Extracts from R. M. Francis’ novella, Bella
It’s hard to be clear when you’re dead. Nothing holds in the same way. It’s hard. I recall the smell of pig shit and how it slugs at my throat. When I lived I could get that smell in a mood. When the mood was right, I could smell it and every organ in me would flex and shiver. When there was a bad mood. That rank stench and body quiver – I’ll never know where it came from or how it mustered so much feeling. That’s what it’s like now. My life is held in rushes of smells and the moods that flood with each sniff. Memory is difficult when you’re dead.
Mom married Dad when I was still inside her. He worked days and she worked nights, so it was me and Nan. Me and Nan pulled potatoes in the field. She made the best chips around. Potatoes and pig shit. Sweat and soil. You would gag on it, and like the gag too, sometimes. I learned to like Dad’s belt too, sometimes. Mom normally liked it for me. There’s no pain out here in the woods. Just the spasms of smelling things. Memory is difficult and these spasms are like tears – they soothe and soil.
Dad had one leg. They cut it off in the trench. That cut saved the rest of him. He screams sometimes, he can still feel it. That’s what you do too. When you wander in to Saltwells looking for the Wych-Elm, chasing rumours and that empty stomach feeling, you find the bit they cut away. You call me Bella.
I can’t piece it together. Can’t fully make a picture from these senses. I said it was like a smell. Like the smell that electrifies through the body. The incense at St Andrew’s on a Sunday. Dad’s beer breath. Mom’s carbolic soap. I taste it and I don’t know if I should relish in it. It sits just out of view – a blurred spot in the corner of your eye – and every time you turn to see it it’s gone. You don’t know if it’s a devil or a guardian. That’s how it is.