Indigo opened her eyes to luminous rays, beams which made her brow burrow; a light which could wake even the deepest of dreams. She squinted beyond the lace drapes which flitted before her window. It was her seventh birthday. Smiling in delight, a marvellous collection of balloons hung by the foot of her bed; circular shapes posing pink and gold: Seven Today, they read.
Attempting to jump out of bed and sprint toward her mother’s room, Indigo was overcome with dizziness. She fell back into the mattress, with a thump! Tiny white stars teased her head playfully; she wondered if they’d escaped the balloons and waltzed their way through the air.
“Indigo! Indigo! Is my birthday girl awake?” her mother called, traipsing into the room and flunking herself on the mattress. Indigo looked up and smiled. “There she is…my big girl”. Holding her mother in a tight embrace, Indigo batted her feather-like eyelashes and smiled a gap-toothed smile. She raised a finger, tracing it ’round her mother’s heart-shaped forehead and asked: “Are we going to have a party, Mama?”
Her mother – a middle-aged woman named Catherine – laughed at the earnestness of daughter. Long auburn waves hung gracefully below her chest, propped up by a lavender eye-mask to expose her naked face. The joints of her thin body protruded beneath an off-white gown; sky high cheekbones with eyes glistening grey, she met her daughter’s gaze with love. “Isn’t every day a party for us, Indigo?”
Sitting within a basin of bubbles, Indigo etched shapes on marble tiles with her fingers. She pressed her nose and mouth firmly against their cold hard surface, enjoying the contrast of hot and cold. Playing happily, she envisioned a large pink cake with fondant icing; parma violets edging the border. Indigo imagined standing at the tip of a diving board and plummeting into the dessert head first. She would grab clumps of cream using her tiny fists and feel the substance ooze between her fingers and toes. She sang loud with excitement, until flats and sharps began spiraling the walls, a white bubble foam folding in like whipped cream.
“Hello sleepy Indigo”, Catherine cooed. “You startled me. I think that bath water was too hot for you”. Indigo looked down at her feet and noticed she was fully dressed. Lemon buckled shoes with white lace socks and a matching pastel dress hugged her body immaculately. She blinked, unable to lift her head. “Come on, up you get”, her mother stated. “It’s quarter past nine and you’re yet to have breakfast”.
Indigo slumped hazily at the dining table. Her head pounded, as if she’d taken that dive and met concrete. Catherine poured a tall glass of milk and plonked it by her side, eyeing her daughter wistfully. “Your grandmother is visiting today. You haven’t seen her since you were three years old”.
Spooning several drops of pancake batter into a heated pan, Catherine proceeded to make pancakes. “She’s a little bit eccentric, your Nonna. Don’t be alarmed if she says something…off”.
Knowing full well that her child wouldn’t understand the word eccentric, Catherine began crushing an array of tablets with a mortar and pestle. A pale blue cloud of smoke lifted above the bowl, as if awaiting a genie appearance. “Strawberries and cream, my sweet?”
Indigo stabbed her fork into a mattress of pancakes, noticing her mother’s cream was blue. “I want some of yours, Mama”. I want to taste the sky.
Catherine sniffed, cutting into her own stack and squinting at her daughter’s untouched plate. She began to mentally browse the shopping aisle, regretting her mistake of not picking up some food dye.
At that moment the front door chimed, interrupting her train of thought and leaving her chair empty. Indigo glanced down sourly at her own food and irreverently seized the moment. As if the scene had played before, she prodded her finger into thick, blue cream and shoved it in her mouth expertly.
Catherine returned holding a crinkled gold package. “I bet it’s from him”, she muttered. Indigo’s eyes lit up at the prospect of a present. “It’s for me! It’s for me!” Her mother handed over the parcel reluctantly, a glow in her cheeks, dimming.
Indigo tugged ferociously at the wrapping, firing shreds of rustled paper through the air and letting them fall with grace.
Catherine froze as she watched her child’s hysteria transform to contempt. The object, held between her daughter’s hands, would have been wonderful if not disheveled. “Fucking bastard”, she gritted, ripping the stuffed rabbit from her daughter’s clasp and throwing it down with the rubbish.
