The woman walked like Quasimodo, limpshuffling down the road. Her hair was long and briary. She had talon fingers, blinked continuously.
I guessed that she was forty and on some kind of edge; folded over life itself, a knife blade of endings and beginnings.
The paths were pockmarked, potholed. She bent down, scooped the dust bowl gravel into her mouth, the debris poured through her fingers, her teeth crunched against the stone. On she limped down the hopeless through-road: boarded up windows, graffiti slashed on pebbledash, the frantic bang banging of jimmied-back doors.
Sated on the pebbles she snatched leaves off Griselinia, chlorophyll filled. She made tiny teeth marks round the edges. She gulped them whole like oysters. She ran her fingers against low walls until they fuchsia bled. She licked the pointing of bricks, cream in a biscuit. She crushed bees in her mouth, fizzy bright sherbet.
Slinking, dunking, slim, drinking from the blue swathes of the sky, velvet vessels. She turned to me.
‘I am alive!’ she said, in a voice that was dying.
Alium lollipops. Sugarcraft petals. Grass like salad. I kept close watch.
She began to run. Snapped sticks, like toffee, liquorice. Filled her face with forsythia stars. Sucked the nectar from the first flowers. ‘The world!’ she said. She was laughing now.
Her hospital gown became the sleek silver shimmer, a girl by a river in a cotton frock, mud between toes in a meadow. Years, endless.
I knew her! She fled back into the hospital. I knew her. I was the doctor. I fed buttercup honey into the drip. With her other hand she reached out through the window, plucked the cotton wool cumulus for her wounds, then ate it instead, mouth marshmallow. She snapped the frail wafer of the moon in two and let it dissolve on her tongue.
‘I’m alive!’ she said, in a voice that was living, still living. I went to attend to the dead.
But when the relatives came, solemn and ready, their coats smelled of wind and blossom. With every rotten consolation I tasted the grit of the sand and the brine and slime of seaweed. Later the world was beautiful but I couldn’t save her. I fled through sliding doors of ice. The earth tasted like chocolate. I drank the sea until I drowned in it.