When had the forest truly become her home? She couldn’t remember the exact moment. She yawned widely, watching Prawn pace up and down in front of the trees outside her hut. He glanced at her occasionally. He was bored. If only she could show him, impress on him the life that they had escaped. He stopped and blew air sharply from his nostrils, glancing at her again. She shrugged. He would get used to it. He had to get used to it.
It was unusually warm, the light bleeding through the trees.
“Don’t say that word.” she shook her head quickly, expelling it from her mind. Prawn flinched in surprise at the sound of her voice. When was the last time they had spoken? The last time she had said a word aloud?
“Sorry.” She spoke again, wanting to hear a word float from her mind and drift through the trees to Prawn’s ears. He didn’t flinch this time, just watched, in silence.
Her fingers began to pull at the threads of the old blanket again. Each evening she would sit and repair it, carefully choosing the bits that she had pulled in the day, weaving them back into the jagged pattern. The pattern was now beyond ruin. She had wrecked it entirely. Occasionally she would show Prawn, but to no response. She liked to place it over him on cold days, worrying that he might grow ill. But this worry was one she had been practicing for days, or months. It was one that she practiced always. Thoughts appeared in her mind, repetition, repetition. Even now, alone with Prawn, the words ‘I’m pregnant’ would appear, almost daily. Sometimes she would say it aloud, just to check. She wasn’t pregnant. She knew this. Prawn is ill, I am pregnant.
He breathed out again loudly, shaking herself from her mind. Food then, was the next thing. Or the first thing, that she should do today. Those meals that used to be a constant, breakfast, lunch, dinner. The snacks in between. Tea time and scones on a Sunday. How odd that was. Making sure that you didn’t use the butter knife for the jam. Here she had one knife. That knife was everything. With that she sliced apples, wood and cleaned Prawn’s feet. With that knife she slept still at night, holding it beneath her pillow, a trick to calm her down, to still the checking of the noise of feet upon leaves.
When the rain fell she sheltered under the cabin’s leaky roof. She called it ‘The Cabin’, but this was an idealised view of it. She had made it with her own hands, with wood that she had found, pulled and sawn from trees. She had twisted pieces together, made twine from grass and straw. It was small, but big enough to lie down in completely, her feet touching the end. There was only one room to the cabin, but she had extended the leaking roof across to one side for Prawn to shelter under. Occasionally he didn’t use it at all, and would just stand out in the rain silently, letting the water drip from his eyelashes onto his cheeks. At these times she would watch him, and wonder about her choice to live here, if, it really was a choice.
In the rain she made sure that she had her beakers prepared to catch water. There was a small lake nearby that she drank from also, but the rainwater was sweeter and cleaner, and she trusted it. She had one of the beakers with her when she first came, and the other she found by the lake in a terrifying moment around a year ago. She thought that someone must have seen her, visited her, without her knowing. Seeing the beaker bobbing in the water made her wretch with anxiety. She waited, for days, watching. Prawn would occasionally come and check on her, and then, seeing that she had not yet gone for the beaker, head slowly back to the cabin. Eventually she saw that it was no trick, just littering, just an accident that it should appear before her. Did it mean that someone had been nearby? She had never heard or seen anybody. No, it couldn’t mean that. Perhaps the beaker had always been there, and she just hadn’t noticed it yet. After a few more hours she waded into the lake, and swam slowly toward it, grasping it with one hand. She made a fire that night and boiled rain water in it, trying to rid it of any bacteria. The only way that she could survive was through ruthless cleansing.
In the midst of her uneasy sleep she woke up with a start that same night, worrying about the beaker. Perhaps it had been a gift. Not from a person, or at least, not now. A gift from the dead. As soon as it occurred to her she wished that it hadn’t. She wanted to expel it from her mind.
“Prawn?” She whispered, through the cabin walls. She heard him silently move in response. The only constant – his silent response.
Rachel Grosvenor is a British writer and tutor, with a PhD, MA and BA Hons in Creative Writing. She writes in various genres and forms, from travel writing to fantasy, and her work has been published in equally diverse places – from Cadaverine Magazine to the wall of the blue bedroom at the National Trust’s Baddesley Clinton. Rachel’s writing news can be followed on Instagram at @teachmecreativewriting, or on her website: www.RachelGrosvenorAuthor.com.