Indigo’s lower lip began to tremble, she could no longer hold her bottled woe and burst into a flood of tears. “NO!” she cried, rushing to aid the limbless toy. “He’s hurt enough already, don’t you see? I want him to stay in our home!”
Indigo’s father didn’t intend to show malice. Truth be told it was remarkable he’d even remembered her birthday – he’d been harboring demons for years. By the time she was two he was homeless; recognized in every crack den from Somerset to Sunderland. The rabbit had been found amidst rubbish and puddles, one eye and an ear intact. Its off-white body had clearly taken several hits; a tail attached by one thinning string.
Indigo whimpered pleadingly, clutching the toy between both hands: “bathe him, Mama?” Catherine blinked, her eyes wet. “Leave him with me”, she whispered. “I’ll sort him out tomorrow”.
By noon the house welcomed guests. Indigo’s grandmother arrived early, wearing a lilac fur jumper with oversized shades. She cackled at the sight of her grandchild, claiming that she looked like “a lemon meringue”. Indigo watched as her grandmother broke house rules, smoking from a thin cigarette holder and decorating the air with thick black smoke.
Retaliating to what she deemed a hurtful remark, Indigo announced a distaste for “smokey wands”. Her grandmother, formerly known as Nonna, lowered her shades and scowled. “Catherine, do something about your daughters mouth. It’s filthy“.
School friends and relatives chattered in hallways, as fairground music churned in the background. The birthday girl, relishing in the know that all were here for her, felt giddy with excitement. For some reason she just couldn’t keep balance: her body swayed like a drunk person at 4am; a crown of stars hovering like a halo.
Catherine had magically transformed their grandeur home into a palace for mini princesses. Gold satin ribbon spiraled each and every stairwell, while gathers of balloons left not a single corner empty. Nonna, recovering from her outdoor summers smoke, noticed an aloofness in her grandchild, wondering whether she was quite all there.
“COME ON INDIGO, HIT IT! HIT IT AS HARD AS YOU CAN!”
Children lined the courtyard waiting to whack a piñata.
Indigo, dazzled by all the colours, hoped to burst the hanging object and meet a rain of candied-treasures. Some had already taken turns but were unlucky.
“On the count of three now: ONE, TWO, THREE!” WHACK!
Indigo, clasping the baton, poked her tongue out and struck the piñata hard as she was able. Unexpectedly, the branch it attached to wavered and snapped, leaving the unbroken item on the floor. lndigo, due to the uninhibited force, went dizzy.
She woke up in the living room with a collection of small round faces peering down at her. Initially, the faces looked identical, as if peering through a kaleidoscope. A few seconds passed and she realised they were indeed party guests, none of whom gave her the drive to sit up.
“Indigo, are you okay?” they echoed in sync, forcing her to trip out once more in question.
Swatting her way through the faces, Indigo wandered towards the kitchen.
“Something isn’t right with that girl”. Indigo popped her head ’round the kitchen door to eavesdrop on her grandmother. “Mother, she’s fine. You haven’t seen her for years and you’re already being judgmental”, Catherine replied. “I’m just saying. Your daughter looks out of it – her eyes are like saucers. How many naps does she take a day? You ought to call a doctor”.
Indigo watched her mother’s face surrender to tears. Catherine tried to speak but her words came out in a contorted wail.
In the way only a child could determine, Indigo knew her grandmother was right. Nonna knew something was off just as she did, for she felt it in her body and she felt it in her head. There were times when her surroundings felt intense and distorted; almost imagined. She didn’t have the same energy as the other children, despite her will to be involved.
“We have to cut the cake”, Catherine sniffled. “Please, this is Indigo’s day. Don’t spoil it for her”. Dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, Catherine headed to the fridge and removed an oval shaped cake. She then preceded to an overhead cupboard, reaching for a bottle of blue and yellow pills. Nonna watched her daughter disapprovingly, as a handful of pills tumbled down her throat like pennies in a drainpipe.
Tall, towering candles sunk into softened sponge, as Catherine balanced the cake on upturned palms.
