Monday's child is fair of face
Padraic leans out the window to take the paper McDonald's bag from the woman behind the window. She smiles and flutters her long, black eyelashes at him.
"Have a good night, ma'am," he drawls in his low, Aussie accent, slipping back into the driver's seat before she can reply. He starts down the slope of the drive thru, and we coast into the intersection and down the black asphalt. His eyes are mostly focused on the food instead of the road.
"Watch where you're going," I scold out of habit. Even on Main street, mist lingers over the cold ground, waist- high and illuminated by the sparsely placed street lamps. Out here though, there are no lights and no cars and the mist has spread out across the dormant fields, clearing a path along the highway. In the distance, where the edges of the road converge on the horizon, there is still a faint glow of orange to the west.
Padraic pulls out into the bare, dry field and parks his car. He rolls out of the door, underneath the stars, and lies down on the grass. Frost hasn't swept over us yet. The ground pinches into the smooth skin of our arms. Beyond the orchards of dead apple trees, nothing rises out of the distant ground— no distant mountains, no skyscrapers. We've driven past the McDonald's at the end of the world, and now the only highway out is telling us to move west. Ride off into the sunset. Breathe in risk and breathe out tendrils of rich, white smoke.
Instead, we lie there, still and breathing beneath the splatter of stars, exchanging the paper bag of French fries.
The bag is rough and the French fries taste like forever and we smell like burning.
"You should come back home with me tomorrow."
Padraic rolls onto his side to look at me. Maybe he can see me better than I can see him, because I can only make out the smoothest curve of his lips, illuminated by the lights of some distant city, and the glow of his bright green eyes. He's like beautiful, like moddles on the glossy surfaces of magazines in a way that makes my heart hurt. He raises an eyebrow, daring me to continue.
"My parents are gone." My mouth is starting to bleed, I can taste it, and the salt stings into the wounds. "To some affair. Fair. Something. All weekend. And my sister is at Nicole's house."
His eyes slide up, past me, to the glowing horizon. Past the countless rows of dead apple trees, the horizon continues to glow with the gently pulse of faraway city lights. His mouth folds into a thin line and his gaze dissolves into the blades of grass behind my head.
Flutters of snow, tiny specks of winter, come down from that great, black night sky.
Once the chill has come, and we stir from the autumn grounds.
He drives so slowly down the empty streets. The locked-down businesses are full of spectres and skinny figures haunt the alley-wide gaps between the brick buildings. Padraic keeps both hands on the wheel —two and ten, like they show you in Driver's Ed— until his knuckles start to go white. When we get to a red light, he stops, even though there's no one around to catch him, and slides his eyes over to look at me.
"You're quiet tonight, Riley."
He slides a hand along my bent knees, up my arm, to push hair out of my face.
His skin reminds me of water in rivers and lava in lava lamps. Even after the light is green, he just sits there, hand pushed halfway through my hair. His thumb draws the tiniest circles on my cheek and the skin tingles. There isn't anyone else on the highway in the dim, grey twilight.
"Is something bothering you?" he asks finally. Maybe he can feel my quickening pulse beneath those long, slender fingers of his. I make my eyes look somewhere that isn't at him. I stare out the wind shield at the narrow road stretching before us. The asphalt stripe disappears where it touches the horizon.
"No. I'm fine."
He lets me go and starts the car again.
He drives so slowly down the empty streets.
Tuesday's child is full of grace
Padraic balances on the cement wall beside the road, his feet at my shoulder-level. He takes one great, flying sweep of a step to my two, swaying like a blade of grass on a long stretch of road.
"What's bothering you?" he asks finally, when the wall runs out. I stop walking and he jumps down, landing on the concrete without stumbling. Perfect landing. 10 out of 10. "You've been really quiet."
If I told him what's bothering me —about the thoughts that preoccupy my mind— then I'd have to think about it. I'd have to consider all the pathetic things that torment me.
All the things that make me pathetic.
"Nothing." My house is just three down from the end of the concrete wall. "Come on, we're almost there."
He shifts closer as we walk up the driveway. By the time we've reached the front door, he's almost pressed against me. Our hands brush and I unlock the door. We step into the still, dark house.
Door now shut, we stand in the cold front room.
"I could cook," I offer awkwardly. "Is there something you want to eat?"
Padraic shakes his head. "No. I'm fine."
