We're delighted to present Animal Connection by Neva Elliott McGinley, taken from the current issue of essential Irish literary journal Banshee.
Slow rhythmic inflate and deflate of lungs.
White noise-filled cranium.
A proverbial broken heart.
A boy has left me.
I’m home, home home, from London; distraction, detention, debasement.
At my parents’ kitchen table, they are in church: praying, tea and biscuits.
Hands folded lightly on the polished oak. Eyes settled through large casement window out to stable doors.
Oyster-grey muscle bounds up.
Sits, soft stare.
Ears turned to me.
I know it’s you. As certainly as if you had turned the corner in your paint-splattered skirt, nothing worth keeping for best.
There you are, my grandmother.
We sit, in mutual gaze.
The hare represents our intuitions, rejuvenation and resurrection. It suggests a powerful intuition and insightfulness about certain situations.
Haltingly, I explain the tinnitus buzz in my head, my lack of understanding.
‘We were friends, lovers,’ I begin.
Heady exultation behind closed doors, at train stations, unknown bars. Belonging to each other while not. Elicit. Wanting. Wanting.
Then when each stolen look, each rented kiss, each midnight messaged promise was bought and paid for in someone else’s tears, when I was his and his alone, then – ‘I can’t do this,’ he said.
He was going to move home for me. I told him that someday I would wish to return and the next day he offered a route back. A way out which he took, stealing my life, and leaving me to our London.
Then tried to block my path.
Do you, my grandmother, understand something of this?
The hare represents swiftness, transformation or self-sacrifice.
I know he is not the one, yet, my brain is a flip-book of desires, plans and promises.
Back and forth, looking for extra pages; a map, a key, an index, another chapter.
What was it I wanted – to find myself in him?
This fault, this crack.
I hold on, knowing I will pull through.
A vessel still fit for use.
The hare is a messenger between the creator and the created. It is fluid between these states of being.
Years later, as a family, we wonder who you loved, before you begat the divided mass of us.
We look up parishes across the sea, dates of breakout of war, letters, official papers.
We create narratives of possibilities; she pursued our grandfather, married quickly.
Kept a photograph of a man in the trunk at the end the end of her bed, the son of her employer. He went to Oxford, died racing cars. She came home with his dog. Gave her first-born son his name.
A wrong address on the birth certificate, of a man with the same name as our grandfather.
Was your journey home an escape, deal, mischief, or new beginning? Is our family bedrock, love, loss, or a lifetime of longing?
The hare represents love, fertility and growth.
Your own stories changed to fit the audience, to humour. Always wily, always yourself.
A hare cannot be tamed. A hare cannot be known.
You took your truths and secrets with you.
‘It’s you,’ you said, lit with joy, when they came to take you away in the end.
Who was it?
What did you know of love and heartbreak before you came to sit with me as a hare?
Graveyard, daytime, inside the shell of her car, waiting for the funeral of someone else’s baby.
‘Have you heard from him?’
It’s been but weeks since the Moses basket coffin, curtains closing, faces unremembered, his funeral.
The one. Vulpine. My foxy boy.
I am facing your mother in the car. She is turned forward to the windscreen.
I am going to reply that when you come to me it will be as a fox.
I am going to say this.
She is pulling strands of hope from the air, spinning them into words. Hope of your being somewhere other than gone. Somewhere other than waiting for us in ashes.
Your mother, a flickering candle gasping for air.
I am going to say that when you come to me it will be as a fox.
And then there you are.
You, the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on. Your dark auburn hair, black sueded feet. Calm. Sure.
A large male fox strolled out into the road, standing, eyes locked to mine.
If I hold my breath we can stay like this. If we could just stay like this.
Your mother is talking and I can’t say it.
The fox runs and jumps the graveyard wall.
Your mother knows, knows this is you.
The fox is a healer that helps those who pass tragically to cross into spirit calmly without fear.
I dream of a dying fox, balled, screaming in my own voice. Tears pooling in my ears.
The fox does not idly choose who he reveals himself to.
You come to me as a fox.
The first time a man kisses me, holds my hand in the taxi on the way home, he sees it first and I flinch. The blur of russet, across our path. Your flight a line to be crossed.
‘Do you still want to?’
The red fox carries the message of healing, take yourself outside into the world. The light will always follow the dark.
Months later. Having tossed and turned and shaken my life like so many dice, I try again.
A date. I choose a man with red hair.
I am collected and returned with stories of beach walks and moonlit clifftops.
Curled in a window seat regaling till the words turn to cement in my chest.
The slow saunter of you, past the glass stopping to take me in.
Friends witness the departing brush, so I know I have not conjured you up.
