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On Collage

Writing by Scarlett Smyth. Artwork by Jocelyn Arnold.

Marguerite and I both cried cutting the chestnut trees. I hid behind a middling lump. The centre had grown bulbous and hard, bark splitting at every curved seam, and the leaves above glimmered like a school of fish. Marguerite said Hilary saw her and looked worried. Hilary’s older than us with big arm muscles and curly blond hair. She knows lots of card games.

That evening Matteo asked us if the moon was growing – we’d been pointing at it while we washed up. There was a very, very thin crescent above us. We couldn’t tell if it was waxing or waning but I hadn’t seen it any of the nights we’d been there – I said I thought it must be growing. In that case we can’t cut the trees tomorrow – they’ll cry if we do. ‘Why?’ The water is rising up, pulled like the tide, and so the trees will bleed if they are cut. It’s easy to love them up close.

I forgot to take paper or a pencil to Matteo’s so I was left with only the fantasy of a drawing. I dreamt about hearts falling from the branches down into the stream, wings made of leaves that couldn’t hold them. Marguerite’s pink crocs watched on from the hot slip of a rock, as the hearts grew soft in the thrill of the river. The laugh of goat bells weaved amongst the weeping trees, syrup dripping down their trunks. One of the goats swallowed a tree whole. We fed it ice cream until it coughed it back out. It is impossible to be lonely when you are waiting for paper.

Marguerite didn’t come back to Edinburgh. Instead, a sparrow hides beside me in the grass. Do all birds lie with their palms bared to the sky? Through the window people smoke and drink and laugh. Bruises have spooled across my walls, but I’ve forgotten how they got there. I try to copy them onto a page alongside a donkey’s blue face – the lines are never right. I hope the moon wasn’t new when we cut the trees.

I collage in a heatwave. Pencils are not much help for this. The cuts obscure something still not past – it’s funny how a slice can help something grow. I like that my heart can exist somewhere outside the heat of my body, if just for awhile. New symbols burst across my path, the dreams from Matteo’s burnt out by a headlight’s lippy glare. My favourite collage is the first one, where a black cat bats at a school of fish caught on a gust of wind. He stands in front of a tree that grows, tearless and leafless, before a mountain covered in snow.

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