I taught him how to count magpies, like my grandmother taught me when I was his age. I taught him because I love him and hate myself. I wanted him to have normal, happy experiences like I did. I also wanted the divine agony of remembering.
His chubby hands point towards to crow in the tree above us. "One for sorrow!" He says, gleeful to have remembered the first line. Gleeful as the sharp, smiling, silver edge of a knife.
Yes, I muse, it must be one for sorrow; if there were two, perhaps the sorrow wouldn't be so great. Although I suppose that would depend on having the right two.
"Two for joy, mummy!" He points to the second, beside the first.
Two for joy. I remember joy. It felt like sunshine. Both are rare in England. Sorrow and rain are more common. I fit England.
"Three for girls."
She was so small when she born. Small. Too small. Too small to live, but precious, so precious, but misshapen and cold in my arms and my body was cold and my tears were cold.
"Four for boys."
He wasn't so small. He was chubby and warm and my body was cold and my tears were cold but for a moment when the pain was blinding and the doctor told me to push, I forgot, forgot about everything and went back to those five years and thought it was her, her still, her again. And then his hand squeezed mine in an unwanted gesture of affection but it wasn't his fault he was the wrong man and the illusion faded.
I can't I can't I'm sorry I can't.
"Five for silver."
It had been a cheap, cheap ring, but that was expected for a shotgun wedding, but we weren't married before the baby was born because the baby was early, and then we weren't married at all because we couldn't cope with her loss together and so I moved across the ocean and he moved across the land and I never told anyone for fear that the retelling would cheapen everything, that in trying to find the right words to describe it, the images would fade and I would realize it had all be one huge, elaborate, wonderful nightmare. But nightmares don't leave mementos, and I clung to the tarnished silver engagement ring.
Did you love me?
I wish I'd worn the wedding ring that was to accompany it, instead of letting him go. Wish we'd been more than lovers. Lovers. The word is acrid, the unfaithful slut of words, overused by everyone , worn down to mean nothing but the barest figment of a feeling. You didn't have to love to be lovers. You didn't have to love someone to tell them you did; it was a staple of texts and airy teenage conversations. They don't understand love. They think it's happy and light and free and pretty and nice but it's not, it's knowing the pink plus sign was a death sentence to what we were, it's a taint and a tattoo and a brand that can never be removed but no one can see but only feel that I am yours, it's being unable to feel happy ever again and yet hoping you the best and cursing you to hell in the same breath and it's duplicitously happy and miserable in a single dizzying instant. Love does not do that justice. Love does not do us justice.
You say it like it's simple.
Fiancé was better. Fiancé was worse. Fiancé meant more, was more, was a promise of more, all an empty promise. I wish I'd worn the wedding ring, wish I'd married him so my pain could seem justified, so that disgusting adjective wouldn't be associated with him because he deserved more but I deserved less.
"Six for gold."
The gold engagement ring was not for a shotgun wedding. It was too refined and classy to have been conceived by blissful forgetfulness. It was heavy on my finger and I never quite adjusted to its weight. I hated it but accepted it because it made everything hurt a little less, until it made everything hurt a little more, because I shouldn't have married a man I never loved, and should have married the man I always loved, but that love hurt almost as much as its absence. It's funny, really, that having him, loving him—oh, horrible word!—for five years was enough to ruin me forever onwards. It was a taint.
It should have been.
"Seven for a secret, never to be told."
I told them I was studying in America. I did. I also met and nearly married him, was pregnant and nearly had his baby, but nearly doesn't do nearly enough for happiness, and no one knows, no one but him and me and everyone I left behind, but I don't know them anymore, and I don't think they would recognize me either, although I suppose I look the same, but its just everything instead me that's dead, dead like her, born too early, too fatally eager to be alive, irony upon irony, pain upon pain.
Were we premature? Were we too young to live on our own, outside the shelter of home? Did we ever have a hope or were we destined to doom from birth? Which way makes it easier to breathe now, now that the baby is dead and buried in a far away place? Which mitigates the misery of living beyond the death?
"Did you hear me, mummy? I said 'seven for a secret never to be told.' I finished the rhyme, all by myself."
"I heard you," I try to smile because it's not his fault the he's the wrong child. "I heard you. 'Seven for a secret never to be told', I know."