He takes my hand and unfurls it palm up to examine the lines of my skin. His fingers trace over my head-heart-life-love lines, the mound of Venus and Saturn and Mercury. This is why no one in town likes him: because he'd look down at their hands and tell them the things they didn't want to hear. People say they don't approve of witchcraft, but they're just afraid of the folds in their skin and the runes he can read.
"I love your hands," he says after a little while. He bends his head to press his mouth against the centre of my palm. "They're so smooth."
My face flushes dark. "Thanks. I moisturise."
Padraic leans forward to press his mouth against my cheek. "I know you do," he says. His mouth slides over to brush against my ear, my jaw. "I watch you sometimes. After we shower? You always smell like lavender."
His fingers run over the bones in my neck, the collar bones, touch the spot where they meet the rest of my body. I can expose my skin for him, but all he ever does is trace patterns on it: circles that wind over my clavicle and my shoulder blades until I can shut my eyes.
The doorknob presses into my back as he pushes me up against the door.
My nails scrape against the door, scrambling for purchase on the slick wood. He breathes my name against my neck as he scrapes his nails over my body. I'll see the red marks later, in the morning after he's gone, and they'll make me beautiful in the mirror. Whatever he wants, he can have it. He can consume me like bread to be eaten by the handful, like bright suns consume Tanzanian rivers, like bubbles consume their own angularities. I let him engulf me, surround me. Our bodies suture together and he presses into me, trying my skin on for size.
"Riley," he whispers into my hair. I'm still up against the door, his hands halfway up my shirt.
Outside, the ground is beginning to turn white.
Wednesday's child is full of woe
My sister shakes me awake. "Riley," she cries. "It's Lou."
Dazed, I sit up. "What's wrong with Lou?" Everything is hazy, swimming in my field of vision like objects on the other side of a heatwave. "Sarah?"
Sarah leans back on the heels of her socked feet. "Lou died. Mum found him in his cage this morning." She creeps forward across my room like a vine and sits on the edge of my bed. "I'm so sorry Riles."
I swing my feet out from under the covers of my bed with intent to stand, but I don't. Instead, the cold of the hardwood floors soaks into my feet, into my ankles, my legs. It snakes all the way up to my eyes and sits there until I feel sick.
Sarah leans over to hug me. "I'm sorry," she says again.
"Unless you stabbed my rabbit, there's nothing to be sorry for." I finally get to my feet. "I'm going...out."
Her eyes trace the grain of the floorboards. "Mum wants you to clean out the cage and bury the body. She's taking me to the city for Christmas shopping." She climbs to her feet too. I feel small beside. "I can call him for you, if you want."
"He'll be mad," I mumble.
Padraic hates getting up early. He'll probably yell at me.
"Just go get rid of the body and I'll call him. He'll come, even if he's pissed off." Sarah shuffles for the door, head hung. "But mum's going to be mad if you just leave him there."
My mother always hated Lou.
His tiny body lies in the birdcage he lived and died in. His fur moves when I open the door and again when I slam it shut. I can see my breath in the dim light of the bare bulbs screwed into the ceiling.
"Hi Lou," I say.
He doesn't move to greet me.
Because he is dead.
His body is still warm underneath his fur. I jump back, hands burning. Bile rises up in my throat and I fall against the washing machine. Even when I hear the door crack open —the click-click of my mother's sharp black heels— I don't open my eyes.
"Don't be a girl," she snaps. Her voice sounds like the sound of dead leaves scraping against the pavement. "It's your own damned fault. His water was frozen and he probably died of cold."
She wouldn't let me put his cage inside.
"I'm not a fucking girl," I say when I can find my voice again. "Where's the shovel?"
"I don't know." She turns on her heel and click-clicks out of the garage again.
This is not my mother. My mother lives in some city of sunshine in a bungalow with hanging vines. I've never met her, and she doesn't know me (I wasn't borne from her womb) but she's not the woman with the black French bun and emerald snake-eyes. She doesn't live in my house, my sister doesn't call her "mum." She's not the woman in the kitchen right now— that woman is nothing but the bearer of my afterbirth.
I take the shovel into the garden. Lou is still in his cage. Beneath the snow, the ground is frozen and the last of the daffodils my sister planted have died.
Footsteps crunch behind me.
"Sorry about Lou," Padraic says. He rests his forehead on my back, between my shoulder blades. I can feel his breath beneath my shirt, warm and wet against my cold skin. "Do you need help?"
Mutely, I nod.
