Natalie Baker

Enough bilberries to mend a broken heart

     They say that home is where the heart is. Well my heart is split down the middle
in two perfect halves. One is my birthplace, where my adolescent bedroom
gathers dust, and the trains come and go like a continuous whispering beyond
the trees. The other, well, figuratively speaking, the other is a person. A boy.

     But he is far from me. My memory of him is fraying around the edges and I worry
that soon it will turn to ash.

- Magnolias.
- What?
- My favourite flower.
- Oh.
- It'll save you from asking me later.
- Later when?

     Have you ever experienced that restless explosion of light that illuminates the
space around you? Love at first sight. It was hiding around the corner, waiting.
Like a silent leopard ready to pounce and consume it’s prey in one single serving.
I always thought I was incapable of love, of feeling anything more than a vague
fondness for someone else. I formed bonds with inanimate things like tea towels
and washing pegs so I didn’t have to deal with the sensation of touching another
living skin. As a child, I developed an obsessive ritual involving a large collection
of colourful marbles. Some were like tiny pea-sized spheres that could easily be
ingested; others were like these giant glittering golf balls that would show up in
random places around the house. I'd spend hours after school washing, drying
and polishing the things one at a time. Sometimes I'd roll them along my cheek to
feel the cold sensation pressing against my fleshy jowl. This continued for
months until my parents finally had enough and took me to therapy.

- Shouldn't we be worried?
- Absolutely not.
- But marbles. Hundreds of them. Every day.
- It's normal for children to develop fixations at this stage of their cognitive
- But she's twelve.

     Here I am, curled up on my adolescent bed like a foetus. I'm twenty-nine-years
old now, but my mum still washes my knickers and strokes my hair before I go to
sleep. Some might think that's strange, but in my defence, it's better than
counting sheep. I've started frequenting the new coffee shop around the corner.
It sells suspended coffees. I wasn't sure what this meant, so I asked the barista if
she would kindly explain the concept. Her hipster lips formed a smirk as if to say
you should really know about suspended coffees, I mean, come on.

- You buy a coffee for yourself but pay for two.
- Why would I do that?
- The other one’s for a homeless person.
- I'm homeless.
- You don't look homeless.
- Define homelessness.
- Prove it.

     I didn’t know what to say in return, so I ran.
So here I am, back to where it all began, my life, in this concrete suburbia. I’m an
unidentifiable object. People define themselves by what they do, I mean, for
money. But I’m not doing anything for money, so I’m unidentifiable. Anonymous.
Like one of those paintings you see in Tate Modern with a blank canvas and the
tiniest splash of paint in the centre. Pointless, really. That’s me. Pretty pointless.
I’m a drifter, an aloof daughter, a stranger in my home. Every morning I remind
myself that this is temporary. Everything is temporary and therefore nothing
ever lasts. I've developed a new routine, which I've been told is good for my
mental health.

- Structure, that’s what you need.
- But what am I structuring?
- Well–
- I’m not actually doing anything.

     That’s when I started going to the hipster coffee shop. My routine goes like this. I
wake up; wipe away the crusty sleep that’s somehow formed, even though I’m
not actually sleeping. I then pretend to chew a very large toffee to exercise my
jaw a bit. Following this I do my morning bed-yoga postures, then wash my face
with this coal scrub that really gets in deep, deep, deep. I'm prone to acne. Then I
go back to bed and hide under my covers, waiting for my mum's boyfriend to
leave for work. Otherwise, it can get very awkward. I spend the rest of the
day trying to fit my small limbs into tiny corners of the house. I think this makes
mum anxious as she goes out of her way to fill the house with AS MUCH SOUND
AS POSSIBLE. I think she's afraid of hearing herself think. I think my mum needs
the therapy, not me.

     Right now, I’m in limbo. I’m the pith between two juicy segments. I’m that soft inbetween
part that doesn't sit comfortably on either side. I'm walking along a
tightrope, ready to fall to my death. I've been told that I've got to keep taking
these pills; otherwise I might fall into this deep, unbreakable sleep, like sleeping
beauty. Only, I'm not sure a handsome prince would bring me back to life with a
tender kiss.

     My mum has quite the collection of medicine these days. The first cupboard is for
your typical doctor-prescribed medication. Here you have your Ibuprofens, antiacid
tablets and laxatives, and god knows what else for that benign and slightly
demented boyfriend of hers. There's something for every common ailment and
condition. But the homeopathic cupboard is my favourite. It’s a treasure chest,
filled with curious-looking pills, powders and other strange objects. I once found
a jar of what looked suspiciously like cured meat, but I couldn't face myself to ask
what it was. To be honest, I didn't really want to know what it was.
Recently, I've been waking up to find a glass of water and a saucer with four pills
on my bedside table.

- Did you find the vitamins?
- What're they for?
- The purple is for balance.
- And the blue?
- Vitality.
- But what–
- Bilberries.
- But, yoga.

     On our first date together we went foraging and had sex in the nature. His dad’s a
herbalist so he knew all sorts of useless bits of information about edible plants.
He even knew their Latin names like Vaccinium myrtillus for bilberry. This
impressed me. Not many things impress me. We ate our packed lunches in the
field and he told me all about his nomadic childhood. He had ham and sauerkraut
on pumpernickel bread. I took a bite but immediately spat it out. At first I
thought I’d offended him, but we laughed about it later, during the sex. His
breath was sour like cabbage and vinegar, but there was something mildly
alluring about this. I’ve always found certain strong smells alluring. Like tobacco.
I have dreams of dating a tobacconist and chewing all day long on his tobacco
tongue. But do tobacconists even smoke? I don’t know.

     It was in a yellow rapeseed field. I know this; my mum knows this too, as I
stained my pants red and yellow. I rolled them up in a tight ball and stuffed them
at the very bottom of the laundry basket when I got home. But the yellow colour
from the rape flower rubbed off on some of his shirts. Her boyfriend’s work
shirts. So I had to confess. I had hay fever for two solid weeks following but it
was worth it. Because, as I said before, it was for love. True love. He had these
large lumberjack hands with soft fingertips. He played my parts with such eager
determination, working out my nuts and bolts, the hard and soft edges of my
body. At first, there was something mechanical about it. He lay me down on the
woollen picnic blanket and examined me, from the crown of my head to the tip of
my toenails. Then he worked on my every part, as an engineer starts to
dismantle the organs and put them back together in an orderly, methodical
manner. I remember the smell of his sour breath, like warm day-old milk that’s
been left out in the sun. The juices of him filling me up and for the first time, I felt
love towards another living thing, another living skin.

     So here I am, back to where it all began, my life, in this concrete suburbia. The
box of marbles sit on my solid oak bookshelf, gathering dust. Inanimate objects.
They are my friends. I will continue to take my pills. My multivitamins, my
balance and vitality rescue remedies, because, at this stage, I’ll take anything that
promises to rescue. I will continue with my morning bed-yoga routine, and at
night, when all that’s heard is the gentle humming of the trains passing, my mum
will softly stroke my hair and rock me to sleep.

Natalie Baker is a freelance writer and editor based in London. Her writing has appeared in Occulum, Severine Literary Journal, Synaesthesia MagazineThe Bacon Review and For Books' Sake. When she's not writing, you can find her supporting the charity project Bloody Good Period as their fundraising coordinator, and working (late into the night) on her first literary novel. Follow her here @NataBakeEditor

JD Thornton