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  • thelauramargamay

Joy

There was a time, before, when she was just herself. Her name belonged to her only. There were no monikers, no titles, no alias. Just her own name.

 

In the early days, she was heady with independence. Intoxicating, it lulled her into believing it would last always. She could run, amok, if she so desired. She was free, with the kind of freedom that only youth knows, the kind of freedom that hits you like a kick in the gut when you turn eighteen and the world lies before you like a banquet.

 

She ate it all.

 

She remembers those days. You know the ones. In your mind’s eye, you can only recall the sunny moments, the hazy afternoons when the light would catch the dust motes and you found your eyelids closing slowly against the brightness. There were sounds around you, talk and trees and time passing without a care. She lived those days too.

 

She had black hair, and it was longer than it ever would be again. She would let it dry on its own. Even her hair was free then. Before, she was black hair and black eyes, her skin tanned all year round. She drank, she fucked, she revelled, with abandon.

 

Her days passed into the nights, and she was happy. She would cackle at jokes in the pub on Friday evening, downing pints and sidling among the men, flirting, playing. She would press red lipstick to her reflection before letting the cold air whip against her skin on the way to the club.

 

The floors were always sticky, and the smoke always made her eyes smart. She would raise her hands high to the music, let the throb catch her and sway her, let her feet move without grace or forethought. The lights would come on, and she would realise the time, and still not care.

 

Before, when she owned her name, she was daring. She would sing, off key, songs from the radio. She would paint her nails different shades and pretend her hands were special. She ate, without consequence, never considering her figure.

 

There is a skill to being that free. You have to retain some innocence, some conviction that it will all turn out alright in the end. But she was happy, in her youth, not fulfilled, but content without knowing it.

 

In her late twenties, she felt the beginnings of annoyance. She realised she would actually have to use that degree she had drank her way through. The realisation was a shock, but she rallied, and again, she was happy. Her irritation gave way to ambition.

 

She bought a briefcase and got that job. Her new hair cut made her neck cool in the summer, and she enjoyed it. She enjoyed her work, the tastiness of satisfaction that coiled in her stomach when a project went well. She grew, and changed, and held on to her name.

 

Then she fell, hard and fast, in love. He was tall, his hair always messy. His hands explored her, and she felt love. Delicious love, the kind that sits on your tongue like chocolate. Her body melted into his whenever he touched her, and she dared to whisper ‘forever’ as she fell asleep in his arms.

 

The pubs gave way to the restaurants. The nights out stopped bleeding into the mornings for the first time in a long time, and she felt rested. Lazy weekends reading became a favourite, and her red lipstick dried up as subtle pinks marched across her mirror instead.

 

They shopped side by side for oranges and lemons, pulling together the seams of their personalities to make one. At work, she smiled and laughed, but always hurried for the bus home, back to him, back to them.

 

Black dresses became black trousers, and her heels shrunk to accommodate the busy rush that was her life. The calendar filled up with plans, plans were made endlessly. They built, brick by brick, a path they could share. She stopped smoking and he stopped leaving the seat up. They were happy.

 

Around them the world spun. Shiny diamonds began to adorn hands, and she wondered when she would feel that weight against her own finger. She imagined that he would bring her joy with that ring. For she was happy, but did not know joy.

 

The ring turned up in its velvet cushioned box, and she was amazed at the sparkle of it. On her wedding day, she looked into his eyes, and gave away her name for the first time. She felt a strange tug, but she let it go, hoping joy was waiting on the other side of her vows.

 

It wasn’t, but she was too happy to notice. While joy was absent, security and love filled in the gaps. With him as her husband, she clogged their dairies and found comfort in their habits. She would wash, he would dry. They would dust Sunday mornings, so they could rest in the afternoon together, dozy, groggy in bliss. The silences never stretched too far, and he still bought her flowers.

 

Three more years, and the glow was dimming. The washing piled up. Cobwebs caught them unawares. She still smiled, but it forgot to reach her eyes. Some days, she pretended she still owned her name. She would sign for the shopping with it, then have to redo her signature. She would sign, then sigh.

 

When she began to take long baths to avoid the obligatory goodnight kiss she wondered if she was still happy. She longed to be, she missed her old happiness, but it had drifted away unnoticed, swallowed by the day to day. She knew she wanted her name more than she wanted him, and joy was still nowhere to be found.

 

The morning he left was cold and dry. They were over, and she was thankful. The aching hurt had passed and they both smiled at the parting of two such happy people who could not find joy together. It felt sinful, the knowledge that they would be okay apart, but she had finally said it out loud and there was no grasping back of words that final morning. He was going, and she was pleased.

 

The quiet took some getting used to, but once again she owned her name. She ate organic and grew her hair out a bit. She started swimming, immersing herself in chlorine each morning, letting the water slip over her skin. She felt free once more. But no joy.

 

Photos of babies began to cover her fridge and she gained new titles. Aunty. Godmother. She smiled, and it reached her eyes again, but she was beginning to think joy would never arrive.

 

She knew what she wanted to do. She hoped, against hope, she could do it. She began to set the wheels in motion. Her hair greyed slightly at the temples, and she found lines smiling with her now around the eyes. But she was determined to find joy, no matter how many years of searching she had lived through. There is no time limit on joy, she reasoned, and so she continued to plan.

 

It was 2pm, when the girl arrived at her house. Her heart beat strong and steady, like it used to in the early days. The days before, when she owned her name. Her breathing, rushed, welcomed the entourage into the kitchen. The kettle clicked, they all sipped, and she reminded herself to let each breath out slowly, hoping joy would show its face.

 

For so long, she had been herself. She had steered her journey, in control, without hesitation. And now, she was faced with uncertainty. She steeled herself, and reached down to cradle the girl. Eyelashes against her cheek, then fluttering, then bright blue gaze.

 

And there it was.

 

Joy.

 

Staring up at her, trusting and calm, the girl blinked. The girl was hers. She was giving her name away again, willingly, and taking on a new one. She would be known now, always, as mum. She would turn every time this new name was called, and she would let joy swell inside her every time she heard it. As she looked down at the girl, she realised that she had always been her mum, always known that joy existed. She just had to wait a while to find it.

 

The social worker coughed, breaking the spell, and she looked up.

 

‘So Pat, what are you going to call her?’

 

She smiled, and let the world know she had found it.

 

‘Joy. I’m going to call her Joy.’

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