Chapter 14

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"It's snowing." 

I make a grunt of acknowledgement, my cheek flattened against the window. When the car judders over a pothole I grimace, my head knocking against the glass. My mum fusses from the front seat. 

"Careful, Natalie, please." 

And I make another grunt, this time half-pained. There's music playing on the radio - my dad's choice, so it's Wynton Marsalis because he's always wanted to learn the trumpet. It's not ever been my preferred kind of music, but with my developing diffuseness I can't help but feel drawn to the way the music drifts with unguided abandon, almost like a conscious entity. I follow the notes up and down from the backseat, glad for something energetic on a day where fatigue has crawled into my muscles. 

"You want to pick the next one, Natty?" My dad chirps from behind the wheel, hand already moving to change the station. I squawk before words can form, a desperate noise only half formed in the back of my throat, and then say:

"No, no, it's okay. Keep - keep it here." 

And then no one says anything. The trumpet slurs in the background, but it's second to the silence. I wonder how they're surprised by change any more. 

The car glides uninterrupted along a long stretch of road; I watch landscape pass like a curtain being drawn, with no gauge of distance or time, just that when we reach my Grandma's house darkness has fallen. With heavy eyes I slump out of the car, blinking only when light from a lantern glares too harshly, swings in the wind almost coyly like it knows there's something seductive about luminance. 

A sound loops in my head while I take my suitcase up the stairs, and it's the dull thud of a moth's body as it tries relentlessly to break through glass. I can't fathom why, but I slump like a dead weight onto the bed and think maybe I know something of futility. Muffled conversation pools in the creases on my duvet, spills into my ear as I press my face deeper into the fabric and hope these two days won't break me. Two days. Two days. Just two days. 

I'm frustrated that my promise of living in the moment has washed away, was lost to the sag of my body when I woke up in that wardrobe tired and achy and somehow missing her more than ever. I hope beyond hope that life from here isn't one step forward and two steps back, although it feels like that's the only kind of dance my body knows. 

"Natalie." 

I twist myself from the sheets, sit up to greet the owner of the voice with a tender smile that isn't mine - it's a phantom smile, borrowed from my sister, that ghosts over my face briefly; I imagine if I were looking into a mirror I'd see my eyes flash hazel to match. 

My Grandma isn't frail, doesn't have the bird-like frame of my mother's side, and there's comfort in the sympathetic smile she wears - something that somehow doesn't reek of pity. Her voice isn't soft, either - doesn't drift across like a whisper, all tenderness and fear like stepping over shattered glass. With her hands on her hips she casts a protective silhouette in the doorway, and her voice oozes all over the floor like honey. 

"Didn't fancy stopping downstairs, just to say hello?" And I stick in her words, feel them fix me to my spot. 

"I'm sorry. I'm just...tired." 

"Anyone would think you're the old fogey." 

I puff a laugh out of my nose, kick my feet against each other. She pins her hands against her hips. 

"You need to get some food in you; you and your mother are too spare." 

I shrug, eyes faltering on the carpet because I feel like I can't bring them to level with her burning vitality. She sees through me; focuses on my skeleton like that's all there is of me. 

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