The Darkness Hums

Short Story by Prenesa Naidoo


Dear Darlings, 

I should have told you the truth about my mother, your dear grandmama. I didn’t not want to tell you, I just didn’t… know how. Truth be told, I think I – 

Dearest Darlings, 

This isn’t easy to write. I’m sitting here, on the bench covered in moss under the oak tree at the bottom of the garden. My darling girl, you would love this.

Let me try telling you about grandmama again. She was many things, your grandmama. But she was difficult. She was a seer and a psychic – she changed the words as she pleased. I’m still not sure if there is a difference. But you, my lovely boy, you would know the difference, wouldn’t you?

Grandmama used to see and hear all types of people, but sometimes she was a fraud, too. When the word of her gift got out, people used to line up on our front porch. Sometimes they used to bring little tokens belonging to people that they lost. Some were desperate enough to have their loved ones cross over that they wore their clothes. Once, there was a young woman who wore the clothes of her dead fiancé, she even tied his handkerchief around her neck, and tightened his large and crumpled white dress shirt with a thick brown belt around her waist. If ever there was a time that I wanted grandmama’s gift to be real, it was for that woman. She moved around with a heaviness that I hadn’t yet understood. If it were possible, her body would have left little puddles of grief with every step she took. Maybe it was possible. But you had to know it to really feel it. Like now I –

Dearest Darlings, 

I was telling you about the young woman. Yes, I wanted grandmama to help her, to give her some salve for her wounds that we couldn’t see. But the moment she sat down, I knew that grandmama wasn’t seeing or hearing anything. She didn’t have that faraway look in her eyes that she had when it was real. She held the woman’s hands gingerly in her own. She told her to stop wearing her fiancé’s clothes, to remove her wedding ring. Grandmama told her that she was young and that she believed that the woman’s fiancé wanted her to move on. 

I mean, I could have told her that. And I could have said it with kindness. But grandmama wasn’t one to waste emotions on people she didn’t know. She barely used it on people she did know. Not like you two, my flowers – 

Dearest Darlings, 

Perhaps you’re wondering whether I had the gift too. I did, but not like grandmama. Mine didn’t let the spirits talk to me properly. They would watch out for me, and tell me things. Little things. Nice things. Like, “Watch your step, there’s a puddle.” And, “The tea is too hot, you’ll burn your tongue.” Other times, they would send me really strong smells. Once, I was lying in bed, almost asleep, as the sun was starting to come up, and there was a really strong smell of pumpkin pie. Grandmama didn’t waste her time with baking, so I knew that it wasn’t a breakfast surprise. It was the little old lady that had passed away a few months before – I knew of her because her daughter visited grandmama to try and talk to her. Grandmama’s gift wasn’t real then, too. But she tried really hard to make it seem like she knew what she was doing. Her hands shook and she knocked the little China teacup that the daughter brought to the floor. Grandmama tried to comfort her, but the daughter was convinced that her mother was sending her messages to say that she was angry. Later, the old lady visited my room and told me that she used to make pumpkin pie with her daughter and drink weak black tea out of those China teacups. Grandmama picked up most of the teacup pieces, but not all. The next day I had a sliver of it sticking out my sole –

Dearest Darlings, 

My gift stopped the day you were born. It was as if there was simply too much joy coming out of me, consuming me, leaving no room to deal with anybody else’s feelings. You two were gifts that just kept on giving – 

Dearest Darlings, 

Actually, there was one time when my gift reappeared. It was in the quiet, in the stillness of your nursery. The air sweet with smells that I only associate with you. The darkness teaming with life, powered by your even little breaths. A young woman appeared in the doorway. She looked at the two of you, asleep in your bassinettes, and me moving slowly in the rocking chair with a mug of lukewarm tea and grandmama’s old blanket around my legs. She smiled and told me to enjoy you. To get to know you both. To cherish you. To keep you forever. She said that she only had her son for an hour. Then your little yellow nursery had the overwhelming smell of metal. The unmistakable smell of blood – 

Dearest Darlings, 

Do you both remember that one morning when we were sitting at the kitchen table and the fire was already going? And I was reading the newspaper and you, my petal, pointed at the photo of the little girl who had been missing a few days? Remember how you spilled your warm milk across the newspaper when you sounded out the word ‘missing’? And how you, my darling boy, reached out a split second before, to get a cloth? That was the first time I wondered whether you had gotten the gift, too. There were no signs before that. I simply thought of you as the twins that the sunlight followed. Twins preparing for a beautiful life unburdened by the dead. But that morning, everything changed. I kept thinking about the girl in the newspaper, and how her face dissolved when the milk washed over. I kept saying to myself, “Not them. Not my darlings.” Over and over and over as if that could keep you safe – 

Dearest Darlings,

I should have known something was going to happen. I should have listened to the darkness humming when I put you both to bed. I should have noticed how you both began to look over your shoulders. There was something that I couldn’t hear, someone that I couldn’t see. I thought that you would have told me that something strange was happening to you. If it did. But all I heard were little whispers back and forth between you two in the middle of the night – 

Dearest Darlings, 

Who did you leave the school with? I know that you wouldn’t have left willingly. It had to be something else. I found myself visiting Grandmama’s grave twice a day, sometimes three times. I hoped that she would tell me something – what good having a gift if she couldn’t use it to communicate with me after. I cried at her, for her. I wept with every fibre of me. I wept for you, I wept for me. I clawed at the flowers at Grandmama’s grave. I unearthed the silver hairbrush and mirror that I had buried between the flowers after she died. I threw them. I threw them far into the graveyard – 

Dearest Darlings, 

Perhaps I willed it to happen. Perhaps I willed my gift back to me. But one morning, after spending the entire night sitting in your room with my back to the door and my eyes closed, I saw you. It was unclear at first, like when the television signal was going to cut out and left blurry shapes where the people once were. It took a few moments, and then everything became clearer.

But there you were, my petal. Sitting on a bed with a checked quilt. You had your red raincoat on and the light from the window danced off your hair. It took me a moment to realise that I was watching you from inside a mirror. And you, my brave boy, you had your hand wrapped around your sister’s ankle. You always did keep her close to you. You were facing the mirror, so I got to see your face properly. The flames that usually danced behind your eyes were missing. It was replaced with a sadness and a tiredness that I had never seen before. Not even when Grandmama’s gift attracted all those grief-stricken people. 

There was a moment of stillness, like I was looking at a photo or the point of a paused video. But then you both turned quickly and looked to the other side of the room. I couldn’t see much then. And I think I was shuffling in the dark, because I felt your stuffed animals fall off the shelf above me. 

Then he came into view. The man who shared your eye and hair colour. The man with the poison ivy tattooed along his left forearm. Your father – 

Dearest Darlings, 

I’ve been trying to find you. Desperately. I have looked everywhere and nowhere. Grandmama isn’t helping me. Nobody is helping me. I can’t find your father, there has been no trace of him for years. So how did you know that it was him outside the school? How did –

Dearest Darlings, 

You trusted him to be kind, didn’t you? But look where it got us. Look what it cost us. What now? I don’t know what to do next –