poetry Review, Island Magazine, Meanjin Quarterly, Science Write Now, Southerly, and Westerly. Current writing interests include exploring connections with ancestry through an experimental and hypothetical lens of epigenetics or cellular memory.

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