Fiction

Ana, Close Up Far Away


It’s a quarter to three and Ana cannot get out of bed.

“It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that I’d rather not.”

It’s a quarter to three and Ana would rather not get out of bed.

“Because physically, I can. I just would rather not, okay?”

Her mother has long given up calling her from the kitchen with the promise of pancakes or tea. She stays in her room with three layers of fabric covering her window because she cannot sleep without total darkness anymore. Sometimes she sleeps through the whole day.

“That’s only happened a couple of times.”

Ana rolls onto her side, peels the comforter off of her torso, and lies there waiting to feel November fall into her skin. She lies there half exposed beneath the mound of blankets until she is certain that this is what cold feels like, before she begins to move about her room, carefully pulling on sweatpants and socks over the sensitive terrain of her body. She passes the two closed doors on her way to the bathroom.

“They’re just hall closets.”

But she knows they are not just hall closets. Somewhere, tucked away in herself, she knows they are not hall closets, nor have they ever been.

“I’m too tired for this right now.”

Behind the doors there are beds and dressers and other objects that belong respectively to the people who

“Stop it. Stop it right now.”

Ana moves to the tiny bathroom where there are just enough square feet for a toilet, a sink, and a claw-foot tub. Off-white tiles jut out from the walls in columns of varying height, an abandoned decorating project that her mother has done and redone for nearly seven months now. Ana’s ankles crunch as she sits down on the toilet, and her back pulls itself loudly into alignment as she stands back up again. Once she arrives in the kitchen she puts a piece of toast in the toaster and waits. Her mother comes in, sets the plastic grocery bags on the counter, and begins to unpack them.

“You’re up!” Her mother smiles at her, “Can I get you some coffee, tea?”

“No thanks, it’s okay.”

“I was going to make some for myself anyway. I didn’t really get much of a chance to read the paper this morning, so that’s what I’m going to do after I finish unpacking these groceries. I’ll put enough in the kettle if you decide you want some, if not, you can reboil it later.”

Ana stands in the kitchen, and somewhere far away, a smile crosses her lips.

“By no means do you have to have any, but it’ll be there if you want it. I’m going to make orange pekoe.”

Ana pulls several cans of peas out of the bags and places them in the cupboard beside the sink, while her mother finishes putting the milk, lettuce and green beans in the fridge. Her mother puts water in the kettle, turns on the stove, and goes to the living room where she unfolds the newspaper. Her mother always tries to read the paper from start to finish, underlining parts that she finds interesting. If she does not happen to finish an issue in one day, she keeps it until she gets the chance to finish it.

“She usually finishes them though.”

Sometimes at night Ana wakes up and sees a thin line of light, creeping in beneath her closed door.

“Mum can’t always finish the paper during the day so she stays up, that’s all.”

Ana’s mother feels the need to always keep busy.

From the living room her mother shouts, “Have you had anything to eat today? I could make you some eggs and fry up some–”

“I’m making toast,” she replies.

“Oh, good! I bought some jam at the store today. It’s in the fridge door. It’s that raspberry kind. I don’t know if you still like that but it was on sale, so I thought I’d or you’d give it a try if you feel…”

Her mother trails off as Ana stops listening. She opens the fridge and looks at the jam. She doesn’t know whether she likes it or not.

“It’s probably good.”

The toaster beeps behind her. She takes the jam from the fridge and spreads it on the toast. She eats it in the kitchen, washes her dishes, and begins to head back to her room when her mother yells down the hall to her.

“Ana.”

She walks back past the kitchen into the living room to where her mother is sitting.

“Ana, do you think you’ll go to class tomorrow? Or to the studio, maybe?”

“I probably won’t go to class.”

“What do you think about the studio then?”

“I don’t know.” Ana stares at her mother’s face. “I’ll go if you’d like me to.”

Her mother’s hand reaches out and holds the hem of her daughter’s T-shirt, “It makes no difference to me, kiddo. I want you to be happy, and it’s been so nice out lately.”

“Then I’ll go to the studio tomorrow,” she says and returns back down the hall to her room. Ana hasn’t painted in a long time. She seeps back into bed between the sheets and hand-knit blankets and comforter. She will not be going to the studio tomorrow.

“You don’t know I won’t go to the studio.”

She peels off each of her socks with her big toes.

“I’ll go. I promise. I told mum I’d go to the studio, so I’ll go to the studio.”

Ana started a painting at the beginning of the school year, which now sits unfinished at the back of a storage closet at school.

“You don’t know that. You don’t know where they keep that stuff.”

The next morning Ana gets up and goes to the studio. There are more people than she was expecting, though she hasn’t been in so long that she no longer knows how many people are usually here.

“Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the year.”

“Ana?”

A girl Ana recognizes comes over from where she is working.

