in a forest of apple trees there is a cottage. wild strawberries grow around the front. inside, there is the scent of jam and poppies. the house is perfect. almost. there is the smallest imperfection: a crack traces the spine of the house from the fireplace, to the ceiling, to the front door. decades of hidden rage splintering the house in two.
i live there with the hunter: a human man. our two vermilion shaded doors sit in opposition. the hunter returns at the strike of midnight. he leaves at first light. it’s not perfect — it’s home.
on a warm summer day i am brought to the face of death. i expect a hundred eyes, fangs, claws. instead i find the hunter. his knife is poised on the neck of a deer. he means to cut out their heart. i run into him at full speed. the knife lodges in my chest, the pieces scatter to every part of my body. i flee to the bathroom, crawling into the drain, lodging myself between a hairball and a shattered diamond.
the force of the event is the final fracture that splits the house, the doorway, the couch, the fireplace in two. the right side, my side, sinks, creating an unnatural tilt. the furniture slides across the floor: half the couch, the dinner table and my bed. i crawl up the drain. in the bathroom my toiletries have fallen and are gathered under the sink.
the hunter leaves. is housed. fed. he sends canaries that sing his apologies. i find his handwritten notes tangled in my hair, i cough them up, dislodge them from between my toes. they’re recited verbatim by others. the pretty words give me papercuts.
in my dreams i return once more to the bathroom, the echoing screams sounding through the pipes.
the apples rot and fall, littering the forest floor. this is when the hunter returns. his presence is a window into a waking nightmare. the history of his violence plays on everything from VHS, DVD, to Netflix.
in the sleepless hours i look out my window, wishing on a star nestled between tree branches. i ask the star to heal me. in reply, it blinks out. in the morning, i find something glimmering in the dirt between the two sides. a shard of a mirror has fallen between the break. instead of my own reflection, the rainbow light of a spirit is there. i wrap the shard in an old jumper and hide it under my bed.
winter arrives early, blanketing the forest in snow and locking me inside with the hunter. we play pretend: he pretends to be innocent and i try to hit pause on the scream that plays whenever he’s near.
when the hunter is gone, i speak to the rainbow mirror spirit. she makes me open my chest and take out the knife shards. my hands aren’t careful, i don’t know if i can get to them all. i’m not sure anyone can.
the hunter and i agree to meet on neutral ground outside the cottage, away from the rage trapped in the walls. there is a desire, on both sides, for resolution. i dress in layers and venture into the snow. i wait by a tree stump. hours pass. the night turns the air from cold to freezing. the frost bites the tips of my fingers red. later, the hunter tells me he went to the sea, the whisper of the waves sounding sweeter than my voice.
i wander back to the drain. the mirror’s voice drifts down to me. she gives me a recipe to a potion i can take twice daily. a way to shield myself from him. i go back out at dawn, this time not for us but for me. i find the oldest tree in the forest, dig through the snow and dirt, taking the leaves buried there. back at the cottage i make them into tea. after a month of drinking it, i feel myself returning.
the snow melts and the warm air returns. i could go out. i don’t. i go in, further than before. i want to lie down. i don’t. i want to cry. i do, shoving everything, everyone away.
the mirror retrieves messages from my family and friends. their words call me back. they give me the strength to step out the front door. the house exhales, releasing some of the hurt in the walls. the crimson light shudders through the trees, scattering in every direction. my side of the house lifts up, levelling out. the fracture stays. so do i.
the past is finite. the past is over. i repeat the words until i feel hope reignite within myself. this is not the end.
Alexander is a Māori trans guy living on Whadjuk Noongar land. He writes young adult fiction and poetry, sometimes mixing the two. Alexander has been published in Djed Press, Tiger Moth Review, and in Centre for Stories’ On The Page series.