Amy, these are my words. I want you to know that. They are not from books, or magazines. They are spoken by me – me, whose language was hardly ever in words, like the rest of the world’s, but in numbers, symbols, marks on the skin. Bear with me. I know I’ll lose myself in this, say things twice, or not at all. I will whisper these words in your wounded ear, or call them out, across the room. But, also, they are in my head. This is my mind’s voice, too, which has never been quiet, and these are my thoughts – fast, mackerel-bright. They flash through my brain as I walk, or read. As I kneel on the lawn, planting bulbs. As I close the windows of this room when rain is coming.
I am twenty-seven. Not old – not even slightly; but would you know me, now? I think I look the same, but I know what lies inside me is not as it was. Nothing changes – our mother said this, once, which was wrong of her. I’ve changed a thousand times over; I’ve shifted my sands more than you have, in so many ways. Once, I walked on the shingle at Cley-next-the-Sea, lonely, and fierce, and crammed full of lies; I carried a brooch with me. Now? I lie in our garden sometimes, watch the clouds moving, and think of my other lives – all the other girls I have been. Thin, vengeful things. Hollow, too, and I have left them behind me, just as I have left the sugar beet fields, and the cloisters, and the stone girl with her feet lost in leaves. Or maybe left is wrong – maybe I have not left them; but they are locked in me – held down with rocks, pressing their bones against their membrane walls, and sometimes, they stir, as you do. That is, I think, a more truthful way of it. But either way, I threw the brooch into the marshes, as I moved through them for the last time. Heard it neat, music sound as it fell. Walked back to the Blakeney house thinking, A magpie will find it. Fall in love with is shine.
So now, I sit. I visit. Pick my fingernails. Watch your heart flinch on a screen.
And this, too: I am the good wife. I am a dark-haired woman with flesh on her bones and love in my mouth, and stories to tell. My days are spent in a white, west-facing house on an English coast that you have never seen, with Ray, and an attic, and a leafy vegetable patch. I walk barefoot through our rooms, stand by its windows. Or I walk on a campus with my coat buttoned up, books to my chest, spectacles on. I know medical terms, chemicals. I’ve sat in a dark lecture room. And for a long time after your fall, I’d sit in an airless room with a woman who didn’t know me at all, but who, also, did. It was her job to know me, to understand. I cried, confessed. I said your name to her, and other names, and she smiled, noted them down.
As for my evenings?
Sometimes they’re with my husband. Chess, or books, or just with each other. Me, alone, in a deep, salted bath.
But also, sometimes I spend them here, with you.
Excerpted from Oystercatchers © Copyright 2012 by Susan Fletcher. Reprinted with permission by W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.