Metamorphoses | Sonia Trickey

We find ourselves in a terrible bind. I, or we, or you, have split into two. Furthermore, it is unclear whether I am actually you or you are actually me. We exist in flux: we are sometimes one; we are sometimes two. We are always one; we are always two. It’s either very Zen or a dissociative identity disorder. We are not sure. Either/or.

Yesterday evening, we wore gold wedges and a navy chiffon dress tied in a Roman complication around our waist. Our toenails were shiny purple buttons and our curls subdued into a fishtail braid threaded with an aurum ribbon. We were walking with our husband of seven years just beyond the city centre, along the river, gaudy with wine sodden punts, the water spangling like gold sequins in the disco sun.

Then we split.

“I’m unhappy.” My words stuck behind your teeth.

I urged you to say them aloud; I told you that they were allowed.

Instead, you watched a punt brimming with Pimms and laughter. Once you and him were in those punts. Shunryu Suzuki says that poetry is moving the past into the present. You wondered how to bridge the distance in time and space between this moment now, with you and him on the riverbank and that past moment then, when you and him were on the punt. If only you could go back to being those guffawing, glamorous people. If only you could start over.

You sat down at the edge of the river, removed the gold wedges and tapped the surface of the water with the balls of your feet, flexing your purple tipped toes, reaching for some poetry. The concrete path was gritty and warm beneath your thighs. The smack of your feet sounded a clack.

It reminded me of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire gliding through their tap routines on our childhood television. I pictured you dancing on the water, unspooling time, heroically rewinding to reach the days of happy punting.

“I think I want more than this,” you could have said – simpler than time travel.

“They hated each other,” our mother used to say with relish about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, “couldn’t bear the sight of each other. He made her dance till her feet bled.”

Now it is today and we are awake in a nebulous dawn. Our nuptial bed floats on a sea of beech amidst half read books, discarded gold wedges, and an unfinished goblet of Argentinian Malbec.

He is still breathing. I check but I do not touch.

Ten years ago, before the split, I (you/we) awoke beside him in the dank of a nylon tent. Our bodies were soft and warm, sealed in their own glue. My head was pillowed on the rise and fall of his lungs and our legs were a tangle of flesh and bone. The tent poles flexed, almost flattening the dome above, and the polyester riffled like machine gun fire. The tent snapped, yielded and resisted, while the river Wye resonated like an orchestra of marimbas. Enmeshed, we were a chrysalis suspended in the sounds of the valley.

This is where it began: a happy ending. I guess how all labyrinthine, unhappy never-endings begin.

Now, we sleep under the most expensive duvet. It is filled with the feathers of baby ducks. We discovered, after purchase, that these feathers are plucked from ducklings while they are still alive and once the feathers re-emerge, they are plucked again. It seems like our life is stuffed with unhappy marriage metaphors. The pillows are feather filled too.

The sheet we lie on is 200 thread count Egyptian cotton. It’s like lying on cartridge paper. It is unclear what we are writing on this bed, what we are righting.

I grope for (obviously, not him) joggers, t-shirt, sports bra, socks, running shoes, and I transform us into a runner.


In this room, we have transformed from daughter into lover, wife into mother, light into shadow. It looks like I’m about to morph you into home wrecker. I was hoping I’d morph you into something better. Possibly myself.

When I run I like to be as close to naked as possible, so that I can fly unencumbered: toes splayed, glutes pumping, pelvic floor held taut. I run in the full knowledge that capture is inevitable but running is a way to feel wholly myself. And it is holy to be oneself.

This rupturing of me into us (you into two) first happened eight years ago when, instead of running away, you submitted us to be led to the Ice Garden: a restaurant where champagne flutes sprang like lemon tulips from linen beds, where olives were shiny pebbles and carpaccio was folded into limp poppies edged with rime. Meat art. You watched him slosh sangria into his goblet. He was sporting a Clark Gable moustache and his grasshopper legs were folded carelessly under the table. Fruit tumbled from the mouth of the jug and he retrieved pieces of apple and grape with wet fingers.

You took a sip of champagne: it was bone dry and the glass so fine I wondered if it would snap off in your mouth. Only one glass he reminded you as he slid the cold, gold ring onto your finger. I watched from afar. Powerless. He may as well have slid the ring through your nose for all the resistance you put up.

He promised such irresistible transformation: a baby born without contention, a lavish wedding convocation, a sprawling Georgian erection. Oh, the heady allure of male domination, of gentrification, of convention, absolution, redemption. The triumphant culmination of years of aspiration: why be happy when you can become a middle-class confection?

Well, now we are running away, along a conduit towards the river. The syncopated notes from the stream rise above the percussion of traffic. Hornbeams line the path, cusping with yellow green leaf, dappling the ground. I arrive at traffic lights and fly noiselessly across the tarmac into the water meadows beyond. The red poll cattle with their glossy flanks and docile lashed eyes observe me.

I continue staring at the cows, or perhaps it is the cows who are staring at me, as I run along the riverbank. They amble heavily towards the water, flicking their tails. The cows are more scared of you than you are of them. That’s the sort of nonsense he’d tell you. I am more scared of the cows than they are of me.  It is strange that sometimes cows become carpaccio, stranger still that sometimes you become meat art.

Once I saw the cows swimming in the river.

The first time I swam, the grass was turning to straw, the air was static with heat, and the river unfurled like an emerald ribbon. I had been running for some time. My sweaty t-shirt was clinging to me like an angry toddler and my head was smouldering. Cyan willows dipped their boughs, wrinkling the surface of the water, which flashed as it caught the sun. A line of geese launched themselves, wings thrumming the pellucid air, and a kayaker sliced a path through the stillness. The punts were absent from the river, grounded by the pandemic. The water was flat like glass.

