When her name is called she stands up. There’s dirt on her face and she rubs it unconsciously. The doctor pulls her into a small boxy room and smiles. He has a wide grin, and he coughs into his hand. She shakes her head from side to side and thinks about saying something but the words are stuck. She thinks of Ginger back at home, his tiny fingers tracing the drawings on the table, and she wonders if he’ll ever really be okay again. The doctor shuffles some papers.
‘Look,’ he coughs again. He sounds like a dog barking, and she stares at him. She feels empty inside, like all the life has been drained out of her. She shuts her eyes, just for a second, and while they’re shut everything looks blue and red, and she wonders if she’s going to have another attack. ‘I can give you something for the depression. Let me write you a prescription.’ The doctor smiles and she knows he’s just trying to help, that he means well, but she’s not sure he understands. She’s not sure anyone understands. She shakes her head, moves a hand into her long brown hair, and starts to plait mindlessly. Her mum used to plait her hair when she was a kid. It was comforting. The doctor keeps talking, and his words run into one another. She tries to listen but her mind is buzzing, and she wonders if there’s a fly inside there, trapped, looking for a way out. When the doctor finally stops for breath, she’s standing by the door, clutching onto her handbag.
‘No,’ she says quietly. ‘I thought maybe they’d be another option. But not pills. No.’ She talks softly, as though she’s frightened of her voice, or maybe just tired, and the doctor, with his black rimmed glasses, looks perplexed. He puts down his pen but she’s already gone. She sits in her car, her hands gripping the steering wheel, and stares at he sky. The sky is white, and she wonders absently if it will rain later. She likes rain, likes the way it makes her feel, as though things can get better. Ginger likes the rain too. He says rain is all about giving life and that giving life is the most important thing in the whole world. It’s not that she disagrees because she doesn’t, but when he says it something inside her seems to fall. Like a part of her she never knew she had is breaking. She doesn’t regret having Ginger but sometimes when the sky is very white, like it is now, she wonders what her life could have been. She starts the car. Pulls away from the curb. The radio comes on and David Bowie fills the speakers. She listens to his words, something about aliens and feelings. She listens until she’s not listening and she drives, her hands trembling. They shake all the way back home, and when she pulls into the driveway, and she can see Ginger through the window, she doesn’t move. Her body fills with something that feels a little like pain but she knows it isn’t pain, because it’s numb. She’s blank, like a clean sheet of printer paper, and she’s not sure who she is. The feeling only lasts for a few moments and then she sighs and opens the car door. She puts one leg out, and then she stops. She can’t move. She’s glued to the spot, and she wonders about glue, if she could use it to piece her life back together. Rain begins to fall, big fat drops, and she closes her eyes and tries to sleep. She wants to sleep it all away. She wants to dream until her dreams become reality, and Ginger, with his tiny fingers, and his messy brown hair, and his bright, bright eyes, is gone. The darkness descends over her and she lets images of Ginger smiling and laughing fill her mind, and then she lets them disappear, and as they disappear, she wonders if things can ever be the way they once were. After a while she blinks and drags herself up out of the car. She pushes the car door shut and when she reaches the house, Ginger’s standing on the doorstep and his arms are outstretched. The babysitter, a girl from down the road, nods at her, and she nods back but her eyes feel fuzzy.
‘He’s a good boy,’ the babysitter says. ‘Same time, tomorrow?’
‘That would be great, yes, thank you.’ They exchange smiles and then the babysitter is gone, and Ginger stares up at his mum, and she doesn’t know what to say. She scoops him up and he smells sweet, like sugar, and she presses him into her chest. ‘Baby,’ she says, and suddenly she’s startled to find she’s swallowing a tear.
‘Mum,’ Ginger says. He wraps his arms around her neck but he’s heavy and she puts him down onto the step again. She sniffs and Ginger looks up imploringly.
‘Go inside,’ she says, and he nods, and once inside, he starts to pull things out of the fridge.
‘Ginger,’ she sighs, a long billowy sigh, and she wonders if her sigh could ever blow her away. ‘Come on, put those things away.’
‘Nah,’ Ginger says. He pulls himself up onto the kitchen bench. He grabs the milk and shakes the bottle. ‘Mum,’ he says. ‘I’m going to be a horse one day.’
She feels hot and cold. She blinks. She wonders if she should have taken the pills. What if the doctor was right? What if she was depressed and Ginger was just going through a phase? What if there was nothing to be worried about?
‘Look,’ she eventually says but Ginger’s not listening. He’s pouring milk into a cup. ‘You need to stop with all of this,’ she says. ‘You’re never going to be a horse,’ and she stares at her son and wonders if they’re both crazy.
‘Yes I am,’ Ginger replies, and he rubs his eyes, takes a sip of milk, jumps down from the bench and is suddenly standing right in front of her.