“Oh, my God, it is you. I haven’t seen you around in so long I was half expecting it to be someone else! How have you been?”

How has she been? She has been so far away.

“I guess maybe that’s a stupid question. Sorry,” the girl says. “What are you working on?”

Ana feels warm.

“I’m working on a painting,” she says. “I’m not sure where it would be anymore.”

Ana feels the girl take her by the arm.

“It’s been a while… Perfectly understandable…”

It is not that Ana is not listening to the girl. But the sentences slip through her hands before she can even reach for them as the two girls move across the room.

A door opens, a light flicks on and Ana hears a faint buzzing radiate through the room as she stands in the doorway.

Ana’s face is warm.

“Feel really awful… how it all…”

It is so warm Ana cannot tell the difference between her body and the room and the swell of the buzzing sound around her. She reaches for the door frame.

Ana feels the hard contour of the doorframe against her fingers.

“Is this it?” the girl asks holding out a small canvas.

“Yeah.”

Ana thanks the girl and walks away. The buzzing fades away as she looks at her painting. There is a lighthouse on a hill and boats floating on the water below it.

“There’s more than that. There are some birds.”

There are no birds on the painting. The sky has not been filled in.

“There were going to be birds.”

Ana takes a seat in front of an empty canvas near the window. She takes her paints and her brushes out of her bag. She squeezes the colours onto her wooden palette. She mixes lights with dark then stares at her palette, not sure what colour to start with.

“It should be blue. I should do the sky.”

She pushes her brush into the pile of light blue paint. Ana stares at the canvas holding her brush. She does not know how to do the sky.

The other students work on canvases of different sizes. The boy closest to her is working from a photograph affixed to the corner of the canvas. A girl across the room is standing on a stool to reach the top of her painting. Someone far away is doing a portrait of someone they know.

Ana drags a streak of blue across the exposed white of the unfinished canvas. She looks at it for a long time. Dropping her brush at the edge of her easel she picks up a fresh one. She tries to mix a new colour. The result is a dark reddish brown.

She paints over the lighthouse and the hill, the no birds and the half-finished sky. She coats the water and boats in the reddish brown until there is only one left. She paints around it carefully. One boat sits in the dark new color. Ana looks at the painting, thinner patches of paint revealing the contours of the previous scene; the edge of a boat, the slope of a hill. Ana is tired. She packs her things, puts the canvas on a drying rack and leaves the studio.

By the time she gets home and takes off her boots in the front hallway, her mother is making dinner and listening to classical music on the radio. Her mother emerges from the kitchen with a frying pan in one hand, and a recipe cut out of the newspaper in the other. “How was the studio?”

“It was good.”

Her mother’s face brightens. “I’m making eggplant parmesan. Do you think you’ll have some? It’s just about ready.”

Ana looks at her mother and thinks that the next time she paints, it will be a portrait of her mother.

“Sure,” she answers.

“Well sit right down, then. I’ll bring it out in a minute. Let me turn this music off.”

“You can leave it on.” Ana yells to her mother who was now portioning their dinner onto two plates.

“Now, only eat as much as you want, but remember you’ve been out and about today, so it wouldn’t do any harm to eat a little more than usual, if you’re hungry, that is. If not, I can just put it in a Tupperware and keep it in the fridge for later.”

“Thank you for dinner.” Ana eats slowly and her stomach feels tight after a few bites.

“Did you see anyone you know at the studio?”

Ana rests her head against the wall behind her and becomes aware of the cold, hard centre of the back of her head.

“No. Not really.”

Ana goes to bed after dinner.

She falls asleep in the darkness and awakes in the darkness. When she is not sleeping or waking she just lies in bed with her eyes shut, blankets closed all around her. There is a plate of sliced apple and pear on her bedside table when she opens her eyes. She rolls over and goes back to sleep; the next time she wakes the plate is gone. She curls into a ball when she feels the mattress give way behind her. Her mother burrows under the layers and put her arms around her. Her mother is crying.

“Is she really?”

She feels her mother’s arm around her ribcage. Ana looks at her own arms, splayed out in front of her.

“Ana,” her mother’s breathing is becoming more controlled, “are you going to be okay?”

Ana looks at her hands, sees the long white scars along her arms, faint in some places, clustered and angry in others.

Her mother goes on. “You’re all I have. Sometimes I wonder if I’d kept praying, like I did when I was a girl, if everything would be different then.”

Ana moves her thumb across the crooked lines on her forearm. She sees it happening faintly. It seems so far away.

“Do you ever dream about it? About them?” Her mother wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand.

She feels a licking heat at her toes. It snakes its way up her legs and stomach in crooked lines.

“Ana?”

It whips against her torso and back, an amorphous hand gripping and pulling

“I don’t remember my dreams.”

her skin cleaving a hot path

“Do you ever…” Her mother’s voice trails off as Ana stops hearing her. “…what you saw?”

bubbling to the surface the sound of children screaming

“No. Stop it.”