It was an impulse really: a playful yielding, a deliberate falling into feeling, a moment of wholeness when I unpeeled my shorts, shirt, shoes, underwear, pinned my hands to the riverbank and slid toes, feet, ankles, calves, thighs, lower back, belly into the quivering cold.

I sunk into the silt and in lifting my soles, lifted my soul and released myself to the river. I sculled upstream, soothed by the cold stinging my skin. Time stretched and I was awake.

And swimming in the sky. Actually, a miraculous reflection in the water. Damselflies were darting between the rushes and a pair of ducks crossed the river, trailing seven wobbling ducklings. The reeds rose beside me and I floated, suspended from the present with the water rushing my weightless body. The heavens, above and beneath, cocooned me in their embrace.

You eventually relinquished this new, complete, naked naiad self, slithered out, got dressed and ran home.

Last night you thought: “I don’t know if I’m happy. I want something else.”

But this is what you said: Six years ago, with a hill behind us and the baby sleeping in the back of the Vauxhall Corsa, you made a demand. You asked me for three months. You announced it quickly, awfully, as if the quickness lessened the enormity of it. “Just three months,” you said, “to set up the business.” You said you couldn’t do it with the childcare, the distraction. You needed me to look after the baby. So you could do this. For us.

Oldest patriarchal con in the book. I told you that at the time but you never listen.

You have held onto this memory sadistically, stashed it like a coupon. But when you cashed it in last night, he remembered it differently. This favour he begged of you—he has transformed into a gift to motherhood that he endowed, that he maintains, that he curates. What is more, he is wounded that you do not recognise his generosity. His sleight of hand reveals him to be victim and you the persecutor. He’s a magician and you are morphed into a possession.

Oldest patriarchal con in the book.

But I am yet entirely unowned; an entirety still unknown.

Today, when I arrive at the river, I leave my clothes in a hedge and slip, almost accidentally but also deliberately, into the water. This seems to be how our life happens.

My legs kick hard in the rhythmic pull and glide of breast stroke and my arms, ballast and rudder, are pallid green in the murk. Weeds finger my torso and I am glowing with the exertion of staying warm. The river water strokes my skin, like razor blades. In the water I am not thinking, not feeling, only surrendering.

Belatedly, I notice piles of storm clouds reflected in the surface of the river. The willow trees heave like an ocean swell and with each toss and pull of the wind, water splashes my eyes. There is a low rumble of thunder. I am aware that I ought not to be in the water when the storm begins.

I (literally) grasp nettles and heave myself onto the bank just as the first fat drops of rain splat down.

Water runs down my legs and the soles of my feet are numb which makes them feel lumpy on the ground. I have no towel and my clothes are in a hedge. I am naked by the side of the river and dimly wondering whether this is a criminal offence. My breasts pucker, arming themselves against the cold. Boudicca. I recover my running kit from the hedge.

The bra straps scratch my arms, which shudder as I reach stiff fingers to fasten the hooks at the back. I am as clumsy as a teenage boy. The t-shirt ruffles over my damp torso followed by the feeble insulation of a sweatshirt.

Soft sheets of drizzle billow over the meadows releasing the smell of petrichor. The branches shake themselves out as the wind gathers strength and the pattering of droplets on the canopy slowly overwhelms all other sounds. I bundle shoes, joggers, socks and stumble for cover under hawthorn, my bare feet dodging clusters of nettles and thistles. Standing on dried bark, I resume my frenzied collaging of clothes. Hypothermic convulsions wrack my body as I stagger about thrusting feet through knicker holes, dragging up resistant joggers and socks, finally tying my running shoes with frigid, arthritic fingers.

There is a soughing and the sounds of the river, the rain and the wind blend into ever more complex tones. I am a commotion of cold and the deluge shows no sign of easing. As I listen to the meandering rhythms of the storm, I feel like I am trapped in the dramatic second movement of a symphony I had not planned on composing. The meadows, shrouded in opalescent greyness, are empty of people and I am quaking in a hawthorn hedge. I am desperate to leave and yet everything is achingly beautiful: catastrophically, ridiculously, unexpectedly, exuberantly, contagiously alive.

Perhaps you are waiting for the gods you don’t believe in to step in.

We cannot stand shuddering in a hedge any longer. Neither can we call him for rescue—the prince, the persecutor. So we take the only other option: to step into the cascading rain and resume running.

Raindrops bounce off the path and mud spatters our calves, our thighs, even our lower back. Soon our shoes are steeped in water and squelching with each step. The joggers have become a slick layer of second skin. Passing cars launch arcs of muddy water, drenching us in an urban benediction. It is pure calamity.

As we turn towards the long straight road that leads home, a sun eclipse begins: angel beams pour down from the massing anthracite cloud. And then a rainbow: these are the metaphors we live by; the metamorphoses we live for. In running away and running home we are vanquished and victorious, ruptured but powerfully, inexorably re-pairing.

Sonia Trickey is a secondary English teacher in Cambridge, United Kingdom. She has had short stories accepted for publication with Beyond Words, CALYX, Toasted Cheese, Litro, and Fictive Dream. She was a notable entry in The Disquiet Prize and placed in a Flash Fiction competition with Cranked Anvil. She attended the creative writing programme at the Cambridge University summer school and has completed a diploma in creative nonfiction. She also enjoys swimming, running, and stretching in wild spaces.