‘You need to stop with this all,’ she says again but Ginger only shakes his head.
‘I’m never going to school again,’ he tells her and then because she doesn’t know what to say, and because the voices in her head won’t stop talking, she nods and watches as he runs outside, yelling something nonsensical about becoming a horse. She hears his words but she doesn’t understand them, and they shine and shimmer a little, and she wonders. She wonders where she’s gone wrong.
Horses. She doesn’t understand why he’s obsessed, where the obsession came from, and what she’s meant to do about it. What is she meant to say to him when he looks at her and sucks in his breath and holds his hands together, like he’s been praying? When his eyes turn glassy and tears stream down his cheeks? He’s eight years old and friends have told her he’ll grow out of it, that it’s only a phase, but at night when everything is dark, it’s hard to believe. It’s hard to believe anything. She often lies awake, staring up at the ceiling, and wondering. She imagines things inside the darkness, a new life for the both of them, one where horses don’t exist, where they aren’t the answer to every question. And when the sun rises, like it does every morning, and the light coming through the window is yellow, she sits up and wonders how on earth she can get through another day. But somehow she does. Ginger had always liked running into her room. They used to cuddle before school and sometimes she’d stroke his head and tell him stories. Other times she’d get up, wrapped in her blue dressing gown, and make pancakes. He’d make tea, carefully pouring from a cream coloured teapot, and she’d smile, the dimples in her cheeks widening, and they’d sit up at the table and watch the sun rise. They were a team. It was the two of them against the world. They didn’t need anyone else. They were strong, and she was strong because she had him. But then one day he stopped crawling into her bed, and she stopped making pancakes, and his face became thinner, and the teachers at school wanted to see her. She didn’t know what to say. And they didn’t know what to say either. They mumbled about horses and obsessions and a secure home environment and the words lay out in front of her, long and strange and jumbled and when she left, she was confused and unsure, her head full of aches that weren’t there before. Was it her fault? And now he refused to go to school. It had been a week. She had let him stay home. She had sat with him and they had drawn pictures, and he had promised her he’d go back. He had looked in the eye and promised. But he wasn’t going to go better. Not without a fight, anyway. She understood that now but she wasn’t sure she could be bothered. She was tired of being a mother.
‘Mum,’ Ginger comes running back inside. His face is flushed. ‘When I become a horse, where will I sleep? The backyard is pretty small.’
She looks at him again. Her beautiful boy. Is it just a phase? Because it’s been twelve months and if it’s just a phase, shouldn’t it be over by now? Shouldn’t all this horse stuff be out of his head?
‘Baby,’ she says slowly. She tries to draw her words out because she doesn’t know how to respond. ‘Why do you want to be a horse anyway? What’s wrong with being a person?’
Ginger looks at her up and down. He folds his hands together, in a way that seems far too old for his age, and screws up his little face. ‘Mum,’ he says. ‘People,’ he pauses. ‘People are no good.’
The silence seems to last forever but in reality it’s only three or four seconds.
‘Oh,’ she says. ‘But I’m a person. Am I no good?’
Ginger puffs out his cheeks. ‘Mum,’ he says. ‘Horses are better than people.’
‘Why?’ she asks. He moves closer towards her and pulls himself up onto the couch. He puts one hand on her shoulder, and she stares at his hand. She feels his warmth and she wants to cry. Suddenly she doesn’t think she can take it, and she pushes him away and stands up.
‘Mum? What’s wrong?’
She sniffs and places her hands over her eyes. ‘Nuh-nothing,’ she sobs, and then she disappears down the hallway and into her bedroom. She sits on her bed and cries. Her shoulders heave up and down. The door jerks forward,
‘Mum,’ Ginger says.
‘Baby,’ she cries. ‘You can never be a horse. It’s never going to happen. Why can’t you understand that?’
He shakes his head solemnly. ‘I can be a horse,’ he says. ‘I can, mumma.’ He pulls himself up onto the bed and grabs her hand. ‘I can, you’ll see.’ She holds his hand tightly, squeezing it so hard she wonders if it will burst.
‘How? How, Ginger? Don’t you know how crazy it sounds?’ With her free hand she wipes her eyes but it makes no difference as the tears fall freely, and she wonders briefly if there’s another reason she’s crying.
‘Mumma, there are ways. I’ve just gotta get close to one and then I’ll know. I can’t do it by myself. I need help.’
She continues to cry, and he watches curiously, and then lets go of her hand and wanders out to the kitchen. He gets himself a drink of water and goes and sits by the window. It’s just beginning to get dark outside and he watches a bird on the railing. It’s a parrot, with bright green feathers, and he likes the way it sits, as though it doesn’t have a care in the world. He wonders why his mum is so upset because it’s not as if he’s doing anything wrong. He rubs his hands together. She’ll see. They’ll all see. He’ll become a horse if it’s the last thing he ever does.