When Ana awakes, her mother is gone and can be heard bumping around in the living room.

“How can you tell she’s in the living room?”

Her mother certainly isn’t in the bathroom. Or in one of the rooms in the hall. But maybe she’s at the cottage.

“Stop. You know I don’t like it. ”

If she didn’t know better, if she didn’t know that the cottage had burned down

“That never happened.”

some time ago, she might have thought she was back there. She might have forgotten that she was in the apartment with her mother.

“No. I wouldn’t forget that.”

Who’s to say what she would forget, though?

“I haven’t been to the cottage in a long time.”

because

“Because nothing.”

After a few minutes Ana decides to take a bath.

In the bathroom, she pulls the knob on the bathtub as far as it will go. Ana drops her towel revealing a terrain of varying degrees and directions of scattered scar tissue. It covers her knees and legs in clumps spooling out into long white tendrils, extending and contracting into crumpled knots on her sides and back reaching out towards her breasts and shoulders.

“Sometimes I forget.”

Like the hall closets

“I forget that they’re here.”

The room swells in a thick haze of steam. The water hisses out of the faucet. She stands across from the sink and looks absently into the mirror above it. Ana rests her back against the exposed caulking of the wall.

“She does it because we were renovating the other one.”

The other one being the bathroom

“The bathroom at the cottage.”

Ana traces the sensitive ripple of a scar from her thigh up to her navel, stopping where it breaks off into smaller trails.

“We used to go there so much.”

She is tired, even though she just got out of bed

“I’m so tired. I’ve been so tired all the time.”

Ana lilts to the side pressing her back against the rough wall for support. She feels the distinction of smooth tiles against her lower back and the jagged grains of caulking against her upper back.

“It’s so nice and warm in here.”

Ana closes her eyes

“It’s like…”

and there is only darkness

“I don’t know…”

Ana loses her body inside of it.

It is so warm here in the dark. We are all together here. It is warm and wet, and we are all here, and there is everything we need here. It cannot sustain itself, but in this moment we know nothing but this. Every brother and sister there ever was, and all of their brothers and sisters too are here. And father. And mum. Mum too, only we can’t see her, but she is here. We are all here, and someone says “What did you see?” but we don’t have lips yet. The only noise is

Thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump

It is the only one who knows how to talk. But we aren’t scared. We can’t remember what scared feels like, but we know we have been scared and this is not it.

It is so nice and warm.

Thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump

We are floating and someone says “Are you okay?” and we can’t talk, but somehow we say “I don’t know.” It’s dark and soft and we are not scared.

Thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump thumpthumpthump

“Will you be okay without me?” Our brothers and sisters and their brothers and sisters hold onto us with their red fingers. They don’t want us to go. They press into us. They press tiny holes in our back. It is so nice and warm, we are not scared. We have to go, though. We can’t stay here.

Thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump

They hold on so tight. They are so afraid for us, but we are okay.

Thumpthumpthump

We are okay. We are coming back from so far away.

Thumpthumpthump thumpthump thumpthumpthump

We are going now. They leave us. We leave us. Goodbye, everyone! They tear us open. Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodb

A high pitched scream bursts from the faucet as hot water gushes over the edges of the bath and pours past Ana’s body, collapsed and pink against the wall. Everything is steam. Everything hurts.

“Ana!”

Ana crawls over to the tub, splitting pain rippling along her back with every movement. She turns the water off and clings to the edge of the tub. To her right, she can see the unfinished wall streaked with blood, tiles scattered across the floor.

“Ana!”

Ana’s mother bangs on the door with such force that the whole room shakes with each thrust. Her mother pauses at the door. Blood trickles from Ana’s back down her legs to meet the water surrounding her knees and feet. She clenches the edge of the bathtub. Her matted, half damp hair hangs on either side of her face as she watches the clear bathwater stain dull red.

“Ana, are you okay?” her mother calls from behind the door.

“I don’t know.”

“Ana, kiddo, what’s going on?” she calls, “there’s water everywhere. Open the door.”

Ana tries to move.

“It hurts too much. I can’t.”

Ana’s mother thrusts against the door several times before the hook and eye lock breaks from the force of it. Steam and water seep out of the bathroom into the hall.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” her mother stands motionless, staring.

“Mum, please.”

“Ana what have you done?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t mean to.”

“Oh, my God, Ana. Oh, my God”

“Mum, you have to help me.”

“We have to call an ambulance.”

“Help me.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I don’t know either.”

Alma Talbot Usually Alma Talbot lives in Montreal where she majors in Creative Writing at Concordia University but she is currently doing a year abroad in Glasgow, UK where she continues to study and work on what will hopefully turn into a novel.