Ava was depressed; not a word she would use to describe herself, never wanting to admit to the defeat of it. She might say 'melancholic'; it sounded more romantic, Bronte-esk. But episodes of melancholia were becoming more frequent, not just prompted by outcast days and low melatonin levels. Even sitting in her garden with her back to the sun that massaged her shoulders with its heat, even with the call of a blackbird looking for its mate, even when the scent of daphne rode the breeze to envelope her, she was melancholy.

Ava didn't know what prompted these episodes, but she felt as though she was sliding into a void. Some days, she had to admit, she welcomed that dark place, The Underground, the silence and the sense of not existing at all. On other days, most other days, she feared the emptiness of it, not heaven but Hades waiting for her to make her his bride.

When her legs were shattered in the car accident, Ava had been grateful that she had not died. Now she wasn't so sure. The 'road to recovery' was long and here, sitting in her scented garden, her legs sat lifelessly on the metal plate of her wheelchair. She was tired of trying, tired of appeasing those she loved, especially her mother whose face was permanently pinched with constrained grief. 

Ava had always been 'spiritual'. She believed in ... something, but could never name it. Whatever it was it was represented in the symbols adorning her sunroom - a Byzantine crucifix from Greece, several statues of the Buddha, and of Krishna, the Sanskrit Om, and a wallhanging of Arabic calligraphy of sections of the Koran. Their effect was limited now, and Ava viewed them with mild derision. She had taken to reading Nietzsche, her favourite quotes being: "A casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything" and, more poignantly, "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." Ava didn't have any great thoughts anymore. 

A cloud blanketed the sun. Ava shivered and mentally prepared to go inside. For the briefest of moments her ego had evaporated and her body defaulted to automatic. Did her big toe move, preparing to take the body's weight? Ava felt as if she was being propelled, at lightning speed, towards a single moment in time when mind, body and spirit meet in the one place.

AuthorAmanda Apthorpe

I’ve stood in front of mirrors, how many times now? Every time I think I can see myself, but can’t remember, when I step away, what I look like. On occasion I have tried to take mental snapshots to put it together, but the complete picture is illusive, as though I’m a collage of other people’s features The flaws are memorable, the new lines, the crêpe skin. I’ve stared into the eyes of that stranger trapped in glass, trying to see her soul, but she looks straight through me. 

I’ve given up on photographs. I turn away when the camera gets close, or I see someone skirting around the edges of a room on ‘occasions’. I understand now, why my mother pleads with us not to capture her diminishing presence; my heart cries for her when I hear her muted wail. I can’t relate to the photographed me. I’m not who I think I am. It’s not vanity, I’ve been saying this all my life. 

Sometimes I’ve wondered if a professional snap would do it. Maybe I could lie across a faux leopold skin rug in a negligee. They’d have to powder me up though, and place fillets in my bra. Or maybe my mother, my sister and I could have one of those portraits done, like the Queen Mother and her girls. We could drape our shoulders with royal blue silk and look something like the family my mother always wanted. Perhaps I could sit centrally amongst my children and I could see myself through their eyes. Would I look like a mother - wise and warm?

School bags have been tossed on the floor. I rummage through them, taking out lunch boxes that smell of bananas and cheese. As usual there are school notices - another raffle, another dress up day. There’s a carefully folded paper in the bottom of one bag. I take it out and flatten it on the floor. My granddaughter finds me and we sit down together. ‘Who’s this?’ I ask, pointing to the stick-figured woman in the centre of the page. The woman is smiling, a large, red smile with yellow teeth. Her eyes are bright blue dots and eyebrows arch in surprise. Her hair, dark and yellow lines, has been tenderly drawn to caress her face. Skeletal fingers extend from single-line arms, and reach out to little stick children by her side.

‘It’s you’, my granddaughter says, bewildered that I couldn’t see it myself. 

‘Of course it is. I look beautiful.’

‘You are,’ she says and leaves me on the floor, believing, for the first time, that I can truly see myself.


AuthorAmanda Apthorpe

It will be a girl, and she will become a single mother. How do I know this? Because that’s what happens in my family. 

It all began with my mother – widowed two weeks before giving birth to her first daughter. Of course she doesn’t see the history, and if she would she would not see herself as part of it. After all, she was widowed, not divorced. She had a noble status – married to the man of her dreams, a man who haunted my own father. I was surprised when I learned that he had been short. I was also surprised when I realised he had been a mechanic. After all what would an engineer be doing tinkering with the bolts on a plane? It occurred to me that he mustn’t have been any good at his job. It fell on him, that bit of the plane he’d been tinkering with. But I wouldn’t tell her these things. 

Then there is my sister, the ‘fatherless’ one. Hindsight has given her that title because it accounts for all her mistakes (in that she’s lucky; I have no such excuse). She could never really relate to men, though she has tried; too often and obviously with no protection. My niece is twelve now and I can see the way she looks at other girls’ fathers, as if they’re a foreign country. I wonder if there is a gene for yearning. 

And then there’s me. I was so proud on my wedding day, at least that’s what the photos suggest. But what would I know at seventeen? You can only just see the bump under the wedding dress. Luckily high waistlines were the fashion. He’s wanted a boy, so I knew I would have a girl. 

And here she is, my darling daughter, with stars in her eyes as she tells me their ‘news’. I embrace her (and him though I can already sense his departure). I place my hand on her belly. 

It will be a girl, and my daughter will be a single mother. 

AuthorAmanda Apthorpe

Our neighbours have just pulled down our back fence. I liked the one that was there – scarred by the tracks of the Philodendron’s tentacles, strung with the ‘Bubble Man’, a housewarming gift from my sister, and the various pieces of ceramic art of children. I miss my favourite moss-covered brick that caught my eye and distracted me from my father’s face, now gone. 

While they build a new fence, ‘any fence you like’ they said in their good neighbour fashion, passers-by peer through the temporary meshed wire and gauge our lives by the state of our backyard. Now I’m conscious of the falling trellis, the untidily stacked bags of compost and, worst of all, the brilliance, or lack of, my washing on the line. 

The wooden fence on our left is beginning to decay. Between the space left by a fallen paling my neighbour and I converse. “How’s your week?” “What are you planting there?” Further along the fence, the top is chipped by his heavy feet when he had to climb over; I’d left my keys inside. A passionfruit vine holds that fence together. Every year I watch, with lust, as the fruits swell in decaying blossom. Every year the possums beat me to their ripening. 

On my right, Japanese lanterns and pom-pom flowers hang amongst my washing in summer and, in autumn, silver birch leaves drift in clouds into our yard. The neighbour’s dog sticks his nose through the gap at the base of the fence and sniffs his welcome. Children climb the horizontal beams on that fence and call, “You want to play?” They wish the fence wasn’t there at all and, sometimes, so do I. 

They’ll put up a brand new fence, these new, good neighbours. It will be “high, impenetrable”, they assure us, “You’ll never see us!” they laugh and maybe mean “we’ll never have to see you.” It will be a good fence, and, over time we will make it our own. Perhaps the Bubble Man will return; there might be new art from new children. But the moss-covered brick that had distracted me from by father’s face will not be there, as he isn’t. 

AuthorAmanda Apthorpe