He carries Lou's body out in a shoe box for my sister's Crocs. I hate Crocs. I watch him clutch the prism in his arms, held against his chest, kneel in the snow and set Lou into the hole I've dug beside the dead rose bush.
He murmurs in Latin.
I failed that class.
Only after we've stepped back from the shallow grave and begun across the yard again does it occur to me that I can cry. The tears leak out from underneath my eyelids like the melting water of a frozen river. The air I suck greedily into my lungs comes out as sobs.
"Hey, Riley?" Padraic circles his arms around my waist, pulling our bodies flush against each other. My mother isn't here to watch.
"It's going to be okay."
Thursday's child has far to go
We lie curled up beneath the sheets of my bed. Our skin, slick with sweat, sticks together. Padraic's heart beats erratically in my ear. It sounds like thrash metal.
"I hate living here," I whisper to him, against his neck. I feel him shift against me, and even with my eyes I can imagine the face— exasperated, eyes shut and mouth drawn thin. "It's true. We should leave."
"You're under age," he points out.
"Just barely. I'll be eighteen in a month." I prop myself up on an elbow. "I want to go to Los Angeles. It's always sunny there."
"People drive like assholes," Padraic mumbles. His fingers lace between mine. "Let's just be here for a while, okay? Fuck your stupid mother. I'll take care of you."
I slither back under the sheets. It's warm there, next to him in my bed. "You don't have to take care of me," I tell him, even if he does. I'm like a baby bird, lost in the whiteness of the snow below the wide branches of yellow birch trees. "I can take care of myself."
He touches my wings, presses his mouth against mine. Fat, white stars press themselves against the thin skin of my eyelids. "I know," he whispers. "You're strong. Like bamboo."
"Bamboo?" I echo in my own voice.
He nods. His fingertips draw runes on my belly. "Yeah. Bamboo bends and grows and expands. Kind of like you, I guess."
My skin is magical soup now. I recognize the shape of Uruz over and over again: one half of a sideways trapezoid that means strength and courage and sex but also wisdom. He's taught me some of the names, whispered them to me and drawn them on the edges of my notebook.
"I like bamboo," I say, inching towards him in search of closeness. The chill seeps under the crack of the window and swarms around us. "I'll be your lucky bamboo."
"Good." Padraic kisses my neck. His hands move again, fingertips drawing something I don't recognize.
"Raidho," he says absently. His eyes flutter shut. "The rune of travel."
Friday's child is loving and giving
My mother gave me baby wipes for the second year in a row. "Merry Christmas," she said.
"They're useful," Sarah had offered unhelpfully. She squicked her mouth to one side and offered me one her truffles. From the nice box. "Sorry."
Sorry our parents don't like me.
And they don't even know the half of it.
"I'm going over to Padraic's house," I announce. My mother doesn't look up from her new book with the yellow cover. "I'll be back before dinner."
"Take your time."
They haven't cleared the snow yet, and the surface is disturbed only by the footprints of cats. They make writhing, twisting lines, occasionally intersecting each other, interrupting the smooth flow. Padraic's great orange tabby leaps out of a bush —it recognizes me even across the street— and we walk together to his house.
Padraic shuffles out of his house onto the stoop. "Here." I push the purple box I've been carrying into his hands. "It's a picture frame. I made it in art class."
He opens it. His face brightens. "It's really nice," he says immediately. "You put symbols on it!"
"The zodiac," I mumble. My breath folds out like paper swans. "I tried to do runes but I couldn't remember any of them besides your tattoos and only having those five would have been stupid. So I did the zodiac."
Padraic rolls his eyes and kisses me again. It's like being set ablaze, and I am ecstatic to be his firefly, lightning bug. "You don't have to explain. It's great. It's my favourite present so far."
"Oh, hey." Padraic jumps like he's been shocked with bright blue electricity. "I got you something."
Shivering, I dig my hands into my pockets. "Yeah?"
He rifles through his pockets for a minute: coat pockets, back pockets, front pockets. He fishes a chain out from one of them and holds it up in front of the yellow porch light. "See?" He flicks the ring hanging off the end of it with one finger. "It's the most cliché Christmas present ever."
The orange cat rubs against his legs. It likes him more than it likes me.
The ring is silver, inscribed with runes I can't read to make word's I don't understand. The metal glitters in the pink and yellow light of Christmas morning.
He loops the silver chain around my neck, hiding it under my coat. "Too awkwardly soon?"
