Joyland

Toronto |

Little Animals

by Sara Jane Strickland

edited by Kathryn Mockler

In winter you can tell where things live. In the backyard there are imprints of rabbits and squirrels, each like small ghosts in shades of white. I looked down from the kitchen window on the third floor of my mother’s home and imagined myself above the snow on a swinging trapeze.

I found a new vein in my leg when I was in the bath. I was shaving and saw it running across the front of my calf, a vibrant blue lightning. More and more I am discovering new things about my body. What it wants and doesn’t want and when to give up. In ballet, you have to be completely aware of it at all times. A lazy arm in third position is noticeable right away. Now a broken clavicle and arm are the only things I can focus on. My mother covers the cast in a black garbage bag before I get in the bathtub and no matter how gentle she is, I still wince.

I know that my movements were graceful and clean, but now my bones feel like brittle twigs and I can’t remember any of it. I know that I had been taking ballet classes since I was six years old. And then I woke up in a bed with a bar on each side wearing a blue gown. There was a silk white leotard and a pair of white feather wings folded neatly and placed on a chair in the corner of the room.

I can’t reconcile all the things I can’t remember. Since the accident, I have forgotten huge pieces of my life, mostly everything in the past four years. I can’t remember anything about that day or about the ballet company. I am twenty-four, but might as well be twenty. I am constantly confused, electric and fragile. If I don’t dance, where will I place my contempt? Sooner or later I won’t be able to smell my own hair anymore when it falls in front of my face. Sometimes I look down at my legs and wonder if they are my own.

I was born in a house on Pennywell Road. It is light yellow and the last in a row, the paint chipping off the side. More paint than I can remember. I sometimes think about my mother sprawled out on the kitchen table screaming at my father. My mother has always told me that I was born with pearl in my mouth as if I was an oyster in her womb. She wears a gold ring with a pearl set inside of it on her index finger. To this day, she says it is the pearl that came from me.

The clothing I wear is mine, but I don’t feel an attachment to any of it. I feel strangely about everything I put on my body. I have a dark brown fur coat that surprises me every time I look at it because I never thought I would wear something like it. It has a brown satin lining and falls just below my hips. I have no idea where it came from. Since my arm is broken, I only put my left arm in the sleeve, which causes the right side to occasionally drop down from my shoulder. I’m still getting used to my own body, and what things I have done with it for the past while.

In the corner of the waiting room there was a large bird’s nest fern that I could have just fallen asleep in. I looked down at my brown leather shoes and examined the water stains on them. I loved the water stains in that moment. My feet were freezing. I had refused to stop wearing the shoes, even with the snow and the slush.

I forgot why I was even at the hospital or what exactly it was that brought me there. My mother asked me what I said to my doctor that made him refer me to Brokebridge. I continued to stare at my shoes and told her that I didn’t know, because I didn’t. I might have been crying. I might have said that I was sad. I’m not sure because I don’t remember. My mother has accompanied me everywhere since I came home. Whenever we are walking side by side, she holds my hand or locks arms with me, as if I am suddenly going to run away. In the beginning, she acted as if she didn’t know me. She was so distant. She said she was so afraid I wouldn’t know who she was anymore.

Brokebridge was very different from the other hospital we had been going to. The other hospital was called Queen Victoria and it had just been renovated. Everything inside was made of stainless steel. The walls were the color of an eggshell without any of the cracks yet. Brokebridge was old and about to be demolished. Most of the services had moved over to the new hospital except for anything that had to do with mental health. The floor was made out of marble and had a slight yellow color to it, some spots darker than others. It was an ugly hospital, but charming. The walls were painted a light blue that had yellowed over time, like a photograph of sky that had faded in sunlight from being hung up for too long.

There was a girl sitting across from me painting her nails nude as if trying to make herself invisible. I thought this was admirable. The girl had long dirty blonde ringlets covering her face. When she looked over at me, I saw that her eyes were red and watery.

