by Sandra Arnold
Mattie got it into her head that the child was too afraid to come into the world. One night this thought was so strong she couldn’t sleep. She got out of bed, dressed quietly so as not to wake Trill and went outside. The old sycamore stood in a pool of moonlight, its branches brushed with silver. Mattie heaved her belly up with her arms and walked over the damp grass to the tree. She leaned against the trunk, feeling the texture of the bark on her skin, listening to the night sounds of birds and the scuttling of small creatures. She breathed in the earth smells of the surrounding fields. She made her child a promise.
Next day Hathor was born. Mattie and Trill buried the afterbirth under the sycamore tree. Trill’s parents, not unexpectedly, refused to attend the ceremony and took the opportunity to voice their displeasure at Mattie’s naming their only grandchild after an Egyptian goddess.
“Hathor? Lady of the sycamore?” Trill’s mother shook her head in disbelief. Nor was she soothed by Mattie’s explanation that the goddess, like the tree, embodied the qualities of sky, love, joy, beauty and music. Everything, in fact, that she wished for her child.
“What nonsense!” Trill’s mother said.”She’ll never fit in anywhere with a name like that.”
“So… you didn’t feel that Trillion Pi was a wee bit out there too?” Mattie said.
“Of course not. We’re mathematicians. What could be more natural?”
Mattie looked at Trill. He shrugged. The shrug said, let it go. Don’t waste your breath.
Hathor’s hair was flaxen, unlike her dark-haired parents, but by her third birthday it had taken on a distinctly green tinge. To refute his mother’s accusation that Mattie was dyeing their child’s hair, Trill brought someone in to look at the pipes. The plumber confirmed that the source of the problem was the copper sulphate that was leaching from the old corroded copper water pipes. When Mattie was reassured there was no danger to health she decided the pipes could stay and so could Hathor’s beautiful green hair. Trill, for once, told his parents to mind their own business.
When Hathor started primary school her name and her hair caused enough of a stir for her parents to decide that the Rudolph Steiner school in the city would be the better option and well worth the longer commute.
“Oh Martha,” said Trill’s mother, “She’ll never fit in anywhere with that hair.”
“She doesn’t have to,” said Mattie.
At her new school Hathor’s name was not considered unusual amongst all the Skylarks, Rains, Birdies, Celestials and Guineveres and nobody commented on her green hair. At home she picked wildflowers from the river banks, sang and danced in the fields and climbed the sycamore tree where she stayed for hours listening to the wind and drawing pictures of clouds and sky.
“What about friends?” the grandparents asked. “It isn’t normal for a child that age to play on her own all the time. She should be in a sports team. A debating club. She should have piano lessons. Gym. Ballet. Choir. She should join Girl Guides. She needs to stop wasting time. She needs to study maths. She needs to stop dreaming her life away. She needs to stop drawing rubbish.”
Trill suggested to Hathor that it might be best not to tell grandma that she had all the friends she needed in the larch, the poplar, the lacewood, the holly, and the sycamore, nor that she talked to them and that they told her stories and taught her songs. Hathor said why not, when it was true and Trill had no answer to that.
By the time Hathor was eighteen her hair was the colour of spring leaves. As many of her classmates at art school sported multi-hued hair, Hathor’s green locks passed unnoticed and everyone there dreamed and drew. At home she still sang and danced in the fields on her own, but she also painted trees and rivers and sky in all their different moods and seasons. Instead of the holiday jobs her grandmother told her to apply for to earn some money and to stop being idle, she spent her summer vacation painting. She told her parents it was a surprise and they couldn’t see it until she felt it truly expressed what she wanted it to.
When the painting was finished Hathor propped the canvas up on the mantelpiece and called her parents to come in and look.
They could see the painting was of the sycamore. But it looked not so much like a tree as a young girl with hair the colour of leaves, feet elongated into roots that fastened her to the earth, fingers tapering to twigs that stretched out towards the sky.
“Is it okay?” she asked.
Her parents nodded.
“More than okay,” said Trill.
“Much more than,” said Mattie.
Sandra Arnold is a New Zealand novelist, short story and non-fiction writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her work has been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally and has won and been short-listed for several awards. Her flash fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Flash Frontier, The Linnet’s Wings, Flashflood Journal, The Story Shack, Fewer than 500, Fictive Dream, Olentangy Review, Zero Fiction, We are a Website, North & South, Spontaneity, Spelk, The Baby Shoes Project, The Incubator and Firefly. She has been nominated for The Best Small Fictions 2017 anthology.