Homespun stockings itch.

With the least feeling of warmth they rub my legs like a bear’s skin. Although I have not met or touched a real bear, I know they exist: white in the arctic where the whales swim, and brown in the forests where the trees prick the sky.

I have homespun stockings. Today they itch as I warm, walking from the Point of Ness to where the straggling cottages give out the final desultory breath of Stromness.

These aren’t children’s words. This is a voice that comes to me, one that articulates rather than simply feels the itch, and the cool gape where a tear has grown into hole. I have faced it around to the back of my leg so my mother cannot see.

A hole in my hand-knitted stockings is an arrow to her heart, and she bleeds burnt bannocks and greasy dishwater. She is a woman without tears. A woman with sharp needles, but no tears. She lets the rain cry for her, lending water to her cheeks in high velocity droplets from the east.

She leaves me to face them alone and walks away once I am by the cannon. She used to come further, to the school gate, but there are limits to her movements now.

The hole in my stockings is an arrow to her heart that cannot be repaired, and it sticks with the rest. The arrows are too awkward to remove even if they make her movements painful, almost impossible at times. I see them sticking through her – enough to fell the most powerful bear.

Still, she stays standing. She is a woman with no tears. And no husband. No man. Although she is properly and legally wed, and I know my father when I see him, they are struck asunder. It is an exaggerated phrase. It fits. Like an apple cut in two, the halves can never be whole again.

The butchers knife left a ragged edge where my mother and father had been. There was a broken chair, and the iron used for flattening my pinafore was flung in a high arc. The wound on my father’s head stupefied him. Not that he wasn’t stupid before.

I saw when it struck that a switch jammed – in both of them.

My mother has no tears and my father is stupefied. And homespun stockings itch.

One day, maybe today, I will take a red pom-pom from the counting basket.

It will be missed as soon as anyone wants to count past nine. I don’t care about this. What’s the use of counting? One-two-three-four… I give up after that. There is no consolation in it. Nothing hurts less for counting.

I will take one for my mother. I will not give it to her, although it is for her discovery.

I must have something. Something. I cannot stay alive in a world of grey. Tearless grey – it is a killing shade. I will steal. It is as certain as the hole in my stockings being discovered and the one-two-three-four.

I will most likely be caught and punished, and it is expected now because I am ‘on the Parish’.

But I will have my bit of red.

I will offer it to the tearless grey.

Gabrielle Barnby