I licked my lips and there was a warm salty taste. My face felt wet. I looked down at the floor and blood dripped onto the space between my shoes. I touched my nose and then looked at my hand, red staining the thin crevices and lines on my fingertips. My mother quickly got up and grabbed the box of tissue on the receptionist’s desk.

“Hold your head up,” she said. I put my head back and she held the tissue on my nose. I could feel the feathery paper soak with blood on my face. My mother replaced the tissue every time it filled up.

My mother is a beautiful woman. She grew up in Newfoundland and has rough hands, but they are thin and graceful. The joints are larger than the bones themselves, kind of like a skeleton’s. She has a round face that is a pale, bright light. When she smiles it’s as if someone held up a metal sheet to the sun and shined it in your eyes.

“Just keep your head back and it should stop soon,” she said. I stared up at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling.. I turned my head over and saw the nail polish girl staring at me. Her face looked normal now.

“Violet Ennis,” the receptionist called. I stood up slowly. I handed the bloody tissue to my mother. She put the tissue in her coat pocket, a look of worry on her face. My mother and I followed the receptionist into a dark room with a large desk. Beside the desk there was big black leather chair that was cracked and worn at the arms. Dr. Alexander, I would learn he was called, came in shortly after and told me that I would be coming to him for cognitive behavioural therapy every week to help me regain my memories. He and my mother spoke briefly about something. I wasn’t really listening to him, but instead I was fixated on all of the sample packages of pills that were behind him at his desk. They were set up in piles like disheveled books. I thought about how you could build a small house out of all the packages, a safe haven of pills.

I had little hope of actually remembering anything. My mother drove me home, and I sat in my bed for an hour looking at a video on the Internet of waves rolling up on a beach. I had asked her if she would drive me to Middle Cove, but she said it was too late in the day. I had little memory of the past few years, but I remembered exactly what the ocean sounded like. It was something I was sure that I was right about.

It kind of feels like I’m falling but not in the way that you would normally fall. It’s like I’m in my body, but I’m falling without my body moving. I’m moving farther and farther away from my own skin, my hands, my legs, my thoughts. They are there, safe and intact, but me—I’m continually falling.

I walked down to the harbor and sat on the wood that runs along the edge. It was cold. There weren’t many people walking by. I couldn’t stop staring into the black water wondering what it would be like if I fell in. I thought about my fur coat being soaked, how heavy it would become. I had to make myself get up and step away. I walked back up the road clutching a pack of cigarettes in my coat pocket that I didn’t know were there.

In the morning I lay in bed for a long time and read an article on the Internet about drones that were created to resemble sharks. I stared at one of the dying plants in front of the window and wondered how to get it to stay alive. I fell back asleep and dreamed that I was a teacher, but it was something I sort of fell into by accident. I woke up again at three in the afternoon thinking about vulnerability and the word adore. I had this image in my mind of the word scraped violently in capital letters into the metal slots of an air conditioner hanging out of a storefront window.

Later in the day, my mother and I started looking through old family albums. I found a picture of myself from when I was about four years old that was double exposed. One exposure is of me sitting in the center looking right at the camera and the other exposure is of Signal Hill. In it, I am holding a stuffed toy rabbit that I started to remember while looking at the photo. It was gray and had a burgundy ribbon tied in each ear. I really loved that rabbit. I have no idea what happened to it.

Then my mother showed me a photograph of my grandmother who died when I was twelve. She reminded me of how when her dementia was getting bad, she started to hallucinate the silver rabbit figurine that she had when she was a child. Her parents had brought it back from Paris for her in 1934. She was only four years old when it was given to her. My mother had never seen it for herself and no one knew what ever happened to it. Before her death, my grandmother would see it behind doors and underneath chairs, reaching down at nothing to pick it up. My mother said that when I was nineteen, just before I joined the company, I kept asking about my grandmother’s rabbit and wishing that I had one of my own. Looking at the picture of myself, I realized I had completely forgotten that when I was little, I did have one. Even before I lost my memories, I had forgotten about the thing that I loved and made me feel safe. I felt so happy in that moment, as if a small locket had snapped shut inside of me. I don’t know exactly what to make of all this yet, but something will come of it, I’m sure.