This is how it is now.
A second date. Again, I choose man with red hair.
Driving though the Phoenix Park.
Your amber eyes gleam from the side of the road as you watch us pass.
I explain to my companion, I’m sorry but I’ll never want you. I am already in love.
Is this enough for anyone, can this be enough for me?
The fox observes two interpretations, as a wise and noble messenger or as a trickster playing pranks, or worse – luring one to demise.
I do not know what it is you are telling me and I do not want to know.
A blessing. No.
Do not wish me into this world.
Do not wish me into the arms of another.
Let my red hair and your red hair tangle in our set.
Let me lie down in the earth with you and our cubs.
Do you want to stop me? I am stopped.
I am paused in this love. This forever, in your sickness and my health, this happily never after, you and I intertwined. My heart paused when yours stopped.
You are with me.
As I sulk down alleyways and lanes at night. Sniffing out pleasure. Scratching for survival.
I am but animal.
Chestnut. With creamy flanks.
I stretch myself over its back. Breathing in its musk. Unseen, a man standing over me tells the animal’s name.
I tell him how my husband loved the sakura, the flowering cherry blossom.
Crying, I wake.
In the morning, I look up what dreaming of a horse may mean.
The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, because riding a horse made people feel they could free themselves from their own bindings.
Horses have been part of me since childhood, since before childhood. My grandfather owned a stud. Black and white portraits of my equine ancestors, with names I loved to twirl in my mouth: Nazer, Coolraven Copestone. At five years old my grandmother’s new pony bites me on the chest. It has been beaten around the head with ash whips to stun, so it will be bought placid. My child’s welcome has jolted its fear. I pass out.
Awakening to my grandmother anointing me with ‘the blast ointment’, a cure she is guardian of.
I am promised the first foal this horse will have.
In my favourite photograph of me, I am wearing pink pyjamas, standing in my parents’ sitting room with a tiny chestnut foal under my arm, beaming. This is my horse. He will be called Dilligo and grow into a fat, cranky Shetland who loves his children but will bite all others.
Dreaming of a horse represents unrepressed sexuality.
This new boy, taken as a dalliance, he reaches me back into the past, to the one who left open doors swinging in the wind.
I tell him I want a list of the jobs he has done.
director with a small d.
Storyteller. Dream chaser. He travels with itinerants fronting their sell.
A cohort of bodyworkers, pro-doms, sexologists, the mentally unstable, the lonely, the lost.
Of no fixed abode, a perpetual flight risk. Feral.
He has been told he has a thing for vulnerable women. I scan myself for vulnerabilities.
For advantages to be taken.
Bitten by a frightened pony. Skin broken.
This new boy teaches me to breathe.
Exhale the weight of this fallible carcass.
Inhale deep into my animal hide.
He reaches his hand up inside, and demands me to open up.
I push back against letting go. This cannot co-exist.
Push. Penetrate. Gush. Glow.
Why have you been sent?
If I was his angel, do I get my own?
Reaching deep. Plucking out my dark places like jewels, polished lava. Stringing them around my neck.
My parents bring home a necklace of polished lava for my grandmother from their honeymoon.
It is mine now.
Broken, the threads snapped, it lies in a velvet pouch, in a drawer or attic, forgotten.
Dreaming of a horse suggests that you need something important in your life, a goal to move towards.
We lean across the sink. Looking out the window. Discussing trees.
‘Too big for the garden?’ I ask.
‘Keep it trimmed. Lop off its boughs.’
Sakura. He doesn’t seem to know the word.
I tell him the tree is for the children I didn’t have.
But not that my body fought them. That they were placed deep inside me. These foreign objects. My mind willed them into being. I held them, rocked them, sang to them. While my body fought the invaders. My T cells to their XY chromosomes. A game of letters where we were all losers.
Horses are strong, intelligent animals that are not always under our control. They are a force of nature, running wild and free –
I explain to him what a horse teaser is; a pony used to check that a mare is receptive. An equine fluffer. If kicked away, she is not ready for the stallion, the sire. If she accepts this first unsuitable suitor, she is ready for her mate.
I tell him that my sympathies always lay with the teaser.
He has been to the National Stud where mares are hobbled rather than teased.
‘I will break you.’
I message him –
He does not know the extent of the fight in me.
A safe word I don’t want to use.
‘You don’t have to go so far,’ he murmurs in my ear.
The metal bed strut rips before I do.
Hands around neck. Arms bent and stretched. Slaps across the face. Bruises and stripes.
The fight still in me.
Bridled and lead.
He whips my flanks.
Opening me up.
The Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Banshee is in bookshops now.