“Happy Birthday to youuuuu!” The children sang in unison, feasting on the cake with gluttonous eyes. Indigo, anxious with both fear and excitement, outstretched both arms for her prize. Catherine knelt beside her, propping the cake onto a wired table and kissing her child on the cheek.
Succumbing to her role in this hellbent circus, Nonna held up a camera and flashed.
Born Stefani Louisa Romano, Nonna fled Northern Italy in 1947, four months prior to Catherine’s birth. She arrived in East Sussex, England, cradling a packet of Marlboro and wearing a bloodstained dress-suit.
Short on money and contacts, Nonna sniffed out a widow named Daisy, who’d spent most of her life in solace. She quickly became indispensable, performing house chores from morning til night and listening to bitter old wives tales. It took Nonna just one month before she could move in.
In a short space the pair became family; a plaster to the wound; a strategic but pivotal transaction. Together they prepared for the arrival of Catherine, but Nonna worried that the child would spoil their new dynamic.
And thus, she did the bare minimal. Feeds were given scarcely; play was limited, hugs: zero. Nonna wanted to ensure that Daisy’s needs were met right up until her death and why not? Catherine had her whole life ahead of her. Daisy was on borrowed time with an inheritance to leave behind.
Daisy passed within the year. Nonna was now financially free but missed her late companion. Daisy had become her mother, savior and livelihood and now she had a baby. Grief consumed her, she’d transferred years of suppressed emotion to a complete stranger and as a result, ignored her child while opting for the bottle.
Nonna served slithers of a rich, indulgent birthday cake, chattering with guests as Catherine napped upstairs. Indigo, still following the stars, sauntered into the kitchen in search of hidden treasure. It was a sad and tragic fact she wanted to be just like her mother: poised, elegant, generous; high. Indigo closed the door behind her, allowing the outside sounds to become a muffled blur and made her way to the counter.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Nonna, who had come to return the empty cake tray, caught her seven year old grandchild holding a tube full of pills, powdered liquid rimming her mouth like poison. Smacking the tube from Indigo’s grip she began to shake her violently, her eyes overcast with fury.
“Mother, NO!” Catherine, now awake from the commotion, rescued her daughter from the frenzied grip. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What am I doing?” fired Nonna, lifting the empty tube of pills and taunting her daughter in jest.
Post-revelation, Nonna forced Indigo to purge whilst Catherine sent the children home. She pulled back her duvet and climbed into bed, head spinning from the days affliction. Still thinking about her little girl’s face, it was clear they’d been subjected to trauma. Tears fell from her eyes hitting the pillow like stones, an uncontrollable river of guilt.
Gazing at the high ceiling, she felt as though she’d woken from a deep, deep sleep: remorse would weigh her down forever. Still, she had to persevere. Her one true calling slept a few meters away: Mama’s little angel. She thought about all the nice things they would do the next morning – have brunch, play tennis. Her visions made her sorrow subside and finally, Catherine slept.
Catherine’s eyes opened beneath blackness, to the sound of pattering rain. Removing her sleeping mask she released a deep, deep sigh. It was a new day. Her thoughts immediately turned to Indigo – time to wake her darling. Climbing out of bed and drawing the curtains, she vowed not to be defeated by a desolate sky.
Inside Indigo’s room, Catherine pulled back the bedcover and smiled: “Wake up sleepy Indigo”.
Tilting her head, Catherine felt amused by the depth of her daughter’s slumber. There was no sight quite more pleasing than little Indigo: one eye and an ear intact, tail, dangling from string; body, covered in off-white fur.
It was the only thing her father had left her. Well, she stole it to be precise. After early release from Broadmoor, Catherine gifted herself a oneway ticket to Modena; she left on her 18th birthday.
It didn’t take long for her to find him: Nonna had stashed his picture somewhere and spoke out their life whilst drunk. A violent, selfish and useless man, Catherine stalked her father for weeks.
She let herself in during Sunday Mass and borrowed several items: a raincoat, eye-mask, teaspoon and pet rabbit. Back home, Catherine had gotten quite friendly with a taxidermist.
Beneath the warmth of a goose-feather duvet, Catherine held Indigo’s carcass, nuzzling its body with affection. “Sleepy, sleepy Indigo”, she whispered. “Is my birthday girl awake?”