You’ve always been afraid of tunnels, turnings where you can’t see what’s round the bend—it might be a man with a flame thrower, or it might be Swanny Fred from Mr. Robertson’s class; Swanny Fred who throws chalk at you and lifts your skirt, and you hate him, especially today when the boys have dared the girls to go down into the air raid shelter through the trapdoor, and you’ve gone, and so has Bryony Fawcett, and the boys have slammed the door shut and Bryony screams so you scream—and years later, Swanny Fred shows you his gold tooth and you scream again because you know how hard he bites, and however much he claims to tuck up his daughters at night and take his sons kite-flying, you don’t believe a word of it and that gap between his teeth is a gateway to Hades, a river of spittle and drool.
You have nightmares about paddling a coracle, getting shipwrecked in his mucus-filled larynx until he coughs you up and laughs, so you scream again and he says, “Don’t you want to see the pretty little fishes?”
The pretty fishes that swim in a spurt of mucus? There aren’t any fishes, it’s something worse, and you do not want to see that or taste that or feel that or smell that, but he’s bigger and stronger than you and he’s spiked your vodka, or he must have done because there’s no way you’d ever go with Swanny Fred—he slammed the trapdoor shut long ago, and you just know he’ll slam it again, and you don’t have Bryony Fawcett with you this time to scream along—it’s just you and Fred, and he’s smiling as if he’s nice, but he isn’t nice, and he lives in a tunnel, and there’s Greek fire round the corner, and you’ll go up like a Roman candle, and he’ll laugh and the sparks will reflect off his gold teeth and the spittle on his chin, and you’ll scream and the next morning—
The next morning. Oh god.
The next morning, the next week, the next month, and you’re pregnant, and how the fuck did that happen? You hatch a little one, and you care for the chick, but you also try to shrink because if you’re small enough you’ll be able to squeeze through that gap between his teeth and paddle down the underground river and into the sunshine, but something stops you because he really does tuck her up at night and kiss her goodnight, and it’s not a horrible kiss it’s a sweet little peck—and that ache you feel when he kisses her is so strong you can’t leave him, and you can’t wring his beautiful neck or shoot him with flaming arrows doused in Greek fire because of your daughter, your beautiful daughter…and at the last you remember the flapping of great white wings, and the stiffness and certitude of his feathers, white feathers.