Earlier I posted an exceptionally late notice about the release of Welcome to Your Body: Lessons in Evisceration, and during drafting I started a tangent regarding my short story The Rotten Cradle, but given the nature of it, and given that I’m trying to once more drag myself out a pit of silence, I wanted to go into it here instead, where it can flutter out into the void as I try to revive my quiet corner of the internet.

There are a couple of projects in my relatively brief journey which have marked a prominent shift regarding my writing, and myself. Moments where my voice grew a little stronger, where I could cleanly separate reader reception and cherish my love of the story, where I could let go and boil my work down to take only its most precious parts, and not feel like I’d lost something. Aspects of the industry which have been like glass to swallow, yet swallow them I did. Painful, sweet, or eye-opening, there’s been a few.

The Rotten Cradle has been different. A moment of growth, but an incredibly sore one, and one that surprised me. It is, by far, the most vulnerable I have ever let myself be, and have ever felt, upon writing and publishing a short story. I’ve never shied away from weaving my most tender parts into my work, however strange or sad, because it’s felt important, and felt natural. Most all of us do it.

Yet I’ve never felt this unmoored over a publication. At the risk of spoiling the story, if this phantom reader hasn’t already read it, The Rotten Cradle is no more and no less than a vignette of an elderly woman who is dying. Her body, as well as her mind, is crumbling around her, despite the routine monotony and consistency of her existence. Her own daughter cannot see the world as she does, fear as she does, and soothe as she needs to. She sees no intruders, no gawking eyes, no malformed creature growing beneath her mother’s skin. She only sees a shell of her parent. The Rotten Cradle is no more and no less than a warped account of witnessing my Grandmother in her final few months.

When I read the story, I hear parts of her so loud and clear, literally hear her voice, and I hear parts of my Mother in Nicola, and I hear myself in the prose, as though forcing myself to be in her shoes in this flimsy imitation on paper. I have never shied from producing work which channels my life and all its tenderness, but this story revived a grief I thought I’d grown peace with.

All of that lingering pain is now boiled down into 3,000 words, and within the arms of strangers, who can and will, and rightly so, judge it or discard it—and it’s led me to feel like an enormous, writhing, raw nerve.

At the time of writing, it never felt that present. I was aware what I was doing on a base level, knew why the story was coming out the way it was, just an odd time where the opportunity arose and I was up in my feelings and it tumbled together easy as anything. But I also think, at the time, I was still just furious about what time had done to her, how unfair it was, and I didn’t have the energy to be soft-bellied about it. I’d done my crying over it, after all, hadn’t I?

I never imagined I could write something which felt like I’d cut myself from throat to belly and let people root around in there, not after my current roster of stories and storms. It was simply a grotesque yet honest reflection about the cruelty of simply aging, but in the process reopened a wound I’d nearly forgotten about.

Yet, as strange and dark as the story is, I am still happy I created it, and I think it dispelled some lingering anger over how unfair the end of one’s life can be. Now it’s written down, and sent away, and whilst others may peer at it for a brief moment, I can put it down now, I think. It makes it easier to remember times where life was a little gentler.

Walnut cakes, orange peels, scraps of cotton sewed into a doll, gold earrings unclipped, porridge that was too thick (I make mine like cement now, too), a rubber plant grown six feet tall and tied to the ceiling, stale bread and chicken carcases thrown out to feed seagulls, blue hydrangeas, ‘long tails’, wooden steps my makeshift podium, phone books and birthday cards (they had to have a nice long verse) saved to doodle in, torn up rags to curl my hair, cappuccinos with extra chocolate saved for me, money every time I visited otherwise you’ll ‘go spare’, bingo pens to draw with (but only if the biro was dry), declared inherited green thumb if I so much as nurtured a weed, tellings off for fidgeting, gold bracelets and chains from the ‘lucky lucky’ man, lamenting over any hair that wasn’t long or blonde (it’s still long, but ginger now), the shock of tattoos (I got two more, sorry!), hating pictures being taken because you hated the sight of your grey hair but letting us take a photo of you with a Christmas pudding hat on your head because we begged, a pursed lip smile that was as effective as a belly-laugh, cut glass polished with newspaper, silent jealousy over your sisters lemon cake, falling asleep after your Sunday dinners and pretending you hadn’t when we laughed too loud and woke you up, curtain twitching at the neighbours, the best corned beef hash (I’ll always prefer it like a stew), miniature scarecrows and gaudy bird scarers tucked between pansies, elephant ornaments but only if their trunk was pointed upwards to stop the luck running out (and never pointed away from a door), my Christmas dinner was the best you ever had (you said you ate like a bird and not to plate too much but you didn’t do half bad that year), pantry filled with old paint and gold ribbon, beaded curtains on the front door that would rip more hair out than they would keep flies away, making Dad walk down to your house while he was drunk to find the right remote for the telly, saying my pet hamster was ugly (rude honestly), talking about reality tv shows as if you knew the people personally, the croaky voice you’d use when you picked up the phone even if you’d been talking normally five seconds before, boasting about us all to whoever would listen but being stern with us to our face, always making room in the bed, always buying more food than you needed—and telling the ghost in the house to go away because you were sad it was making us not want to visit anymore.



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