"We've been dating for almost three years," I point out, adjusting the ring so it presses up against my skin. It's warm. "It stopped being too soon after like, a week." Shifting back and forth on my feet, I stare down at my shoes and the cat. "I love it. Thanks."
He tilts my face up. Our eyes meet. "Hey. I love you."
Saturday's child works hard for a living
"I fucking hate carnivals," I grumble to Sarah.
She rolls her eyes. "You're not even doing anything. I'm the one handing out prizes. Is it stressful, watching kids throw beanbags at a piece of plywood."
"I'm sure it's very taxing," an Australian accent chimes in. "Isn't that right, Riles?"
Sarah snickers behind her hand. "You guys are shameless," she says. "I sometimes wonder if the entire town is blind or just rock stupid."
"Rock stupid," we reply at the same time.
This aisle of booths is mostly empty, populated only by portly children with pink cupcakes. "And at a church carnival," Sarah says, shaking her head. "Even if it's taking place at an elementary school, Jesus is still watching. I'm going to grab something to eat. You two are officially in charge until I get back, okay?"
She pats my head.
"But I don't know how to run a booth," I whine, but she's gone, disappearing into the swirl of people and frosted confections. "Padraic, I suck at this."
Padraic assumes her seat. "Don't worry about it. Just take the ticket, hand the kid a prize if they get the beanbag through the hole. It's that easy." He rubs my hand underneath the table. "You worry too much."
When no one is looking, he kisses my neck. My belly feels like it is full of monarchs, all desperate to fly away on their black and orange wings. For one brief second, I wonder if I can break into a rabble of butterflies.
Instead, they dissolve when the contact ends like they were nothing.
"Hey, Riley, you okay?" Padraic's voice oozes into my head like liquid indigo, dying my mind the brightest violet.
This fat little frog-child stands in front of the booth, staring at us.
I swallow. "I don't know," I whisper. "I think so."
Padraic stares straight at the little monster clutching his ticket. Snot nosed brat. "We're closing for five minutes," he says. Then he takes the prize box and my hand and leads me through the nearest door.
We end up behind the art in the exhibition room, which is really a cafeteria, and we're so invisible, hidden from view by display boards displaying stick figure drawings of Jesus Christ Almighty.
"Riley," he says, setting down the neon pink prize basket on an upturned orange crate. "What's wrong?"
His hands are on my cheeks and tears are on my cheeks and my eyelashes are probably falling onto my cheeks too. "A lot of things," I mumble. "War and genocide to name two." Deep in my throat, laughter erupts like a volcano and it's killing me.
He wraps his arms around me, pulling out bodies close. "Tell me what's going on," he pleads. "What's making you so sad?"
"My mum doesn't love me!" I half-shout. "God doesn't love me. They keep telling me that. And. And. I worry that you won't love me either, that you'll find something else because fuck I am so boring and then I'll be all alone!"
Lifetime movies play in my head: young love doesn't last young love doesn't last young love doesn't last.
My lover is a butterfly to my ugly nighttime moth, a unicorn to my mule, a diamond to my broken beer bottle.
I'm going to die alone.
His hands slide down into the back pockets of my jeans. "It's okay," he whispers. We rock back and forth, side to side. "Shush. Don't cry. You're okay."
I push my hand under his shirt to the place I know he has a tattoo of the rune Barkano. It looks like a letter B, and it is named for the birch-goddess, the symbol of love affairs and light and spring and growing strong. I circle it with my fingers, the familiar pattern of his skin beneath my fingertips sends shivers down my spine.
"I'm not okay," I tell him. "I'm really fucked up. I'll never grow straight."
I expect him to offer some tidbit of wisdom about the nature of things, about how life really is fair, but instead: "I don't care."
His breath fans over my face in bursts as we breathe. Voices beyond us merge and blend into one dull hum that isn't as bright or as alive as we are, in that brief moment. I want to pretend ultimate awareness so I can offer great insight into this single embrace, hidden in cobwebs away from everything else in the world.
But no, I am far from an omnipotent being. In fact, I am so infinitely tiny as to fall into myself. My skeleton is held together only by his.
I can hear his heart beating, blood like an ocean and an avalanche and lightning in his veins.
"I love you."
So mote it be.
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
This was one half of a writing trade with SerialXLain, who wanted winter and birch trees and birdcages. You should go check out the half she wrote: it's wicked sick, and it has zombies. Sort of. Also, her protagonist is named Riley too, which is kind of a weird coincidence.
Hope this was all right Katy.
Lovelovelove to everyone.