The map could never stay put. In childhood, Ida's dreams were thin from it, from the way she could pour bottlefuls of glue onto the wall by her pillow and not make the map stick, from the way it fell in the night and wrapped her body like a cocoon. Antarctica plastered to her chin, Australia to her palm. Granny once sewed the map onto the wall with white thread, blunting needles on hardened paint, yet it still flaked off at nights, leaf-like, onto Ida's body. Her thumb tracing the corners of the map, the house rattling from the punches her mom punctured walls with. The paper, vulnerable to fists, crinkled under Ida's fingertips.
Years away from childhood, Ida pulls at her nails, extracts blobs of hardened glue. The train station clangs under her feet, her shoes melt into snowy puddles. She is coming back home but has taken a detour through a corner of the world. Just this one, close by, near a convenience store where her mother leafs through bills so old, they've thinned to the size of spring leaves. That's how it's always been—late evenings with her back tightly pressed against the shelves, slurping canned lemonade as customers passed her by. Cutting paper dolls out of biweekly covers, the travel columns in magazines her mom hissed at. Those are not real people, she said, like us. More like paper dolls, this flat. She put two of her fingers together, left a speck of space in-between. All this wandering, bah. A person has got to spring roots.
At the store this evening, Mom snapped a green roll of dollars from Ida's hand, swept her outdoors with a mop. This is the other way their days go—Mom charges Ida with clogging the drain, sticking handfuls of photographs down the pipes, weaving them into the limp arms of shirts in laundry baskets, to whirl, flick clean of memory. When Mom doesn't look, Ida takes them in batches from a hat box they keep under the sofa, rips them into pieces small like shards of glass, presses the flush of the lavatory until it devours them with a gurgle. Sometimes, a flushing sends the face of a relative up, but Ida then slushes it down together with a piece of paper.
From a surviving photograph that weighs her pocket down at the train station, there smiles a face Ida's left in childhood, strewn amongst towers of toys and teddy bears. Granny looks like an old-time movie projection, her boundaries blurred in sepia. Ida does not remember Granny's voice but remembers that the first time she took a trip to a corner of the world was in Granny's mud-green Buick, along a road lined with pines that punctured the sky. The trees were the only things she'd ever seen to reach it, so tall she could still see them as Granny pulled the car up onto the embankment, where a river unfurled ribbon-like. The riverscape filled her little body with wonder so quickly, she exhaled sighs instead of breaths.
Once, they saw a body there, blue and swollen, who used to be a man of great height but must've slipped off from the embankment. Floating with the fish, with his features so blurred, body so bloated, he became one with water, the current. Like all the roots he'd spurted down into the earth he cut off. He might have been drunk and slipped off; he might have been pushed in by someone. He might have pushed himself in, Ida thought. On a summer's day, with the sun scorching his skin salmon-red, or right at the moment winter began to melt its icecap, its chokehold on the river. Ida held her breath to see, were that her body floating there, if the current would take her, or let her breath bubble up to the surface. She covered one eye and traced the man's trajectory with her index.
At home that evening, Ida retrieved a paper doll she'd made earlier that day to secure to her map, onto the exact spot they saw the man, by the river, with all his freedom to float.
In the picture she holds between her thumb and index finger, the map above Granny's head rolls upwards at its corners, and Ida knows it's about to fall. She relishes the frustration, crumpling the photograph in her coat pocket as trains zip by. Behind Granny there are clothes, pillows, and a quilt, and Granny sits crinkled up, giving way to linen and feathers, legs up to her chin, like she's folding herself in two, the way she folded herself into a cradle in her youth. Out of the cradle grew Ida's mother, and Granny did not tell anyone about the way Mom's fingers, already in adulthood, gripped Ida's neck in vulture-like clasps even if what she wanted to do was to hug. That this kind of hunger churred down her body with a rumble, barreled out of her. So, it was Granny who fed her, named her by sticking a pin into a foreign country on the map, without looking.
That night, Ida's mom punches the wall until it rattles, indenting her round fists in it like it's made of cheese. The punctured walls shed their skin, the Bergenia wallpaper, the tape that glues Ida's map to place. It crinkles down onto her body, covers her like a blanket, like the times her and Granny hoarded the world into that one bed, tugging it in-between their body and quilt. And, legs tied in-between the sheets, the crinkled world is all Ida sees. She thumbs remains of glue out of the bottle, applies it to the wall before it sticks to her fingernails. Presses the map gently onto the glue, like poultice. From down the coat pocket, sepia-stained Granny pulls at her eyelids, a little hook. When Mom fills the air with her snores, Ida slips the hat box from underneath the sofa, slushes photographs down in punches, leaves them gasping for air.
(she/her) is a fiction writer from Warsaw, Poland. Her work has been recognised by Bennington College, amongst others, and is published or forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Fractured Lit, Trampset
and elsewhere. When not writing, you can find her combing through second-hand bookshops or tweeting @olgamusial