Metro Winds - By Isobelle Carmody


So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly. She was to be sent to a city in another land by a mother and father in the midst of a divorce. The one thing they could agree upon was that the girl should not be exposed to the violence they meant to commit on their life. There was a quality in her that made it impossible to do the ravening that the end of love required.

‘She must be sent away,’ the father had said in civil but forbidding tones.

‘For her own good,’ the mother agreed. ‘My sister will have her.’

The girl stood between them, wordless and passive as a bolster, as it was arranged that she be sent to the city where her mother had spent her childhood, this girl who had lived on a remote coast of a remote land in a solitary yellow house listening to the chilly grey sea that rushed straight from the ice pole to pound on the shore beside her bedroom window.

Red-nosed and blue-lipped, bare-armed and bare-legged in a faded shift, she had played amongst rocks where crabs scuttled through pools of clouded sky, but on the day of the departure, she wore a navy blue dress and jacket lined with grey silk, dark stockings and patent leather shoes, all of which had been purchased from a catalogue. The heavy mass of silken hair had been wetted and bound tightly into two braids. She watched her white night shift being folded into a dark boxy suitcase, although the mother and aunt had agreed that once she arrived she would be provided with a wardrobe befitting her life in the city.

‘She can’t go with nothing,’ the mother murmured to herself as she closed the mouth of the case. There was little enough in it, yet how could she be blamed for the lack of clothes or beloved toys to pack, or much-read books? The girl could not be forced to accumulate such things.

The mother glanced at the girl with a pang of unease as she straightened, but reminded herself that the child’s destination was a very old and sophisticated city, and not some dangerous wilderness, so what need was there for anxiety? She wanted to cup the girl’s face and kiss the cheeks and eyelids tenderly, but only rested her hands lightly on her shoulders; felt the fragility of them; noted absently that her own fingers were stiff as dried twigs.

‘You will see,’ she said vaguely.

There was no need to invoke good behaviour, for the girl was calm and biddable and, remarkably, did not practise deceits. When a question was asked, she saw only that information was required. The consequences of her answer or the uses to which the information she gave might be put did not concern her. Being asked, she told. If she did not know, she said. This might have made her blunt and tactless, but she seldom spoke unless asked a direct question.

What would the girl’s aunt make of her? the mother wondered. Rather than leaving her plump sister embittered, the lack of a husband or children had softened the centre of her until she was sweet enough to ache your teeth. She had been full of delight at the thought of having a vessel into which she could pour the rich syrup of her emotions.

‘I shall adore her and she will be happy,’ she had written.

The mother frowned at the memory, for it seemed to her the girl was too deep and odd to be content with mere happiness. Once, seeing a storm brooding, she had gone seeking the girl, only to find her standing at the edgy rim of the sea, hands lifted to the bruised clouds like a child wishing to be taken up. What sort of child is it who wishes to embrace a storm? she had wondered in appalled awe. The girl’s lips had been drawn back from her teeth in a rictus that looked at first to be an expression of pain, but was only what laughter had made of her.

Even so, one could not say to one’s sister that the child had a capacity for rare and frightening joy, and so she had simply agreed that they were bound to get along. That, at least, might be true.

Stowing the case in the boot of her car, the mother thought